No shortage of traffic at MindFire, Océ, Xerox and XMPie

The Bump Factor and Hot Dog Pretzel Index were both a bit low, but that was not necessarily a bad thing. The Bump Factor is how many people you bump up against as you walk across the show floor. At Graph Expo, the count was low, with a modest crowd spread over a large show floor. That directly influenced the Hot Dog Pretzel Index, the number of people likely to be in front of you at one of the hot dog or pretzel stands. It never seemed to be more than at two or three. The Bump Factor, though, was much higher inside the booths of many vendors. All the digital print engine guys had plenty of traffic every time I visited them, and the execs I spoke with were pretty pleased with who was showing up.

MICR Ink a Draw at Océ

Mal Baboyian, president of Production Printing Systems at Océ North America was positive on the show, comparing it to 2007 in terms of sales and leads. Helping pull bodies into the Océ stand was the company's latest innovation, MICR ink capability on the JetStream inkjet printer family. This device showed that ink jet really is ready to do some replacing of toner-based systems. This is not an add-on or third-party solution: the MICR is applied via a fifth set of heads that are fully integrated into the print engine --think of it as fifth color. The ink is a proprietary formulation which, like all other inks on a JetStream, is continually mixed or churned. This ensures consistency of the magnetic particles, key to the ink having a sufficiently strong signal to deliver the same accuracy as toner-based MICR devices. Océ, in fact, is willing to guarantee the read-rate of MICR lines. There's a speed limit for JetStream printers running MICR ink, at least for the moment. While the JetStream family can run at up to some 660 feet per minute, MICR speeds are presently limited to 395 feet per minute. This may only be a temporary measure, but even if not, it is still a prodigious speed for transactional document production that can combine full color and MICR in a single document and can be run even faster when MICR isn't required.

Unfortunately, short set-up and tear down times for equipment at McCormick Place prevented any JetStream models from being at the show, but that didn't diminish interest in the new technology, which is one likely to appeal to transactional print providers. Owners of such shops have been telling me for the past couple of years that not having MICR capability is a deal killer for them when it comes to ink jet. Now the playing field has changed. It's going to be interesting to see how things begin to move.

Color and Speed at Xerox

A few stands away at Xerox, there was a lot of traffic to check out the new iGen4 making its first U.S. appearance and the new 490/980 full color continuous feed system. As with Océ's big box, the latter machine wasn't physically present due to narrow set-up windows, but interest was still strong. There is clearly a market for high speed full color printers, and for many applications it's looking as if it doesn't always have to be graphic arts quality. Jerry Murray, Vice President of Product Marketing at Xerox Production Systems Group said he was very pleased with the number of people who came to the show to learn more about the new system. "They were asking the kinds of questions people ask when they are serious," he said. "They wanted specifics about which applications would be the best fit and how the machine would integrate into their existing operations and workflows." One would assume appointments were being made for up close and personal sessions at Xerox's Gil Hatch Center in Webster, NY.

This system, which was introduced nearly a year ago in the Asia-Pacific market and was in full operation at a big printer in Australia, is new to the U.S. market. Some installs are in process now and others are scheduled for early 2009, explained Scott Wagner, Worldwide Product Marketing Manager for Continuous Feed at Xerox. Market interest is certainly there. Several transactional and direct mail print providers I know have been asking me about this box and at least a couple have been testing jobs as they begin figuring out how it could fit into their operations. It's going to be interesting to see how this machine competes with the various inkjet entries on the market --and some that will start rolling out in 2009.

Software Traffic

The Bump Factor was also high at XMPie and MindFireInc, and it wasn't just because these companies had relatively small stands. While Sunday was a typical Graph Expo Sunday with light floor traffic, both booths were pretty much wall-to-wall on Monday and much of Tuesday. It sometimes looked as if these companies' stands needed to have people take a number --like a deli-- or maybe do a Disney and have entertainment for attendees to watch while they waited. Like the customers Xerox was seeing, visitors were asking detailed questions about developing and implementing cross-media communications programs. Both firms offer solutions that can get pretty complex, and prospective customers were sticking around for an hour or more, digging deep into what was available. I was able to talk with a couple of XMPie customers on video, so watch for those interviews to be up on WhatTheyThink before long.

The Proof is in the Paper at Epson

Epson has done a remarkable job of growing from a purveyor of small ink jet printers into a wide format and proofing powerhouse. I'm always looking forward to seeing what they are going to roll out. This time they had their new 7900 and 9900 models that use 11 inks to deliver some impressive fine art prints and exceptional proofs. The latest thin film piezo heads have more nozzles per inch and provide more accurate dot shape and positioning. According to Epson those heads, combined with RIP-controlled variable dot sizes ranging from 3.5 to 22 picoliters, will enable printers to re-introduce highly accurate halftone proofing, a capability that has been around for some time but often lacked the accuracy many printers demanded.

Aiding these devices is a new range of five proofing papers that closely represent the types of papers used for final production of many high-end jobs. Four of the five will be available by the end of this month with the other paper joining them soon after. All are presently in SWOP and GRACOL certification processes to ensure compatibility with industry standards.

Parting thoughts

You know, I went to Graph Expo expecting it to be on the quiet side. This show was far from busy, but all the vendors I talked with were pleased with the activity they were seeing and the number of people who came ready to buy. "More would be nice, but this is OK," was a common comment. Managing expectations like that is what it’s all about. Some printers I spoke with noted how we've had rough economic times before, been through recessions and while they aren't fun, we can all survive. The guys I talked with are refocusing on customers, continuing to market their services, and planning to forge ahead and come out strong. That's what we all should be doing.

There's still more from this show, and a lot of it will be on video, so stay tuned for who else we talked with and what they had to say.