By Noel Ward, Managing Editor, Trade Show Coverage
There is a skyway in the Miami Convention Center that spans the show hall. Floor to ceiling windows on both sides give a view of everything below and it's fun to watch the walls, signage, computers, and large printing machines being assembled like a child's construction set. Often, the signs that hang from the ceiling go up first, staking out territory like an air force squadron providing air support for the troops on the ground.
This year the stand with the most visible air cover was Kodak, whose signs were noticible from almost anywhere on the floor. Beneath them the focal point was the Versamark VT3000 inkjet printer, a key player in Kodak's goal of weaning high-volume printers off of black toner and bringing full color to transactional printing. This objective is driven by their customers who are seeing and increasing volume of what some are terming "TransPromo" documents-- ones that combine the traditional transactional information with promotional information that is graphically rich, colorful, and demographically relevant to the recipient.
The color element is especially important. Like laser printers replaced impact devices and offset replaced letterpress, color is gradually going to replace black-only printing on more and more transactional documents. As InfoTrends puts it, " It's clear full color is coming to statements, transaction documents, and direct mail, replacing pre-printed color forms as well as adding new color elements where it’s cost effective."
Even IBM, which has insisted for some years that the market is not ready for color, has been frantically updating its AFP print datastream so it can handle color. Meanwhile, Kodak has been seeing continued success in placing its continuous inkjet systems in direct mail shops and service bureaus, all of them printing in color and taking jobs from continuous-feed monochrome devices.
According to Ron Gilboa, vice president of marketing at Kodak Versamark, "Data-centers and service bureaus are expected to be able to support both transactional and marketing applications. To do this, companies must re-think both customer communications and their business strategy.
"At the same time, companies are watching their expenses. Production often has to be done with less equipment than in the past, with reduced pre-print inventory, and waste. And as always, they have to be done at the lowest possible cost."
This puts a new responsibility on data center managers and service bureaus, explains Gilboa. While their bosses may be looking for the lowest cost per page, the managers really must become strategic technology advisors to their companies' management. "It goes beyond eliminating pre-printed forms and the waste associated with that," he says. "They have to show how adding color and marketing messages delivers a better document--one that helps change transactional documents from being a cost-center business to being a profit center."
This, of course is a strategic issue, and Gilboa says Kodak works with data centers and service bureaus to educate corporate executives on how its continuous inkjet technology --in color or not--can help their company. "It depends on what behavior you want to drive," notes Gilboa. "Do you want it to be business as usual or do you want to take a new strategic direction that has a vision for the future? If so, then you need to add color and rethink your documents."
Color, digital color, is almost all they think about at DocuMaster in Mexico City.
"We were born digital!" affirms a smiling Julio A. Jimenez Monroy, partner and sales director at the busy business, one of the leading digital print firms in Mexico. They began with small Xerox products in the mid-'90s and have moved up the product line until installing an iGen 3 last November. Monroy plans to add another later this year. Many of the jobs are short runs of static data, ranging up to 2,500 pieces, while a growing volume are direct mail applications for banks and pharmaceutical firms. Others are in the food and beverage business where some specialized substrates are required. Some 30 percent of revenue comes from short-run books printed on a Xerox Nuvera and wrapped in digitally printed covers.
"FreeFlow has been helpful in increasing productivity, and other tools like XMPie have been helpful as well," says Monroy, " because we can easily add PURLs to direct mail documents."
He says his company has very few competitors in Mexico, and some are even shrinking in size even as DocuMaster is growing. "We try to add value for our customers. It might be providing a better cash flow by using short runs, making it easy for them to keep documents updated, or even to provide outsourcing services."
What is interesting about DocuMaster and similar firms in Latin America and other developing market countries is how they have embraced digital printing technology so quickly. (In relative terms, they have moved much faster than their U.S. counterparts). Monroy and his partners were never traditional printers. They simply realized that digital technology presented them with new opportunities that would have real value to their marketplace and went after the business. They have, in effect, leapfrogged over their erstwhile competitors and are transforming their markets. The same kinds of things are happening in other countries around the world. Every print engine vendor has examples of how new print providers have been "born digital" in Latin America, Eastern Europe, Asia, and Africa and are succeeding and even thriving. It's really not about the box or the software. It is about seeing the potential the technology offers and applying the old business adage of "Find a need and fill it." As Kodak's Gilboa noted, they have a strategic vision, and they share it with their customers. And it becomes a win for all concerned.
But Color isn't the Only Answer
While Kodak, HP, Xerox and others strutted their color solutions at GOA, the often-crowded Nipson stand was proof that black and white still works just fine for a whole lot of applications. Robert Stabler, president of Nipson America told me the company has a strong presence in Latin America, especially in government printing operations and transactional service bureaus. Nipson's magnetography process makes the attractively-styled machines a good fit for many security documents including checks, airline tickets, two-part forms and more.
"We see less direct mail than in the U.S.," explained Stabler, "but we are seeing more promotional work on transactional documents. Another place our machines are used is when synthetic materials are required. Since we don’t use heat to fuse the toner our equipment is used for things like vinyl window stickers on cars, tax stamps on bottles and other places where a synthetic is better suited than paper."
Stabler says many Nipson customers in Latin America have just one machine, but run a large range of applications on it because of its inherent flexibility. One of the key advantages he's seeing is lighter substrates. Postage is the largest component of mailing just about everywhere, and there's a move on to use lighter and lighter paper.
He also says speed is another factor, combined with backend integration. "People think you have to have lots of systems to print and finish many different document types. But if you can print more documents quickly on a more flexible machine and have finishing equipment that's well-matched to the print engine you can reduce the overall investment required and still be very productive and more profitable."
But wait, there's more!
Coming next are some thoughts from Presstek and my pick for the best new product at the show.
WhatTheyThink is the global printing industry's leading independent media organization with both print and digital offerings, including WhatTheyThink.com, PrintingNews.com and WhatTheyThink magazine versioned with a Printing News and Wide-Format & Signage edition. Our mission is to provide cogent news and analysis about trends, technologies, operations, and events in all the markets that comprise today’s printing and sign industries including commercial, in-plant, mailing, finishing, sign, display, textile, industrial, finishing, labels, packaging, marketing technology, software and workflow.