Reflections on Düsseldorf

I’ve been back home now for nearly two weeks and have had an opportunity to reflect upon my experience in Düsseldorf, Germany during DRUPA 2008. While it didn’t take very long for me to settle back into the world of customers, printing projects, sales and marketing, I couldn’t help thinking and rethinking about what I saw there and the people I’d met. It was gratifying for me to find that many people at Grand River Printing & Imaging had been reading the blog and found it interesting. I also had numerous opportunities to tell others about the blog upon my return and send them a link to it. Many were glad to know that I started this project while I was away and appreciated the effort … So, here I go again.

The things that I learned about the technological progress of our printing and paper industries are significant. We are clearly at a transition in the economics of print media. There is now so much information available in electronic form and the myriad ways in which this can be enhanced and supported by paper-based (or some might say off-line) media opportunities. It really makes one stop and think about where to place resources and what would be the most effective investment going forward.

But enough about printing devices (digital or otherwise) and software. What I thought I should write about is some of the things about Germany that, I guess, are what you would call “lifestyle” issues. This would be things that one might take note of only  because it is different from the way things are done in the US. For example, I saw an interesting contrast in certain types of behavior. No one seemed to pay to ride the trains. Now, for DRUPA attendees the transit fare was included in the price of the entry ticket. This is clearly explained in the DRUPA literature. However, even though there is a place for travelers to insert their tickets, no one seemed to be using them. Of course, unlike cities in the US like NYC where a turnstile blocks unpaid entry onto the subway platform, access to the platforms are not impeded.

On the other hand, when on the surface streets, pedestrian crossings were strictly observed. When the “little green man” was lit up, then everyone walked. When the “big red hand” was lit, no one walked. It didn’t matter if there were any cars or not. Green, walk … red, stop. This is, of course, at odds with the pedestrian behavior in the US where everyone walks when the traffic is clear regardless of green, red, flashing, not flashing.

Something that takes some getting used to is the fact that there are attendants in every pubic restroom. These places, labelled with the letters “WC,” were very clean. Now this takes no getting used to. But, the attendant or custodian of the public men’s room was in most cases … a female. These ladies were the most polite and always graciously accepted tips. Correct me if I am wrong … this is something that you would never see in America!!

Another thing I want to mention is a commonly held conception that Americans have about Germany and this has to do with none other than … beer. It is true that beer is very popular in Germany and it is consumed at all hours of the day. It was not uncommon for me to arrive at the DRUPA exhibition in the morning and find people sitting at tables and chatting with bottles of beer in front of them. It seemed to always be available. Indeed, you could get beer served at any exhibitor booth any time of day of you being met with by one of the sales people. Meanwhile, every day at 5:00 pm many exhibitor booths would serve either Alt or Pils from the tap in little plastic 8 oz. cups.

Take a look at this video and count the number of people walking past the oom-pah band with large steins of beer in their hands (some have two) … and this was at 2:00 in the afternoon!!

The last night that i was in Düsseldorf I had the pleasurable opportunity to visit the Altstadt (Old Town) or the place where everyone goes in the evening after the days events at DRUPA. As its name says, this is the part of town which is oldest and it has cobblestone streets with cafés and pubs with outdoor tables and chairs to sit on. This place was very lively until the wee hours of the morning and, of course, there was a fair amount of beer and spirits being enjoyed. There were also roving musicians playing different kinds of instruments and genres of music.


One of the strangest sights I saw in Altstadt was a lifesize wooden figure that popped out of a large chiming clock on the side of a building I was walking past. I wasn’t sure what this human-like creature was supposed and searched on the web to find the following description:

Chiming Clock with Mechanical Figures
Five times a day (at 11a, 1p, 3p, 6p & 9p), locals and tourists gather in front of the carillon to marvel at the glockenspiel, a chiming clock with mechanical figures which re-enact the story of ‘Schneider Wibbel’. Wibbel was a dressmaker who insulted Napoleon and was sent to prison. Instead of going to prison himself, Wibbel sent his apprentice, who died in jail, leading everyone to believe Wibbel was dead, while in reality, he was alive. Over the centuries, Wibbel has come to represent the typical, ‘clever Rhinelander’. Schneider-Wibbel-Gasse, a small street in the centre of the Old Town is also named after the cunning dressmaker.”

