By Patrick Henry, WTT Executive Editor October 19, 2006 -- Exhibit hall, presses, and crowds: to make a successful printing equipment trade show, pick any two. All right, the formula is a bit flawed—minus either the venue or the visitors, the show can’t take place. But at Graph Expo, which closed yesterday after four remarkably upbeat days of shopping and selling, the rules of the game changed with respect to equipment. It’s no longer necessary—although it remains highly desirable—for a press manufacturer to install tons of printing iron in its booth in order to cut a decent figure at the show. Two of the leading press vendors, MAN Roland and Goss, proved it by making the most of Graph Expo despite the fact that their booths were press-free zones. A third, KBA, the maker of a line that includes the world's largest sheetfed presses, thought it sufficient to bring only one printing machine, its smallest. MAN Roland's substitute for a traditional exhibit was running shuttle tours to its demo center in Westmont, IL, about 20 miles away, and to customer sites in the Chicago area. Goss, a maker of web presses at an event that’s primarily focused on the sheetfed market, chose instead to raise its profile in postpress by premiering two new Goss-branded saddle stitchers. KBA explained that it has shifted its strategy from large-scale venues to private showings, and left it at that. All three relied on collateral materials, multimedia presentations, and just plain jawboning with visitors to make their equipment less conspicuous by its absence from Graph Expo’s half of McCormick Place. (The other half belonged to a convention of anesthesiologists who discussed sedation while the printers on the opposite side of the hall talked registration.) This isn’t the first Graph Expo at which some vendors have limited their participation by leaving the hardware at home. This year's edition made it clear that an increasing preference for the no-iron option is a new reality the Graphic Arts Show Company will have to accept if it wants the Graph Expo and Print events to retain their appeal for exhibitors. No Law Against Not Taking A Booth Making no secret of their wish to spend less time at and fewer promotional dollars on trade shows, many vendors are making wider use of marketing alternatives—direct mail, custom publishing, e-mail, Web sites, and hosted special events—that can keep them high in their customers’ consciousness all year long. Those with nothing new to talk about are off the hook of having to display anything at all. For heavy-equipment makers like Goss, the relatively short duration of the shows doesn’t justify the effort of transporting, setting up, and tearing down an elaborate exhibit built around a behemoth of a web press. Another reality in favor of a limited presence is the fact that trade show visitors are a lot harder to bowl over with product displays than they used to be. For every tire-kicker ambling about with his plastic sack full of posters and his shirt pocket bristling with giveaway pens, there’s a steely-eyed plant boss demanding ROI models from all the press makers he buttonholes as he hands them his hardest-to-run test files. In the presence of buyers as tough as these, the mere mounting of an exhibit is beside the point. If the value proposition has not also been established in other ways, the iron is just the white elephant in the room. This is something well understood by Heidelberg USA, its status as the operator of Graph Expo’s biggest and most equipment-packed booth notwithstanding. Jim Dunn, president, commented during the event that while big sales still happen at trade shows, they’re the back ends of long processes of decision-making, not spur-of-the-moment impulse buys. If a gut-instinct purchase does take place, he said, it’s certain to have been the action of “a gut that’s attached to a very smart brain.” It should come as no surprise, then, that future editions of Graph Expo and Print may well be lighter in equipment and more heavily keynoted by the kinds of image-polishing and relationship-building activities preferred by MAN Roland, Goss, KBA, and others during this year’s show. But make no mistake: for vendors willing to put their backs and their bucks into hauling the iron to McCormick Place, well staged equipment displays backed by equally well coordinated marketing campaigns will continue to draw crowds and make important contribution to the bottom line. At this year’s show, to be sure, guts attached to discriminating brains opened their wallets to equipment exhibitors such as Ryobi, which had sold five of its 23" x 29" sheetfeds by the end of the show’s second day; and Komori, which booked the sales of no fewer than 28 presses (including one web) in the same short space of time. Ryobi, which says it owes 10 record-setting months in a row to the sales momentum it gained by showing equipment at last year’s Print show, has already reserved its space for Graph Expo 2007. But there’s news yet to report from the press vendors at Graph Expo 2006, and we resume that coverage here. Goss, as noted, gave pride of place to its postpress offerings by introducing its Pacesetter 2200 and 2500 saddle stitchers. Pacesetter 2200 systems operate with a single stitcher, while Pacesetter 2500 systems use a dual stitcher to achieve a higher output. Operating at 22,000 and 25,000 books per hour respectively, the servo-driven units are available with up to 40 repositionable horizontal or vertical hoppers. Both can accommodate variations in book thickness automatically, and both can be equipped with a new high-speed Goss flying trimmer or Ferag SNT-U trimmer. At the show, Goss also promoted its Lifetime Support program for post-sale service, repair, parts replacement, and training. And while its exhibit may have lacked presses to walk around, its personnel did not lack recent or pending press installations to crow about. The company has, for example, just put a Sunday 2000 web into the in-house printing division of Papa John’s Pizza, which will use the gapless, four-unit press to print menus, box toppers, advertising inserts, and other marketing materials for 3,000 Papa John’s restaurants. Goss’s newspaper division scored a major coup by selling The New York Times on an order for a new Goss Colorliner double-width press for the paper’s production facility in Queens, NY. The new press, with 12 towers and 96 printing couples, is scheduled to be installed in early 2008. Goss also is installing two Sunday 2000 webs at the near-totally automated coupon printing facility being readied for opening by Cox Target Media in Largo, FL, next year. Asked why KBA chose to exhibit only the 14 3/16" x 20 1/2" Genius 52 UV when it has superlarge-format presses with which it could dominate any trade show, Eric Frank, vice president of marketing, answered that the