One of the greatest things about trade shows is the plethora of equipment on display. One of the worst things about trade shows is the plethora of equipment on display. How do you know what’s really new, what’s really different, and what’s the same ole’ stuff that’s been around awhile? How are any of us supposed to keep all of this information straight?

Since it was my beat to cover binding and finishing equipment, I decided to deal with the challenge with what I called “the Columbo approach” to trade show journalism. That was to ask the really obvious, annoying questions, because that was the only way I would find out what I really wanted to know.

Those conversations usually went something like this:

Heidi: “Hello. I’m from What They Think dot-com. What are you showing in the booth that’s new?”

Vendor: “Well, we’re showing our—”

Heidi: “I’m sorry to interrupt you, but I’m not asking what you are showing. I’m asking what in this booth is new. Are you showing any new equipment? Or has any of your equipment been upgraded recently?”

Vendor: “Ummm….”

Heidi: “That’s okay. Can you pick out a piece of equipment and show me something unique about it? What’s your competitive differentiator? What makes that [binder, folder, cutter, stitcher, laminator] different from every [binder, folder, cutter, stitcher, laminator] out there?”

Vendor: “Ummm….”

Many conversations really did go like this, even from the larger companies. The problem is that vendors are so used to talking about features and benefits (which are good things, don’t get me wrong) that they seem to have forgotten about competitive differentiation. “Ours is better.” Yes, but why? I’ll never forget the “deer in the headlights” look of one poor guy demonstrating a very expensive, impressive-looking digital press when I asked, “Can you tell me why the industry needs yet another digital press?” Blink, blink. “What’s different about this one? How is it not like the dozens of others that are out there?” Time to bring in reinforcements.

I did find, however, that if I asked enough annoying questions, I got some great information. These products do have competitive differentiators if you dig for them. Vendors just aren’t in the habit of thinking about their equipment this way, so it takes some work to get it out of them.

In the binding and finishing area, I found some neat products and features that I’ve written about over the past few days. Those that didn’t fit into a themed article, I’ll list here. This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list, but it is a quick survey of a few of the notables that I have not covered elsewhere.

  • GBC had lots of equipment in its booth, including its FusionPunch II In-Line Punch, which as of AIIM/On Demand has received validation for the Xerox Nuvera 100 and 120 and DocuColor 7000 and 8000 Digital Production Systems. And its StreamPunch — the only punch available for 62-105 ppm machines — is now compatible with the Ricoh Aficio 2051, 2060, and 2075 digital imaging systems.

But I was more interested in GBC’s Brand Imagine Solutions, which is not a product, but a marketing tool that printers can use to upsell their clients on wide variety of presentation covers and binding spines, presentation tabs, binder solutions, and presentation folders. When a client comes in, wanting to produce a presentation folder, the printer can say, “That looks great. But what if you did this?” And then they can show the customer a variety of samples of higher value solutions that will improve the look of the project. Those products are produced by GBC and turned around to the printer very quickly. This is a great solution because production really isn’t the biggest problem printers are facing anymore. It’s competitive differentiation and sales. GBC’s Brand Imagine Solutions directly addresses that problem — how to create a consultative sales relationship, solidify customer loyalty in a world of “like” print production workflows, and at the same time, sell more stuff.

  • ISP Stitching & Bindery Products, which is known for supplying stitching heads to the major manufacturers, was showing its own product called Stitch ‘N Fold. What’s neat about this product is that it uses actual stitching heads, rather than the stapling heads that are typical of products in this price range ($8,000-$10,000). The use of actual stitching wire means you don’t have to change out as often. A traditional staple cartridge will contain up to 5,000 staples. With the stitching wire, you can get 65,000 stitches, which look like staples, while reducing downtime and costing less per stitch.
  • Thermo-O-Type’s FT-10 Foil Fuser allows printers to accent pages with decorative foil. Pages first go through a laser printer, then the foil adheres to the toner. Unlike competitive fusing machines, which have 1/2” cores, the FT-10 has a 1” core, so it holds twice the volume of foil, reducing the price per foot. The machine also offers an entire palette of foil colors — several dozen — rather than just a few key colors.
  • Triumph was showing its 5550-EP and 5551-EP folders for the offset and digital markets. What’s unusual about these products is that they are hydraulic cutters, which is rare in the $14,000 price range. The hydraulic operation allows printers to adjust the clamp pressure for the type of stock, which is helpful for delicate stocks like NCR.
  • In the Xerox booth, there were two major introductions to its binding and finishing solutions. It introduced the Horizon ColorWorks 8000 Bookletmaker, which works on the DocuColor 8000 and 7000; and its Manual + Book Factory, while not new, is now available on its Nuvera production system, as well as the iGen3 and DocuColor 6180. Also announced at the show is a new high-volume digital color press to be available in the third quarter, the Xerox DocuColor 7000, which runs at 70 ppm.
  • Foliant was showing the Gemini 400, which is designed to laminate hard-to-laminate materials, such as output from the DocuTech and iGen3, which, based on the silicones in the toner, have difficult working with standard laminating film. The machine overcomes this challenge by using hydraulic pressure, which has been tested and proven in the Xerox testing facilities.

Despite some of the neat competitive differentiators offered by these products, what I found interesting — and disappointing — is that those differentiators were not in the product literature. Literature was filled with sizes, speeds, and features, but nothing that tells me, as a potential buyer, why this product is different from someone else’s. That information was only gained by really digging in and asking the right questions. So make sure to ask the questions.