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Commentary & Analysis

Could Happy Days Be Here Again? Optimism at Ipex Portends Potential Industry Renaissance

"Smiles, everyone, smiles!" That's not something one has heard at a printing industry trade show in rather a long time, but this year’s Ipex—which opened Tuesday, May 18, at the NEC in Birmingham, UK—is one of the happier occasions I (or many) can recall in a good long time.

By Richard Romano
Published: May 20, 2010

“Smiles, everyone, smiles!” That’s not something one has heard at a printing industry trade show in rather a long time, but this year’s Ipex—which opened Tuesday, May 18, at the NEC in Birmingham, UK—is one of the happier occasions I (or many) can recall in a good long time. Whilst Dr. Joe can give the take of “the dismal science” on the matter, neither attendees nor exhibitors here seem particularly interested in focusing on the negative. There’s not really the sense that there is any kind of economic boom happening per se, but rather more the feeling that everyone has survived something. It’s almost like Europe after World War II: a sense that an awful time is over, and a bright future can be created through rebuilding on the ashes of the past. That may sound a tad melodramatic, but there it is.

Attendance, we are told, is at unheard-of-in-recent-memory levels (there were more than 70,000 pre-registrations, the highest ever for Ipex, and up 13% from Ipex 2006. The immense NEC is mobbed, and if the inability to find a place uncrowded enough to sit down and have lunch is any indication, this is quite a well-attended show. Everyone seems very happy—attendees and exhibitors alike. None of that “oh, well, it’s not the quantity of the attendees but the quality that matters anyway” nonsense. Although it’s only Day Two as I write this, there seems to be a good indication that attendees will be of sufficient quantity and quality. Which is good to know.

To answer one burning question: is this an inkjet Ipex? Actually, yes. I’ve scarcely begun to skim the surface of the inkjet offerings on display—tomorrow I am slated to check out the eagerly awaited Kodak Prosper, so watch out for that—but it’s hard not to get the impression that there is just ink jetting all over the place round here. Transpromo and transactional printing are also falling from the lips and press releases of companies throughout the show floor. Such is the interest in inkjet-based digital printing that even Pitney Bowes has seen fit to venture into the digital printing business, by partnering with HP to produce the IntelliJet Color Production Print System. They had introduced the IntelliJet 30 at Print 09 and the IntelliJet 20—a smaller-footprint device than the 20—is being introduced here at Ipex. Pitney Bowes’ basic strategy—which they are branding the “1ntegrate” (yes, that’s the number 1 and not a lowercase l, a product orthography not much seen since the dot-com boom, so copy editors beware)—is to integrate print and mail. In one installation, a health care company was able to replace a slew cutsheet printers and a reliance on preprinted shells with three IntelliJet systems. Interestingly, a key component of the 1ntegrate philosophy is multichannel delivery of content—I always think of the opportunities of transpromo warily, as electronic transactions can easily short-circuit it—and Pitney Bowes seem poised (or at least cognizant of the need) to deliver content on whatever medium the recipient wants it.

You know, it’s interesting (and the definition of “interesting” comes from someone who just spent 170 words talking about mailing equipment): it almost seems like there is some sort of vendetta out on toner-based digital printing. When I wrote the WhatTheyThink Inkjet Printing Primer, I spoke of the “turf war” between toner and inkjet and meant it pretty much tongue-in-cheek, but I’ll yell you, everyone is gunning for toner. So there is the hope that toner will take a powder.

To wit: one announcement made some time ago, but now an actual demonstrable product, is the Presstek 75DI Direct Imaging press. The new press, designed for short-run offset color printing and to bridge the gap between offset and digital printing, is said to offer as little as six-minute job turnover. As Jeff Jacobson, Chairman, President, and CEO of Presstek, previous announcements had given the makeready time of the 75DI press at eight minutes, Since then, they have shaved an additional two minutes off job turnaround.

With an optimal run length of jobs in the 500 to 20,000 range, the new DI, like other Direct Imaging presses, images plates directly on press, and is headed toward Presstek’s goal of making the printing press “a computer peripheral.”

During the press conference, Jacobson outlined Presstek’s strategy for the future, including the company’s desire to manufacture plates open to all platemakers. They are also seeking to grow beyond Presstek’s core market of 1–9-employee print shops and expand to shops of all sizes, evidenced by “the 52DI aqueous coater bought by the second biggest printer in the world, Quad/Graphics.”

“DI was ahead of its time,” said Jacobson, “80% of all four-color jobs are less than 5,000 impressions.”

Ah, but now we find more evidence of the anti-toner backlash. “I believe with the advent of inkjet, electrophotographic missed an opportunity.” Jacobson sees shops with three basic equipment rosters: inkjet for short-run, variable printers; offset for long-run printing, and a DI press for the “doughnut hole” between those two technologies’ run-length characteristics.

Will inkjet win over toner? What of DI? The market will decide, as it inevitably does.

One of my favorite (sorry, favourite; when in Rome...) approaches to show coverage is more quixotic than deliberate; while wandering at random, trying to figure out how my video camera works and trying not to goose everyone with my monopod, I came across an Israeli company called Scodix, which specializes in “digital embossing.” I was intrigued, so I stopped to chat, and they have developed an inkjet system that produces the effect of embossing without actually using a relief process. (This enables two-sided embossing.) It’s rather cool, and the technology is aimed at such applications as brochures, leaflets, and business cards; consumer applications like invitations, greeting cards, calendars, photo albums, and book covers; and industrial applications such as packaging. The company hasn’t expanded into the U.S. yet, but one looks forward to the day when they do.

As the show empties out for the day, and the sun goes down, it’s time to venture out into the Birmingham night in search of...The Balti Triangle.

Please offer your feedback to Richard. He can be reached at richard@whattheythink.com.



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