At LabelExpo 2017 Workflow is Automated!

Pat McGrew
 Oct 3, 2017

Underpinning a very successful LabelExpo 2017 was talk workflow and talk of speed. This year in Brussels we saw not only new technology for label production and finishing running at higher speeds, but we saw a growing emphasis on the workflow that drives production, with echos of Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things in the subtext of every press conference and every workflow demonstration.

Across the 9 halls and 679 exhibitors there was workflow specified on the signage, in the demonstrations, and most notably, in the Automation Arena, where the emphasis was on live demonstrations of automated conventional and digital label and packaging solutions from Cerm, Esko, Xeikon, MPS, Kocher + Beck, grafotronic, AVT, WLE and Matho. The Automation Arena demonstrations were supported by Avery Dennison, FlintGroup and Zeller + Gmelin for inks and substrates. As a bonus, the LabelExpo team took the time to build a great YouTube video which you can find here and should be on your playlist if you work in label production.

The AVT Booth at LabelExpo 2017

Across all of the halls it was clear that the equipment manufacturers of flexo and digital solutions recognize that the key to a successful customer is not only reliable, flexible production equipment, but a solid set of workflow solutions to guide their clients towards the fullest possible automation. Many hardware suppliers have partnered with CERM, which bills itself as the business management software for narrow web printers. Their solution, which begins at quoting and touches the required stops through to warehousing, shipping and invoicing has components for costing, data collection and a Web to print solution called Web4Labels.

As common as the speed story prevalent among the hardware vendors was a new emphasis on job acquisition. The web-to-print story was everywhere, on signage and in booth demonstrations, and not just for digital solutions. Many of the flexo solution vendors also have web-to-workflow solutions that open new product options for their customers.

Durst featured Workflow and Web-to-Print on their signage.

Many vendors were emphasizing their options for variable data and variable imaging as digital print solutions and hybrid solutions vocalize their value propositions that include making output personal or at least customized. The team from Chili Publish, seen below, fresh from their successful Print 17 stand in Chicago, indicated that they were having vibrant conversations with both existing clients and prospects as they look for solutions to create value in the print chain. In Chicago next year and Brussels in two years from now it is likely that more software solutions providers will set up stands to engage in this growing market opportunity.

The team from Chili Publish at Label Expo 2017!

Worthy of note was a kiosk (seen below) in the FlintGroup/Xeikon booth touching on a topic that needs more focus across the industry: how to sell these great digital solutions. The Xeikon aXelerate program is one of several seen on the floor that put the spotlight on helping label producers sell the value proposition of digitally-produced labels. There are myriad product offerings that leverage what digital can do easily, such as adding targeted messages, QR codes, and other technologies.

Xeikon had a great story around helping to sell digital!

One of those technologies is Augmented Reality, which was available in the SCREEN booth in partnership with Solimar Systems. SCREEN Europe worked with Solimar to enable a set of labels (seen below) that, when viewed with the Solimar App, runs a video showing the SCREEN workflow and print story for labels. It was a great way to allow an attendee to carry a demo with them, though the signage in the booth missed the opportunity to spotlight this unique demonstration.

From productivity suites to job journeys, the emphasis on using workflow to a competitive advantage was clear in every hall. For any label producer who has not yet investigate web-to-print options and automated workflow options, this show is the clear indicator that this is the time to invest to stay competitive.

If you are wondering how you can stay competitive, consider spending some time in our report store (http://store.infotrendsresearch.com/ ) or engaging with us in the Production Workflow Service. We go to the shows and conferences, study the market, and do deep dives into the technology so that we can provide the best advice and guidance to our clients. We are standing by to help you on your path to automation.

 

 

If you have stories to share reach out to me! @PatMcGrew on Twitter, on LinkedIn, or Pat.McGrew@KeypointIntelligence.com all reach me. For more information on how to gain access to our research, market sizing & forecasts, or how to subscribe to our Production Workflow or other services, contact Deanna Flanick today at deanna.flanick@buyerslab.com!

Romano’s Ramblings: New Print Will Prevail!

Pat McGrew
 

by Frank Romano

Where will printers make money in the future? Some say it will be from digital printing? But digital printing is usurping analog volumes, and analog volumes are not growing. To grow, the printing industry must find new products and new services.

