Leading up to the show, many visitors and exhibitors I spoke with were concerned about Graph Expo. After 20 years in Chicago, the move to Orlando was a big change. Many Midwest companies would historically drive to McCormick for the show with several team members, and that became impractical for them with the Orlando location, a fact admitted by GASC President Thayer Long in an interview with him prior to the show:

Orlando obviously won’t be as convenient for folks in the Midwest as Chicago. But if you look at the demographics, there are more printing establishments within the Southeast than the Midwest. We are expecting strong attendance, and of course we hope to still draw many of our friends from the Midwest! But we know it is not trivial moving a show like this.

The show company was projecting lower attendance for this and other reasons, and sources estimated for me that attendance was likely about 13,000 in Orlando, compared to nearly 18,000 in Chicago in 2015. It must be noted, of course, that this is just an estimate and official numbers have not yet been released.

That being said, I heard over and over again from vendors that visitors to the show were focused, knew exactly what they were looking for and had a limited number of exhibitors on the radar that they wanted to spend time with. One exhibitor said, “We had people coming to us with a specific problem and asking what we could do to help. They were not kicking tires. They were seriously looking for solutions to specific business problems.” Interestingly, another said, “The biggest surprise for me was the number of companies I spoke to that I didn’t even know existed. They were relatively local to Orlando, did not attend Graph Expo in Chicago, and jumped at the chance to visit a more locally-held show. One such company I spoke with was a $25 million Florida printer.” Most exhibitors were very happy with the new leads they were able to gather as well as the opportunity to catch up with existing customers.

Sunday seemed to have moderate attendance, and Monday/Tuesday were pretty busy. Wednesday, as is normal for the last day of the show, was very quiet. In fact, I saw exhibitors packing their booths up as early as 11 AM. A representative from one such company said they were very pleased with the show, had done significant marketing ahead of time to attract visitors, and exceeded their leads goal with what he felt were very qualified leads.

For an overview of show trends, don’t miss my conversation with WhatTheyThink Technology Editor David Zwang. And let me say up front that I can’t possibly cover everything at the show in one article. Following are what, for me, were the high points of the show.

Post-drupa Excitement

As we have written, drupa 2016 was a watershed event for the industry, and some of that excitement transferred to Graph Expo 2016 for many North Americans who did not attend drupa. It was their opportunity to see – or at least learn about first-hand – many of the groundbreaking new solutions that were announced in Düsseldorf. Of course, booth sizes were significantly smaller than drupa, and exhibitors didn’t bring some of the larger equipment to the show, such as EFI’s Nozomi C180000 digital direct-to-corrugated printer or any web-fed production inkjet solutions. Canon was showing its VarioPrint i300 sheetfeed inkjet press, and it drew a lot of interest from many attendees who had not been able to see it before. RGMT was the only exhibitor on the show floor to bring a complete multi-unit offset press, using LED UV, and demonstrations were very well attended throughout the show. Visitors were able to walk away with samples hot off the press since the LED UV curing meant sheets were dry and ready for finishing on exit. RGMT told me they have sold 35 offset presses to date this year, about one per week, and expected the show to generate additional sales as well. This highlights the fact that while digital printing is a hot topic, offset presses still have an important role to play. And press manufacturers have done a great job of making them more efficient.

Both MGI and Scodix showed a wide range of digital embellishment solutions at drupa, and many of those were also present at Graph Expo, along with stunning samples from both companies. In its press conference, MGI touted its Artifical Intelligence SmartScanner, designed to manage postpress treatments for all types of digital, flexo and offset printed materials. It scans and analyzes every piece fed through the system and adjusts inkjet head performance to optimize and correct for any printed or physical imperfections. It also featured Meteor Unlimited Colors that enables the production of an unlimited number of foil-enhanced colors by blending CMYK toner with the reflective qualities of foil, including many hues with metallic, glitter and holographic effects. The company also reported it is researching metallic toners to add even more value to the printed product. MGI spoke to the media during its press conference about AlphaJet, a future product expected to be commercially available by the end of 2017. AlphaJet will incorporate digital printing with digital embellishment in a 6-color B1 digital press with white ink, varnish, foil and printed electronics capability for things like chipless RFID for interactive packaging, nano conductive inks and more with the ability to print on paper, plastic and glass. This is part of MGI’s strategy to place more focus on functional printing.

