Twenty-twenty is an exciting year for the printing industry: it’s a drupa-year. With a renewed interest in print as a communication medium – something I’ve been advocating for many years – and the introduction of the latest and greatest new technology, it could become a make or break for many printing companies. Making the right choices has never been this important. That’s why you need to read this article: it will guide you through the multitude of fancy, shining stuff you will see in Düsseldorf.
As a background: my first visit to drupa was in 1990, that was the one with a record number of visitors: over 440.000! Since that edition, I never missed one. Most years, I spend multiple days on the show floor, hunting for innovations, big and small, that had potential.
But before going into more detail on what you will see at drupa, first three essential tips. One: be very conservative about the timelines shown. Two: take a holistic approach when looking into something new. Three: it’s not only about the hottest new technologies, ‘old’ technology still evolves, old technology fights back.
Timelines have always been something tricky and not only at exhibitions like drupa. The worst case I’ve witnessed from close by was a printing company that wanted to invest in a new workflow system. Since they had a particular workflow, they really needed one unique feature. Vendor A already offered this. Vendor B didn’t offer it yet, but it was on the agenda of the software development and the first version should be released in a few months. Since Vendor B was a lot cheaper (I recall something like 20%), the printing company opted for that one. And guess what: the much needed unique feature was never released…
That’s, of course, a rather unique anecdote, but timelines shown at trade shows are dangerous. Last year Keypoint Intelligence wrote a nice report about it: ‘A Balanced Approach – Why Decision Makers Should Resist Hype When Purchasing Unreleased Hardware’. The graph below tells it all.
When investing in something entirely new, you also need a holistic approach: does it fit your jobs and your workflow? Let me show you why this is important with two examples. The first is the breakthrough of digital printing. When did we see a real breakthrough in the market? Not when the specifications of digital presses reached a certain level. Nor when the price point was ‘sub x eurocent’. No, the real breakthrough was when we got finishing equipment that was suited for (very) short runs. Finishing was the bottleneck: traditional folding equipment e.g. had a lot of setup waste. But when your order is only 20 copies, you don’t want to waste 50 or 100 copies to set up your folding machine…
A second example is one I heard a few years ago. It’s about the first waterless web offset press (KBA Cortina). When this was installed and put into production at a Belgian printing company, they soon learned that one element was overlooked: ink that performed well on that kind of machine in a real production situation… It took a long time, and special development by an ink company, before this issue was solved.
And the last advice: ‘old technology fights back’. Don’t forget to look at the mature technologies. E.g., offset printing presses have evolved significantly over the last two decades. Just look at the time needed for job changes. This has gone down from 30 to 45 minutes, to 10 to 15 minutes in a second phase and now it’s ‘on the fly’ (a few minutes). That makes the infamous cross over between offset and digital a moving target.
What you will see
OK, here we go. But don’t expect a list of companies and products (for such a list, check the industry magazines the coming months). No, this overview is more abstract, but also more valuable.
Concepts: these are the ones that will draw attention, that will get a lot of press coverage. But it’s just a concept, an idea what might one time become possible, when both technology and the market are ready.
An interesting example is the Aprion Booknet, which was shown at drupa 2000. It was a machine that would both print (inkjet) and finish (perfect bound) a book. That sounds great doesn’t it? And look at the design! Such functionality in an attractive machine with quite a small footprint! Wow, this is going to change book printing forever! But it was an empty case, I never saw it again. But you can still check this video showing the BookNet!
Technology demonstrations: under the motor hood of every machine, there is some technology. New technology that is beyond the concept phase is often demonstrated, e.g. in a lab-like demonstration. An example from drupa 2012 is Xeikon and its liquid toner technology (Trillium). On their booth they showed one printhead using this technology, to demonstrate the working principle and speed. (depending on the source, this was a real technology demo, while others said it was just a rotating banner to show the concept)
Beta machines, software: this is already a step closer to the real thing, but not yet production ready and still unpolished. This is the equipment, software that’s being tested at a few customer sites, to see if it meets requirements.
