GRAPH EXPO Heralds New Age of Offset-Digital Print Partnerships

Digital rumblings are nothing new in the printing industry. Fifteen GRAPH EXPO shows have come and gone since Benny Landa, inventor of the Indigo digital color press, boldly predicted, “Everything that can become digital will become digital.” HP (Booths 2610 and 3210) and Xerox (Booth 400) lean toward proprietary technology for their digital applications due to the strength of their market positions. Other companies embrace a more open architecture, and the market has seen some unusual pairings emerge in the past year to lead the print innovation charge. You can see them here, exhibiting together, many for the first time: press manufacturer KBA (Booth 1255) and mega-printer RR Donnelley; manroland (Booth 1236) and Océ (Booth 1213); Konica Minolta (Booth 2227) selling Screen’s Truepress Jet520 and partnering with Kodak (see sidebar pg 61); and Heidelberg (Booth 1200) and Ricoh (Booth 5525).

Remember nearly eight years ago, when Heidelberg exited the digital press business, selling to Eastman Kodak (Booth 2018) its stake in the NexPress Solutions joint venture? The first NexPress was shown at drupa 2000. (For the record, that was the spring before Hewlett-Packard acquired Landa’s Indigo technology.) Heidelberg had developed the press mechanically with its sheetfed experience, while Kodak developed the imaging software and electronics. Well, Heidelberg is back in the digital print game, this time with Ricoh as a partner—and they’re far from alone.


Please don’t say this trio of words

If you want to goad Vince Lapinski, utter these three words: “Print is dead.” But be forewarned, the manroland, Inc. CEO might get downright angry. While the firm’s North American chief says that the notion of print being dead is hogwash, he acknowledges that the beloved medium has changed and continues to evolve. That is precisely why the offset press maker and Océ—now part of Canon (Booth 1213)—soon are expected to roll out a new digital press platform for newspapers and other users. The two companies exhibited together for the first time at the digi:media exposition in Germany earlier this year and are paired up again here in Chicago, holding a joint press conference. Indeed, the theme in manroland’s booth is “Digital Meets Offset Power.”

“We are not competing against digital,” Lapinski says of the Océ alliance that was announced last December. “What we’re trying to do is optimize current products and look at new markets that we [manroland] are not in right now. Océ’s strengths are more on the transactional print side, and we want to bring their expertise to the graphic arts.”

While he wouldn’t provide details, Lapinski did say to expect some futuristic showings in 2012. “How we target certain segments and markets is an evolutionary process,” he concludes.

KBA and RR Donnelley, North America’s largest printer, have big plans for next year, too. The dynamic duo plans to debut the piezoelectric-based inkjet press they’ve agreed to develop, manufacture, and sell. Targets in their print sights include the commercial, newspaper, packaging, and security sectors. KBA has licensed Donnelley’s Apollo digital technology to use in its own presses. The manufacturer spent 18 months assessing current and future digital printing technologies from around the globe, says CEO Helge Hansen, adding that this is much “more than a sales and service agreement for existing technology.”


Quality, speed, and price point

And then there’s Heidelberg and Ricoh. As Hal Hinderliter pointed out in Printing News earlier this summer, Heidelberg’s QuickMaster Direct Imaging (QMDI) press platform was once touted as an ideal solution for mid-range production volumes, but was discontinued in 2006. To fill that gap, the German pressroom legend announced in February of this year that it is partnering with Ricoh to offer the Pro C901 Graphics Art Edition digital press. Producing 90 ppm at 1200 dpi, the Pro C901 also allows users to change toner bottles while the press is running. Rodney Strasser, who bears the title Digital Business Driver among his many roles at Heidelberg USA, offered his insight into the selection of this particular device.

“We liked the quality, the speed, and the price point of the machine as it fits into our current portfolio of equipment,” says Strasser. “We looked at several manufacturers, and our team came to the conclusion that the C901 was the digital press we would like to represent.” With a monthly capability of up to 350,000 impressions on a maximum sheet size of 13x19.2”, the Ricoh C901 fits ideally into the mid-range production category without challenging the raison d’etre of Heidelberg’s Speedmaster litho presses.

Strasser points to the U.S. rollout of the Heidelberg/Ricoh partnership this week at GRAPH EXPO as the beginning of an even deeper collaboration. “I think that we will work together to jointly develop products for the future,” he predicts, “something capable of increased speed and even higher quality.”