company now thinks the best way to introduce customers to KBA presses is to conduct its own equipment-centered events in an expanded demo center at its Williston, VT, headquarters. Instead of spending as heavily as it once did on trade shows, he said, "we are now putting our money into VIP presentations and one-on-one events" in a captive venue where KBA can show nearly everything it makes in one place. More than 30 technicians have been hired in support of the effort this year, Frank said. The Genius 52 UV that began and ended KBA's equipment lineup at Graph Expo featured a raised kit that permits increasing the pile height while the press is in operation. The higher pile height made possible by the optional kit lets the press print paper, board, plastic, and lenticular material at continuous running speeds with fewer pile changes, according to KBA. The waterless, keyless, 8,000 sph press also is available with an inline inkjet system for numbering, bar coding, and other kinds of variable imprinting. Announcements from KBA included that of the integration of its sheetfed and web divisions into one operation for sales and service. The company also said that at some point next year it would market a waterless, keyless 29" perfecting press capable of coming up to color within eight sheets. Komori America Corp. used the slogan "Kando: Beyond Expectations" to herald its 8,000-sq.-ft. exhibit, a good part of which was taken up by the footprints of three presses meant to demonstrate the breadth of the Komori sheetfed line: the 28 3/8" x 40 9/16" Lithrone S40, shown in a six-color plus coater configuration; the 20 7/8" x 29 1/2" Spica 29P, a four-color perfector; and, in its North American launch, the 20 7/8" x 29 1/2" Lithrone S29, in six colors plus coating. Komori dubbed the Lithrone S29 "the makeready machine" for its claimed ability to offer the fastest makeready available on any sheetfed press. The Lithrone S29 also has a high-speed start function that enables it, according to Komori, to begin printing at 12,000 sph. Jacki Hudmon, Komori's vice president of marketing and sales administration, said that the company was renewing its emphasis on products and programs for small- and medium-sized sized printers. This initiative includes a new partnership with Fuji that offers these printers a turnkey, integrated prepress-to-press package consisting of a Fuji thermal platesetter, RIP/workflow software, and Fuji consumables. Printers of all sizes, she said, can benefit from two additional support programs: the KomoriKare service package, which now includes an "18 x 2" equipment warranty covering all components in the first 18 months of ownership and major components in the next 18; and the KomoriKare Technology Audit, whereby Komori technicians visit prepress departments and pressrooms to make sure that the people in them are making the best use of available resources and workflows. The star of Presstek's exhibit was a new DI (direct imaging) press, the 20.47" x 14.76" 52DI. Like the smaller DirectPress 5634DI on the other side of the booth, the 52DI is a waterless press that images four cassette-stored polyester plates in about 10 minutes. Intended primarily for short-run color, the presses are built by Ryobi. Presstek supplies the on-board ProFire Excel laser imaging technology and the plate material. Geoff Loftus, general manager of Presstek's press business, said the new DI platform's sheet size makes it an "oversize two-up" press with enough image area to handle book layouts with spines, two-up impositions with color bars and registration marks, and more images up than standard 14" x 20" equipment. He added that the landscape orientation of the press, feeding the wide edge of the sheet first, yields better ink coverage, improved registration, and simpler operation. The 52DI, according to Loftus, has an autoprint feature that can preset and run a succession of jobs from RIPped files in a job queue. It also can store 44 jobs' worth of plates and print 300 lpi work with stochastic screening at up to 10,000 sph. Its Zero Transfer Printing capability enables all four colors to be laid down without gripper changes, doing away with the unit-to-unit sheet transfer that can degrade registration and consistency in conventional four-color presses. Loftus said the 52DI lists for $595,000. That price (or the figure to which it was negotiated) did not faze the Doral, FL, printer who purchased a 52DI at the show. This customer, said Loftus, furnished test files that were uploaded to Presstek's Hudson, NH, headquarters for preflighting and RIPping. Back came the files to the Presstek booth for input into the 52DI. The job was run at 10 a.m. on the show's opening day, and when the customer saw the result, said Loftus, the deal was done. The Ryobi line of two-, four-, and six-up offset presses and the 3404 DI series are represented exclusively in the U.S. by xpedx Printing Technologies, a division of xpedx. Ryobi and xpedx exhibited jointly for the first time at Graph Expo 2006 in a display of synergy between the press manufacturer and its distributor, a full-spectrum supplier of paper, consumables, supplies, hardware and software, and support services for printers. According to Don Harvey, vice president and general manager of xpedx Printing Technologies, the partners believe that the demand for shorter runs will drive increasing volumes of work away from full-size (40") equipment and into the realm of the kinds of smaller presses that Ryobi manufactures. Ryobi automates production workflow by integrating its presses into a CIP4-JDF compliant MIS system. Three of them were on view at Graph Expo: the 755XL-E, a five-color, 23" x 29" with UV capability; the 524GX-P, a four-color, 14" x 20" perfector; and the 3404 DI. Harvey said the market is particularly strong for six-up (23" x 26") equipment, a format that xpedx and Ryobi have been selling in the U.S. for the last five years. A six-up press offering fast makeready and quick job changeover can be as productive as a 40" press, Harvey said, but with smaller manning requirements and a lower cost of ownership. He added that Ryobi has further enhanced the efficiency of its 750-series six-ups with fully automated plate loading, shown for the first time on the 755XL-E exhibited at Graph Expo. xpedx places special emphasis on supporting its Ryobi customers with localized service. It provides this through relationships with a national network of 50 equipment dealers that have their own service operations and can dispatch technical personnel when and where needed. "We insist that our dealers have their own in-house service," said Jeff Higgins, xpedx's director of marketing services. "You buy your second press based on the service you got on the first one." Please offer your feedback to Patrick. He can be reached at [email protected]