Day 2: A vast industry

One of the first things you notice when traveling to Germany from Detroit is the availability of public transportation. The closest thing Detroit ever had to a public rail system was the streetcar and the last of those stopped running in 1956. The trains here have very comfortable seats, ride very smoothly and are quiet when they pull into the station. Most, if not all, of the passengers on the trains I’ve been riding are either attending or working at DRUPA. It has been very easy to get help to make sure that I am going and coming on the right train even though I am not able to speak German.

  The last of the Detroit street cars stopped running in 1956

After spending the first day at DRUPA walking through three buildings where digital presses were located, I decided to venture out and get the “lay of the land.” Even though the maps, signs on the buildings and the directional information is well organized and easy to follow, it still takes a little while to figure out where everything is located on the grounds of the Messe.

The last time I was at DRUPA was 1995 and I  remember how overwhelming the exhibition was. Nothing can really prepare you for the magnitude of what is going on here. At that time, the big new technology was computer-to-plate devices and there more than 30 suppliers who were demonstrating their systems. Today there are less than a handful of manufacturers of computer to plate devices.

After walking around on the second floor of Hall 7 where many of the paper companies are located, I wandered down a tube-like bridge that had the longest moving walkway I have ever seen. This took me toward Halls 1-6. When I arrived at the end of the walkway and exited the tunnel, I entered Hall 1 which was entirely devoted to Heidelberg and it’s enormous product portfolio of commercial and packaging printing presses and finishing equipment … then I noticed that Heidelberg also occupied Hall 2!


What I was hoping to do was find someone to ask why Heidelberg does not have an inkjet printing press on display at DRUPA. But the hall was so packed with people and machinery that I decided to just move through the exhibit and into the next part of the show.

When I entered Hall 3 and started looking around at all of the companies that manufacture different pieces of machinery or materials for the industry I was reminded how enormous the print media industry is. We have packaging, foil stamping, all kinds of special coatings, papers and synthetic substrates, book binding, flexography, gravure, embossing and … you get the idea. There is no one person who can get their head around this entire industry; it is just too vast.

This is understandable when you think about the fact that printing (in its modern manufacturing form) has been around for 558 years. Think about it … printing was invented a half-century before Columbus crossed the Atlantic. When Johannes Gutenberg developed the first mechanized system for the mass production of movable metal type in 1450, he was starting the printing industry that we know today. A businessman, Gutenberg is well known for having printed 180 copies of the 42-line bible with his new invention. However, as is the case with most printed matter, nowhere does Gutenberg’s name or that of his firm appear on these earliest products of our industry.

June 1, 2008 


Day 1: Thermal inkjet press takes center stage

My plane touched down at 11:30am in Düsseldorf and I decided that I felt good enough to go straight to Messe Düsseldorf (this is the name of the exposition center where DRUPA is held) despite the fact that I had almost no sleep and it was actually 5:30am for me … I was feeling a second wind coming on. Once I got my bags I went about finding my way to the show.

There was a DRUPA information booth in the airport and the attendant was very helpful in directing me to the underground railway to the Messe. After a cup of coffee (a good one, too) I was on the platform and shortly thereafter arrived at DRUPA at about 12:30pm. Wow, the place was mobbed with people on a Saturday afternoon!

I selected digital printing as the first order of business because I knew from the pre-DRUPA literature I had been receiving that this was an important area of development. According to the directory there are 55 exhibitors with digital printing presses. The term “press” is being used very loosely here. In fact, that is one of the problems with technological development, printing or otherwise: the advancements are stressing the concepts and words that we have used historically.

Broadly, I would define digital printing presses as printing machines that are capable of (1) accepting a digital file directly into the system and (2) producing full color pages. These systems can be categorized into three groups:
1. Offset lithographic presses that digitally image plates on press
2. Toner-based printing presses (similar to office color laser printers)
3. Inkjet-based printing presses (similar to desktop inkjet printers)

I decided to focus on the last of these as this is the technology that is the newest and is showing significant advancements … I must say I wasn’t disappointed. The DRUPA directory lists 57 exhibitors of what they categorize as “ink jet printing systems.” This didn’t really help me very much, so I went looking and I found what I would call inkjet printing presses at the following booths:
1. Hewlett-Packard
2. Agfa
3. Kodak
4. FujiFilm
5. Screen USA

The most striking thing about this list is that the latest and most exciting area of development in the process of putting ink-on-paper does not include any of the traditional manufacturers of lithographic press equipment. Where is Heidelberg, KBA, Komori, Mitsubishi, etc.? I don’t have an answer to this question yet … but I will find out.

By far, the most important piece of equipment at DRUPA is HP’s Inkjet Web Press. This is a thermal inkjet device that, according to the product literature, “enables fast, four-color double-sided printing at 600 dpi with speeds of up to 400 feet per minute and inline process control. With roll-to-roll production at widths of up to 30 inches you can get high speed, high volume color print production in quantities up to 70 million per month.”

Now this is something entirely new. This machine is capable of a continuous stream of variable copy in a web press-like configuration. The implications of this machine for printing and publishing are significant. According to Andy Tribute, an industry expert: “The HP Inkjet Web Press is a ‘transition press.’ By that I mean it is a press that will be a major agent for change within the industry. It will be the first digital press that really will challenge offset color printing in areas other than short run color printing. … I think it can have the same level of market impact on offset printing as desktop publishing had on changing the structure of the prepress business in the 1980s and 1990s.”

The device is aimed at the following markets: direct mail, transaction printing, books and newspapers. Some may say that the quality isn’t there yet, that 600 dpi is not sufficient to compete with lithography. I remember a time when some said desktop publishing software couldn’t compete with phototypesetting because it lacked kerning of type. Well, desktop software is kerning type now and phototypesetting doesn’t exist any more.

May 31, 2008

8-and-a-half-hour flight

Getting on the plane from Detroit to Düsseldorf was relatively painless. I went through security at Detroit Metro quickly as there were few travelers in the airport for flights leaving at 9:15pm on Friday evening. I had just enough time to pick up a couple of newspapers and the new book by Peter Senge, The Necessary Revolution: How Individuals and Organizations Are Working Together to Create a Sustainable World (more about this at the end of the trip) and sit down for a few minutes before boarding.

Melvin B. TolsonDenzel Washington

The best thing about the flight (besides the food … just kidding) was the movie I watched: The Great Debaters. This film — directed by and starring Denzel Washington — is about a professor, Melvin Tolson, at Wiley College in Marsall, Texas and his team of student debaters. This is a very interest fact-based story and was a welcome surprise on the flight. I would recommend seeing it.

I also took the opportunity during the long flight to review the DRUPA 2008 catalog and chart out the topics I would like to focus on during my visit. For those who don’t know it, DRUPA is contraction of the German words for printing (druck) and paper (papier) and it is the largest trade show/fair for the print media industry in the world. The exhibition center has 17 halls (yes, 17), some of which have two sections and multiple floors. DRUPA takes place every four years. This year there are 1,800 exhibitors from 50 countries and the show is expected to draw 400,000 attendees.

I have been told that it would take about 10 days to walk the entire show floor. Since I will be attending for a mere seven days, I will try my best to focus on the following topics:
1. Digital printing equipment
2. Color management solutions
3. Web2Print solutions
4. Publishing workflow solutions
5. MIS systems
6. Web offset press equipment

I will let you know how it goes.

May 30, 2008