Scodix, who reported selling more than 150 new digital enhancement presses at drupa, showed its Ultra Pro digital enhancement press with the Scodix Foil digital foiling station inline, also recognized with a Must See ‘em award, that offers the ability to include foil, analog-quality flat varnishes, foil and more in a single footprint. Scodix has assembled an impressive array of digital enhancement options from metallic and glitter to holograms, Braille and crystals.

These types of solutions provide the opportunity to generate printed products that deliver significantly higher margins and greater customer value, helping to keep print in place as a critical element of any business communications program. MGI recommends to customers including 10 digitally embellished sheets with every print job as a graphic demonstration to customers of the added value digital embellishment can bring.

Digital Printing

Just about all of the digital press manufacturers were present at the show, although most had much smaller booths than in previous years.  Canon and Konica Minolta were front and center with the largest booths and both had new products to show, including the Canon VarioPrint i300 sheetfed offset press mentioned above. Canon also showed two brand-new mid-range printers, the imagePRESS C65 for the creative community, and the imagePRESS C850 targeted at print service providers. The company also showed off some of its wide format printers in the booth. For updates on the company’s strategy, see my article written following a pre-show briefing in Melville.

Xeikon talked up its Trillium One liquid toner press, unveiled at drupa. VP of Marketing Filip Weymans reported that a Trillium One press could replace three of the company’s Xeikon 9800 digital presses and is expected to be commercially available the second half of next year.  He also shared that, while the company has placed significant focus on labels and packaging, document printing is still a very important part of its business, reporting that the company has sold 30 9000 series presses since drupa. 60% of its customers are in the document space. Xeikon also showed its new Color Services solution as part of it X-800 DFE which includes fixed color palette tools and Color Forecast that allows operators to set expectations about achievement of accurate color prior to printing. Color Key delivers a quality report. And to further assist operators in predicting and achieving color, the company has produced a complete five-color swatch book that operators in prepress and the press room can use as a physical reference.

Konica Minolta has aggressively been developing a range of high end products, from its AccurioJet KM-1 to the KM-C for corrugated and a full range of toner-based products and workflow and productivity software.  The company has made great strides in recent years and is well worth looking at for anyone planning to invest in digital print. Konica Minolta, which owns 41% of MGI, was featured in a recent article by David Zwang that discusses the company’s recent developments.

While KBA’s booth was much smaller than its 32,000 square foot drupa booth and did not have any offset presses running, the company had a good presence. Like most of the offset press manufacturers, KBA has entered the digital printing market, originally in partnership with R.R. Donnelley for the RotaJET family, announced a partnership with HP to develop a 110” wide press for the corrugated market, and most recently, its surprise announcement at drupa that it would co-develop a built-to-order digital folding carton press in partnership with Xerox (7-color KBA VariJet 106 powered by Xerox, 4,500 B1 sph). The press is expected to be commercially available in 2018. The company has recently successfully emerged from a significant restructuring effort, and CEO Claus Bolza Schünemann expressed confidence that KBA is on solid footing and well-positioned for the future. He pointed out that there are still significant pockets of positive growth in printing, encouraging folks to look around the next time they are in Target or Wal-Mart – there’s nothing in the store that doesn’t have some ink or toner on it, and he likes to use the catch-phrase “Ink on Everything” to demonstrate that. KBA will be celebrating its 200th anniversary in September 2017. I found Senior VP of Sales Soren Larsen’s comment telling, “Arrogance does not exist in our company. Period.” I have also had several conversations with Bolza Schünemann about the restructuring and was very impressed with the way it was executed.  Watch for a future article explaining more.