There is a danger that the technology fails during beta testing. And it’s still not sure that the equipment, software will make it to the market. For whatever reason. Again, I can use the Xeikon Trillium as an example: they did some beta-testing but right after that, they pulled the plug. Not because they couldn’t get it to work, but because once it would have been production-ready, inkjet would have surpassed it on cost and quality. So they decided to focus on inkjet and their famous dry toner technology. A hard, but correct decision.
Production-ready technology: while the previous steps are interesting to get a broad view of what the future might bring, here it starts to get interesting for your daily production. These machines have been thoroughly tested by the vendor and (maybe) some beta customers. This should be the real deal, or very close to it.
But still, this doesn’t offer any guarantee. Even in this phase, great new technology may fail. E.g. due to the company size and lack of worldwide support. If you have been in the industry long enough, you might recall Elcorsy, a Canadian company and their ‘Elcography’ technology. It was great technology, with exciting applications, but they only sold a few presses.
Another example is the introduction of ‘green films’ during drupa 1995. This was the age when workflows were still ‘computer-to-film’ and with the rising cost of silver and attention for the environment. All major film manufacturers introduced silverless – or ‘green’ – films. They were hot and they were ready. But it didn’t happen. Why? Computer-to-plate. In 1995 we also saw the first generation of CTP, but these machines were very expensive and low quality. They were specifically geared towards newspaper printers. By 2000 that had changed significantly. CTP became much more affordable and better quality. Eliminating the need – and market – for green films.
Mature technology: this is the ‘not so sexy’ part of the show. But this is essential for your daily production. This is the one you can take home from drupa. This is the one that can solve your production issues the day after it’s been installed. I’ve heard many stories the last decade about printing companies replacing two presses with only one new press, sometimes even with extra free capacity left. So, if you are thinking about replacing or adding a printing press, this is where you should look. Not in the ‘hot and new’ part of the show.
Showcase: Landa Digital Printing
There is one company that perfectly illustrates what I wrote above: Landa Digital Printing.
When it was introduced, at drupa 2012, this was nothing more than a concept, with a few samples. But Landa highjacked that drupa. It should have been the ‘on the fly job changes’ drupa, or the ‘flexo goes offset quality’ drupa.
During my visit, I witnessed one of the ‘demos’ several times. And I noticed something strange: the touch screens weren’t responding as they should. Sometimes there was a slight lag, but one time it even reacted BEFORE it was touched… If you ask me, these were regular screens, with a video running, not touch screens. The few examples that were shown behind glass didn’t look that great to me. But still, I did see someone using a loupe to check the print quality…
When I made remarks about this to others and questioned whether the machines, the technology was real, I got fierce reactions: “This is Benny Landa, he knows what digital printing is! This is a revolution, happening right here, right now!” I was almost called a heretic. (well, actually, I was accused of not believing in innovation; in case you’re not familiar with my background: I had been trend watcher and general manager of an innovation center for the printing industry already for a long time…).
Landa Digital Printing was hugely successful at drupa 2012: over 400 companies signed a letter of intent (LOI) to become one of the first for one of the seven (!) different types of Landa printing presses. And all 400+ paid a deposit. Also many press manufacturers signed ‘strategic partnerships’: Komori, Heidelberg, manroland sheetfed. Everybody wanted to be part of the magic.
In July 2014, there was an interview with Benny Landa in the Israelian newspaper Globes. It’s an interesting read. Benny Landa firmly claimed that the presses would be ready “One year from today.” The article also stated that “over 4.000” orders had been placed at drupa. I assume somebody made a mistake here: 1 billion US$ for 4.000 orders, that would make the machines rather cheap. And everybody has to stay in line if they want to get a press delivered. (please keep that in mind when you want to purchase one: there might be around 400 companies in front of you…)
Enter drupa 2016. The first thing I heard in Düsseldorf, when I ran into somebody I used to know, was: “Landa Digital Printing is real! Cimpress has placed an order for twenty machines!” When I checked the press release later that day, it seemed that Cimpress had expressed the intention to buy up to twenty machines, after successful completion of beta-testing. That’s something very different from ordering twenty presses… So here’s another tip: check the original press releases and read them very carefully.