The best example of “new print” is wide-format inkjet printing. Go back to 1995. The first wide-format inkjets were seen as proofers for color printing. Suddenly, signage became a hot market. Not just signage, but color signage. Signage was done by screen printing, but full-color reproduction was not typical. The wide-format machines got bigger and bigger. Commercial printing companies added them to their fleet of production devices. Today, well over half of all printing firms have wide-format inkjet. They make money with a technology that was never predicted.

Predictions are hard. Back in the late 1990s, I gave a talk at RIT and said that there would be half as many printers in ten years. I was booed, and that was by the faculty. I remember when offset was said to be only for “quick and dirty printing” and when PostScript was just another printing driver.

 

 

There are no leading indicators for the future of technology. Not only did no one expect the Spanish Inquisition (sorry Monty Python), but no one expected Facebook and Twitter, etc. etc. In fact, no one ever predicted the Internet.

So, we come back to the original question. If printing services are to prosper, they must find new products and services. Paper-based volumes are declining. Therefore, printers must print on something besides paper. Some already do. Those printers invested in flatbed inkjet printing. They can print on foamcore, glass, plastic, ceramics, textiles, wood, metal, and more.

It is true that there are industrial plants that print on these materials right now. Of course, the quantities are in the millions, and there is little customization. But new print markets are evolving, like industrial design, home décor, specialty signage, promotional items, unique packaging, and other decorated items.

 

 

Print17 – First Take

Pat McGrew
 Sep 21, 2017

by Marc Mascara and Pat McGrew

PRINT 17 made timely return to Chicago as multiple hurricanes impacted the southern United States. Roughly 20,000 attendees had the chance to learn from this year’s display of innovation and technology from over 450 exhibitors. The top five vendors remained the same, with only slight changes in booth sizes and rankings, but there was a renewed excitement with more hands-on equipment demonstrations and theatre presentations.

Print 17 Size Table

While PRINT is not a packaging, label, or wide format show, all major vendors were talking about these applications alongside solutions for enterprise and commercial print. It is a big decision to bring hardware to a show, yet a significant number of presses, toner and inkjet, along with finishing solutions were on the show floor.

A focus on print quality resonated throughout the show floor with announcements of new and improved inks, color management and automated calibration systems. Exhibitors such as SCREEN and Xerox are bringing to market ink formulations that enable offset-like quality on standard paper stocks, broadening the debate regarding pre-treatment of paper for InkJet presses. The emergence of inksets and priming solutions for offset stock continues to grow causing end users take note of potential lower costs that give them alternative paths to the print quality their customers demand. While not yet a trend, it will be interesting how ink and priming options play out as a factor in the overall equipment purchasing decision.

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Bright New Horizons for Memjet DuraLink Integrators

Pat McGrew
 Sep 6, 2017

Pat McGrew & Bob Leahey

It’s here! We’ve been waiting for it and now it’s here – Memjet pigment ink and second generation print heads. This introduction starts the path to new generations of Memjet-enabled devices arriving in the market.

There were some interesting changes to the Memjet go-to-market that emerged from the announcement of DuraLink technology at the Memjet Analyst Day in August. DuraLink, the second-generation print platform from Memjet, supports aqueous pigment inks through newly designed print bars that form part of an integration kit. Memjet General Manager for Commercial Presses Eric Owen compared the new platform to a Blue Apron Box, where integrators take the modules they need to integrate the technology into their platform, as opposed to the first generation VersaPass which was delivered as a self-contained print engine supporting dye-based inks. The new technology uses pigmented inks, new heating technology, and 70,400 nozzles that enable up to 1600 x 1585dpi printing up to 2.5 meters wide. DuraLink joins the first generation dye-based technology which is now branded as VersaPass. The addition of the DuraLink solutions gives existing and future OEMs an important new option for print engines.


DuraLink Technical Specs

  • Configurable up to 100.9 in / 2.5 m wide
  • Up to 1600 x 1585 dpi resolution
  • Up to 668 fpm / 203 mpm
  • Print heads 8.77in/222.8mm width
  • Aqueous pigment inks
  • Sold as components to be integrated

For existing OEMs that want to replace VersaPass heads with DuraLink heads, Duralink is expected to take nine to 12 months to integrate. For new OEMs the Memjet team expects it to take 1-2 years to do the needed Mechanical Engineering. Memjet expects the first DuraLink-based products to enter the market in 2019.

