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Commentary & Analysis

Digital Print Drives Drupa

By Kemal Carr,

By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: June 1, 2004

By Kemal Carr, Madison Advisors June 1, 2004 -- Amongst the multitudes of three-story offset presses, sophisticated color management enablers, robotic material moving systems, and esoteric peripheral and support products were some of the latest and greatest in digital printing devices. Both toner- and inkjet-based digital products were available and holding their own against the incumbent presses, and on the home turf of companies like Heidelberg and MAN Roland. This was my first visit to drupa and I found the size and scale of the show strikingly impressive: 17 large halls filled with a wide variety of printing products, supplies, and other enablers. I was most impressed with the strong showing by the digital providers, particularly Kodak Versamark's new 4-drop color technology enhancements for the VX5000e and Xerox's new Nuvera digital production printer launch. Océ announced a new light production device for production publishing, the VarioPrint 2110, and IBM indicated they'll soon be showing new technology. Océ, HP, and Xeikon launched new and updated digital technologies this spring, and all had working models available at the show with live customer applications. No longer a sideshow, digital printing has clearly become mainstream at drupa. Certainly drupa is about presses, and presses are mainly about full color. The digital vendors understand this focus, and digital color was everywhere you looked, with additional emphasis on workflow and process controls. Some attendees--perhaps riding the wave of pre-show hype-- suggested this was the JDF (Job Definition Format) drupa, adding credence to the fact that migration from offset to digital, and more importantly digital color, is well underway. JDF helps automate and manage many of the monitoring and control systems used in all types of print operations and provides some clear benefits, but more of the story at drupa was really that JDF provides new levels of workflow support that can boost efficiency in offset and digital print businesses alike. Still, Madison Advisors' research shows a dichotomy in the market, with both internal and service providers divided between those that “get it” and have introduced digital processing-- including color --into their environments, and those that haven't figured out how to incorporate this new and foreign technology. While there will always be some demand for offset production, digital will ultimately own the lion's share of color pages, maybe sooner than many believe, as print runs are continuing to shrink and variable content increases in importance. Now the debate begins between toner and inkjet based processes. There is certainly room in the market for both ink jet and toner machines, which can serve different markets and applications. But inkjet is a disruptive technology, and may ultimately wind up taking more pages from offset than toner-based presses. Already more than a few industry watchers are saying the next drupa will be the workflow drupa. It's going to be a very interesting four years until drupa 08.



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