While I wanted to do the follow up story on Labelexpo this week, after visiting PRINT 19 in Chicago last week, I felt I had to reflect on something timelier and more important. Sadly, this was to be the last of big Chicago print events.

Since the mid 1970s, I looked forward to my annual pilgrimage to the great city of Chicago for the alternating GRAPH EXPO and PRINT events. In the scheme of things, they were only print shows, but for me they became an annual time to reflect on the industry in which I have spent a large part of my life. These were welcoming events to see the latest hardware and software technologies and meet old and new friends. I recall one year when the show fully occupied both sides of the South Hall with some overflow to a third hall in order to accommodate the newly introduced digital print technology. This was in addition to the usual complement of offset presses, finishing equipment, and the necessary process support and consumable offerings. This year, PRINT 19 barely occupied a fraction of one side of the North Hall. Visiting the booths, going to seminar sessions, seeing the new developments and old friends in the hall was comforting and “normal.” I guess that in this rapidly changing world, normal is something we may have had to redefine to include constant change and transformation. The new normal.

Over the years, we have seen many printing and technology events disappear only to be replaced by others that, at least for a time, provide more relevance and timeliness. For a while, in addition to the big Chicago event, there were many regional printing shows to address the needs of the industry at that time of need, until travel became easier and they were all consolidated into the Chicago event. Some other industry events are there for a short period of time to help address significant changes. In the early to mid 1980s, when CEPS (Computer Electronic Prepress Systems) from companies like Scitex, Hell Graphics, and Crosfield began to show us how we could move from manual design and prepress to the new digital world at the Lasers In Graphics events. From 1985 to 1993, Macworld was a go-to event, as Apple became the dominant creative and production platform, until other computing platforms became relevant as well.

When digital technologies moved upstream into publishing and computers got smaller and more powerful, the CEPS systems lost their relevance and Seybold Seminars displaced Lasers In Graphics as the go-to event to learn and share. It ran from 1981 to 2005, but it too started to lose its relevance—or at least its economic viability. Seybold started its decline with the introduction of the Internet which started to have a significant impact on publishing. Seybold’s decline accelerated after there was a proclamation during a keynote address in 1999 that “print was dead.” Each of these events disappeared into the annals of history, print’s death was greatly exaggerated, and 20 years later the production processes and uses of print are just continuing to evolve to keep up with new technologies and meet new market requirements, and as we have previously seen, not for the first time.

As we have seen in the past, there are always other events that are willing to move in to address the current industry and its market trends and needs We are seeing a lot of more focused events like Hunkeler Innovationdays, which focuses not just on equipment but how it all fits together in a production line. Or Labelexpo, which just finished celebrating its 40th anniversary. Events on textiles, 3D printing (manufacturing), industrial print, inkjet, packaging, flexible packaging, etc., are all trying to get our focused attention as the markets are continuing to change and new opportunities are emerging. Of course, one of the oldest standing events is drupa, the colossal quadrennial event that has been turning Dusseldorf, Germany, into a printer’s Disneyland since 1951and is preparing for 2020. In a few weeks, we will see one of those previously focused events, SGIA Expo, which was historically a sign and graphics show, expand to address the broader market of print and offer a vision of print application and production convergence as the new PRINTING United.

Each of these events plays an important role in helping to define and support our industry during times of normalcy and, more importantly, times of change. Print technology and use are going through more major changes, somewhat akin to what we saw during the 1980s and 90s. Digital printing technologies, especially production inkjet, have created many new opportunities for print to become a part of a manufacturing process and not just an end product. That’s not to say that print as an end product is going away, it is just finding some new relevance as well.

 

However, even with the excitement of new events on the horizon, in speaking with many of the friends, exhibitors, and attendees I saw last week, there was a shared sadness. Our new normalcy is taking away a certain comfort and, sadly, Chicago.

More to Come…

I would like to address your interests and concerns in future articles as it relates to the manufacturing of Print, Packaging and Labels, and how, if at all, it drives future workflows including “Industry 4.0.” If you have any interesting examples of hybrid and bespoke manufacturing, I am very anxious to hear about them. Please feel free to contact me at david@zwang.com with any questions, suggestions or examples of interesting applications.