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Commentary & Analysis

GE07: Graph Expo and the shape of things to come

Although Graph Expo 2007 was light in new technology,

By Frank Romano
Published: September 21, 2007

Although Graph Expo 2007 was light in new technology, it was high on sales of technology that works, and offset litho was way up there in sales. Printers wisely invested in automated, productive presses. But there was some new stuff at the show and some it may be omens of what is yet to come.

MegaSpirea's MailLiner 100 is a finishing system that tales a roll of pre-printed paper, on which are printed the envelope and the contents of that envelope. The machine organizes the contents, makes the envelope, inserts the contents, and seals the envelope. The rolls should be printed digitally because every mailed piece can be personalized. I met the person who patented the product in 2004, and it went from idea to product in about three years.

With mail rates continuing to skyrocket and no trade association willing to challenge the Postal Service, the printing industry will be the loser. But imagine a number of these machines installed in printing companies across America. The file could be divided by zip code and sent for regional printout.

This means that high-speed digital printing will be mandatory. The Océ ColorStream 10000 is a full-color 172 images per minute printer can print over five million full-color, letter-size images a month, making it one of the world's fastest toner-based full color presses. The heavy-duty continuous feed capacity can easily absorb the volume of multiple cut-sheet color printers. With monochrome jobs running at 852 ipm and jobs that mix color and monochrome pages, the duty cycle goes even higher, providing the flexibility customers require.

This is a toner-based printer and Andy Tribute reported on an un-introduced Fuji-Xerox printer here in WTT in July. But most of the action is in inkjet printing. Right now, the Versamark is setting sales records with its high-speed continuous inkjet printers. I visited a service bureau near Sacramento, CA that replaced 50 or so monochrome toner printers with four full-color Versamarks. The Screen Truepress Jet is also marketed by InfoPrint Solutions, the IBM-Ricoh joint venture. HP has shown their EdgeLine high-speed technology and Memjet, an Australian company has over 400 patents involving inkjet. FFEI, Agfa, a few Japanese companies, and others are readying high-speed inkjet for Drupa. Even Océ is reported to be developing a system.

Nipson, whose magnetographic toner printers hit speeds up to 500 feet per minute,showed a new color inkjet drop-on-demand color device with 28 print heads across an 18.4" that can place 600 x 600 dpi spot colors anywhere on a page. The printer eliminates pre-printed forms.

The market that all the pundits are promoting is transpromo -- bills and statements with ads printed on them. But I think high-speed inkjet will remove another layer of work from offset litho, just as the sheetfed printers usurped a lot of the short-run printing. But sheetfed printers are hitting a wall in terms of sheet size and speed. You may see dual engines or even quad engines as well as bigger sheets by next year. But roll-fed inkjet, now ar 600 dpi and with the ability to handle spot colors, could affect ad inserts, circulars, and a large amount of collateral material.

That would mean another drop in offset litho volume and with it more consolidations and industry upheaval. There are some issues that may delay applications, like the width of the line (many are 18 inches but I think 22 inches is needed) and the substrate options. The speed comes from arrays of heads that stretch across the sheet and thus allow very high speeds.

The distribute and print concept becomes a viable option for many printers. And to support it there is HubCast, a firm enabling offset and digital printing of marketing communications materials around the world. They call themselves an Open Commercial Print Utility.  Certain types of print providers -- both offset litho and digital -- who need to split jobs with other printers for load balancing, to meet tight deadlines or because a job needs to be printed and delivered closer to mal distribution points. Printer members send their jobs to HubCast's servers in a PDF/X format where they are preflighted based on specified job specs, then distributed to a print provider on the network located closest to the point of need and which has the right mix of equipment and capabilities.

Much of the new stuff from Drupa in June will be at Graph Expo in October.

Lastly, I must correct an error of mine.

I said that Graph Expo was the "worst attempt to hide the truth" because the North Hall was not used. I was wrong. I mixed up past PRINT shows with past Graph Expos. I apologize for the mistake. It was the second largest Graph Expo ever and was truly sold out. There was only one Graph Expo that used two halls and that was in 2000. But in terms of space, it was second largest and, if it is any consolation, one of the most successful ever.

Frank Romano has spent over 50 years in the printing and publishing industries. Many know him best as the editor of the International Paper Pocket Pal or from the hundreds of articles he has written for publications from North America and Europe to the Middle East to Asia and Australia. Romano lectures extensively, having addressed virtually every club, association, group, and professional organization at one time or another. He is one of the industry's foremost keynote speakers. He continues to teach courses at RIT and other universities and works with students on unique research projects.

Please offer your feedback to Frank. He can be reached at frank@whattheythink.com.



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