Two or three drupas ago, before the Web and e-mail were done turning every desktop computer into a 24-hour product news kiosk, it was easier for journalists to boast that they were previewing the event as no one else could with stories filed in advance. Nowadays, though, a great deal more drupa news gets into circulation ahead of time because it's so much easier for its sources to distribute. That makes it harder for the skinny-notebook crowd to be first with the inside stuff, and it can leave a reporter feeling a bit like a stand-up comic being asked by his audience if he's heard the one about...

But before we go any further with this false confession of occupational obsolescence, let us say in our own succor that no matter how much information the vendors have released in the run-up to drupa 2004, their pre-show disclosure is but a bulleted outline of the avalanche of information that they will release at the event itself. That's why we're flying to Düsseldorf tomorrow night. What's more, it takes a long timefour years, to be exactfor the revelations from one drupa to become the backdrop for the next, and somebody has to hang in there to give context to the change. So, we humbly like to think that from this Wednesday's opening day until its counterpart on May 29, 2008, the industry's steadfast press-badge wearers will continue to have a useful purpose to serve.

Our segment of WhatTheyThink's team coverage of drupa will be lithographic press technology, and our thought for a preview was to challenge the leading vendors of this technology to explain their strategies for succeeding at the show. What follows is a digest of their written or conversational responses to a series of questions addressing themes that all of them have struck in their pre-event publicity. We will report their product announcements in detail from Messe Düsseldorf for the duration of the show.

Our sources for this article were the following: for Goss International Corp., David Stamp, global director of marketing; for Heidelberger Druckmaschinen AG, Hans-Dieter Siegfried, director of corporate communications; for KBA North America Inc., sheetfed division, Ralf Sammeck, president and CEO; for Komori America Corp., Stephan Carter, president and COO; for MAN Roland Inc., Christian Cerfontaine, director of marketing; for Muller Martini Corp., Werner Naegeli, president and CEO,

WTT: Many people are saying that drupa 2004 will be the JDF drupa, but for whom? No one knows how many printers are using JDF workflows. It isn't clear that most printers could even tell you what workflow, JDF, CIP4, etc., mean. So, how much JDF awareness do you really expect to find among people attending drupa?

GOSS: Some printers are fully aware of what workflow means and are knowledgeable about JDF, CIP4 and what their prepress, press, and other systems need to do to communicate. Others do not. The term JDF will certainly be the most frequent piece of marketing jargon at drupa, but visitors should look behind the jargon and see who is actually experienced at integrating their products and technologies within true workflows in our industry. In the newspaper press systems market there is generally good knowledge of workflows and how, for instance, a newspaper press purchase decision carries with it a series of important factors.

HEIDELBERG: We realize that numerous vendors will be talking about JDF at drupa 2004 and that visitors will have many questions. We have therefore designed the Prinect Center at the Heidelberg stand in such a way that we talk functionality and that visitors will therefore be able to easily find the area addressing their specific needs. In addition, many specialists will be available to talk about the underlying CIP4 data standards JDF and PPF.

KBA: More and more printers, especially large companies, have been evaluating such systems to promote a smoother workflow and cut internal costs and waste. We feel that a large portion of our show effort is designed to educate and provoke questions. Educate first, and provide a solution to address specific customer needs later.

KOMORI: JDF holds tremendous promise for the printing industry. The industry has already embraced the availability of digital ink key data (CIP3) to preset color on press from prepress. Companies that have successfully managed ink key presets are now interested in understanding the next step of workflow integration through CIP4/JDF. Drupa 04 is really the coming out party for JDF, and I expect printers will come ready to look, listen, and learn.

MAN ROLAND: MAN Roland has always made it clear that JDF is just a start and is just a tool. So far people have had a hard time trying to understand how computer integrated manufacturing (CIM) can significantly improve the effectiveness of the printing process. This is because the tool to make it possible at all production steps and levels was not available: a common language. Also, the word workflow has been used a lot in prepress because that was the first area to be fully digital.

Now with JDF, the word workflow can cover more production steps. We hope that all the initiatives from CIP4 and NGP will help make that clear. We know for certain that the PrintCity pavilion (Hall 6) will go a long way toward ending any confusion printers have about the usefulness of JDF and CIM.

