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Digital technology marches on

Nov 1, 2001 12:00 AM


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Prior to Sept. 11, in spite of the weak economy, Print 01 was attracting good attendance, and exhibitors reported steady and serious buying activity across all product types and sizes,” says Regis J. Delmontagne, president of the show's organizer, Graphic Arts Show Co. (GASC) (Reston, VA). “After the terrorist attack, the thoughts of everyone [attending the show in Chicago] naturally turned to concern for our families and colleagues nationwide and for our country.”

While McCormick Place was subdued, one vendor called it a “damn good selling show,” a sentiment echoed by others. About 66,300 people attended the show during its Sept. 6-13 run.

Earlier this year, PIA (Alexandria, VA) reported that about one-half of U.S. commercial web printers have computer-to-plate (CTP) capability, compared to one-tenth of sheetfed, four-up commercial printers. At Print 01, it was clear that vendors were determined to help small and midsize printers enter the all-digital age.

In addition to a dizzying array of direct-imaging (DI) presses, digital printers, inkjet proofers and platesetters, there was a plethora of products for smaller operations. Examples include Heidelberg (MetaDimension) and CreoScitex's (Prinergy and Brisque Entro) entry-level PDF workflows; Müller Martini's 6,000-cph Valore saddlestitcher, a first step into automated finishing for growing printers; and Colter & Peterson's halfsize cutter.

A few print-procurement dot-com survivors were on hand, but most Internet-related news concerned workflow solutions that bring printers closer to content creators, including file transfer, preflighting, color correction and remote proofing. Heidelberg (Kennesaw, GA), for example, announced it will integrate and resell RealTimeImage's on-line proofing technology as HDProof. The service will be offered using an application-service-provider (ASP) model in Q4.

Although the show featured almost 900 exhibitors, merger and acquisition news generated the most buzz. Fuji Photo Film USA (Hanover Park, IL) acquired distributors PrimeSource, Heartland Imaging and Graphic Systems; HP acquired Indigo (Maastricht, Netherlands); and Barco Graphics (Gent, Belgium) and Purup-Eskofot (Ballerup, Denmark) merged into one company: BPE.

SOLIDIFYING THE CHANNEL

“With the dealer channel undercapitalized for the most part, Fuji appears to be attempting to solidify its channel,” relates M. Richard Vinocur, publisher, Footprint Communications (Fort Lee, NJ) and american printer “Perspective” columnist. “Several of its dealers have closed branches in the face of troubled economic times. The move seems to afford Fuji a chance to build a direct sales organization.”

In the short term, Vinocur predicts PrimeSource's key competitors, Pitman Co. (Totowa, NJ) and Xpedx (Covington, KY), are likely to gain shares of Agfa and Kodak sales. He further anticipates that both consumable manufacturers ultimately will build their own proprietary dealer network rather than stick with the Fuji-owned channel.

Kirkbi A/S, parent company of Purup-Eskofot, will own 51 percent of BPE; Barco N.V. will own 49 percent. William Shulin-Zeuthen, current president and CEO of Purup-Eskofot, has been named CEO of BPE. Barco and Purup's product lines will be merged into one portfolio.

Hewlett Packard (HP) (Palo Alto, CA), Heidelberg (Kennesaw, GA) and Xerox Corp. (Rochester, NY) also had big news. HP announced its acquisition of the remaining outstanding shares of digital-press vendor Indigo N.V. (Maastricht, Netherlands). In September 2000, HP invested $100 million in Indigo, corresponding to 13.4 percent of Indigo's outstanding shares. Under the new agreement, HP will acquire the remaining shares of Indigo for approximately $629 million in HP common stock and a potential future cash payment of up to $253 million, contingent upon Indigo's achievement of long-term revenue goals, for an aggregate potential payment of up to $882 million.

In the short term, HP will continue selling the Indigo-based 6600 digital press announced in June. Eventually, however, Indigo and HP digital-press product lines will merge.

“Although HP's announcement raised some eyebrows, it's consistent with digital equipment vendors' wholesale assault on the short-run and variable-data color printing market,” asserts David Davis, a consultant with INTERQUEST (Charlottesville, VA).

MAKE WAY FOR THE DIGITAL PRESSES

Heidelberg kicked off sales of the NexPress 2100 digital press, reportedly selling more than 70 units at the show. The sheetfed system uses an LED imaging head and proprietary toner to print 2,100 full-color, single-sided, A3-size iph, or 4,200 letter-size iph. It is intended for monthly print volumes up to 700,000 impressions. The NexQ Fuser reportedly enables high-quality printing on paper weights up to 300 gsm. Resolution is 600 dpi with eight bits per pixel.

Xerox reiterated its commitment to the commercial printing industry with products ranging from toner-based equipment to DI offset presses.

The company showcased its iGen3 color platform technology. Xerox explains that “i” stands for “imaging, innovation, individualization, Internet-capable and intelligent,” while “Gen3” refers to the press' “third-generation” color imaging technology. Unlike the DocuColor 2045/2060 and NexPress 2100, the iGen3 doesn't use intermediate belts or drums prior to transferring the toned image to paper.

