AEC Building Blocks

The Fed money-printing debate aside, is the US economy finally resurging, really? There have been some extremely positive signs. In early February, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed above 14,000 for the first time in more than five years. The stock market index then surpassed its all-time record one month later. Meanwhile, housing purchases continue to rise in several cities. That means the building trades are picking up, which is a welcome ray of light for business owners like my cousin’s husband, who runs a commercial painting business serving metro Chicago.

I spoke recently with friend, former colleague, and long-time print industry editor Bill Esler, now editorial director for Vance Publishing’s wood-working titles: Custom Woodworking Business, Wood & Wood Products, and Closets magazines. “Business has really picked up, both on the new construction and remodeling sides,” confirmed Esler. The trickle-down effect is great news for the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC); computer-aided design (CAD); and geographic information systems (GIS) mapping fields—and for wide-format print firms providing technical documentation to them.

“The AEC industry was hit hard by the ’08 recession,” added Neal McChristy, a freelance journalist and print industry observer, “and the survivors are on solid footing now. It’s a real tight industry of better players that have a leg up, with ARC [American Reprographic Co.] heading the pack,” said the Pittsburg, KS-based writer who has written for The Recycler and WFI during his 18-year B2B career.

Whether they’re entering the wide-format market or growing an existing business, to make the right large-format (LF) equipment choices for their next purchases, AEC print providers waiting to “kick tires” at the upcoming PRINT 13 and SGIA shows this fall need to understand some essentials. According to a white paper from Océ, a Canon Group company, “The decision to purchase a large-format printer may seem straightforward, but it is actually more complex than it appears. There is no such thing as one-size-fits all, and your unique requirements will help determine your decision.” Image quality, costs, performance, and speed all play into the equation, Océ said.

Infrastructure security, product options, floor space, and environmental impact factor into the purchasing decision as well, as does ease of use, said Bob Honn, product marketing director for Canon Solutions America, formerly Océ North America. “Its importance has increased significantly over the past year or so, as we’ve seen more applications in decentralized [print] environments.”

Honn noted, “People have to be able to submit prints in any fashion, from PCs, USB drives, mobile devices, tablets,” adding that Océ’s free Publisher Mobile app (previously called MobilePlot) can facilitate this task. With more workers on the move, he envisions more integration with Cloud-based applications in the second half of 2013 and beyond. The goal of developing easier-to-use systems is what will drive OEM R&D efforts going forward, he added. “Gone are the days of a wide-format printer installed with a dedicated operator. User interaction needs to be minimal, and designs have to be intuitive for walk-up users who don’t want to deal with changing [paper] rolls or navigating complex settings,” he said. “That’s why features such as our automated media roll-loading process are so important.”

Ease of use also is the reason Epson’s new SureColor T-Series AEC printers feature an optional, internal 250-GB hard drive releases workstations for unattended plotting and a web server for print-queue management and maintenance. The OEM’s Precision XD printer language sets a new standard for high-performance, high-resolution printing, Epson added, compatible with the latest applications and workflow software.

Show Previews

The 2013 edition of North America’s quadrennial PRINT tradeshow still is four months away and SGIA Expo 2013 is set for October, but Epson’s Mark Radogna is providing a likely preview right now of what many attendees will see at booths in Chicago and Orlando. “The SureColor S-Series will be all over the show,” predicted Radogna, who is Epson America’s group manager for product strategy. “Dealers are in love with it,” he said of the next-generation 64-inch, roll-to-roll solvent printer first shown at drupa 2012 last May. (Shipments begin this month; product specs are available here.) The trio of S-Series models has been in beta-testing mode at some 35 global sites for the past eight months, Radogna added.

Also showing will be the aforementioned T-Series, a new line of large-format color plotters for architects, engineers, and GIS professionals. These devices mark Epson’s entry into the technical printing market. Launched last October after Graph Expo, the SureColor T3000, T5000, and T7000 models offer the fastest plotting speeds in their class as well as industry-leading accuracy and new, proprietary UltraChrome XD pigment ink for crisp output. Maximum widths are 24, 36, and 44 inches, respectively, with minimal floor space requirements to fit almost anywhere, Epson said.

“The SureColor T-Series was developed based on direct feedback from architects and engineers who consistently underscored the need for easy and reliable ways to make accurate, large-format plots quickly and cost effectively,” said Timothy Check, product manager of Professional Imaging for Epson America. “The SureColor T-Series not only meets those needs but goes beyond, integrating Epson’s long-standing photo heritage and printing technology innovation into a complete line of state-of-the-art plotters.”

