The Print Wire
Jul 27, 2009
An exclusive article from Ipex trade show about what's next for print
What’s next for Print? Ipex 2010
By Rob Haak
Ipex 2010 will be a place where manufacturers will set the graphic arts world alight with new developments that show visitors the future direction of our industry. However, visitors will also be able to experience technologies that were previewed at drupa 2008 and which will have matured to true commercial level by the time Ipex opens its doors for eight days on 18th May 2010 at the NEC, Birmingham, United Kingdom. Choosing the right equipment for your business has never been more important.
As a result, the organisers of Ipex 2010 have commissioned a series of articles that will highlight the most critical developments in technology and relate them to the needs of key market sectors. Kicking off this series is industry expert Rob Haak who gives his answers to some of the most pressing questions in the run up to the event…
Rob Haak is the president of SPIKIX, an independent inkjet integration consultancy and formerly founder of dotrix, the first company to deliver productive industrial inkjet printing solutions. Having more than 20 years experience in the graphic arts industry, Rob has worked for many of the leading companies in the market. One of those companies was Barco Graphics (now Esko), a company that designed and developed pre-press and imaging systems (films & plates) for offset, flexo, screen and gravure printers. He can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org
1. What will be the key technology highlights in 2010?
We can confidently expect the latest generation digital printing technologies unveiled at drupa 2008 to have matured to a true ‘commercial’ level. This will especially be the case for affordable mid-speed cut-sheet printers and high-speed web engines. Digital presses for industrial applications, including labels and packaging, are not far behind. But these industrial inkjet engines are still somewhat limited by substrate/ink compatibility and lack of equally versatile finishing add-ons. Will developments in this area become one of the great Ipex revelations? Watch this space ….
2. What emerging technologies will create the most impact at Ipex 2010?
There’s no doubt that inkjet printing will be one of the hot topics at Ipex 2010 - I actually believe inkjet will be on top of the list. At Ipex 2010 we can expect to see printing systems that employ inkjet technologies, replacing in the next decade some of the dominant printing tools, workflows and supply chain practices being used today. These systems will have a major impact on how printed materials or decorated products are created, printed, distributed and managed. These digital inkjet systems will be able to deal with print-on-demand, variable data printing and web-to-print solutions. Inkjet has come a long way and will continue its march to higher speeds, higher quality, better reliability and more value for money.
In the commercial printing market you will see high volume single pass inkjet printing systems (both web and sheet based) for books, direct-mail, trans-promotional materials, newspaper and web-to-print applications. These printing systems will be using new continuous inkjet heads, thermal inkjet heads and piezo inkjet heads jetting water-based inks.
On the other hand, the industrial printing market will benefit from new automated flatbed inkjet engines producing on the spot up to 100 large sheets per hour for the signage market, while high volume single pass inkjet engines will be printing labels, packaging and decoration materials. For industrial printing the obvious choice is Piezo inkjet heads to deal with higher viscosity UV inks and other fluids.
3. Do you think Ipex 2010 will have come at a good time economically?
No one can predict today exactly how long the current drop in capital investments will continue nor whether it will have ended by 2010. However there is no doubt that the solution is not to stand still. Forward looking companies are continually examining their offerings with a view to adopting solutions which will improve service levels and strengthen profitability. A major international trade event like Ipex 2010 can provide an ideal platform to explore and progress plans.
Some economists predict that the economy will bounce back in 2010 and that we’ll see the green shoots of recovery in the first two quarters. If governments are succeeding in fixing the financial system, the current recession could end in 2009, resulting in a more positive outlook for 2010. But as many economists say, only time will tell.
4. What can we expect from Creation/Design?
The creative and design tools of choice will expand beyond print and embrace other media, including video. Content has become multi-purpose and communication multi-channel so we can expect to see a host of demonstrations in this area. More traditionally, user friendly interfaces enabling structured content management and automated production processes will become even more integrated and accessible: content meets intent.
With respect to major manufacturers I would expect some reshuffling of functionality in between their modules to assemble new ‘application suites’, specifically targeted at selected vertical markets.
5. What will be the key trends/developments in prepress?
The majority of ‘mechanical’ prepress functions have been refined to a level where future improvements will only have marginal impact on overall productivity. Now the focus is shifting to the links with the customer/print buyer, the handovers between processing steps and/or different supply chain partners, and the integration with business systems both at front end and back end. Good examples are automated quality assurance (PDF certification, pre-flighting, visual inspection etc), on-line order entry and web-to-print systems, cross-media asset management, etc. The next evolutions are all about facilitating the interaction with the end user and with the broader business environment (buyer and supplier side).
6. What are we likely to see from consumables suppliers?
The trends visible at drupa will be continued at Ipex 2010:
• More alternatives for digital printing plates, minimising cost, processing overheads and environmental impact;
• ‘Greener’ inks and coatings;
• More sustainable substrates – paper/board with higher recycled content, recyclable and synthetic materials or even biodegradable plastics;
• And most important: the willingness of consumable suppliers to assist and advise their customers on topics covering the entire production process.
A clear process of consolidation is happening in printing plates and inks, where only a handful of major suppliers seem to have the strength (and the volume) to weather out the current economic slowdown.
7. What will be the key highlights in offset/digital press manufacturing?
We can expect to see thousands of words devoted to this topic in the global press and by pundits in the run up to the event so for the moment I will highlight two key trends.
• Offset presses: more automation (ink pre-sets, job changeover, process control), wider range of paper weights and grades, more coating and finishing options;
• Digital presses: better consistency of quality, wider colour gamut, broader substrate compatibility, higher speeds, lower overall page cost.
Press vendors will have to offer a well rounded product portfolio to cover the various application areas of their customers. This does not only include digital presses but also workflow systems and at least a supply channel for print consumables such as plates, blankets, rollers etc.