The press uses laser imaging to produce 100 full-color, letter-size impressions per minute (6,000 per hour) at a resolution of 600 × 600 dpi, with eight-bit color depth per process-color separation. To create an image, four imaging stations layer the dry cyan, magenta, yellow and black toner on an electrically charged carrying belt. When the belt and the paper meet, the dry-inked image is transferred to the paper in one pass by a combination of electrostatic charges, sound waves and pressure. While iGen3 takes process control to a higher level, the DocuColor 2000 series, as well as NexPress, also have taken steps in this direction.

“As we've seen last year at Drupa and this September at Print 01, digital printing is entering a new era,” Davis says. “It has steadily moved from novelty to niche, and is re-entering the mainstream printing industry.”

PLENTY OF DI FIRSTS, TOO

There was no shortage of DI press developments. Xerox reportedly sold six DocuColor 233 DI presses and two continuous-feed products at the show. The company also announced a reseller agreement with Imation Corp. (Oakdale, MN). Imation will begin selling Xerox's DocuColor 2060 and 2045 digital presses to commercial printers and prepress companies immediately.

Heidelberg announced the Quickmaster DI 46-4 Pro. Enhancements include a new control console and operating interface based on the company's CP2000 concept, a precision streamfeeder that allows the imprinting of a fifth or sixth color, and an optional infrared dryer. The first Quickmaster DI Pro was recently installed at Oliver Printing Co. (Twinsburg, OH).

Sakurai, Inc. (Schaumburg, IL) introduced the 574EPII DI, a five-color 21 × 29-inch hybrid convertible perfector, equipped with Presstek's (Hudson, NH) ProFire imaging technology. Fully automatic plate changers can load five plates in less than five minutes, making it easy for the user to switch to conventional plates. In DI mode, it reportedly can image five plates, achieve color and begin production in less than 10 minutes.

Komori (Rolling Meadows, IL) announced the first North American customer for its Project D press: Quebecor World MIL Inc. (Don Mills, ON) will use the 40-inch DI press to increase its annual-report, high-end collateral and general-commercial printing capabilities.

Koenig & Bauer AG (KBA) (Radebeul, Germany) reportedly sold 10 74 Karat digital offset presses. The press manufacturer teamed with httprint (San Francisco) to launch Printanet, an Internet-based front-end solution developed for the 74 Karat. Printanet combines httprint's e-commerce engine with the 74 Karat's waterless offset technology for high-speed, remote or multi-site printing. Functions include quick pricing and estimating; order placing; soft proofing; color management; preflighting; and file-transfer, remote-proofing and transaction tools.

Shortly after Print, KBA and Presstek announced a strategic partnership. As part of the deal, KBA will sell its new 18 × 13-inch digital press, utilizing Presstek's ProFire imaging technology and PEARLdry plates. KBA also will distribute and sell Presstek's Dimension200 and Dimension400 platesetters and Anthem plates outside the U.S. and Canada.

Except for the inking unit, the 46 Karat is similar to the 29-inch 74 Karat. KBA's subsidiary, Karat Digital Press GmbH, (Würzburg, Germany) designed and manufactures the 74 Karat; the new press will be assembled by Japan-based Ryobi. The 46 Karat is expected to be commercially available in Europe, excluding the UK, this month.

This was the first chance for most attendees to see MAN Roland's (Westmont, IL) DICOweb. At Print 01, a two-color, coldset version of the press demonstrated a different configuration of the plateless concept. The digital web-offset press allows imaging, erasing and re-imaging directly to a plate-like “form” cylinder.

A FULL SLATE OF PLATES

Agfa (Ridgefield, NJ) and Heidelberg showed new violet platesetters. Agfa's Palladio is a fully automated, violet-laser, four-up flatbed platesetter. Automated features include plate loading and handling, as well as slip-sheet removal. A media cassette keeps 50 plates on line and ready for imaging. Plates can be output at 1200, 2400 and 3000 dpi.

Heidelberg's internal-drum Prosetter is offered in two-, four- and eight-up versions and can image violet photopolymer or silver halide plates. Its violet-laser diode uses five mW of power and supports 2400, 2540 and 3386 dpi at wavelengths of 405 nm. Up to four different punch systems can be individually configured and integrated into the imagesetter. MetaDimension modular RIP and workflow software supports PostScript or PDF-based workflows.

There were no surprises on the violet plate front — Agfa, Mitsubishi Imaging (MPM) and Western Lithotech remain the key players. As expected, MPM introduced its Silver DigiPlate Alpha Violet plate.

Thermal plate news included Printing Development Inc.'s (PDI) (Racine, WI) commercialization of its Eclipse thermal CTP plate. The no-bake polymer-over-aluminum plate, imaged at 830 nm, employs a proprietary polymer said to be capable of more than 500,000 impressions. A new single-stage developer works in less than two minutes.

Kodak Polychrome Graphics (Rochester, NY) debuted its SWORD thermal printing plates. The plates reportedly don't require preheating or postbaking. The negative-working plates feature a durable new coating technology said to be capable of runs greater than 400,000 impressions.

Prior to the show, Citiplate (Roslyn Heights, NY) said its Aqua thermal 830-nm plates will be released in December 2001. The plates feature a single-sided, grained and anodized aluminum substrate and are offered as either positive- or negative-working. Plates are processed using an aqueous developer that meets federal and most state environmental standards.