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Roll up! Roll up! 60 years of amazing printing on exhibition – Andy McCourt’s Reverb

Tuesday, 19 May 2015
By Andy McCourt
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At PrintEx 2015 last week, for the first time at a major graphic arts trade show since Australia’s first printing exhibition in 1955*, there were no offset presses to be seen. Visitors were exhorted to ‘transform your business,’ but from what and how?  Andy McCourt looks at the kind of trade show PrintEx has become and asks, what is the transformation? 

Transformation is very different to evolution. It involves rapid change from one thing to another, rather than a steady step-by-step series of changes over long time periods. Even though it was the headline banner of the first exhibitor people saw at PrintEx: “Transform Your Business” substantially heralded the message that should be heeded by every person who marched beneath its portals.

Few companies would know more about transformation than Konica Minolta. Prior to 2003, just twelve short years ago, Konica and Minolta were separate companies struggling to find digital identities. Both had been major players in the film photography space, Minolta with much admired compact and SLR cameras, Konica with Sakura film (3rd largest after Kodak and Fujifilm), processing labs and also a range of very good cameras. Both also had printer-copier divisions but were overshadowed by the might of Canon and Xerox.

By 2006, the merged Konica Minolta had quit the photographic business, after 140 years. Photo film production ceased, the camera business was sold to Sony and mini-lab support handed to Noritsu. The company was now a business machines firm, with minority market share. Konica Minolta Inc., it’s hard to believe, is only 2 years old having been fully incorporated only in 2013. Yet today, this company is mixing it with the traditional giants and is a leader in digital printing, wide format and plan printing – this is an example of transformation, not evolution.

Transformation of trade shows

Australia’s first printing industry trade show was held at the Hotel Plaza on the lower concourse of Wynyard Station, Sydney from 17-29 October 1955. It was to have been at the Town Hall but only the station had concrete floors strong enough to tolerate the weight and vibration of offset presses. Of those original exhibitors, only three names have survived to be present at PrintEx 2015: BJ Ball, Kodak and Spicers.

Organized by PATEFA (now Printing Industries), the show catalogue gives interesting statistics on the mid-20th century Australian industry:

  • Number of printing establishments – 2,121
  • Number employed – 53,219
  • Value of plant & machinery – £38.13 million ( about $1.2 billion in today’s money)
  • Total output of industry – £143.9 million (about $4.6 billion in today’s money)

It’s surprising how little ‘the industry’ has changed in real terms over 60 years. Today, Printing Industries membership is around 2,500, approximate number of employees is around 50,000 and output is around $6.3 billion. However, like all statistics, they can be slippery – today’s ‘industry’ comprises of many more establishments who consider themselves unaligned to the traditional concept of ‘a printer.’ Digital has been the driving force of transformation.

Hotel Plaza, Wynyard Station – site of Australia’s first printing show in 1955

The overriding observation that can be made about PrintEx15 with Visual Impact is that offset is no longer considered worth exhibiting. Hospitality/information booths from manroland, KBA and Ferrostaal (Komori) were welcome sights but the traditional industry leader, Heidelberg, was absent in both offset and digital manifestations; with only a National Print Award category to advertise that they still care. Absent too was Cyber, the Ryobi distributor which was surprising given the success they enjoyed at PacPrint 2013. Perhaps PrintEx was just all-to-digital for them.

However, there was even a digital no-show in that Xeikon, handled here by Absolute Electronics, was listed on the floorplan right up to PrintEx’s opening, as a ‘reserved’ stand, but they weren’t there.

Wall to wall wide format digital

The nett effect of who and what was absent, in the end did not really matter. The combined shows were a huge hit with over 6,000 senior management visitors over three days chalking up millions of dollars in business – digital business.

From the entry to PrintEx to the back wall of Visual Impact, there was wide format digital everywhere. Of the approximately 120 exhibition stands, no fewer than around 50 had something to offer in wide format; hardware or consumables. This made PrintEx one of the most visually attractive shows Australia has seen with large banners, boards and backlits in abundance – all with vibrant and creative designs. Yes, Visual Impact added more than just another show name to PrintEx.

But what of the bread-and-butter A4/A3 sheet output that is eating away at offset’s share? It was all there and nowhere more apparent than on the show’s largest stand, Currie Group. There, HP Indigos showed digital’s triumphs all the way up to B2, and in narrow web for labels too. HP Indigos are now the second highest selling ‘real’ printing press up to B2 of any kind in the world – after Heidelberg.

A new ‘Big 5’

The ‘Big 5’ of sheetfed presses up to B2 no longer means Heidelberg, KBA, manroland, Komori and Ryobi. Today, or at least by drupa next year it is HP, Xerox, Canon, Ricoh and Konica Minolta – all digital. Beyond B2 and for web, offset still remains stronger but we are already seeing some disruption with web presses such as HP’s T-series; the several Miyakoshi-made variants, Screen’s Truepress, Canon, Xerox, Ricoh, Kodak and others.

One of the survivors – BJ Ball's entry in the catalogue for the first show in 1955. The company backed up again at PrintEx 2015.

In narrow web for labels it’s a different story. The success of HP Indigo’s ws6000 series was boosted by the sale of a top-of-the-range ws6800 on the Currie stand; adding to another 50 or so HP Indigo label presses in the ANZ region. While Flexo still holds a strong position in label production, more digital presses are being sold into the market to respond to demand for short and variable runs.

Screen broke into this sector just before PrintEx with the sale of the first high-volume inkjet label press, the Truepress Jet L350UV, by dealer Jet Technologies to DS Labels of Sydney. Screen’s stand was mainly focused on the L350, with constant production on a variety of stocks including stunning samples on foil using ColorLogic special effects.

Label printing, at least the digital kind, was well represented at PrintEx with Epson showing 3 new benchtop models up to 30cm/second in speed. Samples of production from the larger SurePress L-4033 and L-6034 were plentiful with a preview of stunning multi-varnishing – matt, gloss, spot and flood – set to shake up the market when the L-6034 is fully released. While on Epson, it was astonishing how deeply this former wideformat, desktop and POS printer company has penetrated the graphic arts.

From Epson alone, a printer could start up a digital print business covering A3/A4 sheetfed (with the new Workforce Pro R8590TC), wide format signage up to 64”, dye sublimation onto products, tee-shirt printing, textiles in general and labels both for marking/encoding and full-colour brand merchandise labels – and even a photo minilab.

Flatbed UVs abounded and these are being used more and more for short print runs of decals and labels when coupled with a good cutter such as Zünd or Elitron. Although large in format – up to 3.2 metres – flatbed UV’s ability to print on virtually anything is opening up numerous markets, not the least of which is packaging.

PrintEx, with Visual Impact, has made its own statement on the transformation of the ANZ printing industry. Offset may continue to evolve but digital will accomplish the transformation.

 

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