Kodak & HP Heat Up and Canon Enters the Game
By Noel Ward,
By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: October 27, 2006
By Noel Ward, Managing Editor, WTT Show Coverage October 20, 2006 -- The problem with these shows is that there is so much to see that it takes a while to cover it all. Let's see, where was I? Ahh, yes, Kodak. It takes both Cary Sherburne and me to cover Kodak, so here's my part. Kodak In the big picture, Kodak has been busy reinventing itself and weaning their business model away from its dependency on film. At Graph Expo, Kodak's Graphic Communications Group (GCG) takes the spotlight because its offerings span offset consumables such as plates, a full range of prepress, workflow software, and three different types of digital print engines. In addition, GCG has also been the epicenter of acquisitions and alliances as Kodak stakes its territory in the graphic arts market. The latest alliance is the integration of Kodak's MarketMover customer business development program with Four51.com. Adding Four51's Web-to-print capabilities to create the new Market Mover Network provides a way for Kodak customers to print jobs more easily and also drive business to owners of, say, a Nexpress, instead of a competing device. It also links owners of Kodak digital presses together, opening the door to distribute and print job sharing. Mike Howard, Vice President of Marketing, Digital Print Systems in GCG, calls the MarketMover Network a service enabler that Kodak customers can use for developing business with new and existing customers and to improve customer retention through Four51's web-to-print technology. "This eliminates the upfront costs customers would incur in setting up a Web-to-print solution and also provides a business model for them to use moving forward." MarketMover Network provides a way for Kodak customers to print jobs more easily, drive in new business, and opens the door to distribute and print job sharing. Howard says customers can still use the standard version of MarketMover but can upgrade to the network for $3,500. This seems a pretty reasonable amount if it helps drive business to a print shop. As Howard noted, "It changes the value proposition completely." Digimaster 138 EX Howard's group also rolled out the Digimaster EX 138 that fills the gap between its 125 and 150 ppm models. The new model features higher large-format paper capacity and fully integrated finishing, such as the ability to produce varying sized, saddle-stitched booklets, on-demand short run books and color integrated workflows. The book side of the folding includes long-edge folding that lets users create narrow booklets in addition to traditional sized books folded on the short side. Photo Bundle Still, Kodak remembers its roots. The new Nexpress Photo Bundle is a set of components that helps photofinishers and graphic communications providers create valuable photo services products. The Photo Bundle includes the software and hardware components needed to enhance a NEXPRESS press for high quality digital photo applications. The Bundle consists of a Start Up Assist program, a professional service for shortened time to market with photo products, better operational knowledge for lower cost, and improvements on industry leading up time performance. Don't expect to see your local photo store taking on a Nexpress, but next the set of photos you order off Kodak Gallery could well be printed on a Nexpress near you. Versamark Ron Gilboa, vice president of marketing for Kodak Versamark, said that sales are good and that customers are recognizing that high speed inkjet offers some excellent options for numerous applications. "We've reached a certain tipping point where customers are realizing that having a color solution is important. Now, instead of trying to convince them of this, we find ourselves showing them how to implement color in their businesses. And these span the market. We're seeing renewed interest in direct mail, transactional and hybrid applications." Not only have existing customers bought additional machines, but new customers are adopting Versamark's color technology. I know I've seen increased interest in these machines among print providers I talk with, so I think Gilboa is right that looking like the market is ready for more color and speed. HP Hewlett-Packard continues to play for all the marbles--or at least a lot of them--by having what the company calls a "postcard to billboard" graphic arts portfolio. I talked with Rich Raimondi, VP and General Manager of the graphic arts business in HP's Imaging & Printing Group to get a quick look at what the company sees in the way of opportunity across such a vast range of applications. One place is in servers, which is hardly surprising given the company's IT history. Digital print engines have typically had one RIP servicing one print engine, but it doesn’t have to be that way. "Our IT expertise gives us access to some technologies sooner than we would have otherwise," said Raimondi. "This gives us an advantage in integrating blade technology into printing systems." According to Raimondi, the new Scalable RIP Solution (SRS) integrates the HP BladeSystem that lets a print operation have all the