Perhaps Mr. Wibbel was quite clever, but what about the poor unnamed apprentice … a kind of garish story with an equally garish mechanical figure to go with it … enough said about that.

June 19, 2008 

Day 7: Last day at DRUPA

On my final day at the printing expo in Düsseldorf, I made sure to get an early start as I had an appointment with a manufacturer of color measurement equipment. I still had a few things to cover at DRUPA and one day can go by very quickly. The show starts daily at 10:00am and I wanted to be there when the doors opened. Since I am staying in Essen, it takes three trains (two underground and one regional train) to get there. On a good day this can take as little as 45 minutes. Today, was a good day and I was there promptly at 10:00.

I made my appointment and then set out to cover the two remaining topics on my agenda: publishing workflow systems and MIS systems. What is meant by publishing workflow systems is technologies that enable the process of bringing documents through the content creation and design stages up to prepress production. There were numerous technologies on display that handle these needs including the two most prominent desktop publishing applications: Adobe InDesign and QuarkXpress.

As you may know, a trend is developing in computer technology away from the desktop toward Internet-browser based applications and remote servers. The most well-known example of this is the Google Docs software. Without charge, this software can be accessed through your browser and you can create, edit and save word processing, spreadsheet and presentation files. The files are saved remotely (unless you elect to download them to your hard drive) and there are collaborative features that let you share the files with others easily. If you elect to download the files, they are compatible with Microsoft Office applications and can be opened and edited with these applications. As you can imagine, these browser-based applications have the traditional desktop software industry concerned.

This includes the companies that have dominated the desktop landscape in what might be called “professional” print design. These companies are now heavily involved in the development of Internet-based collaborative and cross-media solutions, that enable everyone in the publishing workflow to search content, access files, edit and update documents.

One workflow solution that I had an opportunity to review is called Helios software. This company has been developing Mac and Windows client/server technologies for the prepress and printing industries since the 1980s. They are now offering a browser-based solution that allows content creators to share projects over the Internet. Color management, PDF proofing and production and other aspects of the workflow are combined together into one system.

Another system that I saw was Exprem which is actually a web-2-print solution. However, within this system was a browser-based creative application that enabled users to create documents from scratch. The tool set that this application contained were every bit as sophisticated as those in InDesign or QuarkXpress including transparency and blending features.

Finally, I had a chance to look at some of the MIS (management information systems) at DRUPA. There are 37 of these systems on display at the show. I was able to look into three of these: HiFlex, DimS and Prism. All of these solutions offer a comprehensive information infrastructure for printing companies from customer interaction through production and invoicing. As with the workflow tools, these applications now feature browser-based interfaces and have automated communication solutions that send email at various stages of the process.

As I was getting ready to leave DRUPA I decided to make a short video farewell message which you can watch below:

June 6, 2008 



Day 6: Back to DRUPA

I returned to DRUPA today to resume my review of the latest and most important technologies in the print media industry. The DRUPA directory divides the categories of our business into six distinct subgroups. These sections are:
1. Prepress and premedia
2. Printing
3. Bookbinding, print finishing
4. Paper converting (including packaging production)
5. Materials and consumables
6. Services

This is a good breakdown — and it should be since they’ve been doing this for decades — of all the aspects of the print media industry. If you overlay the six items I set out to investigate on my trip onto this list, you will see that my categories of interest only intersect with three of the DRUPA categories. This is how it looks:

1. Prepress and premedia=color management, publishing workflow solutions, web2print solutions
2. Printing= digital printing equipment & web offset press equipment
3. Services=MIS systems

Since I’ve already written about digital printing, color management and web2print, I now only now need to complete my review of publishing workflow solutions, MIS systems and web offset press equipment … sounds easy doesn’t it. But not so fast … there are a few other things I need to write about.

