Oh, to be in England Now that Spring is Here
On the road to Ipex
When Robert Browning penned those words there probably wasn't a volcano in Iceland spewing out smoke and ash. The economies of the world weren't shuddering with every flutter of dollars, drachmas, euros and yen. And 50,000 people weren't about to descend on Birmingham for Ipex, a largely Euro-centric, pint-size version of drupa that comes with warmer beer and (sigh) English food. But I do make an exception for fish and chips!
Whatever. This will be an interesting show. I'm headed across the pond with a focus on the big inkjet boxes that some claim will ultimately replace offset, and looking closely at some of the new developments in toner-based machines. I'm especially interested in what vendors are saying about how their high-volume, high-speed inkjet systems really fit in a world where print is in decline and mega-print runs are a fond memory. Cue the smoke, mirrors and FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Disinformation) storms.
All the big dogs will have news and stories to tell. Each sees market niches and segments that can be filled with its print engines and these companies are facing off to fight for their share of a shrinking pie. For now, there is still print volume for the taking—or at least rearranging. But the economics of these machines is critical. Not all the players—either sellers or buyers of the presses—will survive in their present form. And how this plays out is going to shape the industry for the next decade, and maybe longer.
One of the difficulties with these big boxes is that they have to spray ink on a lot of miles of paper each month to justify their existence. There are still ways to do this for at least some print providers, but it's not clear just how long those volumes can be sustained in an age when print is not the only way of putting information into people's hands. While I don't expect to get much in the way of real-world answers, I still want to hear what the companies are saying. Not that it necessarily means a whole lot in the context of a fast-changing world and industry, but it's fascinating to hear how these companies see the world, even as they try to change it to their liking.
So what's on tap is this:
HP supposedly has the largest stand at the show, doubtless drawing a line in the sand as it stakes claim on an industry it hopes to lead, if not dominate. The big T-300 may take center stage, but expect it to share space with another sizeable machine or two.
Kodak will formally (and finally!) roll out its Prosper press, which still won't be available until some time in 2011. I'm looking for attendee reactions to the claims made and the print quality shown. And for insights into how Kodak is selecting the betas and the first real customers for this machine.
Océ is aggressively promoting its JetStream family of inkjet presses, which is perhaps the most comprehensive in the industry. On the economics front, Océ has a software tool that can predict the cost of jobs on these machines, which strikes me as kind of useful. Take a look at this video I caught at On Demand.
Ricoh/InfoPrint Solutions (IPS) will formally tie the knot of their marriage at Ipex and word is there are new product announcements coming for both inkjet and toner devices. IPS has a lot of its InfoPrint 5000 inkjet machines in place, so it will be interesting to hear about their next steps.
And Xerox, fresh from the launch of its new 800/1000 color printers at On Demand, will have its usual wide range of products and software, along with a technology demo that some experts think will be the company's response to inkjet. This could be very interesting. Xerox has had the time to evaluate market reactions to existing inkjet systems and see the good and the bad of inkjet, so a different approach may be forthcoming. Stay tuned!
Then there's Screen, which supplies the InfoPrint system, and Fujifilm, which is rolling out its big cut-sheet device. Lots to see.
The show will be busy, but I'll try to get a couple of quick notes out, and a fuller report when I get back.