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Commentary & Analysis

“I Survived drupa ’08”: Printers and Vendors Recap the Experience

All right,

By Patrick Henry
Published: June 17, 2008

All right, the numbers are in: about 391,000 visitors from 138 countries converged upon the city of Düsseldorf, Germany for drupa 2008, doing about €10 billion ($15.5 billion) worth of deals during the two-week (May 29-June 11) timeframe of the show.

The totals are impressive, but statistics don’t reveal anything about who attended, why they came, or what they believe they accomplished while they were there. We spent part of the week in which the show closed tracking down drupa-goers who could furnish those insights either as exhibitors or as aisle-exploring information seekers.

 

I attended drupa because we couldn’t afford not to make the investment and educate our organization on where our industry is today and where the visionaries may lead us in the future.

It wasn’t easy to get the latter perspective from U.S. printers, since relatively few of them were in attendance. For most Americans, drupa was a more expensive and time-consuming proposition than they could justify in this year of economic uncertainty. But, the U.S. visitors that we did manage to speak with said that their investment in going to drupa had been repaid, or soon would be, by the uses they planned to make of what they found there.

“I attended drupa because as a growing company, it is important to have the latest technology and look at strategies for automating the process,” said Christopher Gravagna, CEO of the OnDemand Color Group (Long Island City, NY). “We couldn’t afford not to make the investment and educate our organization on where our industry is today and where the visionaries may lead us in the future.”

“The Latest and the Greatest”

Seizing the opportunity to see what they both called “the latest and the greatest” in one place was the main attraction for Don Droppo, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Curtis Packaging (Sandy Hook, CT) and Tim Fialko, vice president of operations at the Alliance division of Rock-Tenn Co. (Winston-Salem, NC). Taking it all in at drupa, noted Droppo, is much more convenient than visiting demo centers and factories throughout the U.S. and Europe to see equipment one piece at a time.

In business, said Roger Wrass, director of research and development at Liturgical Publications Inc. (New Berlin, WI), time equals value—and time spent at an event like drupa must return value for Liturgical Publications’ customers in a cost-effective way.

There are many ways to conduct pre-purchase research—studying the trade media, visiting vendor headquarters, touring beta test sites—and Wrass utilizes them all. In terms of information-gathering value, he said, drupa, is “almost equal” to everything else combined because it is a “worldwide platform” where nearly everything of interest can be seen in one place, on one trip.

Wrass also pointed out that drupa also gives visiting printers access to “top engineers” from the vendors who would otherwise be difficult to meet. He thinks that for American printing firms like Rock-Tenn, the event encourages out-of-the-box thinking just by virtue of being in an overseas location. Attending drupa, he says, “certainly has been a piece of our strong, positive growth over the last 15 years.”

Eager Exhibitors, Attentive Attendees

For exhibitors at drupa, there can never be enough printers like Gravagna, Droppo, Fialko, and Wrass—serious, enthusiastic attendees whose questions and input often prove crucial to product-development strategies from one drupa to the next. Wrass, for one, likes to challenge vendors at trade shows by asking them to demonstrate capabilities that he knows their equipment doesn’t possess. It’s always stimulating, he said, to encounter the wealth of “what-if” scenarios that the German fair abounds in.

During drupa 2008, all of the vendors we interviewed for this article, other stories, and video clips seemed equally well satisfied with the encounter. “The quantity and quality of the attendance was good,” said Vince Lapinski, CEO of manroland USA Inc. “The only exception is possibly less-than-expected attendees came from North America, but the overall traffic across the booth was very good.”

 

We had enormous traffic on our stand from the four corners of the earth. The quality was excellent and the interest serious. We now have quite a job to ensure a responsive feedback.

Megaspirea, a French company specializing in mail finishing solutions, didn’t have a stand of its own, but it occupied a hot piece of real state nonetheless—a corner of the Xerox booth, where it demonstrated its Mailliner 100 mail production system inline with a Xerox 490/980 continuous-feed color printer. The response, according to Denis Campbell, senior business adviser to Megaspirea, could scarcely have been better:  “We had enormous traffic on our stand from the four corners of the earth. The quality was excellent and the interest serious. We now have quite a job to ensure a responsive feedback.”

Brian Wolfenden, Presstek’s director of marketing, likewise reported “very strong” attendance at the Presstek stand, where the company’s full line of CtP platesetters, plates, and UV-capable DI presses was on display. “We enjoyed visits from a wide-range of printers and distribution partners from across the globe,” he said during the show. “The quality of the visitors is very good—concerning quantity, you’d always like more—but if my memory is right, the Presstek booth is busier than at previous drupas.”

What Set Them Thinking

 

For individuals, getting a fix on technology trends in just a few days at an event with nearly 2,000 exhibitors scattered across 18 giant halls is like trying to glimpse scenery through a keyhole in the door of a boxcar on a fast-moving freight train.

