Graph Expo this year is at the mid-point between two drupa's and although a bit smaller show than previous years, proved to be rich with many exciting developments.

Mostly Cloudy

Recent developments in cyberinfrastructure, including processing speed, bandwidth, security, and storage, coupled with mobile and wireless technology, have paved the way for software developers to quickly migrate to cloud-based computing solutions. Graph Expo was a showcase of software applications that were once tethered to local workstations, now being deployed from "the cloud." Adobe led the way with the successful migration of a hosted version of Creative Suite and now most of the top composition, data management, web-to-print, print management systems, etc. have a virtual solution. Why should we care? It's always a question of cost. Cloud-based solutions provide the ability for quick deployment, real-time updates and allow companies to build a stronger cyber-platform that can be leveraged across all cloud-based apps vs. building up complex and expensive desktop systems. In theory, the cost of application software and feature sets should also be advantaged with the cloud-based approach, since software developers have a much more cost-effective distribution and support model. So, in this case, mostly cloudy is a good thing - when you are considering new software or an upgrade, take a serious look at the cloud-based option. I use cloud-based solutions from EFI, Adobe, Xerox, GMC, Avanti, MindFire, and others and like the approach.

Precipitation Likely

The only precipitation at a very mild Graph Expo this year was the continued flood of inkjet systems - it seems as though every major marking technology vendor either has an inkjet system, is designing one, or is, or will be partnering with a firm that can provide them the core technology. Look for more alliances or acquisitions like Canon/Océ, Xerox/IMPIKA, HP/KBA, Komori/Landa, Kodak/Bobst and Ricoh/Screen, to round out a complete array of systems to cover all applications. Just two-years ago at drupa, we began to see the industry focus on inkjet as an innovative and disruptive technology. Graph Expo continues our obsession with inkjet. As the technologies continue to mature, we will see faster and wider entries, enhanced image quality as well as sheet-fed systems for shorter runs. There are also hybrid-systems for use with traditional litho both in-line and offline. Production inkjet printing is coming of age and will in-time produce acceptable levels of quality at a cost that addresses an increasing variety of work. In the past two years, I have done extensive work collaborating with other image quality experts to characterize the image quality of some of the leading inkjet technologies. Through that effort, it is becoming increasingly evident to me that future capital equipment planning for print production should include a close look at inkjet as a viable option. Cost will continue to come down (both for capital equipment and consumables), and substrate latitude and image quality will increase. These dynamics will support a bullish forecast for inkjet as each new innovation qualifies this technology for a whole new class of work. Look to all the current market leaders to continue to iterate new capability, and for traditional litho press manufacturers to continue to develop partnerships and acquire technologies to play in this space.

Bright Finish

There are two major hinge-points critical to the promise of the end-to-end automation of [digital] print:

  1. The standardization of the content (VDP page description language (PDL), i.e. PDF/VT) and job data stream (JDF/JMF) to and from the RIP or DFE (digital front-end), and
  2. The standardization of the job data stream (job ticket - or intent) to the finishing process. We continue to make some inroads on a device-independent PDL that will optimize the processing of jobs at the RIP, yet there is still room for improvement and compliance in the pre-media space. However, we are making solid progress with the next generation of finishing systems with more robust implementations of near-line and in-line automation using JDF/JMF. Companies like Horizon, Duplo, C.P. Bourg, Hunkeler, etc. are all making progress with finishing systems that can be more seamlessly integrated into a complete manufacturing process. Every printing operation knows that the trick to profitability and efficiency is a streamlined finishing operation that is engineered to produce finished goods in an automated fashion with minimal waste. The future looks bright for service providers who wish to "forward-constrain design" an optimized end-to-end workflow around a predetermined set of "products" that can be finished in an automate manner. Look for finishing systems that support JDF/JMF both in-line and near-line to streamline your workflow for a defined set of products. Operations that look at print through an integrated manufacturing lens will establish and maintain a competitive advantage in the future.

Our Forecast for drupa 2016 is …

…more of the same with an accelerated pace of development. This portends fair weather for printing firms that are willing to make the necessary investments to stay ahead of – or at least current with – developing market conditions in order to take advantage of the many opportunities ahead.