8. The offset vs digital debate has been at the forefront of industry debates.
What will the inkjet industry have to offer in 2010?
The recently introduced new generation of ‘commercial’ digital presses significantly closes the gap in image quality and page cost for many low to medium volume print jobs. When properly integrated with prepress workflows and matched with the right applications, digital document printing will continue to grow.
The manufacturers of offset presses have made significant progress in the past few years to increase quality, productivity and automation. This has brought better ink presetting and control, automated plate change, and many other features that make such presses even more economical for the production of large volumes and the use of special substrates.
9. What will be the key developments in finishing?
Ipex 2010 will be a good place to see more advanced innovative finishing solutions for the commercial printing markets as presses can be specified to allow additional in-line functionality such as multiple coatings, hot-foiling and die-cutting to reduce costs of multiple passes. Suppliers are continuously trying to improve their offerings in line with digital press development. Mainstream finishing companies target these markets as these digital presses get above the 150 meter/minute mark and will have sufficient finishing kit for digital on offer to fully realise the potential of digital print. We will witness more combined equipment for improved productivity and flexibility, including slitting, folding, stitching and variable perforation for transpromo, direct mailing and booklets.
There is room and demand for smaller format equipment targeted at simpler work in lower run lengths, as well as for a new breed of near-line finishing solutions serving a pool of colour copiers and digital presses alike.
The advent of new digital presses in the industrial printing market has not yet fully been reflected by developments in well-matched finishing systems. The challenge will be to have in-line finishing equipment that will be able to cope with the ever faster web and sheet based inkjet printing engines. These engines will be jetting (mostly UV) inks on a wide range of industrial materials/media in different application areas, such as signage, packaging, decoration, etc.
10. What will be the key developments in the different sectors, i.e. publishing/retail/book printing/newspapers?
There exist common un(der)satisfied demands in all these sectors, with all the concepts and technologies required for a solution available:
• Easier access from the content provider (often print buyer) to the front end of the production process;
• Increased automation, including built-in pre-flight and QA tools throughout the prepress workflow;
• More sophisticated press changeover/setup/production process management tools;
• Broader offering of materials and supporting tools to reduce waste and boost sustainability; and
• Simple-to-use business tools to monitor and improve profitability.
11. How much will visitors look to their suppliers for advice on sustainability? How can they be more sustainable?
No one in the printing and publishing industry can ignore the impact of the broader discussion around the efficient and sustainable use of our scarce natural resources. Being green is not just a means to save the planet, but also a way to save money and increasingly win new customers and retain existing business. Customers will continue to look to all their suppliers to help reduce waste, introduce more environmentally friendly consumables and processes, and in general to define an effective and economical approach to these issues.
12. How important are (medium-term) investment plans for printers at the moment? What do printers need to consider?
As overall business shrinks and competition increases, it is essential for printers to rethink their core value proposition. I am seeing printers define and focus on one or two strong USPs that can clearly be communicated to and understood by customers. They can then build a foundation for a broader business offering services that respond to recent and emerging market trends and sensitivities, such as web-to-print, short and dynamic print runs, sustainability, etc.
13. Where do you see the role of emerging markets in 2010?
There are many factors that will have an impact on long-distance and off-shore manufacturing such as more automated and cost effective processes, short-run digital print solutions, ever shortening deadlines, the need for better project tracking, higher transport costs and stronger protection of local industries. As a result, the key for emerging economies to grow their industries lies increasingly in the development of the local markets. When it comes to the adoption of new technologies, the combination of scarce resources and the lack of a historical infrastructure together create an interesting platform for innovation and new technology incubation.
14. There seems to be an emerging trend that new entrepreneurs (i.e. design agencies) are investing in new/emerging print technologies to provide a one stop shop for their customers. What are your thoughts?
The ‘one stop shop’ desire from end customers such as print and media buyers is a natural consequence of the trends towards focusing on core activities and outsourcing everything else. Venturing and investing into unfamiliar territory may however be more risky and expensive than anticipated. One approach gathering momentum consists of building a ‘one stop customer interface’ and to back that up by a network using internal and external specialist resources and service providers.
15. What are your thoughts on the debate on internet vs. print?
For our youngest generations, the internet is the primary vehicle to access and consume ‘instant’ and time-sensitive information; the balance of media however is already shifting from web ‘pages’ to blogs and networking sites, from large screens to mobile handhelds. Printed media however continue to flourish for more time-resistant information, and especially for highly creative and visual content.
16. How important are key international exhibitions for visitors?
They are absolutely invaluable because they provide the ideal platform for:
• Learning: not only about product features and specifications, but also for face-to-face discussions about benefits and feasibility;
• Meetings: not only distributors and integrators, but also key staff from the main product manufacturers as well as general networking opportunities.
• Experiencing not only state-of-the art solutions that have commercially matured but also discovering the latest innovations that will shape the future of our business.
17. Who is your ‘Champion in Print’ and why?
My Champion is Paul Brainerd, founder of Aldus Corporation and creator of the ‘desktop publishing’ concept, for starting the creative movement whereby individuals and small groups could become self-publishers, and thus changing forever the ‘user’ side of the printing and publishing spectrum.
Paul Brainerd (born 1947) is a pioneer in the field of computer-aided editing, design and publishing. Born in Medford, Oregon, to Phil and VerNatta Brainerd, Paul Brainerd attended the University of Oregon where he was the editor for the school's paper, the Oregon Daily Emerald. Brainerd later co-founded the publishing/printing software company Aldus, which brought the first ever desktop publishing application, PageMaker to the market. The term "desktop publishing" was itself coined by Brainerd.
In 1995 Brainerd founded the Brainerd Foundation, an organization focused on environmental education and the environment of the northwest.
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