Digital workflows and the new methodologies of CIM (computer integrated manufacturing) are central to presentations by the leading press manufacturers at Graph Expo, where the "big three"—Heidelberg, Komori, and MAN Roland—are all promoting solutions for further automating the print manufacturing process.

Confident that all of its products will support the emerging JDF (job definition format) standard for production workflows in time for drupa 2004, Heidelberg has announced the first such products and is demonstrating them to interested crowds at its vast stand in McCormick Place. Of 21 announcements by Heidelberg at Graph Expo, fully one-third are related to workflow, software, or its new portal for e-commerce by printers.

Komori's latest approach to CIM is a strategic alliance with Printcafe whereby the Hagen OA job management system, a component of Printcafe’s MIS solution for printers, will be incorporated into the Komori K-Station to transfer job data to presses on the show floor. Press data is then exported back to the Hagen OA system, completing what Komori calls "the best CIP4 solution on the marketplace." (CIP4, the International Cooperation for the Integration of Processes in Prepress, Press, and Postpress, drives the development of JDF and other tools for automating print workflows.)

Printcafe and CIP4 also figure in CIM-related news from MAN Roland, which has announced that the three, with the additional participation of Creo, will mount a multi-city "CIM road show" aimed at making printers across North America believers in the advantages of computerized manufacturing. During the tour, MAN Roland will explain how its PECOM press operating and automation system can bring the benefits of CIM to the pressroom.

Each of the "big three" has equally important information to share about its other technologies, including announcements about new press products or enhancements to existing equipment. But the emphasis on workflow seems to signal a new direction not only in the press manufacturers' R&D programs, but in the kinds of news that may be expected to emanate from print trade shows from now on.

"In the past," explained Niels Winther, president of Heidelberg USA, "the question was, 'How do we optimize production?' The press used to be the bottleneck. Now we see that the bottleneck is everything that surrounds production. Now the goal is to tie together all of the various workflows to eliminate the bottlenecks that still exist." Winther said Heidelberg's goal will be to unite all of its systems for prepress, press, and postpress under the JDF banner over the next 12 to 18 months.

Heidelberg's intense focus on CIM is a shared theme at Graph Expo and a trend that may be expected to gather momentum in the future, according to industry analyst William C. Lamparter (PrintCom Consulting Group), who supervised the selection of the show's "Must See 'Em" products.

"CIM is all over the place at Graph Expo, and you can see it embodies in many of the products on the show floor," he said. "It's become as much a software show as a hardware show."

"For the press manufacturers, what's become relevant is how good is their software," Lamparter said. "Without good software, the iron is meaningless."

Bolstered by intensely meaningful announcements about software, the "big three" flaunted new presses with equal enthusiasm. Among the debuts were, from Heidelberg, a new version of the Speedmaster CD 74 with complete, built-in UV printing capability; MAN Roland's Roland 500, an 18,000 sph half-size sheetfed press; and the high-performance Lithrone S40 from Komori.

More information about these machines and new equipment from other press manufacturers will be featured in reports to follow.