by Patrick Henry October 1 , 2003 -- The price of oil is up. The value of the dollar is down. Uncertainty dominates business thinking, and the current issue of The Economist exaggerates the mood of the situation only a little with a story bearing the title, “The Misery of Manufacturing.” Graph Expo may be a splendid event, but it's only a trade show. It doesn't control the tenor of general economic news, and it can't opt out of running in years when the news for print equipment manufacturers isn't good. This year, to be sure, there's not much to comfort vendors of press and postpress systems beyond consensus that North American printers are at last seeing an off-the-bottom rebound in their core markets. If not exactly cheerless, the outlook is one that can't help stirring memories of times when the annual pilgrimage to McCormick Place felt a lot jauntier. But the show must and does go on, and what it already is making abundantly clear is that there is no correlation whatever between the movement of the economy and the pace of technological development in press and postpress technology. Media briefings on Saturday and Sunday included numerous announcements of new presses and bindery solutions as well as significant improvements to current equipment. More manufacturers are expected to unveil new printing and binding machines today and on Tuesday. If the pressure of tough times can be claimed to reenergize thinking and to redirect manufacturing ingenuity into new, customer-focused applications, then the proof is no further to seek than the stands of the press and postpress vendors at Graph Expo. Komori America Corp. (booth 1045) is displaying an updated version of the Lithrone 28P in a six-color with inline coater configuration. Some cosmetic changes have been made to the half size (20 7/ 8 " x 29 1/ 8 ") press, but its breakthrough attraction, according to Komori, is a new convertible perfector design that controls sheet travel with grippers all the way through the press. Komori says that continuous gripper control eliminates the “touchy” aspect of two-sided printing even at high speeds. The new perfector mechanism is designed to work with the Lithrone's standard double-diameter cylinder configuration, a feature that protects print quality by eliminating sheet-transfer points where printing problems could occur. Changeover in the new perfector design—which also will be introduced on the larger Lithrone S40 in November—is fully automatic with the touch of a button at the press console. The all-new Spica 26P, announced (but not displayed) at the show, is an 18 7/ 8 " x 26" convertible perfector capable of four-color single-sided (4/0) and two-color double-side printing (2/2). Designed as a flexible, small-footprint press for printers wishing to break into four-up, four-color printing, the Spica can run at 13,000 sph single-sided and 11,000 sph double-sided. Like the redesigned Lithrone 28P, the Spica's changeover from straight to perfecting is fully automatic and can be completed, according to Komori, in about 90 seconds. Komori also said that it is testing a Lithrone “super perfector” with a double coater, a configuration that enables the press to print and coat on both sides of the sheet in one pass. The company is also field-testing a 40" DI (direct imaging) press in a few locations, although Komori America president Stephan Carter spoke of finding only “a fairly narrow market” for the technology. Heidelberg (booth 1000) is making a characteristically splashy showing at Graph Expo with a super-sized display and a string of announcements covering every category of its business. News of developments in the conventional press and postpress areas led the way as the company introduced a new 20" sheetfed press; a sheetfed press equipped for inline die cutting; a 32-page web press, a high-speed banding system; and a platen press for die cutting. The 20" Printmaster PM 52, designed for high-quality printing and simple operation, is being positioned by Heidelberg as a step up in capability from its Printmaster GTO 52. Its design is based on that of the Speedmaster SM 52, Heidelberg's high-end offering to the 20" market. The Printmaster PM 52 operates at a maximum speed of 13,000 sph, a maximum print format of 14.56'' x 20.47'', and a printing stock thickness ranging from lightweight paper to cardboard and padded envelopes. It is available in one to five colors and boasts automation features including remote ink fountain and dampening control, automatic positioning for plate clamping, and an optional, fully automatic sheet reversing device. Also on display in the U.S. for the first time at Graph Expo is the Speedmaster SM-52 with inline die cutting capability. According to Heidelberg, the rotary inline die cutting unit makes it possible to finish 20" work in the press in single pass. Magnets are used to mount the metal die on a special cylinder, which is also equipped with a system for remotely adjusting register. A positioning rule facilitates placement. The inline die cutting unit, which is available for four-, five-, and six-color press models, operates at the Speedmaster SM 52's maximum press speed of 15,000 sph, according to Heidelberg. It can be seen in operation throughout the show. A static printing unit showcases the width and the productive potential of Heidelberg's newest web press, a 32-page version of its Sunday 3000. Although Heidelberg USA president Niels Winther confirmed earlier reports that Heidelberg is in discussions with Goss International Corp. that could affect the future of Heidelberg's web manufacturing division, he did not hesitate to showcase the 3000/32 as “an attractive replacement option” for the installed base of twin-web, 16-page machines that are widely used for catalog and publication printing in the commercial print world. The 3000/32, which was described in detail for WhatTheyThink.com by this writer last week, uses an eight-pages-across-by-two-around format on a 72" web width that enables the press to print 32 magazine sized pages per revolution at speeds up to 100,000 iph. Heidelberg's Graph Expo debuts in finishing technology included the Speedbander 603 high-speed banding system and the Dymatrix die-cutting system. The former is designed to count, press, jog, and band folded signatures and bound products at the rate of 600 bundles per hour. The latter, a product now bearing the Heidelberg brand following its manufacturer's acquisition by Heidelberg, is a platen press said to be capable of high speed converting at up to 9,000 strokes per hour. MAN Roland (booth 1030) plans to offer “no surprises” at this Graph Expo, according to its president, Yves Rogivue, who explained that the company would concentrate instead on promoting the proven merits of its available technologies under the thematic banner, “Success Spoken Here.” Nevertheless, MAN Roland has come to McCormick Place with a tantalizing glimpse of at least one of the show-stoppers it is saving for drupa next May: a demonstration unit from the 73" Roland 900 XXL, which Mr. Rogivue called “the world's widest modern sheetfed press.” He said that the 900 XXL, which has 328 percent more printable area than a 40" press and 22 percent more than a 64" press, can makeready and run as fast as a 40" machine but with three times the productivity. Muller Martini (booth 1062) will show how finishing steps can be combined in two products that it is presenting for the first time at Graph Expo. In the first of the two world premieres, a Presto saddle stitcher will connect with a new Multi 450 die cutter to produce miniature and uniquely shaped saddle-stitched books in a single pass. The company says that the resulting integrated system can be used to produce mini-booklets for CD and DVD cases, pharmaceutical literature, and scaled-down saddle stitched books of all sizes. The CombiStack combination stacker/labeler/bundler stacks, labels, and straps in one station a high volume of publications coming off a finishing line or press to prepare durable bundles for distribution. The CombiStack is said to eliminate the need for a multi-machine tyline, saving space, doing away with multiple machine makereadies, and streamlining the process overall. CombiStack can directly interface with a press or binding line or be fed by a gripper conveyor. The bundle is wrapped, labeled, and strapped in a single process, and the package is then directed either right or left to match the configuration of the plant's distribution flow.