Last week it was announced by Informa Exhibitions, the owners of the Ipex trade show, that Heidelberg will not be exhibiting at Ipex 2014. This comes after the news that both HP and Agfa had also withdrawn from exhibiting at the event. So far it appears that Heidelberg has made no announcement giving reasons for its withdrawal. If one looks on the Heidelberg web site it is still showing information about its presence at Ipex 2010, and nothing about its Ipex 2014 decision. Heidelberg’s most recent announcements were of its sales success in the first quarter of 2012 showing its best figures for four years, plus details from its AGM.

In this article I will give my take on why I think Heidelberg has made this decision, what it may mean for Heidelberg’s ongoing position with trade shows, and a view on the direction other trade shows may go in the future.

I am not really surprised by Heidelberg’s decision not to exhibit at Ipex 2014. If you are going to exhibit at a major international trade show you really need a good reason to be there. One reason would be you have new products to release and I don’t think Heidelberg will have anything really new. Offset printing technology is very mature and developments are mainly around the periphery of the systems. Heidelberg, like a few other companies, targets major releases at drupa and this means 2016 for such products. In terms of digital printing Heidelberg’s only product line that it develops and builds is the inkjet Linoprint L Series aimed at labels and packaging. These products are ones that are shown more at specialised shows for those markets. Its other digital press line is Linoprint C where Heidelberg partners with Ricoh.

In Bernhard Schreier’s (Heidelberg’s outgoing Chairman and CEO) speech at the recent Heidelberg AGM, he indicated that in terms of digital printing there were four technologies the company had available. These are the electrophotographic dry toner systems through the agreement with Ricoh, the internal Linoprint L inkjet technology, the license for Landa Nanographic technology, and an internal development of liquid toner.  I would expect it would not have anything to show of either the Landa technology or liquid toner by Ipex.

Heidelberg in the UK has a very large and sophisticated demonstration center in London together with a number of large London based customers. I believe that Heidelberg will be at Ipex in spirit through its sales operations. I’m sure it will have its London demonstration center and certain key customer sites in full operation for showing its technology to Ipex visitors. It will also likely to be represented on the Ricoh stand at Ipex to discuss its digital printing offerings. This will include any new Ricoh toner and inkjet presses that Heidelberg will be handling under their Ricoh partnership agreement.

The only other potential new press that Heidelberg could be showing if it were to be at Ipex would be the possible press using Landa Nanographic technology. Such a press is very unlikely to be available by Ipex and if there is a prototype I would guess it would be on the Landa stand. Yes, I know it has been stated that Landa is considering whether to be at Ipex, however I am sure this Benny Landa’s negotiating position to improve his company’s position at Ipex.

I believe there is however a more significant reason for Heidelberg not to attend Ipex and this concerns changes in world markets. The markets of USA and Western Europe are very mature and also are more digitally oriented than other world markets. The USA for example is a very depressed market for offset presses. Here it is only the more advanced and sophisticated printers that have continued to invest in modern offset presses. The growth markets are elsewhere in the world and Heidelberg predicts that by 2015 that at least 40% of its revenues will come from the developing markets. Heidelberg’s western markets are mainly for equipment and services updates and these can be handled well through the company’s strong sales channels. With this in mind the company’s emphasis will be on the developing markets. While Heidelberg will not have a stand at Ipex in 2014 I am sure it will have a huge presence at All in Print China, also in 2014.

In this Heidelberg decision perhaps we can also see the influence of the change in top management at Heidelberg where Dr. Gerold Linzbach takes over as the new CEO later this year. Perhaps as a newcomer to the printing industries he wants to change the direction of the company, and the Ipex decision may be showing this as the company struggles to improve its financial position. In this way it may mirror the situation at HP who have also pulled out of Ipex where a new CEO struggles to turn around the poor financial position the company is in.

Looking beyond Ipex I think we may be seeing a trend and this is the end of offset presses at trade shows. There is little new to see in offset printing these days, together with the fact there is a major over capacity in offset printing around most parts of the world. We are seeing a switch of many areas of offset printing to digital printing, and with advanced inkjet and liquid toner electrophotographic presses this is likely to accelerate. Perhaps future trade shows will be entirely digital, and also smaller and more targeted at niche markets. They will also link up with an online presence where a virtual event can be integrated with the physical event. It could be that the forthcoming GraphExpo in October will be the last major USA trade show with offset presses. Unless you go to China or IGAS in Japan, the next time you are likely to see offset presses in volume at a trade show will be at drupa 2016. Their volume however will be small compared to the presence of high-speed advanced digital presses.