Built from the ground up using all-Epson engineering, and incorporating the latest in printing technology, the T-Series delivers extreme line accuracy with resolutions up to 2880 x 1440 dots per inch (dpi) at some of the fastest speeds in its class—producing a presentation quality D-size plot in as little as 25 seconds and up to 110 per hour. Its Epson MicroPiezo TFP (thin-film piezo) print head offers high-performance and consistency for precise plotting with highly accurate line placement and lines as thin as 0.018 mm. These heads deliver droplet sizes as small as 4.2 picoliters. They are more robust, too, Radogna said, yielding “a significantly longer print head life than previous generations.” How long? Tests were still being run as of press time, but he encouraged readers to go to the website for the latest specifications. Suffice it to say, “You won’t be replacing them every six months,” he added.

For added performance, the SureColor T-Series plotters feature a convenient output stacking basket that organizes up to 20 A1/D- or A0/E-sized plain paper plots for quick retrieval and to reduce sorting time. The UltraChrome XD pigment ink delivers crisp lines, brilliant color, and photographic quality on virtually any media type for accurate prints that are truly archival and smudge- and water-resistant. To maximize efficiency and keep printing costs low, each of the five colors -- cyan, magenta, yellow, photo black, and matte black -- are available in 110 ml, 350 ml and a large-capacity 700 ml, which can be used interchangeably to accommodate a range of printing needs. All cartridges are front-loading for easy access. The T3000, T5000, and T7000 are available through authorized Epson Professional Imaging resellers for list prices of $2,995, $3,995, and $4,995.

Web Connectivity

“The economic environment has increased the number of freelancers and small studios, shortened project turnaround times, and required AEC workers to be highly mobile, spending more than 50 percent of their time out of the office,” said Eric DuPaul, Designjet business development manager, Americas, HP. “The expanded HP Designjet portfolio helps our customers stay connected where the job takes them and allows first-time, large-format buyers to easily and affordably bring their printing needs in house.”

Last fall HP rolled out three new, web-connected Designjet T120 and T520 ePrinter AEC models. Listed at between $1,000 and $2,500, these entry-level devices deliver through the Cloud, enabling on-the-go customers to output large-format printing from virtually anywhere. The compact, 24-inch T120 ePrinter series ($1,000 list price) is ideal for students and free-lancers, while the 24- and 36-inch T520 models ($1,800 and $2,500, respectively) are designed for small AEC teams in need of fast, professional printing, the OEM said.

“The combination of speed and workflow improvements in these printers is very compelling for small shops that still outsource the production of wide-format technical documents,” Tim Greene, wide-format director at research firm InfoTrends, blogged in September. Greene shared that while the retail value for technical documents is expected to drop nearly 7 percent (CAGR) over the next five years—from just over $2 billion this year to around $1.5 billion in 2017—those numbers can be deceiving. “But you have to remember,” he noted in an email, “a lot higher percentage of those prints are printed in-house … and they have a much lower average selling price.”

The smallest printer in its class, with a footprint of only 38.9 inches, the Designjet T120 ePrinter offers the benefits of two printers in one with a built-in B+/A3 tray and convenient front-loading roll. The printer’s intuitive, full-color touchscreen simplifies in-house printing and navigation for those new to large format. Proprietary HP inks produce high-quality output with rich colors and sharp lines reaching 0.0016 inch minimum line width.

Meanwhile, the T520 ePrinter improves processing power and offers twice the speed and resolution of its predecessor, HP said. With 1 GB RAM and HP-GL/2 technology, the T520 operates at up to 35 seconds per D/A1 print. Original HP inks and long-life print heads achieve accurate lines reaching 0.0008 inch minimum line width and sharp details with up to 2400-dpi resolution for fast, professional results in house.

The Designjet T120 and T520 ePrinters are the only large-format printers available with built-in Wifi connectivity, said HP, so users can install the printer wherever it is most convenient. True print previews from the new Designjet driver ensure accurate prints on the first try, resulting in time and cost savings when printing from a computer.

“The new … printing technology gives us confidence that when we need to produce high-quality drawings in time for a meeting, we can handle the job—it takes a lot of stress out of my work schedule,” said Peter Zellner, principal at architectural design firm ZellnerPlus of Venice, CA, a T520 ePrinter beta customer. “Now that I’ve seen how much the HP Designjet T520 ePrinter improves our daily design and build process, I can’t imagine working without it.”

HP also announced the second generation of its free web service for AEC professionals, Designjet ePrint & Share, which makes it easy to access and print large-format documents using an iOS or Android tablet or smart phone, a laptop, or ePrinter touch screen. It is available at no additional cost for Designjet customers by creating an account at HP's website. (The mobile application is available through Google Play and Apple’s App Store.)

“The nature of our business requires staff to be out of town or at other locations, working off tablets to get instant feedback from customers,” said Ma Wenjie, designer at urban planning agency E+D International, a T520 ePrinter beta customer in Shanghai, China. “Through the use of HP Designjet ePrint & Share, we can review these changes and make timely modifications with the client, while our remote workers can send their comments to our in-house printer, greatly improving efficiency.”