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:

KRD
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: 

http://www.canon-europe.com/Images/Digital%20Printing%20Directions_v4_tcm13-514221.pdf

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.

KRD
June 5, 2008 

Day 5: Ruhr valley transformation

There are many similarities between Detroit and the part of Germany where I am staying. I am referring to what is known as the Ruhr industrial valley where modern German manufacturing was born. The Ruhr River runs east to west and links up with Rhine (south to north) just above Düsseldorf. The cities in the Ruhr industrial area are: Duisburg, Essen, Bochum and Dortmund. All of these cities have an importance in the history of German industry. However, like in Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland and Pittsburgh, this area of Germany has experienced a significant decline in the recent past.

Today I had the opportunity to take a tour of this area and I did not want to pass it up, so I will get back to the DRUPA exhibition tomorrow.

My first stop was the Krupp family mansion in Essen which is called Villa Hügel. Like Ford Motor Company in Detroit, Rockefeller’s Standard Oil in Cleveland and Carnegie’s US Steel in Pittsburgh, several generations of the Krupp family took the small business founded by Freidrich Krupp in 1811 and turned it into a major international steel corporation that dominated the city of Essen. A couple of the important industrial developments made by Krupp were the invention of seamless train wheels in 1851 and stainless steel around 1912.

  

For some strange reason the mansion at Villa Hügel is called Small House … but I can’t think of anything that would make this house look small. Like similar residences of the barons of US industry from this period, the house — built in 1873 — has very high ceilings, many rooms — including a ballroom — and is located on a large estate with gardens, winding walkways, green lawns, etc. Unfortunately, none of the displays in the historical museum were in English so it was difficult for me to follow along. However, for a fee of € .50 I was able to buy a brochure in English that explained the information in the exhibit.

At the height of the company’s success the Krupp steel company employed over 200,000 people in Essen. In order to foster company loyalty, Krupp built a garden city of housing for their employees nearby. The name of this area is still known as “Margarehten-Höhe,” so-named after the wife of Friedrich Alfred Krupp, Margarethe, who designed the village.

 

I toured this neighborhood with street after street of two and three multi-flat homes that were covered with ivy. It seems like a very nice place to live with a few shops and restaurants as well as Kindergartens. In its heyday Krupp owned 70,000 flats in Essen. However, none of the Krupp steelworkers are still living here … there’ll be more on that in a moment.

But first, as you probably already know, I need to mention that the Krupp family came into disrepute and revulsion when Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach and his son Alfried both supported Hitler and the rearmament of Germany during World War II. They even set up forced-labor production facilities with prisoners of war. The Allies bombed the massive Krupp steelworks destroying large sections of it and then Alfried was tried and convicted at Nuremberg. However, after serving only 2 and a half years Alfried Krupp was released form prison, on the order of American occupation authorities, and resumed control of the firm in 1953.

The last of Krupp family gave up their control of the company in the 1960s and transformed their shares into a foundation. The company was merged with Hoesch in the 1980s and then Thyssen in the 1990s. It is now known as global industrial conglomerate ThyssenKrupp.

As I said, like Detroit and other US cities, the cities of the Ruhr valley have undergone a transformation in the last several decades with plant closures, layoffs and generally difficult economic times. Today, most of the Krupp steelworks complex has been demolished or redeveloped and turned into shopping areas and educational facilities. Driving around this semi-barren area of Essen, the only functioning factory that I saw was a ThyssenKrupp titanium plant. This is the modern looking building on the left in the photo above. The building on the right is part of the former steelworks and is now a web offset printing company called WestEnd.

At my next stop in Duisburg, I learned how some people in Germany have tried to respond to the economic transition. Duisburg still has functioning steel production, but most of it has been closed down. One of the closed steel mills has been turned into a park with a museum. One of the blast furnaces was open to the public and I walked up to the top of it and took some pictures of the area at about 300 feet up. If you look in the foreground of the picture below, you can see how the trees have started to grow right inside the remains of the industrial complex.

Meanwhile some of this old steel manufacturing machinery has been converted into different types of recreational facilities. Believe it or not, one of the large tanks has been converted into a scuba diving training tank. There is even an Alpine mountain climbing club that uses the area where coal and iron ore train cars used to come through a training facility area. I am not kidding … look at the picture and watch the video to see for yourself!!

Back in Essen, I also toured a shut coal mining complex called Zollverein which is being converted into a cultural center. On the grounds of the coal mine, there are many different buildings that were part of the production process that have been converted into arts educational facilities. There is a program for visual arts, dance, modern design. The Zollverein complex also hosts concerts and other large cultural events. Each area of the complex is being reconstructed to host different aspects of the arts. There are two mine shafts and one coking plant that are being converted.

  

With much of the work already completed, the efforts at Zollverein are one of the reasons why the Ruhr has delcared itself the European Capital of Culture. A large international celebration is planned for 2010 … this sounds to me like a good reason to come back in two years.

KRD
June 4, 2008