HP, Ricoh, Xerox and others were showing a wide range of digital presses, many of which debuted at drupa. Ricoh had a brand-new black & white digital print platform, the Ricoh Pro 8220s series, available in six models and particularly suited to book production. Xerox showed its direct-to-object printing solution whose Star Trek like appearance drew large crowds; it earned a Best of Category Must See ‘em award. The company was honored with the Must See ‘ems Legacy Award for the iGen3.

HP reported that it has completed installation of more than 300 Indigo presses purchased at drupa and had a busy booth as attendees sought to learn more about the latest Indigo news. HP also announced availability of its High Definition Nozzle Architecture (HDNA) in four new PageWide Web Presses, the T390 HD, T380M HD, T380 HD and T370 HD. A fascinating demonstration in the HP booth was its Book of One demonstration using Unsquaring the Wheel by Dr. Joe Webb, Chris Bondy and Wayne Peterson and printed by WebCom. One hundred attendees had an opportunity to order a personalized copy of the book to be picked up at the show, and generic versions were available for free at book signings during the event. Using LinkReader, readers can scan the cover to see a video about how the book was produced. Additionally, those who signed up in advance could use LinkReader to access a personalized video message from Worldwide Director of Marketing David Murphy. A generic video message was available for the non-personalized books. HP also inserted some product and informational pages in the front of the book with more information available online via Link. This was an excellent example of making print interactive by adding non-print content. It is a non-intrusive means of extending the value of print in a multi-channel world and is a great way for print service providers to generate new value and new revenue streams.

RISO, who had a significant presence at drupa, was also showing its wares at Graph Expo and showed the RISO ComColor GD series of inkjet presses with print speeds up to 160 ppm and higher quality than the RISO printers of the olden days. The company also displayed a number of prototype printing systems that were debuted at drupa. This is a company to watch in the future.

Finishing Solutions

In addition to digital enhancement solutions, more traditional finishing played a large role at the show with exhibitors bringing a wide variety of equipment ranging from folders and inserters to coaters, cutters, binding machines and more, and attendees were flocking into these booths. Hardware is still a big draw at Graph Expo! There were numerous new product announcements from key players such as Duplo, Harris & Bruno, Muller Martini, Standard Finishing and more. My attention was caught by Standard Horizon’s new SmartSlitter, a sub-$100,000 cutter/slitter/scorer/creaser that is so automated, an early user reports an operator can place a mixed-job stack of paper in the machine, press start and walk away.  I saw it in action and it was very impressive.

The Softer Side of Printing

If there was any question at all about the digital transformation the industry is undergoing, Graph Expo set those questions aside. While printing and finishing hardware is still a big draw at the show, most will agree that without the right software infrastructure, hardware alone is not going to deliver the kind of operational excellence required in today’s highly competitive marketplace. There were way too many software vendors at the show to cover here, and I recommend our readers visit our Graph Expo page to get a run down on all of the announcements. There was something for everyone there, and many innovative solutions from players large and small.

Annual Press Conference Award

EFI once again was the recipient of my informal Show Press Conference Award with a theme of Make Print Great Again: The [online] Force Awakens, a play on some of the latest political and entertainment news. EFI, and its CEO Guy Gecht, do a great job of injecting fun into what can often be an eye-glazing extravaganza of press conferences at graphic arts trade shows. While EFI’s booth was smaller than in previous years, it did not lack for breadth of end-to-end business and production workflow solutions and wide format offerings, as well as lots of new development in its Fiery family of products. EFI has focused its offerings around three platforms for the future:

  • Reinventing high-speed inkjet
  • Reinventing digital front ends (DFEs)
  • Taking productivity to the next level

For the sixth year in a row, the company garnered more Must See ‘em awards than any other exhibitor, including three Best of Category Awards for EFI/Esko integrated workflow, AquaEndure Inks and the Nozomi C18000. Gecht was also a good sport participating in our Missed Connection spoof video. If you haven’t watched it, you should!

Next Year

Next year, Print will be back at McCormick from September 10th through 14th. Graph Expo 2018 will also be at McCormick (September 30-October 3) and the show site reflects a return to Orlando in 2019 in case you are planning that far ahead.