Commentary & Analysis
A Fist Full of drupas
So I was talking to a colleague the other day,
By Noel Ward
Published: May 22, 2008
So I was talking to a colleague the other day, lamenting the horrendous exchange rate for the dollar in Europe. I said the best way to get cash while across the pond is to use an ATM card and just get a fist full of drupas as you need them. Huh?
This classic example of a brain cramp is just me being a little deadline stressed as the trek across the pond looms closer, but maybe it's not such a terrible idea. After all, drupa nearly doubles the size of Dusseldorf for two weeks and is a pretty self-contained area. It's sort of like Disney without the dorky mouse, high speed rides, and fake entertainment, so maybe there should be some drupa currency as well, with the images of various drupa and messe Dusseldorf executives in place of former politicians.
For a Few drupas More
Anyway, as you read this, we're one week away from the opening of drupa 2008 and the buzz can be heard just about everywhere in the printing industry. As I mentioned last time, the equipment vendors all had their pre-drupa dog and pony shows during the winter and told the media and analyst paparazzi about what they'd have at drupa. They now have our dogs, cats, children, spouses, and bootleg music libraries all held hostage at undisclosed locations in the event we mutter a word of their plans to anyone prior to 10 AM on May 29. However, some said it was OK to talk about what they said so I'll give you a glimpse, but don't want to spoil the real rollouts in Dusseldorf.
Show me the drupas
HP was pretty open about the new HP-Indigo 7000 model which is substantially faster than the 5500 model, which remains in the line up. I've had the opportunity to talk with a couple of printers who have a 7000 as a beta and they are happy campers, enjoying the speed but not seeing a huge difference in print quality so far. That's OK, they tell me, because the slightly larger sheet size and the speed turn out to be a pretty good combination.
The bigger news from HP is inkjet, in terms of latex ink for use on large format machines from the Scitex Vision side of the company's Imaging Products Group (IPG). As you'd expect, this is water-based ink technology and is claimed to work indoors and out and can be used in the same machines as some existing conventional inks. HP says it's not limited by media type, which could be a real advantage in the rapidly expanding large format market.
Then there's the highly hyped 30"-wide inkjet printer. My colleagues on the offset side of the game say this width, combined with this machines' claimed throughput speed of about 400 fpm could be compelling for several applications presently being produced on offset presses. That opens up a lot of interesting possibilities, but for the moment this is still a real wait-and-see product. HP has a habit of bringing stuff to market and growing business around it, so I'm excited about what it can mean for the industry. But remember, this is still a new technology and it will take some time to get straightened out. I have meetings scheduled to dig into this big box, so stay tuned for interviews and video.
Nipson, the quietest player in high-speed digital printing, is rolling out the VaryPress 500 which it says is the fastest toner-based press on the market today (500 ft. /min).That's an impressive number, and that speed helps the tight-web VP500 fit into hybrid offset applications where other digital devices don't work as well. The company says the VP500 is specially designed for easy integration with traditional printing equipment such as offset and flexo presses. This sounds pretty interesting and I'm hoping to see some examples.
Also new from Nipson stand will be the VaryPress SCS Spot Color System for adding from one to four spot colors to a VaryPress 500 line. The VaryPress SCS system adds high speed drop-on-demand print head arrays that can add one or more colors to a web at full rated speed.
Follow the drupas
The other quiet digital press company is Xeikon, which promises not to be all that quiet anymore. I talked with Bram Bourgeois, president of Xeikon USA, former race car driver and all around good guy when we were both in Belgium a few weeks back. He says the print world should be ready to hear a bit more from Xeikon.
"Xeikon is a niche product," admits Bourgeois. "But that cannot be a reason not to sell because then it becomes an excuse. The niche is due to the machine's speed, its roll-fed architecture, the print volume it needs to be profitable. It is not for every kind of printer, but for some, there comes a point when Xeikon is the right technology for them. We are reshaping that focus --clearly identifying the volume that is needed to be successful with a Xeikon and consolidate production capacity and optimize margins for our customers. When we can help them do that we all win."
Another element he notes, is identifying the markets best suited for the high-volume, long run lengths traits of the Xeikon engine. Some of the kinds of jobs the Xeikon does well are not commodities that can be handled on cut-sheet digital presses, which gives savvy Xeikon owners an economic advantage in the market and helps differentiate them from other print providers.
"A goal of Xeikon today is to take advantage of every one of the niches where the Xeikon press has a distinct advantage and position the company and its technology as the leader in those areas," explains Bourgeois.
The company's new 8000 press is the latest version of the same overall architecture the company has been selling for many years, and which keeps getting better with every iteration. Using the same engine for multiple machines, especially when the machine fills somewhat of a specialized niche makes a lot of sense. For companies cautious about investing in technology-based machines that seem to become obsolete all too quickly, Xeikon offers the investment protection of field-upgradeability on its presses.
"It's important for a customer, when he invests in a piece of equipment, to have a partner that will go with them on the ride, and that the equipment won't become obsolete. Customers also want the advantages of new technology and higher speeds, and if a press can be easily upgraded they get the investment protection they need,' says Bourgeois.
This drupa year, with lots of new technology being rolled out, print providers are being justifiably cautious about pulling the trigger on new machines, fearing that something new will come out that might be better ---if only they'd known to wait. This always happens and drupa 2008 will be no exception.
"With drupa coming so late this year there's something of a hold up in buying new equipment," says Bourgeois. "If we didn't protect the architecture of the machine we wouldn't be able to tell a customer or prospect, 'Look, you don't have to worry, because what we're doing is field-upgradeable.' "
"That makes it much easier for them to decide, and know that when the time is right ---either before drupa or after--- that if Xeikon is the right partner they will be able to get the machine that is best for their business."
I'll be getting with Bourgeois and other Xeikon execs at drupa and add to this story, which has a number of dimensions that there isn't enough space for here.
It's only drupas
It is you, just a trade show. Some call this the Olympics of print, maybe because it happens every four years, but since this isn't really a clear-cut competition that moniker doesn't fly with me. It is, though, an important exhibition of all the tools and technology that surround this wondrous, durable, ever-evolving communications medium called print. We'll see stuff that is truly remarkable, and things that raise the question, 'What were they thinking?" There'll be things that aren't remotely ready for prime time and others that are fully baked and ready to transform a business --perhaps even yours. And it'll all be good.