The world’s biggest print show – drupa – has just taken place in Dusseldorf, and provided a clear insight into the direction of print, reports Australian Printer editor Wayne Robinson.
The 300,000 printers battling through the crowded aisles at the world’s biggest trade fair could not help but be assailed by the big five themes at this year’s show – themes which will reverberate into print in the coming years.
Printing without humans, digital packaging print, inkjet printing, offset print receding and cloud computing were central to drupa 2016. These all promise to enable printers to either slash costs or open up new opportunities. This drupa was the first ever where there were no new offset presses launched, but a huge number of digital developments, clearly indicating the digital direction in which the industry is moving.
Autonomous manufacturing unit
The world’s biggest offset press manufacturer – Heidelberg – sprang a surprise when it revealed it is developing its offset presses to become self-managing manufacturing units. This means they will not only print by themselves without the need for highly trained and expensive operators, but will also schedule their own servicing; electronically tell the service centre what needs maintaining; order their own consumables such inks, chemicals and paper from assessing the upcoming digital job list; and will plan their own production schedule from the digital jobs list, based on the optimum efficiency.
This connection between the old iron and the new digital internet age is sure to be implemented by the other major press manufacturers, while digital press developers are already some way along this path.
This development was immediately followed by the news that a lights-out book production solution has been created, and is for sale. This takes the elimination of labour one step further – in fact, to the ultimate of no human involvement in any part of the print production process. In this case, a digital inkjet web and various pieces of digital finishing equipment are integrated into a non-linear robot-enabled manufacturing facility, and can produce a book printed and finished every six seconds, with no shifts, no wages, no holiday pay and no sick pay. In fact, there are no labour costs at all, and eliminating labour means eliminating mistakes and keeping waste to the bare minimum.
Print production without any human activity is on the horizon – how far away that horizon is we don’t yet know.
Folding carton ripe for digital printing
Digital printing of folding carton looks set to be the next big opportunity with vendor after vendor lining up to tell printers that the “$400 billion folding carton market is ripe for digital printing, and please buy our system”. The myriad solutions on display were in the main co-developed by the major offset press manufacturers, and the major digital print companies. The offset part of the technology is the feeder, chassis, substrate transport and delivery, while the digital technology is the inkjet heads. Not all of the new digital folding carton printers were born of such a marriage, but most were.
Folding carton is perceived to be ripe for digital printing because brand owners want shorter run lengths, quicker time to market and more on pack promotion, versioning, regionalisation and even personalisation – all of which will drive sales. Digital printing meets each of these requirements, whereas offset is best suited for longer runs of the same image. The quality requirements for folding carton are also not as exacting as commercial print, which also suits inkjet, which to the trained eye has not yet reached the heights of offset.
Most of the new digital folding carton solutions on display are still in the development stage, but some are available to buy now, and all will come on stream in the next three years.
Sheetfed inkjet printing in B2 and A3
Inkjet was everywhere, although the term has become somewhat generic and is now used to describe the process of firing a pigment through a nozzle onto a substrate. It may be actual ink, but it may also be a liquid toner, with at least three developers using this, or it may even be nanotechnology. There are multiple vendors with high-speed inkjet webfed systems, books, transactional printing, transpromo, direct mail and newspapers as typical applications.
This year’s drupa also saw the large-scale arrival of sheetfed inkjet printing in both B2 and A3 sizes. For instance, the Canon i300 A3 cutsheet printer launched, and we saw the first appearances of a B1 inkjet sheetfed. Cutsheet inkjet offers a significantly higher speed than toner technology. The i300, for example, is designed to sit between the 60pp and 100pp toner systems and the high-volume inkjet webs. Many of the B2 and all the B1 inkjet presses are hybrid solutions, just like most of the folding carton printers (but not all of them), while all of the A3 digital printers are from single manufacturers.
Digital cutsheet the new offset
Digital cutsheet printing will take print away from offset, particularly short run, in the B2 and B1 markets, thanks to no make-ready time or costs. Offset printing has dominated for the past 50 years, but this year’s drupa indicated that it will grow no further. Most print – some 70 per cent – is still offset, with digital less than 5 per cent. But the clock is clearly ticking.
Cloud-based software the way to go
The emergence of cloud computing for print – which was so prevalent at drupa, as it is hard to imagine a world without it – is great news for smaller printers that have little or no IT infrastructure. It means they can access any software they want or need, and have no need to install or buy upgrades, no compatibility issues as everyone is working from the same version, and no IT costs – just the monthly fee or in some cases you can pay job by job. For most print businesses in Australia, not needing an IT specialist on staff will be a great cost saving, especially if they have fewer than 15 employees.
drupa 2016 marks a new era in printing
As for drupa itself, it never fails to inspire. The aisles were crowded, and the seminars and workshops were packed with printers from around the world seeking new ideas for business. There is little doubt this year’s show marked the start of a new era in printing, with the prospect of no labour, with cloud computing, digital folding carton, inkjet printing and hybrid presses.