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The definitive digital IPEX 2006 – magazine article

Thursday, 27 April 2006
By Print 21 Online Article
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If ever there was a trade exhibition where digital processes sat comfortably alongside traditional ones, IPEX 2006 was it. Just about every digital press vendor has adopted a ‘Unified offset and digital’ approach, although it was Xerox who used the term openly and had workstations set up to take Prinect, EFI, Creo and other offset workflow files seamlessly into its own Freeflow. Why would you want to do this?

Well, going digital is no longer about…going digital. You don’t just ‘go digital.’ Just as you once might have installed a 2-colour GTO or a jobbing press as an adjunct to production – and then made decisions on which press jobs should go on based on run length, format, capacity and economics – the main game now is to view a digital press in the same light. If it makes sense to route a 500 x SRA3 sheet job to a digital press, so be it. The customer is unlikely to give a fig. The only fig that matter is the ‘figures’ – the bottom line.

At IPEX, big offset printers ordered digital presses to sit in their press halls like a bunch of Chelsea supporters ordering pints after a win. It’s an easier decision now since workflows, and some MIS systems, will talk to each other. This means that your Prinect, Apogee, TrueFlow, Kodak Prinergy, Pecom, EFI or whatever CtP workflow you currently use, can direct jobs to the digital press in a unified manner.
Shopfloor data – essential to capture in any automated workflow – is a lot easier to snare from a digital press – as easy as ‘hits’ on a website. Add this ability to your offset and finishing with end-to-end JDF or similar, and what you have is an enterprise-wide workflow and management information system that empowers business owners and managers as never before.

But watch out…the digital press might (will) creep up your production chain and be the choice for more and more work as runs continue to go shorter.

Beijing roars with HP

One of the surprise announcements of IPEX was HP intends to work collaboratively with Beijing-based Founder Electronics on research and development of digital front-ends and Founder’s ElecRoc workflow, to optimize it for integrating HP digital press workflow with virtually any CtP or CtF workflow – including the proofing devices. In the deal – announced on the penultimate day of IPEX – Founder also assumes distribution of HP presses and consumables in China. It also helps that Founder manages the EasiPrint franchise chain in China – already HP-Indigo users. Founder is a $4 billion turnover group we have heard little of in Australia but will undoubtedly figure in future HP workflows.

HP’s remarkable IPEX display covered it all – from A4 slow inkjet, to fast SRA3 digital with Indigo through large format aqueous and solvent up to 5 metres and industrial solutions for labels and plastic cards. All digital, all linkable in one workflow and integratable into offset CtP/CtF digital environments. A true ‘graphic enterprise.’

Canon can – and will
The gong for gung-ho at IPEX has to go to Canon, with some justification. At its press conference the day before IPEX opened – delivered by what sounded like the male cast of Eastenders – world domination in both sheetfed digital and large format was portended. Backing its hubris with fact, no less than 75% of Canon’s IPEX offerings were launches – never before seen openly. The star was the imagePress C7000VP (the product ‘X’ teased out pre-IPEX). At time of writing, sixty had been sold, with two, maybe three heading for Australia according to national manager, production & graphic arts, Kit Andrews (pictured on right with Steve Brown, Canon graphic arts marketing manager.). “One has been sold to an offset printer for integration into his workflow, and one to an all-digital printer,” he told Print 21.

The imagePress C7000VP looks great as boxes go but Canon is emphatic the ‘box’ is secondary to the way in which it wants to change, support and partner with the industry. Looking at it as a 70 ppm (A4) CMYK digital press is not enough. It’s slower than iGen, Xeikon and HP Indigo but what you get for your $350-$400K is much more than a box. Partnering closely with EFI, Canon has access to some of the most advanced workflow and server software – including W2P (digital storefronts).

EFI president Fred Rosenzweig – a most welcome guest at the Aussie-Kiwi BBQ puts it thus: “It is a fallacy for any lithographic printer to believe that getting a digital press and sitting it next to their litho press to do any ‘little jobs,’ will make them profitable in the long term. Soon printers will be producing over 100 digital jobs a day instead of 4 or 5 litho jobs. So, we have to find new ways of working, new ways to interact with our customers. The key to making money in this industry is to automate the interface with the customer – the Digital Store Front.”

This theme was amplified on the Screen display – complete with aerial rope acrobats – where ‘automate for profit’ ruled the day. Screen launched its TrueJet inkjet press, imaged with Epson printheads. It is aimed largely at the transactional print market but measuring in A4s per minute it is very fast at 420ppm.

(Pictured) Dave and Judy Bell of Quote & Print made the trip to IPEX to keep tabs on JDF workflow developments and MIS expectations.

B1 Digital press?
Every IPEX has its digital curiosities (remember the French-Canadian Elcorsy digital web in ’98?) There must be something about our Gallic friends – they like to go it alone and this time Parisian Inov-Media launched the Jet-Pro B1 sheet size inkjet machine, again powered by Epson heads but with a switch to Xaar in September. Inov-Media’s Patrick Becq describes it as “like a conventional press in all but its print process.” It can print at 60 to 1,100 sph, depending on number of head arrays and, unlike other digital presses, there is no click charge. It looked interesting but when I asked for a demo, all I got was a run through the GUI. Despite pile feeder and imaged sheets in the delivery pile, I didn’t see it actually working once. No mention of variable data either.