DuraLink - Images

Printhead Maintenance Module Ink Supply Waste Ink Management Aerosol Management Print Engine Supervisor Print Bar Interface Dongle Dock

An important claim for Duralink is the reliability of the print heads. According to Memjet, with Duralink printheads and inks, nozzle-out conditions will go unnoticed due to the 5X nozzle redundancy of the new head design. The new 2.2 pl drop weight aqueous pigmented ink with its more limited dot gain is also expected to provide crisper images. Memjet also makes important assertions about the DuraLink’s pigmented inks, that they are water-fast, fade resistant and environmentally friendly.

The inks’ gamut is broader than GRACoL for coated papers, compared to Memjet’s dye based inks, with noticeably smaller ranges on plain papers. There is still testing to do on a broader range of substrates to codify the best substrates for the new technology, but over time OEMs should have the tools they need to target a broad base of applications, from transaction and commercial to labels and packaging.


Resolution Meters per Minute Feet per Minute Inches per Second

1600 x 1585 74.5 m/min 244.5 fpm 48.9 ips

1600 x 1260 93.7 m/min 307.5 fpm 61.5 ips

1600 x 790 149.5 m/min 490.5 fpm 98.1 ips

1600 x 580 203.6 m/min 668.1 fpm 133.6 ips


What does it mean?

While the technical details of the technology are interesting, the challenges that face Memjet and their integrators are also worth mentioning. The first generation of Memjet heads, VersaPass, was dye-based and found acceptance in transaction printing, office products, tabletop and high-speed label printers, and some wide format applications. With the pigmented inks and the new head technology, Memjet says that DuraLink is designed both for simplicity and for greater utility. Memjet’s management expects OEMs to take the new DuraLink technology into a wider range of applications, expanding in wide format, growing in transaction and commercial printing, and adding packaging applications over time. Much of where the technology goes will depend on Memjet’s OEMs. In the Memjet business model, the OEMs are responsible for all warranties, head life claims, and customer engagement, not to mention their marketing skill and overall support.

We know from watching other inkjet manufacturers that there is often a disconnect between the capabilities of the technology and the training provided by the vendor who directly engages with the end customer. The Memjet DuraLink technology will be capable of excellent print quality under the right circumstances with the right preparation, right substrate selection, and right decisions about print speeds and drying methods. The burden is on the OEMs to build a value proposition, match capabilities to markets, and deliver on the promise of a new generation of Memjet technology.

If you have stories to share reach out to me! @PatMcGrew on Twitter, on LinkedIn, or Pat.McGrew@KeypointIntelligence.com all reach me.

 

 

 

 

From Chaos to Calm: The Power of Print MIS

Pat McGrew
 Jul 20, 2017

Power of Print MIS

If you come from the transaction side of production workflow, you have an array of business systems that control how jobs are accepted for production, when they are released into production, and how reporting is managed for compliance. If you come from the graphic arts side of production workflow, you have the same need to control job onboarding, the touchpoints of a job while it is in process, and to record the relevant information about the job all of the way to the point of billing. In some shops, the process is managed using a Print Management Information System (Print MIS) that integrates all facets of accepting and producing print work using software programs, data capturing tools, and reporting dashboards to ensure that all work is tracked and reported. On the other hand, in many shops some or all of these are activities achieved using sticky notes, whiteboards, projected spreadsheets, and envelopes with job notes carried from desk to desk and machine to machine during production.

If you are in that latter camp, this is a good time to start considering some automation. Many of your competitors are already adding automation to their business software portfolio to allow them to onboard and produce jobs more efficiently. This gives them an advantage at several levels. A good Print MIS program offers insight into the jobs that are onboarded, where each job is in production, what jobs are experiencing delays, job costs, and ultimately a view of the revenue. Most can generate e-tickets for job tracking, and even track waste data. Most importantly, a Print MIS becomes the system of record for all jobs, which means if job specifications change during job execution, the information is entered into the Print MIS and available to all departments immediately.

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Tuning up at GMC Analyst Day

Pat McGrew
 Jun 30, 2017
Matt Swain and Pat McGrew

As analysts, we are often invited to meet with vendors for analyst events where we often don’t know what the announcements or focus will be. That was the case when we travelled to Nashville, Tennessee’s Sound Kitchen Studio last week for a GMC Software event billed as “Not Your Typical Analyst Summit!”

