Océ Rolls Out Color, Size Counts at Inca, and What you Can Do with Xerox

The First Rule of Trade Shows is don't judge one by the first day. That's because the first day, especially because a Sunday with gorgeous weather and an international soccer match just up the street might exert a draw of its own that would result in a lighter attendance on the show floor. But this was not the case on Sunday at McCormick Place where attendance was better than I've seen it at this show in some time. At first I thought it was just the big stands that were well-stocked with visitors, but those of software companies were seeing plenty of traffic and even many of the small companies were busy if not always crowded.

Execs at companies like MindfireInc and XMPie told me they were meeting their goals for new contacts and big players like HP, Heidelberg, Kodak, Komori, Océ, and Xerox were seeing heavy traffic. GASC President Ralph Nappi and VP and GM of Graph Expo Chris Price didn't have complete numbers when I spoke with them but attendance was clearly running ahead of last year and a photographer who has been shooting this show for a decade said the floor was clearly busier than he's seen in many a year.

So what was there to see? Let me tell you about it.

Océ Rolls Out Color

Océ, the company most often thought of for its market-leading share of continuous-feed monochrome print engines (and total annual output), rolled out the latest versions of its VarioStream 9000 line. There were both black-and-white and color machines in the announcement and I'll get to the speedy mono boxes in a later story; this day the real news is color. The VarioStream 9240 is a continuous-feed full color press aimed squarely at trans-promo and some direct mail applications. It produces what some today refer to as "business color," and is intended for jobs for which color is needed but high-end graphic arts quality color is not necessary.

That level of color comes from the ColorStream 10000, a compelling new device which shares the same core engine as the VS9240 but uses 4-bit color rather than the 1-bit of the 9240, along with substantial differences in the imaging system and the controller that will--when the machine is available around the end of Q1 2008--enable it to deliver graphic arts quality color and bring a powerful new player to the digital color market.

Both machines print full color at 172 letter-size pages per minute, among the fastest on the market, but have the unique capability of printing black-only pages at 852 pages per minute. This offers print providers the ability to use a single press for a wide range of applications and take advantage of the monochrome print quality that led Lightning Source to select the VarioStream 9210 for its book production operations. At Graph Expo the CS10000 was still in demo mode and printing on a fairly ordinary paper stock but the images were still very good and several I spoke with agreed this is a machine to watch. The sample job was a mix of mono and color pages and the machine sped up and slowed down as the different images were printed. I'm looking forward to seeing this machine come into production and you should stay tuned for more on this box which is going to heat up the competition in the high end of the digital color space.

There's Offset Printing and then there's Onset Printing

A saying I like goes, "You meet the most interesting people on the edges of the room." That certainly applied at the back of the hall this week at McCormick Place, where  in the FujiFilm stand where I found the Inca Onset, a giant superwide format printer. Interesting as in the ability to print a full color, 5 x 10-foot image in about 19 seconds. Think large signs, point-of-purchase, the kind of images you see hung from the ceilings at Target stores, car dealerships or high-end purveyors of fashion and fragrances. The bulk of such signage has typically been printed on giant sheet-fed offset presses with all the overhead of cost, prepress, makeready and minimal run lengths. The Inca Onset changes the playing field with the ability to print such images in short runs, very quickly and with excellent quality, making it eminently practical to change images or copy for regional uses, even within a single large chain. This has always been possible with super-wide printers, of course, but the speed of the Onset makes it an intriguing option for a printer wanting to offer a compelling alternative for his customers or who has the volume to keep it running.

The big flatbed machine, which weighs in at several tons, uses stationary print heads and moves the air table to which the substrate is attached. That material can be a wide range of paper and synthetics as well as solid surfaces up to about an inch thick. When ready to print, the Onset inhales the substrate in a single giant gasp, the blank surface vanishing into to the maw of the machine. The table moves back and forth, and you may catch glimpses of the substrate as the table slides beneath the print heads, then suddenly the entire image appears complete and ready for whatever next steps await it. Traditional large format print companies should take a close look at this beast and begin thinking about how "Onset Printing" could change the way they do business.

What you Can Do with Xerox

Xerox has made a significant effort in recent years to help customers build their businesses. The company's Profit Accelerator program has an abundance of tools designed to help print providers reach out to their customers and show them the value of various aspects of digital printing. Yet as more of those customers are willing to take advantage of digital printing, Xerox found that print providers needed a new range of tools to serve the needs of their customers. They needed to help both their customers and their customers' customers do all they "Can Do."

Hence the new Can Do suite of tools that focus on four key applications: direct mail, web-to-print (called Collaterals by Request), trans-promo and digital book production. The Can Do offerings are end-to-end solutions that let a print provider not only sell and market to their customers, but gives the printer a proven set of templates for producing collateral, direct mail, and trans-promo documents. In the case of books, Can Do tools support printers in such profitable segments as course packs and include copyright clearance and document composition tools to help book production a straightforward --and profitable-- process.

Seeing the Can Do offerings from Xerox brings to mind a comment a printer made to me several years back when the Profit Accelerator program was just getting going and was really the only thing of its kind in the industry. "They tell us what to do, but now how to do it." That was true to some degree, and the degree to which Xerox helps its customers learn the skills they need to have more profitable printing operations has certainly changed in the past few years. Can Do takes it up another level, the level wehre there are no excuses for not being able to market, sell, implement and profit from key applications in digital printing.

I've talked to a lot of people this week, and you'll see some of my interviews, along with those of Cary Sherburne, Barb Pellow and Pat Henry, as well as their reports here on WTT over the next week or so. This was one busy show and there are a lot of stories to tell. So stay tuned.