This time there were more and full-size print samples. However, they were behind a rope and in a very dark spot (far away from a P2 and a P1 condition in ISO 3664: Viewing conditions – Graphic Technology and Photography). But still, in these limiting conditions, I could see there were issues with registration. The demo press was also behind a rope and could only be approached by VIPs (which I’m not, although some will argue that I’m a very irritating person, with my coverage of inconvenient studies, tests and bold statements from the past).
What I didn’t hear at drupa 2016 was how the 400+ companies that had signed an LOI responded. (a number of them probably already disappeared)
I guess not that many people noticed, but Landa Digital Printing was also present at the 2017 Interpack trade show, also in Düsseldorf. Not with a large drupa-like booth, but at the Altana booth (which had invested heavily in Landa Digital Printing) and Edelmann, one of their first beta-customers. So I went to the Edelmann booth and asked if I could see samples. Which was, to my surprise, the case… I could check a few small samples. But they didn’t exactly look like the sleek animations in the Landa Digital Printing presentations. When the person behind the counter saw my – somewhat disappointed – face after looking at the print quality with a loupe, the look in return was quite clear: “Yes, we know, this is far from ‘sellable’ quality, there is still a lot of work to be done.”
Yes, I hear you: “But Landa Digital Printing has already installed numerous presses around the world! You can read about new installments almost on a weekly basis!” Well, let’s check the installments. It’s only a dozen (if I’m generous and include the two upcoming installations), the list is at the end of this article. But Landa Digital Printing is very active in the media: every installment is mentioned numerous times. Check their Twitter account to see for yourself. But do read them very carefully: showing interest or testing it is not the same as having a press installed.
So, I will definitely visit drupa this year, to check what’s the state of Landa Digital Printing! And more important: see what production-ready technology one can take home and improve the production, the bottom-line.
Why is this important?
The path between a concept, even the best and brightest ones, and a full production-ready machine or software, is a difficult one. A path that will take at least many years, sometimes even a decade. If the concept ever makes it to the market.
And that’s why you need to know what you are looking at: concepts and technology demos are great for a long-term vision. But if you need to replace a machine or add additional capacity, you need something that works from day one. Please, keep that in mind when you look at all those fancy, shiny new stuff in Düsseldorf…
PS: This is the list of Landa Digital Printing installments to date (26/01/2020). It also includes the type of press – only two of the original seven different types are being shipped – and the installation or production ready date that I found on the Landa Digital Printing Twitter-account. You can find all kinds of dates and announcements on their Twitter-account: showing interest, tests in Israel, signing an agreement, making the press ready for shipment, the shipment, installation, first real production and in the ‘reference sites’ also the date of open houses. So read tweets carefully!
- Graphica Bezalel (IL) – S10 (installed August 2017)
- Mercury Print (US) – S10P (October 2018)
- Edelmann Group (DE) – S10 (May 2019)
- Virtual Packaging (US) – S10 (May 2019)
- Route 1 Print (UK) – S10P (August 2019)
- Marketing Alliance Group (US) S10 (August 2019)
- Schelling AG (CH) – S10 (September (?) 2019)
- ZRP Printing & Packaging (Asia Pacific) – S10 (November 2019)
- Grupo Gondi (MEX) – S10 (Januari 2020)
- Groupe Prenant (FR) – S10P (Januari 2020)
- Blueprint (DE) – S10 – (Spring 2020)
- Quantum Group (US) – S10P – (Mid-year 2020)
UPDATE 31/01/2020: yesterday Landa Digital Printing announced that Yishai Amir has stepped down and will be replaced by Asher Levy. Other interesting bits of the press release: Landa Digital Printing claims to employ some 600 people. And, of course: “The company is now poised for unprecedented growth (…)” Which is literally true of course. Growing from 1 installation in 2017 to 6 in 2019 is unprecedented…