ScottDraeger

Scott Draeger opening the GMC Analyst Day!

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Interacting with Ricoh Customers!

Pat McGrew
 Jun 28, 2017

When vendors decide to host user meetings they have two obligations: provide value for the time spent and help customers build a network. The Ricoh INTERACT meeting in Boulder last week met both requirements. The agenda was the best mix of technical education, market education, motivation, and fun for the attendees.

2017 Interact Template

It is a big request when vendors reach out to customers and ask them to leave their businesses for several days on the promise that they will learn things they can take back and use to grow their business. It requires a delicate balance between presentations and discussions. The INTERACT meeting hit the right balance by including several of their customers as featured presenters.

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For workflow, to scale or not to scale? That is the question!

Pat McGrew
 Jun 19, 2017

It’s time to ask the question that is often missed in discussions about workflow – is the current workflow scalable? Scalable isn’t only a question of getting bigger; it is also a question of complexity. If your workflow was built to handle one type of job, like books or bills or bingo cards, and today you are handling magazines, direct marketing mailers, and posters, there may be a mismatch between your work and your workflow.

The mismatches often begin with how jobs are sold and onboarded. A common change in sales is the addition of a web-to-print solution to open your doors to a wider audience. When that addition happens, your scale of operation generally changes. Instead of sales coming in via relationships with your sales people, who know your capabilities, there are jobs coming in from customers who may not have paid attention to your website, and may not have followed your instructions. While most web-to-print solutions allow for rules-based interrogation of the incoming job, in many cases, contrary to how the systems are intended to work, someone in the shop is assigned to look at the jobs and determine if they can move into production. When you think about scalability, the more jobs that come in through a web-to-print application that require physical review, the less scalable that process becomes.

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Why Was ESKOWorld 2017 Worth My Time?

Pat McGrew
 May 25, 2017

Pat McGrew
Director, Production Workflow Services
Keypoint Intelligence

Most vendors have learned the value of user group meetings. They bring together their customers and their product teams, open the door to learn more about customer requirements, and build a sense of community that leads to customer loyalty. The team behind ESKOWorld, the North American user conference for users of ESKO (www.esko.com) packaging, printing and finishing solutions, accepted their mission and, with the help of their customer advisory council, created a well thought out agenda that addressed the needs of over 500 users and 100 brand owners and agencies.

One of the harder things to do at these conferences is to provide guidance on the product roadmaps. A company like Esko is managing more than a dozen products, each with enthusiastic customers looking for guidance, and a passionate product team wanting to share. At ESKOWorld the solution to sharing the roadmaps for the large product set came in two shots: an innovative set of short presentations by the product managers during the opening and dedicated roadmap sessions. For customers not familiar with the range of offerings, that overview from the product managers was an excellent way to bring everyone up to speed. Whether it was a 20year-old product like ArtiosCAD or a newer set of products like Studio or Keyshot, everyone gave you a reason to want to learn more. How can you resist wanting to know more about Studio, a product that allows you to see things that do not currently exist and to create variations before deciding on the final execution? Even the Automation Engine has had a makeover with a new browser-based user interface.

Another hard thing to program is the keynote, but this was not an issue. Dr. Alan Beaulieu of ITR Economics brought one of the best overviews of the economics of the market we live in, with a good dose of which things to pay attention to and why. One of his more interesting points was that organizations must drive efficiencies to grow –a key element of the workflow story – but also that marketing is an essential element due to the competition.

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Solution Focus: RSA’s Vendor Neutral Options

Pat McGrew
 May 9, 2017

Getting to an automated workflow requires the right tools and workplan. In some organizations the solution is to rely on the hardware vendor who brought the hardware in to recommend the most efficient workflow tools. In other organizations the policy is to do an independent search to find the tools that will work best. In either case, the burden is on the workflow team to understand what is available in the market and how it might improve their overall efficiency.

One approach is to look for vendor-neutral workflow options that support the major hardware vendors and open interfaces to share data and reporting. The same criteria will always apply: great user interface, easy-to-use tools to automate, and an organization that will back up the tools with great training and support.

Rochester Software Associates (RSA) meets the brief with products that provide the workflow infrastructure that an organization needs. And, while best known for supporting the in-plant and corporate print environments, digital print-for-pay companies will find that the combination of ReadyPrintTM for makeready and job submission and QDirectTM for output management provides an excellent infrastructure.

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