Hunkeler Innovationdays 2011 – The Convergence is Coming

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Feb 21, 2011

Once every two years, followers of the high-volume printing and paper processing industry meet in Lucerne for the Hunkeler Innovationdays. Its importance as a show has risen in recent years by the rapid technological advancements in digital inkjet printing, and like other good shows,  the Hunkeler Innovationdays provide glimpses into the future of what we can expect next. This makes a trip to (beautiful) Switzerland even more worthwhile.

The main thing that struck me is that all major digital print equipment vendors exhibiting at the Hunkeler innovationdays have now digital technology in place that allows them to be active in print on demand (POD) as well as data processing environments (direct mail and transactional print). The ‘TransPromo’ trend is still there: many vendors talked about high-quality promotional messaging in data processing workflows, whether this is done through continuous feed or cut-sheet devices. HP explained they can now use Pitney Bows Emtex technology to bring an HP Indigo machine into an AFP/IPDS workflow. And InfoPrint announced they have set up a data analytics practice to help customers increase the effectiveness of their targeted communications.

This simple observation about print environments has much more implications if you think about what is happening at the vendor level. In the next couple of years Ricoh and InfoPrint will be further integrated, as well as Canon and Océ. Now that Xerox has its own Production Inkjet System, all major vendors (including Kodak and HP) have technology that allows customers to become active in both environments.

There will inevitably be a technology push from the more POD-oriented vendors to enable their commercial print customers to provide data processing printing services. Even Screen talked about this as they have hopes that their new Equios workflow based on PDF/VT allows them to enter the data processing market. From a data processing viewpoint, service bureaus in particular might be inclined to take on promotional type of work in their quest for more print volumes, especially if their production machines allow for this kind of flexibility.

What people sometimes forget is that this convergence of segments will bring tremendous challenges from a workflow perspective, because a POD and data processing workflow are built on fundamentally different principles. This will ultimately have implications for all service providers in either POD or data processing (whether they are small or large), but the technology hurdles for convergence are easier to overcome in mid-volume markets.

PDF/VT has the potential to play a big role where the segments overlap, because its metadata structure enables some of the productivity and tracking features of a data processing workflow, while it inherently has strong support for graphically-rich printing. Other trends such as the consolidation of service bureaus and the continued outsourcing of print work that originates from enterprise business systems is making the need for wider support of PDF even stronger.

The interesting thing about production software is that it always follows hardware developments. Looking at the pace of hardware developments in recent years and where developments are heading, there is no doubt that we will see efforts in the next 2 years to bring workflow solutions more in line with the changing market requirements for print devices. The next check-point on where we are is drupa 2012.

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