Unlike Xeikon who are going gangbusters under relatively new owners Punch Graphics who also own BasysPrint CtP. They proudly paraded their customer Ravensworth – a UK printer specializing in real estate. Ravensworth average 1.5 million A4 digital sheets a week and the print runs are normally 20-50 copies! That’s 2,000-2,500 make-readies a day. This was a big IPEX for Xeikon and they are definitely over their horrors.

Xerox personifies unification
Xerox of course, was IPEX’s biggest exhibitor. The stand was a sight to behold and communicated market sectors brilliantly. It was here the ‘Unified Offset and Digital’ philosophy was best demonstrated. Several workstations were operating many ‘CtP’ workflows and taking files into Freeflow for digital output. Heidelberg’s Prinect featured prominently as this is becoming so popular every time a long Speedmaster is sold. Xerox is no longer trying to position its offerings as competitive to offset – the term now is complementary.

An excellent demonstration from Xerox USA’s Chris Irick and Hari Prasad along with Fuji-Xerox’s Henryk Krazewski (pictured) clearly showed the bridge between Prinect and Xerox digital printing. It’s another JDF end-to-end solution but when it comes time to decide print, the ‘Y’ junction will route the job to CtP/Offset or iGen3, 8000 etc. Heidelberg offers the same connectivity from Prinect to all digital presses, so this is more than a blip, it’s an established trend.

The unification of offset and digital was apparent on Xerox in another way. Investigation of an extra long iGen3 showed it had an inline Epic CTi-635 UV/Aqueous coater; more often seen on offset machines. Seeing coated digital print is a must for all sceptics like me. It moves quality and durability up several notches – the iGen3 with inline coater really changes ‘documents’ into quality printed pages. It coats at iGen3 speed either overall or spot using flexo-type plate and anilox rollers, and offers gloss, matt, UV or aqueous coatings. Already Xerox is getting excited about the short-run packaging applications. Worth a mention is the introduction of the iGen3/90 – a 90ppm lower-cost version of its bigger brother – about 20% less.

Heidelberg is still digital!
Despite offloading NexPress to Kodak and discontinuing DI presses, it would be wrong to say Heidelberg is no longer in the digital business. With Prinect driving all digital presses as well as CtP, it is just a matter of what boxes bolt onto branches of the workflow. New Prinect integration features fulfill the vision of linking prepress to press – any press. Additionally, connectivity to 3rd party MIS systems offers control over the entire process as never before. Colour is assured with the new Inpress control where Gretag Macbeth spectrophotometers constantly monitor spot targets and relay information back to the press controls.

A new press based on the CD74 features 5/5 perfecting plus coating both sides, a cold foil module and automatic plate change. Breathtakingly-named the CD74-5+LY-P-5+L; it must rate as the most automated ‘long’ press available and, at 18,000iph is blindingly quick. Do your long runs on this baby, and your short/personalized/variable runs on the digital press of your choice – all from the same workflow and MIS. Now that’s what I call productivity.

As Heidelberg ceo Bernard Schreirer says; “In most cases (printers) don’t have the right workflow. They are on a blind flight through their business and are wondering why they don’t make any money. The change of mindset will be painful for some; it will really be an education, and some will learn the hard way.”

Agfa’s got the quick-smarts
The success of Agfa Graphics since the painful hiving-off of its now defunct photographic business is laudable. Smart thinking, smart products and persistence has been rewarded with deals such as a ten-year exclusive CtP deal with News International. Despite not offering either offset nor digital A3 presses (since the discontinuance of Chromapress), it is Agfa’s dominance in CtP that enables its ApogeeX and Delano workflows to be ubiquitous. At IPEX, software upgrades to support Adobe’s new PDF Print Engine were announced – enabling hybrid CtP+Digital output. Fujifilm also announced support for Adobe’s PDF Print Engine for its Celebrant workflow.

In the IPEX foyer was a stunning looking jet boat that will attempt the world water speed record later this year – Quicksilver. Agfa is one of the major sponsors of this and the aptly-named boat bears its logo. However, Agfa has not abandoned digital presses – is showed an impressive hybrid Dotrix digital where film was imaged with white ink, variable digitally printed and then finished with Flexo. The hybrid concept continued with its Thieme M-Press screen process/digital amalgam.

A brief mention of large format – some of the best to be seen at IPEX was coming out of the Agfa Anapurna machines – superb.

Océ blitzed the speed stakes – at least in mono with 180ppm now in the dust of 240ppm and higher. Océ’s focus appears to be more on the high speed mono and transactional sectors, plus mono books-on-demand where it excels

Over in a flash
Like the Agfa-sponsored Quicksilver boat across Lake Coniston, IPEX felt like it was over in a flash. Sure, there were fantastic finishing innovations, advances in substrates and offset, flexo and digital presses but the main message for me was the unification of offset and digital, and the end-to-end workflows that can drive both and talk to MIS systems. This was reinforced on the last but one day of IPEX by Kodak’s Jim Langley in his keynote address; “The future of the graphic communications industry is a mix of conventional and digital technologies. Paper based communication is here to stay, “ he said.

It’s now a no-brainer for an offset printer to drop a digital press into production and – who knows – we may soon see prosperous digital printers finding a need for CtP and an automated offset press. All because of software and workflow.

(Pictured) Bernie Robinson (on right) GM Currie Group, discusses digital and offset strategies at IPEX with Gary Livingstone and Don Hayward, Bayfield Printing, Currie’s largest Queensland Shinohara customer.

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