By Chris Pearce, VP Corporate Sourcing, Ivie & Associates, Inc.
In June I attended Drupa, the largest international print exhibition in the world, held every four years in Dusseldorf, Germany.
Drupa brings together manufacturers from all aspects of print production to showcase the latest innovations in the print industry. Drupa includes exhibits from not only printing press manufacturers, but also from ink and paper companies, specialized coating suppliers, and finishing equipment manufacturers (folders, cutters, stitchers, and gluers).
Drupa is expansive, spreading across 17 large buildings and covering nearly 2,000,000 square feet. In those buildings, you can view fully-functional presses of all sizes and print capabilities actively running and producing printed sheets for your review. You can talk to a manufacturer for a saddle-stitching machine as well as the manufacturer of the stitching wire itself. While Drupa primarily caters to printers in the market for new press equipment, it is a great way for agencies and service bureaus to get an inside look at new equipment and capabilities hitting the market.
I spent four days walking the grounds and reviewing the exhibits in each of the buildings. I visited some buildings multiple times, averaging about 9 miles of foot travel each day.
So what did I learn? Well, a lot of things, but to sum it up:
Manufacturers are strongly focused on bringing products to market that improve automation and digital print technology to address three core needs of the print industry:
- Automation and waste reduction – Continued pricing pressures on printed goods means that printers are constantly looking for ways to reduce costs where possible without sacrificing service or quality. The more a printer can automate production and minimize waste in press consumables (ink, plates, paper), the more competitive they can be in the marketplace.
- Personalization to drive customer engagement – Whether it is packaging, direct mail, or even newspapers, a strong focus on customized content for consumers is driving the choices manufacturers are making in how they engineer their presses.
- On-demand production – Advancements in on-demand print software and variable data or customized production allow for greater efficiencies in product categories where printed goods are highly versioned and/or ordered infrequently. Efficiently producing these types of products on-demand through an automated, digital printing process not only reduces the cost of manufacturing, but frees up cash and real estate for a printer. When a printer doesn’t have to own inventory to fulfill quick-turn requests, that printer can operate more cost effectively.
To address these core needs, manufacturers are releasing an unprecedented number of digital presses to the market capable of high quality variable data printing on a wider variety of substrates and with greater speed and quality than ever before.
Drupa 2016 was a major step forward in the evolution of digital printing and personalization, and included a first look at some ground-breaking print technologies.
Traditional print methods like litho offset have long had clear advantages in speed, quality, and costs when compared to evolving technologies like digital printing.
This year at Drupa, a significant amount of new equipment was unveiled that clearly demonstrated that digital print technology and customized production processes have achieved levels of speed and quality that have been major hurdles to widespread adoption in the past.
I spent some time talking to Kodak about their digital web press, the Prosper 6000. I saw the press in action and reviewed several samples of tabloids printed on newsprint. There are some European publications that have switched to digital printing because of the short-run lengths and highly-versioned content of their publications – some are even offering customized content to subscribers based on their stated preferences.
HP had an entire building devoted to their digital printing platform. Even conventional litho offset giants like Komori and Heidelberg unveiled cutting-edge digital press lines to complement their conventional press lines.
Heidelberg unveiled a machine that allows for personalization on three-dimensional objects by attaching them to a robotic arm in a glass case and rotating the object to apply plasma treatments and high quality, full color inkjetting. Heidelberg showed racing helmets, hockey sticks, and soccer balls that had been personalized by this press (Omnifire).
One of the most striking and potentially important advancements in print production in decades was unveiled: the Landa nanographic printing press.
Landa nanography is a kind of offset/digital hybrid process in which microscopic liquid ink particles are dropped onto a heated surface where the water instantly evaporates and the image is transferred to paper or plastic substrates as a “bonded film”. I received a sample from the press and the level of detail and color is striking.
The most important aspects of the technology are that it uses no printing plates and claims to be capable of printing large offset-quality variable-data sheets at conventional offset speeds. Since the press is capable of variable data printing, in which each sheet rolling off the press is different than the one before it, the potential value of the technology is extraordinary.
Landa nanography will enter beta testing soon, with presses planned to deliver sometime in 2017 for 2018 production (tentatively). Several large, well-known printers placed orders for the new presses at Drupa – one supplier ordered twenty of them.
This is an area that Corporate Services will be paying particular attention to – the potential for this technology to be disruptive is very high.
There were many other important innovations on display at Drupa. Scodix technology, which achieves eye-popping and tactile effects on printed sheets similar to a heavy varnish or UV coating but with a high level of precision, was a major highlight. A book-binding machine that creates various finished sizes and page counts of books in a continuous production stream gained a lot of attention for its ability to create customized book orders quickly and efficiently.
If you would like to learn more about Drupa or to see some of the many print samples brought back from the trip, visit me in person or email and I will be happy to discuss further.