RIPs for several print engines in one place, rather than located at individual presses. In shops with two or more of the same press, for example, it enhances job loading and balancing across multiple machines and make upgrading software faster and easier. This is all good for a commercial print operation but is especially important for one of HP's key markets--photography. Professional shooters have readily adopted Indigo press output for their sample books and other work and HP plans to deliver that same level of quality to the consumer market. Raimondi believes HP can drive more photo business to existing customers, generate more clicks per machine, and over time increase adoption of its photo solutions across more and more customers. "It's really a matter of making people aware of what's possible. We'll be playing in a number of areas, in some cases competing and in others collaborating, with players that are already there. There's tremendous opportunity in photo books and cards and it's really a matter of educating people about our technologies and bringing the things they want to market." Specifically targeting the photo-imaging market with the HP Indigo presses is a new Photo Image Enhancement package, a unique, automated application that performs as series of key optimization procedures prior to printing. These include image sharpening and smoothing, reduction of JPEG artifacts and improving contrast and shadow detail. Other enabling tools include Silverwire software for speeding photo-related workflows and new Light Cyan and Light Magenta ElectroInks that deliver greater tonal ranges and more saturated colors. Then There Were the Crowds at Canon It seemed like everyone wanted to get a look at the new Canon imagePRESS C7000VP. Every time I went by the Canon stand it was hard to get anywhere near the machine. Shown back in May at On Demand, the new machine is closer to being available (Q2, 2007) and it has a lot going for it. The price is still TBD, but indications are around $230,000 for the base model an the imagePRESS Server A3000. Whatever the price turns out to be, this box is likely to worry some product managers at Kodak Nexpress, KonicaMinolta, Ricoh and Xerox. Packed in at the Canon imagePRESS C7000VP The exact product configurations have not been set, but expect about 8,400 to 10,000 letter-size sheets in the paper supply drawers, but those pages could also be up to 13 x 19 inches. That will deliver a 12 x 18" full bleed. A couple of fold and staple choices will be available as standard equipment. What most printers ask about is print speed and that will be 70 letter-size pages per minute--regardless of the stock being run. This overcomes a problem common on many digital presses that slow down when running heavier stocks. For the print provider it means more productivity and in many cases a lower equipment investment when a single machine can meet all the production needs. The brochure available at Graph Expo was printed on the new machine and as you'd expect, looked great. It stresses that the 7000 is a digital press, rather than a printer. All the vendors do this these days, but this is especially important for Canon. Known as it is for making printers, the company plans on targeting commercial printers with this box, and not just the quick and small commercial shops where they have had a strong presence. Calling this a press may help get them in the door. After all, they're talking about going after the big game--where they'll be competing with the likes of HP, Kodak Nexpress and Xerox--all of which have an established presence in various types of commercial print operations. That's going to be an interesting transition to watch. Canon is also going to market with more than a fancy new box. The company is collaborating with Heidelberg on integrating the imagePRESS C7000VP and Heidelberg's Prinect Digital Print Manager software to smooth workflows between offset and digital machines. This may help make it easier for some commercial shops to find room on their shop floor for the new Canon. Then there's the imagePRESS Workflow Solutions Program, a still-developing collection of Canon-branded and third-party hardware and software solutions that can provide a workflow solution for the new machine. I wasn't able to see much of it at the show, but some of the exhibited workflows showed integration of the imagePRESS C7000VP workflow with EFI’s LOGIC MIS system as well as variable data direct mail workflows with solutions such as Bitstream’s Pageflex Persona Cross Media Suite and Meadows Publishing Solutions DesignMerge. How this will play out in the market is anyone's guess. There are a host of issues out there and some of the incumbent players can be a tad difficult to displace. But Canon is playing the game much the same way as Japanese car and consumer electronics manufacturers have over the past 30 years: they take a long view and play to win. This game is going to be about a lot more than this one machine. Yes, there's still more! Somehow I always find additional things to tell you about and I'll be wrapping up with that in one or two installments next week. We still have five more days of coverage from Cary, Pat, Barb, Gail and me. So stay tuned.