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Commentary & Analysis

Disruptive--and Synergistic--Hybrids

By Noel Ward,

By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: June 7, 2004

By Noel Ward, Executive Editor June 1, 2004 -- Many of the "Workflow drupa" promises of smoother, faster, more efficient workflows will no doubt come to pass in the next couple of years. The leading vendors will expand their offerings, enhance and deepen their partnerships, and bring many of the nascent products shown in Düsseldorf to reality. But this column is not about workflow, which will ultimately become more like an operating system--the backdrop for how printing is done. It's about how hybrid printing techniques are going to offer new opportunities. One of the cool things about drupa is that you get a glimpse of things to come. Some of this is in public technology demos that range from wishful thinking to smoke and mirrors to corporate posturing to delusions of grandeur. There are behind closed door sessions with NDAs required for admission. Then there is the promise of disruptive printing technologies and applications--and where they may lead a few years out. Disruptive Hybrids Back in February at the Océ Open House in Poing, Germany I saw the new VarioStream 9000, a color-capable press that was being used to produce condensed versions of newspapers. I always like to read differing points of view and the shorter papers (up to 24 pages or so) I picked up there gave me articles from the U.S., Australia, the UK and elsewhere (alas, I read only English). At drupa, the process went a big step further. Using the Océ VarioStream 9000, the digitally produced extracts from international titles were merged with an offset-produced daily news magazine called "Connections" that was printed on a MAN Roland ROTOMAN press. The two products were pulled together by a Schur mailroom system in the PrintWorks factory in PrintCity and distributed the next morning. It's a case of a "daily newspaper" becoming a supplement to a glossy title, as opposed to the traditional set up of magazine supplements within newspapers. Tim Venediger, head of Océ's Digital Newspaper Network (DNN) and the driving force behind the project says, "The manufacturers of offset presses are racing to achieve genuine computer-to-press functionality. They are spending millions of R&D dollars on how to get cost-effective shorter runs with quicker turnaround times. They are desperate to get to where we are today." "Digital printing for newspapers has a vital role to play as an increasing number of newspaper publishers are looking to have additional supplements with a specific regional focus." Success of newspapers is driven in part by advertising revenues and as publishers battle for ad dollars, it's not hard to imagine advertising being more tightly tailored to markets where a paper is being distributed. The technology Océ demonstrated at drupa shows this is possible today. It's now a matter of it being scaled up and adopted. This is only a part of how Océ is disrupting newspaper publishing. At drupa the company was printing condensed editions of 15 titles including The Financial Times (on its trademark tinted paper), The Wall Street Journal, International Herald Tribune, Sydney Morning Herald, Asahi, and The Times of India, the world's biggest-selling broadsheet. Venediger says the response was overwhelming. "Everybody wants to keep up with the news from their home country, especially when they're at drupa with no time to find somewhere to buy their favorite paper from back home." I know I liked finding an International Herald Tribune to read while munching a lunchtime bratwurst, but they were scarce on the streets of Düsseldorf. And I liked comparing the Trib's coverage of events in the Middle East with that of The Guardian, one of my favorite UK papers. The next disruptive technology is one that's been around for awhile--and is about to make bigger waves. In the Kodak Versamark stand a 2-color Muller Martini offset press (it could just as easily have been a 4-color, but there wasn't enough room) had a pair of inkjet heads on the back end, putting black and red variable data on forms that were being printed on the offset press. All in line, at 1,000 pages per minute. This process is already business as usual at some commercial print shops, such as Sandy Alexander, where monochrome print heads put personalized and customized information on a variety of 4-color direct mail documents. This is part of the future of inkjet. And things are only going to get faster. What makes this interesting is that it enables just about any commercial print provider to get into the variable data business with their existing offset presses and without making the investments required to support a high-speed digital press. While tacking inkjet print heads onto an offset press doesn't begin to replace a continuous feed digital press, it is sufficiently disruptive to give printers with vision a means of competing with toner-based machines. Then the print provider can segue to a full digital press based on comfort level and market demand. Given the substantial efforts Kodak Versamark, Jetrion and others are making in inkjet technology we can expect speeds to rise, quality (which is already sufficient for many applications) to improve, and costs to become more attractive. Inkjet, in my humble estimation, is going to rattle a lot of cages in the digital print industry. I liken this to the wide acceptance of CTP, especially the process-free technologies from Presstek, Creo and others. CTP gives existing presses a new lease on life, improves workflows and reduces numerous waste problems. Putting inkjet heads on an offset press offers equivalent advantages. Printers who pre-print forms and direct mail pieces, for example, are already feeling the pressure of toner-based digital presses and on-demand printing. Inkjet heads on an offset press enable them to compete with toner-based print providers for a number of applications. Disruptive and synergistic technologies like digital newspapers and high-speed inkjet printing are going to continue shaping the printing industry. It's easy to dismiss print as a dying medium, but when you look at the developments evident at drupa and other shows, the technologies still under wraps in vendors' development labs, and using your imagination, it's apparent that some of the best of print is still to come.

 

 

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