MULLER MARTINI: We think that people will be very well informed. There has been a good deal of trade press coverage. Creo, NGP, Heidelberg, and many others have been promoting workflow. Recent industry symposiums like last month's Web Offset Association Management & Technical Conference have been heavily loaded with JDF-related content, including real application success stories. People will look forward to seeing the real thing at drupa, and suppliers with real CIP4 solutions will be looked at.

WTT: One of your customers says to you: You have 60 seconds to make me understand, in hard dollars-and-cents terms, how implementing your workflow solution is going to help my business. You answer:

GOSS: Structure your business for high flexibility and listen to what we recommend. JDF workflows will be part of it, but that is not the only thing to consider. To gain true added value you need the best web press technology, the best industry knowledge, and access to innovative press solutions. Then speak to our newspaper customers and see what they are achieving when they work with usyou will see their dollar-and-cents gains from their Goss technology investments.

HEIDELBERG: Reducing makeready times through improved color management can reduce waste paper for example between 20 and 40 percent. With the Prinect Color Solutions, it can be assured that print matches proofand what that can save is obvious to all experienced business managers. Receiving a JDF job ticket from MIS can lead to much faster job set up in prepress, faster makeready, and fewer mistakes by not having to continually re-enter the data at each production station. Feedback of production information makes the job status transparent for better communication to the print buyer and allows job costing to identify cost-drivers and money-makers.

KBA: Implementing a workflow solution will eliminate redundancies of effort such as order entry and job specific data. This saves labor costs and reduces errors and rework. Recalled jobs or customer profiles will benefit from the compilation of historical data such as stock parameters, ink usage, and previous waste records. The main focus of the JDF platform is to spread these types of savings and controls to all aspects of the production environment outside the pressroom.

KOMORI: Today, Komori presses can link to most electronic prepress systems and use the CIP3 data to set ink keys and drive a makeready to deliver customer ready sheets with only 150 waste sheets and in 15 minutes. This is being done every day on the Komori LS40 on the production floors of our customers, not just in a demo room environment. Can you do that with your current equipment? How much is that worth to you in reduced waste, improved productivity and faster cycle time?

MAN ROLAND: For starters, it will make you better, faster and smarter. It will provide you with higher quality, because you'll be printing by the numbers instead of flying by the seat of your pants. You'll wind up with more uptime, because you'll be able to complete online but off-press makereadies. That means your MAN Roland press will be producing product while you're presetting it for the next job. After the job runs, our PECOM system will tell you in real time where and how to improve your efficiencies. We'd need another 60 minutes to talk about the advantages you get by connecting PECOM to a shop's JDF workflow and MIS solution.

MULLER MARTINI: When people ask, What's the ROI?, this is still a difficult question to answer. It depends on how integrated a printer's MIS and job tracking systems already are. And although the question hasn't been answered to the satisfaction of users so far, we would reply, You can no longer afford to operate without a workflow in your company. The pressure of dealing with shorter runs and quicker turns make it necessary to eliminate data error and become more efficient at driving your costs down. Your workflow can be elaborate, or it can be a very simple system that doesn't cost much. But, you must have something.

WTT: What's the most important innovation in digital workflow for offset lithographic presses that your company will show at drupa?

GOSS: The latest version of our award winning Goss DigiRail digital inking system, which is ideal for pre-setting accuracy, low waste, and significant ink mileage, as well as very high lithographic print quality. The Goss digital inker helps us achieve cold start waste as low as 200 copies.

HEIDELBERG: If we have to choose the most outstanding one, it has to be Prinect Color Solutions. It offers completely integrated and closed-loop color management between prepress and press, allowing consistently high color fidelity and reduced makeready time. With the Quality Monitor, the production quality can be continuously monitored and calibrated. The Quality Monitor also offers a certified proof function that shows whether or not the production quality is within the specified range.

KBA: Our comprehensive Logotronic Professional system has been improved to allow easier access to all job data. The open architecture nature of our Logotronic system makes it a natural fit into any production environment.

KOMORI: Komori will show the ability to integrate JDF to the suite of Komori presses on the exhibition floor from a variety of MIS systems. This further demonstrates Komori's commitment to open architecture through these links, and visitors to the Komori stand will begin to see the true benefits of JDF and CIM.

