“A print business that is alive …”

Every four years, the global print community gathers in Dusseldorf for the world's largest printing trade show, and suppliers to the industry make significant investments in the run-up to the show in order to optimize their time at this global event.  More than any other printing trade show, drupa is a place for companies to launch not only new products but also their strategic vision for the future.  During the show, I had the opportunity to speak with Rich Lowe, President of franchise print network Sir Speedy, who was at drupa with a contingent of colleagues from Sir Speedy’s parent company, Franchise Services, including the General Manager of Netherlands-based MultiCopy, Gerard Slot and Franchise Services CEO Don Lowe.  Since an organization the size of Franchise Services has plenty of access to suppliers outside of the show environment, I was interested to learn what they were here to see.

We come here to see the future.  Most U.S. shows are product based.

Lowe’s perspective is that drupa is about both short-term and long-term trends.  He says, “We come here to see the future.  Most U.S. shows are product based.”  For Lowe and his team, web to print and workflow solutions are critical. He comments, “At last drupa, big box manufacturers were concentrating on the hardware, and often the software solutions were coming from smaller companies.  At drupa 2008, we see the big manufacturers becoming more vertical, bringing web to print and workflow solutions that optimize their output devices, either through partnerships or their own development.  This has become such a software business.  As a print service provider, achieving the gross margins you want requires the efficiency these solutions bring.  At Franchise Services, we have always understood the equipment side, and now with a more integrated view being presented by equipment suppliers such as Kodak, Xerox and HP, it is much easier for me to see how the software solutions work to optimize the equipment. And everything is in an application context—the pitch has moved from ‘here is what my equipment will do,’ to ‘these are the applications you can produce with an integrated solution.’”

Slot added, “Traditionally at drupa, we started with Hall 1 [Heidelberg].  This time we won’t get there till Day Four.”  As a side note, Heidelberg, in Halls 1 and 2, has always had what could arguably be called the premier location, the first thing most visitors saw as they entered the fairgrouns.  Now, with the new transportation center at the North Entrance, the vast majority of attendees enter right smack in the middle of “digital drupa,” including the new primarily digital Halls 8a and 8b and the drupa innovation parc in Hall 7.

I am seeing here a business that is alive. Exhibitors are telling us they are selling here.

The Franchise Services group expressed an optimism that I saw repeated throughout the show.  Slot summed it up by saying, “I am seeing here a business that is alive. Exhibitors are telling us they are selling here.”  Slot certainly is positive about the business.  His Multicopy organization averages 80% gross margins in a tough environment, an achievement the company has reached by focusing on workflow improvements, including web to print, as well as cautious investments and no reluctance to charge for professional services.  In fact, Slot told us that in one recent instance, a franchisee charged a client Euro 10,000 for customization and implementation of a web-to-print solution, and the client, who clearly saw the benefits and ROI he would receive through this effort, reported that he would have spent twice that much to gain the benefits!


Throughout the show there was emphasis on end-to-end solutions that deliver efficient operation

I heard these themes over and over again at drupa 2008, from both printers and suppliers to the industry—the optimism and the emphasis on an integrated digital workflow focused on specific applications.  Throughout the show there was emphasis on end-to-end solutions that deliver efficient operation.  A sampling of those are included here, with lots of links to source material for more detail.  As you can imagine, there are a huge number of innovative solutions spread around the 1.8 million square feet of exhibit space, and it is impossible to cover them all.  Later, I will be writing about some other cool stuff I saw during my drupa tour that don’t specifically fall into the workflow category, so be sure to watch for that.

Agfa has repackaged its various workflow solutions into the :Apogee Suite, including :ApogeeX and its portal product, formerly known as :Delano and now rebranded as :Apogee Portal.  :Apogee Suite also includes a new  integrated publication platform, :Apogee Media, with integrated content management and real-time collaboration between content owners and print producers, moving the workflow even more upstream from production. 

Presstek has incorporated an impressive array of partner workflow solutions into its portfolio, a major achievement for the company in the last several months, including Presstek PathWay, powered by Press-sense; Presstek Latitude, powered by EskoArtwork, and impositions solutions from Dynagram, in addition to its Harlequin-based Momentum Pro.

Kodak’s Prinergy 5.0 and Xerox’ FreeFlow Workflow collection both reflected increased capability and integration.  Kodak has focused on zero touch automation, or the elimination of virtually all manual processes from customer orders through to completed jobs, using Rules Based Automation technology, and the Prinergy Workflow System shown at drupa reflects the results of this effort.  The company is also leveraging its heritage of color knowledge with the new ColorFlow interface, with Color Relationship Management aligning color across devices and integrating color control with Prinergy.  Xerox has added PDF Print Engine support to its FreeFlow Print Server with the release of Adobe’s PDF Print Engine V2, supporting variable data (more on that later). Xerox has also increased the level of integration FreeFlow offers with Heidelberg Prinect and FujiFilm’s XMF workflow to enhance offset/digital hybrid workflows.  In fact, Xerox had a Heidelberg Speedmaster press in its drupa stand. In an effort to bring workflow automation to even the smallest printer, Xerox has also developed FreeFlow Express to Print to enable job ticketing and prepress functions with a simple drag and drop methodology.

