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Commentary & Analysis

A Tale of Two Trade Shows

By Frank J.

By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: October 24, 2005

By Frank J. Romano October 24, 2005 -- PRINT '68 was the first in the chronology of mega events for the printing industry. Six months before the show, the old McCormick Place burned down, but show organizers re-located to an exhibition hall near the stockyards--a place that promoted a lot of bull, so it seemed appropriate. Letterpress suppliers were trying to hold on to their world as it crumbled around them. PRINT '68 was a landmark event. The first phototypesetters were shown and the world of film pre-press was displayed. But the most important aspect of the show was the confluence of letterpress and offset lithography. The letterpress suppliers were trying to hold on to their world as it crumbled around them. It was the last event to show working linecasters and hot metal typesetting. Within two years, the Linotype would cease manufacture and the hot metal era would be over. Fast forward to PRINT '05--37 years later. One could not help but notice the confluence of digital printing and offset lithography. Although the offset suppliers did well, the digital folks did better, much better. Printing companies bought more digital printing equipment in eight days than was sold in the first eight years of digital printing. PRINT '68 was a dividing line between the past and the future of the printing industry. It marked the transition from one technology to another technology. Now, I am not saying that PRINT '05 indicated the demise of offset litho. Offset will allow printers to prosper for decades. But, at the same time, digital printing is usurping offset volumes and changing the face of print. Printers voted with their pocketbooks. It was no longer a case of "should I acquire digital printing," it was a case of "which one should I acquire?" You could see the interest in the packed seminar sessions and the crowds around the digital printers. You could sense it in the questions and conversation. At PRINT '05 it was no longer a case of "should I acquire digital printing," it was a case of "which one should I acquire?" One printer told me that they would upgrade their press over time, but they had to start down the digital road now, for fear of being left behind. One could also see the new offset/digital workflows that HP, Kodak, Xerox, and others introduced. Commercial printers are finding markets for hybrid printing and they are integrating digital and offset. That never happened with letterpress and offset. Offset killed letterpress. But offset complements digital printing and vice versa. Offset has the advantage of run length while digital has the advantage of variability. These advantages are being combined and our workflows are being adapted accordingly. PRINT '68 was the first of the jumbo trade shows of the modern era. It centralized all print developments in one place at one time. I was 27 when I attended the '68 show. It was my first visit to Chicago. When I entered that cavernous hall and saw the size and scope of this industry I was hooked. Offset killed letterpress. But offset complements digital printing and vice versa. The perspective of history is helpful in understanding how change occurs and how change is implemented. PRINT '68 and PRINT '05--a tale of two trade shows. A Hint of PRINT Every trade show has a theme--a technology or product that dominates attendee consciousness. 1968 was offset lithography and film pre-press; '74 was phototypesetting, '80 was computerized composition; '85 was desktop publishing; '91 was DI presses; '97 was scanning and color workflows; '01 was automation and digital printing. PRINT '05 was the exception because it did not have a discernible theme; instead, it had an undercurrent--IT/MIS permeated everything. As we pass the mid point of the first decade of a new millennium, printers have exhausted a major portion of labor-saving techniques. Staffing is at the lowest point of the last few decades and there are few people left to cut within the plant. The focus of technology today is to increase productivity so that the few people who remain can produce more. New presses, digital printers, finishing systems, and of course, workflows increase the output of printing firms. New systems accomplish this through faster changeover, shorter runs, and less waste. The focus of technology today is to increase productivity. The only way to manage this is to know what is happening as it is happening and what happened after it happened. But the only way to manage all of this is to know what is happening as it is happening and what happened after it happened. This is what IT/MIS does. EFI has been one of the leaders in this space for a while, but now Kodak (via the Creo acquisition) has introduced such solutions. The major press and digital printer suppliers have pieces of these systems, and almost every JDF-enabled product adds to the totality of workflow. When EFI added a Web-based "Command Center" to its Print MIS Systems this year, it finally gave printers a tool mightier than the press--a potent business intelligence and visual tool for business analysis. It recaps the state-of-the-business and links to other key data, enabling new levels of business intelligence. It helps to improve processes and profit potential by giving users complete and instant visibility into real-time business information, with the ability to ask questions and drill down to more detail. It can have a significant impact on the efficient management of a printing business. Good data makes good business I expect that other suppliers will have similar tools and they will all link into existing workflows and tie into IT/MIS systems, and, most of all, communicate over the Web. This will allow managers to know more and hopefully manage better. Good data makes good business. And displaying that data in a meaningful way is essential. Combine all this with Web storefronts that automate buying and re-buying print, new customer relationship tools, workflows that integrate offset and digital print, and you have the tools of the 21st century printing business. The problem with these new tools is that they are software--you cannot see them like that big piece of machinery. You have to stand there and watch a small screen, or sit there and watch a big screen. IT/MIS solutions abounded at PRINT '05 but they were not apparent. You had to seek them out and commit to a demo that was often interesting but uninspiring. We need a better way of demonstrating software-based solutions.



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