MAN ROLAND: PrintNet, a digital backbone that connects MIS to prepress, press, postpress and all other aspects of a printing operation. As a fully open system, PrintNet lets printers integrate all aspects of production workflow with the MIS systems of their choice. The result is a complete end-to-end JDF-driven workflow that will seamlessly connect any digitally based press operating system to all other printing facility functions. As such, PrintNet will fully network the production workflow and all of the administrative automation provided by any JDF-compatible MIS solution. In PrintCity at drupa, we will introduce new and enhanced press models that demonstrate the interoperability of PrintNet.

MULLER MARTINI: Integrated solutions from A to Z will be our theme at drupa. Digital workflow will run through our entire display, and all of the equipment, including our new Alprinta press, will be networked and JDF-capable. At the Kodak VersaMark booth, a new version of our Concept press will be shown as a part of an integrated, inline solution for personalized printing. Our display of workflow capability will say This is here today, and we can sell it, and people can use it.

WTT: In terms of mechanical efficiencyfor example, running speed, accuracy of registration, reduction of wasteare lithographic presses now as good as they are ever going to get? Or, do you think that you can continue to make your equipment run and print significantly better than it already does?

HEIDELBERG: We still see major steps for further improvement of productivity in general. The combination of electronic, software, and control systems within the preprint and print areas based on robust machine design will lead us to easy-to-operate products for high-quality production in extended print applications. We will go to real closed-loop systems for optimized industrial print requirements. This will be supported by products that are easier to configure and change to the requirements of customers and niche markets. We will take additional steps into the careful treatment of environmental factors: for example, energy consumption, solvents, and heating.

KBA: For the last 10 years, many have thought that all the significant improvements have been made. However, we believe that two products we will show at drupa the Gravuflow inking system and the Rapida 105 presswill make many of these skeptics think again. After all, an inker with no water and no ink keys is what printers have been waiting for. A 41" press running at 18,000 sph as the new Rapida 105 does has crossed another long-standing barrier. We think that makeready times will continue to be reduced as many tasks can be accomplished at the same time with new decentralized electronics.

KOMORI: In the early 90s Komori introduced press automation. In the last several years we have introduced a new suite of equipment that has combined automation with enhanced lithographic capabilities. We cannot predict what will come next, but we can predict that innovation in the printing industry will accelerate with significant implications for the useful life of equipment in the future. Upgrade cycles will become shorter as printers strive to remain competitive and meet customer needs.

MAN ROLAND: MAN Roland is continuously researching and developing ways to make offset printing faster and more efficient. That's why we're confident that printing speeds will continue to increase in the years ahead. As far as makeready goes, automation is approaching the maximum with our QuickChange options, which we're introducing for the ROLAND 700 at drupa. We also are reducing waste levels by changing mechanical sequences, and the research in that domain will still be going on until the very first sheet is saleable. The net effect of that would be zero waste.

MULLER MARTINI: It's always possible to improve print quality, especially in web presses. We're close to sheetfed quality with our web presses now, so that a lot of work that once could only be run on sheetfed equipment now looks as good on webs. What will differentiate presses from now on are features that offer easier operation and intelligent makeready. Presses will learn makeready by storing and optimizing job files as they come in. The press run will be automated and self-adjusting.

WTT: What's the most important mechanical innovation for offset lithographic presses that your company will show at drupa?

GOSS: You'll have to wait and see.

HEIDELBERG: We will show the possibilities of modularly designed print systems that are integrated in print solutions. You will see the definition of performance above top performance in our use of mechanical, mechatronic, software, and control systems, including drive systems.

KBA: As mentioned, the new Rapida 105, which has pulled away from the field with its level of automation and speed. Second, the introduction of the Gravuflow inking system into the Rapida74 line. The keyless, waterless inker will yield consistent color and less than 20 sheets of makeready waste. This is truly a breakthrough in litho technology.

KOMORI: We will show the new LS Perfector design based on three double sized cylinders. This design provides smoother sheet transfer and eliminates some of the issues that have historically plagued other perfector designs. We will also be demonstrating the LS SuperPerfector, which combines the straight-through sheet path perfecting design of the SP with the lithographic enhancements developed for the LS.