HP added the new HP SmartStream Director, powered by Press-sense, to its SmartStream workflow portfolio for print service providers. This open workflow solution can help print service providers automate, manage, customize and optimize business and production processes from job creation to fulfillment.

Strangely, Screen, as part of its strategy to transition its business to print on demand, has launched a new print on demand workflow solution, Equiosnet, in parallel with TrueFlowNet, stating that the company believes that is a more effective approach at this time, although in the long term the two may merge.  This is counter to what most other suppliers are doing—developing workflows that facilitate a hybrid offset/digital workflow as more printers integrate both production technologies into their operations.

The software vendors are not resting on their laurels either.  EFI has established an umbrella family name for its workflow products, Advanced Workstream Solutions, including its well-established Fiery workflow.  In a departure from the company’s normal practices, EFI offered a sneak peek of next-generation Fiery enhancements, including visual makeready capability and new digital printing workflow  EFI continues to enhance its web to print and production solutions as well, and announced that its Hagen and Prograph management systems have now been JDF certified.  The company also showed intelligent production solutions that can operate with or without EFI’s MIS solutions to help printers better manage their businesses.

GMC unveiled GMC PortalBuilder and GMC Open Document Publisher (ODP) components of its PrintNet solution that help customers build effective, efficient personalized marketing communications programs, from data handling through design to final production and delivery. These solutions enable the establishment of web-based marketing centers and management of customer communications, respectively.

EskoArtwork’s Connect More! theme reflects the company strategy, and its stand featured an Automation, Integration, Collaboration zone focused on on-line collaboration, remote proofing and approval, JDF integration, and links to MIS and ERP systems for packaging and commercial printing workflows. Objective Advantage continues to add functionality to Symbio, a suite of software management tools which seamlessly integrates and automates all aspects of print production and order management at the plant level.

These advances, of course, rely on significant infrastructure developments that are also occurring and very much in evidence at drupa.  Adobe, whose PDF file format has become a staple in industry workflow, continues to enhance Acrobat with the release of Acrobat 9.0, with so many new capabilities it is impossible to cover them all here.  Highlights include the ability to add flash content to PDF files, especially helpful when using Web Capture to capture web content into a PDF file.  9.0 also supports the PDF/X-4 and PDF/X-5 standards for publishing with transparency, color and reference to external resources.  This latter capability is the baseline that allows efficient variable data production, by logging resources such as variable objects at the beginning of the file.  The application notes the first time an object is used, and when it is used a second time, it is cached.  This allows ripped resources to be available for printing at rated speed yet does not unnecessarily cache those resources. 

The International Standards Organization is already in the process of formalizing the PDF/VT (Variable/Transactional) specification, a process that is expected to be completed in 2009.  This is big news, and could be a major step toward unifying the world of VDP, where there have been a wide range of proprietary file formats in addition to PPML.  PDF/VT is an element of Adobe’s PDF Print Engine V2, which is being incorporated into offerings by Adobe OEM partners—just about everyone in the industry—enabling a consistent, standard and efficient methodology for print engines to process and produce variable data applications. This is the capability that allows print engine RIPs to process those references to external resources contained in Acrobat 9.0 files.

Other cool things in 9.0 include enhanced 3D capabilities.  I would encourage readers to take the tour of the application at Adobe’s web site if they were not able to see it at drupa.

Global Graphics, celebrating the 20th anniversary of its Harlequin RIP, launched version 8.0 including native support for Microsoft’s XPS and HD Photo formats, as well as PDF 1.7, PDF/X-4, Vista, Leopard and Pantone Goe.  The company also launched Harlequin.com, a user resource that includes forums, FAQs, white papers and a store where third party and Global Graphics software can be purchased.  This site is open to the general public, and can also act to reconnect Harlequin customers with suppliers they may have lost contact with or introduce them to new ones.  The company also hopes the site will generate interest in Harlequin on the part of new users, and encourage those on older versions to upgrade.  Most products in the store are available for 30-day free trials.

Enfocus, who developed a Certified PDF specification, is opening that specification to third parties to facilitate incorporation of this certification process in other applications.  With EskoArtwork’s recent acquisition of Gradual Software, the company also acquired Gradual’s Crossroads Initiative and will continue to support that effort in order to help users integrate across multivendor environments.

There is much, much more to come on the workflow and software front.  Stay tuned for an in-depth discussion of the application focus that suppliers are adopting as referred to by Sir Speedy’s Lowe, a review of other cool stuff I saw, and a discussion of the increasing power the new print buyers/specifiers are gaining as new applications provide them with more control over the process.  I left drupa feeling positive about the future of the industry, but wondering if we—as an industry—are going to move fast enough to realize the full potential of that future.  The next few years will be challenging, indeed, but there are fantastic opportunities available for those who move quickly to capitalize on the trends and emerging technologies that drupa is all about.