As you can tell, I’ve used this blog to talk about a lot more than just technology. This is because I believe the most interesting discussions about technology require some idea of the history of the things we are talking about; where did they come from, why are we doing it this way and what is likely to happen to it in the future. This is not a guessing game. It is possible to anticipate what will become of one technological innovation when you have a grasp of the things that have come before it and see the parallels that it has with the past. No technology completely repeats the path of the ones that have come before it; however, there are important similarities.

For example, the replacement of letterpress technology (metal type and relief printing methods) came into existence with Gutenberg’s invention of 1450 (as discussed my Day 4 blog). Letterpress, in turn, was replaced (eventually) by a combination of offset (1909) lithography (1793) and photoypesetting (1949). Although these technical achievements came together in the first half of the twentieth century, they did not overtake letterpress in terms of the total volume of printed matter until sometime in the 1970s after magazines and newspapers adopted the offset method of printing.

With offset lithography dominating the printing landscape for the last quarter century and more, the question is: what will replace it and when will this happen. Although we cannot predict these things with certainty, DRUPA 2008 provides — fortunately for us — a guideline to the answers to these questions.

Some experts in our industry predict that digital printing, in some form or fashion, will displace offset lithography as the dominant printing technology by the year 2020. This bold assertion has been made by Frank Romano and a group of students at RIT in a report sponsored by Canon entitled: The Insight Report: Digital Printing Directions, Trends & Opportunities.

This conclusion is derived not only from a depth of historical knowledge of our industry technologies, but also from interviews with 619 current print producers, industry observers and others. I would highly recommend that readers of this blog download and read a copy of this study:

While digital printing’s cost is coming down and quality is coming up, offset printing will continue to be the most cost effective and highest quality printing method available. And even after digital becomes dominant, offset will continue to exist side by side with it. The traditional press manufacturers know this and they are continuing to put huge investments into offset printing technologies.

This is very evident in the web offset arena. The DRUPA directory lists 41 exhibitors of what they call “offset presses, web fed.” Of course, I could not possibly visit all of the suppliers, so I picked out a few. The market for this type of equipment is has been expanding rapidly in recent years, especially in Asia. 

There were at least four web presses running live on the show floor. I was able to see three of these presses. One was a 16-page newspaper press from a Russian manufacturer called Litex. The Litex model was called POG2-84 series press and it contained one roll stand, one four high unit and a combination folder. It was running at a speed of 35,000 per hour. The second was a four unit Komori commercial heatset web. Komori was running the System 38S press at speeds up to 60,000 per hour. The third was a four unit commercial web from Goss International called the M600 Folia press. This press is designed to compete with high volume sheetfed as it prints from a roll to a specially designed sheeter at speeds up to 30,000 per hour, without an oven and with sheetfed inks.

You can see brief clips of of these three presses in the video below:

In the case of the Komori press, there were several important technical developments that point the direction in which offset lithographic presses are moving. This press ran 3 separate jobs requiring startup, makeready, and saving 1,500 good copies. The third of these projects also included a folder changeover. This sequence was done in under 14 minutes after the operator pressed one button on the console. Automatic plate changers, optical scanning of the press sheet for approval of good copies, automated speed up and slow down of the press and automatic folder setup were used to achieve this result.

One of the challenges facing the offset market is the cost and waste associated with the makeready. Since digital printing has no makeready (the first copy is, at least in theory, as good as every other copy), the makeready cost and process goes away. Many of the new technologies being developed are aimed at reducing the makeready cost and waste down to its absolute physical minimum. Another example of this is a new sheetfed press technology from Heidelberg that claims good copy within 5 impressions.

June 5, 2008