MAN ROLAND: It's called DirectDrive, and it will be shown on a static ROLAND 700 printing unit. This innovation powers a printing unit's plate cylinder with its own high- torque motor controlled by MAN Roland's PECOM operating system. By decoupling the plate cylinder from the press's main drive, DirectDrive makes it possible to change all of the plates on a ROLAND 700 simultaneously instead of one at a time. For additional efficiency, wash-up routines can be completed during plate changing. Because the mechanical isolation of the plate cylinder gives the press a 360° circumferential register, a DirectDrive-equipped ROLAND 700 can accept printing plates created for presses built by different manufacturers.

MULLER MARTINI: The new Alprinta press incorporates many innovations, including a heavy-duty, two form-roller ink train with split fountain capability. Cylinders are available in two widths, 20 1 / 2 " and 20 1 / 8 ", and each printing unit is independently servo-driven. For the first time at drupa, we'll show variable-size capability within the cylinder insert. This is not a sleeve technology, but something all new and unique to Muller.

WTT: What business is your company in? Selling printing presses? Or, do you define your mission in some other way?

HEIDELBERG: Heidelberg is a solution provider, and we will intensify our focus on the sheetfed offset, prepress, and finishing businesses and their related workflow systems, training, and service activities. Integration of digital printing in print shops' workflows, using Prinect, will remain a part of Heidelberg's service offerings and will be intensified.

KBA: Providing solutions, selling relationships, and partnerships are some of the latest buzzwords, but we think this confuses customers as to a manufacturer's motives and capabilities. We at KBA do what we do best and have done best for almost 200 years: provide the ultimate printing press as a tool for the printers of today to secure their future.

KOMORI: Selling printing presses is one of our core competencies along with providing the aftermarket support that our customers need. There is an opportunity in the future for press manufacturers to go beyond selling iron and work more closely with their customers to help them execute their goals and strategies. Continued consolidation of the print industry combined with the integration needs of JDF will drive customers and vendors together in ways that have not been thought of before.

MAN ROLAND: We've summed up our mission statement at drupa in three words: We Are Print. The phrase tells printers that the pressroom advancements we develop make print a more powerful and useful medium for their customers; that the service and support we provide keeps print timely and reliable; and that the training we offer to printers and to the creative community helps to make print the educated choice for everyone involved. Because in the final analysis, the best results are achieved when printer, print buyer, and press provider consolidate their efforts.

MULLER MARTINI: We are strictly an equipment manufacturer. Finishing is our core competence, but we also specialize in small, variable-format web presses. Data handling and system integration are also parts of our mission. Our newspaper division provides equipment for mailroom operations, inserting, and storing. The borders are getting softer between newspaper and commercial printing as newspapers try to fill their unused capacity with commercial work. Looking ahead, we should see some interesting applications here.

WTT: How has drupa changed as an international printing trade exposition since your company first began exhibiting at it?

HEIDELBERG: Nowadays drupa is much more an international fair with 50 percent of the visitors coming from Germany and the other half coming from the rest of the world. We will have the opportunity to talk to the whole print media world in the two weeks of drupa, and we are looking forward to many interesting meetings and to encouraging order intake.

KBA: Drupa will always be viewed as the see it here first show. But with the travel issues of today, the Chicago shows will be a growing source of information for North American printers. The advantage of the Chicago shows is that the technology shown is available and has likely already been through beta site testing.

KOMORI: Drupa provides a window for printers to see the future. More CTP equipment was shown at drupa 95 than was installed in the U.S. Four years later CTP was widely accepted. Drupa 2000 was all about digital printing, and we've seen digital technology change and evolve significantly since then. Drupa is good for the industry and gives printers and manufacturers a direction for the future.

MAN ROLAND: This is the second drupa in which MAN Roland is a PrintCity partner. This year PrintCity is fully living up to its mission, showing the production workflows of a variety of vendors working together in an open architecture. Visiting PrintCity is like stepping into the plants of several different printers and becoming part of a live production environment. The big difference is that you're visiting facilities that have the latest and the greatest technology.

MULLER MARTINI: Drupa remains the most important event because it sets directions for years to come. Think of the place that CTP occupied at drupa 95. Today, whoever doesn't have digital CTP is hopelessly behind the eight ball. We think it's absolutely true that drupa 04 will give the same kind of boost to JDF. Our customers are starting to build digital smart factories, and JDF will definitely be adopted by forward looking companies like these.