For individuals, trying to get a fix on technology trends in just a few days at an event with nearly 2,000 exhibitors scattered across 18 giant halls is like trying to glimpse scenery through a keyhole in the door of a boxcar on a fast-moving freight train. But all of our sources came away with clear impressions of the developments that they think will change the production landscape in the aftermath of the show.

In Wolfdenden’s opinion, two hot topics were environmentally friendly, a.k.a. “green,” printing and the role of inkjet technology. Lapinski also cited “eco-trends” and added “digital, inkjet, cost reductions through innovative services for makeready savings, and technology such as DirectDrive” to his list of advancements that bear watching. (DirectDrive is manroland’s independent servomotor technology for plate cylinders in its sheetfed presses,)

“From our point of view,” said Campbell, “it was the coming of age of continuous digital color, be it inkjet or toner. Since a large percentage of the volume produced on such printers will be mail, speed, reliability, and disaster recovery are issues as well as consistent quality.”

Campbell thinks that the printing industry “may not have woken up to the full advantages of digital”: variability, speed-to-market in job turnarounds, and lower setup costs and simpler production in comparison with offset litho. “But once a few have installed continuous color and see the competitive advantage it gives them, the news will spread,” he predicted.

Few Secrets, Fewer Surprises

But visiting printers who did their homework and made the most of their time at drupa will not be easy to impress now that the show is over. Droppo, for example, said that the halls didn’t contain any “truly revolutionary things that we didn’t know about ahead of time.” Because Rock-Tenn works hard to stay “extremely abreast” of advances in all forms of digital printing, Fialko concurred, “we didn’t see anything that we didn’t already know about. We did see advancements, but we expected to see them.”

Still, it’s impossible to attend drupa without being impressed by something, because there literally is something for everyone. Of special interest to Curtis, said Droppo, were inline cold foiling systems from Heidelberg, KBA, manroland, and others that simulate the look and feel of hot-foil stamping, a process that the company uses extensively for its high-end packaging. Droppo also took note of advances in web-fed flexographic printing, a technology, he says, that “keeps getting better every time you come to drupa.”

Wrass believes that the true technological keynote of drupa was IT: integrated, Internet-based, real-time communications that turn data streams into useful information at web portals adjacent to production machinery. “Everybody had a computer box next to some equipment,” he said. Wrass will advise his customers that these interactive tools now let them upload documents directly into Liturgical Publications’ production pipeline with instant technical support when it’s needed. He thinks that the application of AI (artificial intelligence) to workflow integration soon will improve the customer experience with even greater ease of use.

Wrass also was impressed by “computer controls on offset presses”: features like automatic register adjustment and inline inspection systems for color management. Thanks to these advancements, he said, offset has driven down operating costs to the point where it can compete with digital printing in very small runs. This is a real boon to an offset producer like Liturgical Publications, which prints more than 3,000 advertising-supported bulletins, newsletters, and directories for churches in runs that average about 700 copies.

Fialko’s impression was that digital printing was more prominent at drupa 2008 than at any previous edition of the show. To be seen everywhere, he said, was evidence of “the continual onset of digital printing technology.” Gravagna saw it too, citing “increased quality, a larger range of substrates, as well as quicker printing speeds” as significant advances on the digital side. The technology is finding its way into multiple markets thanks to large-format output, high-volume production capability, and digital finishing solutions, he added.

Gravagna, whose commercial business is built around pair of 40" multicolor sheetfed presses, said that ink-on-paper advances prominent at drupa included inline color control and integrated finishing systems. To his list of “new and exciting” finds he added software: “auto-imposition, web-to-print, enhanced variable-data, and color management tools that are eliminating Matchprints and Kodak Approvals.”

Inkjet Passes the “Hype” Test

We couldn’t resist asking our sources what they thought of the notion that drupa 2008 was “the inkjet drupa.” Was the claim just hype, or was inkjet seen to have made a genuine leap forward at the show?

“It wasn’t just hype,”  answered Lapinski. “The new technologies are exciting, as is the development of new ideas and interests for targeting consumers and adding value.”  However, he said that “the real question” is when these products will be ready for the market. Wrass, similarly, said that while he was “very encouraged” by what he saw in inkjet, the newest solutions appeared to be at least a year away from commercial availability. He also remarked that if the “pastel, flat-color look” of inkjet output can successfully be marketed as “acceptable” color, the process is sure grow in popularity.

Although Droppo felt that the emphasis on inkjet was “a little bit more of a hype” for a package printer than it was for other attendees, he said that Curtis Packaging had come to drupa to learn more about digital printing technologies of all kinds. One drawback to digital, in his opinion, is that the comparatively limited color gamut of digital presses makes it hard to match the corporate colors that have to be correctly reproduced on branded packaging. Nevertheless, said Droppo, digital printing looms in Curtis Packaging’s future as a production resource.

