A quick look at what's coming next week in Boston

Everyone headed to Boston for On Demand next week is hoping that March does not come in like the proverbial lion. But after this New England winter, in which every week brought more cold, snow and ice, the odds are (as much as there are odds in the weather business) there'll be something falling from the sky in Boston, just like the deluge that we trudged through last year. Then again it's New England, and as Mark Twain noted, "In the spring in New England I have counted one hundred and thirty-six different kinds of weather inside of four-and-twenty hours."

But never mind the weather. What are the odds that vendors will be showing much that's really new, given that drupa is just less than twelve weeks away? While the answer to that is "slim and none," all the major players and many smaller companies will be in Boston simply because it's the only major U.S. print show this year before Graph Expo at the far end of October. And, as a quick look at drupa stats will tell you, only about 5-6% of the folks wearing out their shoes in Duesseldorf come from the States. That makes On Demand the only place to see and touch some of the key products available while waiting to see what shows up at drupa. So what's to see? Quite a bit, and some of it will be shown again at drupa in conjunction with the new technology being rolled out there. So let's take a look at what a few print engines vendors will be doing in Boston.

Xeikon will have an automated book production solution and what they say are some unique digital color apps. The book demo will take advantage of the 20" print width that enables up to 3-up production on the Xeikon 6000 press. This, along with the ability of the machine to print large format book covers/wraps, gives this machine an advantage for some kinds of book production.

Xeikon will also exhibit a range of digital color applications in two key categories: those that can only be produced on the Xeikon press and others that can be produced with the highest productivity and profit margins on the Xeikon technology. All the applications at On demand will be printed using Xeikon's Pantone-licensed Form Adapted (FA) toner technology, a chemical toner that offers superior image quality and an enhanced color gamut.

What I'm really looking forward to is what Xeikon rolls out in Belgium two weeks after On Demand. I don't know what the limitations on that info may be, but I'll let you know if I can.

Rumors are running rampant about what Hewlett-Packard will showcase at drupa, The word is, prepare to be rocked by what they will be showing. Given that, I'm not really expecting to see a lot at On Demand, but taking another look the print quality of its flagship press, the HP Indigo press 5500, and the applications it will be running is definitely worth some time. Also on display will be large-format printing applications using the HP Designjet Z Series printing technology, the first industry wide-format printer to include an embedded spectrophotometer for superior color quality and consistency. I got a close look at these devices last week at the DSCOOP conference in San Diego and was impressed with the image quality. A colleague with me --whose wife is a graphic designer-- was all but ready to buy one, saying it was the best wide format device he had seen.

HP execs will be speaking on a number of panels in Boston, and there are two I think will be especially interesting. On March 4th at 11:30, Laura Field, North American media manager for the Indigo division, will participate in the panel session, “Green Thinking: Promoting Ecologically Sound and Sustainable Printed Communications." She'll be joined by HP customer Todd Kalagher, CEO of Finlay Printing. Then on March 5th at 10:10 AM Francis McMahon, director of marketing for the U.S. Graphic Arts Organization will speak in a March 5 keynote panel  “Emerging technologies and what to expect in 2008."

InfoPrint Solutions Company, the joint venture between IBM and Ricoh, will be showcasing solutions and services around several key themes at OnDemand. Given IPS's presence in the transactional and mail space, it's no surprise the focus in their booth will be on several aspects of document production. They'll have examples relating to automated document factories, direct mail, optimization of print operations and workflows, and productivity. And be sure to take a look at Bookflow, IPS's automated approach for both book and manual production. With the growth of digital book production, this should be interesting to see.

I'll be talking with him at the show, but Chris Reid, Director of Global Solutions told me earlier this month that he's looking forward to this show and its focus on document production. "OnDemand and Xplor continue to help new and experienced industry members learn about the latest output techniques and best practices, and provide a platform for experts to share knowledge with their peers. As IPS continues to focus on transforming clients' businesses and optimizing multi-channel output, we are excited to see that InfoTrends continues to drive industry events focused on optimizing digital output."

Xerox is taking an application focus in Boston and will be demonstrating a variety of applications run on a wide range of print engines. The booth will feature “conversation stations” where customers can talk with subject matter experts about the technology, workflow, and business models for specific applications.

“Attendees can come to the Xerox booth and speak with our application experts about how to create profit-generating digital applications,” explains Val Blauvelt, vice president of marketing, Xerox Production Systems Group.

While some vendors have cut back on the amount of equipment they will have at On Demand, Xerox will have a fairly wide selection, reinforcing the application-oriented theme. On the monochrome side, these will include the Nuvera 288 Digital Perfecting System, the industry's fastest cut-sheet duplex printer (which took a "Best in Show last year); and the 495 continuous feed duplex printer which uses flash fusing for better image quality at 500 images per minute.

Color aficionados can check out the DocuColor 8000AP, which runs at rated speed regardless of paper weight or media type and the iGen3, which will show how the new Automated Color Quality suite can streamline color checking and calibration. And don't miss the new 8265 Color Wide Format Printer which uses environmentally-friendly eco-solvent inks that require no ventilation or purification systems. There'll be a host of other products on hand and I'll fill you in once I get a look.

Océ is rolling out its newest continuous feed toner-based system, the VarioStream 8000 for the first public U.S. showing of the machine which was launched back in December. Drawing from both the VarioStream 7000 and 9000 families, this is a new generation of high-speed printers designed let print providers handle a wider range of jobs with a single system. It's also fast, capable of 1,500 duplex, 2-up letter-size images per minute, at 344 feet per minute. According to Océ, it is available in simplex, duplex and triplex configurations and can run MICR or Océ CustomTone spot color. And speaking of toner, it uses two different types: production grade for general transactional documents, and premium grade for applications where crisper text, fine lines and smoother halftones are needed.

Océ will also have the VarioPrint 6000 series on hand which recently won a rare “Beyond 5 Stars” BERTL rating. This cut-sheet monochrome family features Gemini Instant Duplex technology for tight registration and has a variety of features that enhance productivity.

The new Océ JetStream full color inkjet printer won't be in Boston, --you'll have to wait for Graph Expo to see this 500 feet per minute machine on this side of the pond-- but you can learn all about it, and I hear there may be some print samples around.

If mid-range color fits your needs better, you can check out the CS 650 Pro, a 65-ppm production color printing system meant to give in-plant and commercial print providers cost-effective, high-quality production color printing capabilities at an affordable price.

Wrapping it up at Océ is the full range of PRISMA workflow software designed to improve productivity from document design and proofing to production and web-to-print.

And that's only five of the companies we'll be seeing in Boston. There's still Canon, Ricoh, KonicaMinolta and a few others, all with some pretty interesting stuff to show and stories to tell. So watch for my next installment. At the show this year, our team includes Pat Henry, Barb Pellow and Cary Sherburne, along with Adam DeWitz handling the blog and Eric Vessels running video in our "studio," room M48. We should also hear from Frank Romano and Andy Tribute, who won't be there in person but will be commenting on some of the announcements being made in Boston. The team has a lot of interviews lined up, both "on camera" and off , so be sure to check back every day for the next couple of weeks while we keep you in touch with On Demand 2008.