Gravagna also resisted calling it “the inkjet drupa,” but he took due note of the versatility of the process: “It seems that inkjet can print on anything, from paper to envelopes to plastics and woods.”

Purchasing: If Not Now, Eventually

All in all, the auguries seemed favorable for what drupa, like any trade show, is ultimately about: generating product sales. According to Campbell, “People were in buying mood.” Wolfenden, commenting while the show was still on, said that “the traffic flow in our booth is exceeding our expectations. We are happy to report that we are writing orders on the stand.”

Although the printers we spoke with for this story were not among those who made major purchases at drupa, each indicated that research conducted during the show would lead to significant investments later on. Fialko said that while nothing Rock-Tenn saw at drupa inspired any near-term purchasing decisions, a VLF offset press in the 56" range was “definitely on the wish list” of the things its four-member delegation investigated on the fairgrounds.

 

You can always achieve the best deal by having patience and doing your research when you are away from the lights, the beautiful booths, and the candy they feed you.

Gravagna declared that he probably would purchase color management and impositioning software, automated finishing equipment, and other products that he tire-kicked at the show, but not right away: “I am waiting for most of the companies to return home, and then the negotiations begin. You can always achieve the best deal by having patience and doing your research when you are away from the lights, the beautiful booths, and the candy they feed you.”

Although no deals were signed, said Droppo, Curtis Packaging is “very seriously considering” buying a silkscreen printing system based on product information it was able to gather at the show. He added that acquiring a web flexo press at some point in the future was “definitely on the table,” for Curtis, which currently uses large-format sheetfed litho presses for all production.

At every drupa he attends, Wrass keeps an eye out for what he calls the “golden goose”: a product so obviously matched to his requirements that buying it doesn’t take much deliberation. But the golden goose can be elusive, he admits: “Sometimes you find it, and sometimes you don’t.”

If no goose was caught this time around, Wrass explained, it was partly due to the fact that this year, Liturgical Publications “is focused on managing risk because of the economic downturn.” This doesn’t mean that the company has shelved its capital investment strategy, but it does mean that it will stick to a predetermined equipment acquisition plan and resist the impulse to bag additional “geese,” golden or otherwise. Wrass feels, in any case, that Liturgical Publications can afford to bide its time: “I don’t get as excited about the price of the box now, because I know it will come down later.”

But for Liturgical Publications, drupa’s aftermath won’t be completely empty-handed. One goal is to have a workflow in place by the end of the year, and Wrass spent part of his four days at the show evaluating three candidate systems. A decision probably will be made to purchase one of them, he said.

Two Weeks: Too Much?

Because thinking about drupa means thinking in four-year increments, the finale of drupa 2008 has to be seen as the start of the countdown to drupa 2012. Given the demands of participating in an event that racks up exhibit, housing, and travel costs for two full weeks, a question about the show’s duration inevitably comes up. Could drupa—should drupa—be shorter?

 

Given the demands of participating in an event that racks up exhibit, housing, and travel costs for two full weeks, a question about the show’s duration inevitably arises. Could drupa—should drupa—be shorter?

Wolfenden, for one, favors trimming the calendar: “I think drupa should be shortened to 10 days. I do not believe that this change will impact the overall attendance total.”

Lapinski, on the other hand, believes that “the timeframe of drupa as established is good. With the amount of visitors in our booth, combined with customers’ interest in manroland worldwide, a lesser schedule would diminish the event and not allow adequate time.”

Campbell acknowledges that it takes “a chunk of resource” to have a presence at drupa but thinks that the value of the undertaking would be diminished if there were less exhibition time. Cutting back the schedule would do no favors for attendees, either: “Many of the visitors we met spent several days at the show, and one could estimate that if the show were much shorter then it would become very crowded and the logistics—travel, hotels, etc.—could become even more difficult.”

Droppo, Fialko, Gravagna, and Wrass wouldn’t want to see that happen, as each expects to attend or send someone to attend the next edition of drupa four years from now. They, like many others who survived drupa ’08, have already marked their calendars for a return to Düsseldorf between May 3 and May 16, 2012. So has WhatTheyThink.

Patrick Henry, Executive Editor for WhatTheyThink.com is also the director of Liberty or Death Communications, a consultancy specializing in research, education, promotional, and editorial support services for the printing and publishing industries.

Patrick Henry is available for speaking engagements and consulting projects. To get more information contact us here.

Please offer your feedback to Patrick. He can be reached at patrick.henry@whattheythink.com.

 

 

Wide Format Editor

Richard Romano

Richard Romano, Section Editor/Senior Analyst
Richard has written about communication, graphics hardware and software trends for the past 15 years.

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