One World, One drupa

After my sojourn to Dusseldorf for drupa 2012 there is no shortage of things to tell you about — the dilemma is knowing where to start. The theme of this year's show was "One World. One drupa." That speaks to the fact that this is truly an international trade show. I encountered people from all corners of the globe: Europe, Asia, South America, the Middle East, and Africa. Most printers in the US don't make the trek to Germany every four years, but if you have never done so, I highly recommend that you start making plans now to be there in June 2016.

Being at drupa reminded me that, while the US may have the largest printing market in the world, from the global viewpoint, it is just a big region. In so many press conferences, I heard vendors talking about their plans for the markets in Asia, Africa, Europe, the Middle East, South America, and other regions. It will change your perspcective to hear the CEO of an international company talk about plans to increase market share in emerging countries, the effect of the European financial crisis, and the fact that the US economy is beginning to show signs of improvement — all on the same PowerPoint slide.

Another eye-opener was walking the show floors (there are 17 halls, some with subdivisions) and seeing companies I had never heard of. Some have no intention of ever distributing in the US market, but many will show up here eventually. When they do, it will be nice to at least recognize their names.

And then there are the innovations and product introductions. Everyone was all a-buzz about the unveiling of Benny Landa's Nanoprint technology, which members of the press met with a mixture of speculation and skepticism. There was an actual humanoid robot that lifts and loads paper pallets for large offset presses, which has the potential to avert many workplace injuries. I believe that every offset manufacturer now has a digital partner and many have inkjet components available for their presses, whether integrated or off-line. Ricoh debuted its Clickable Paper technology, which could well displace those butt-ugly QR codes. EFI is bringing out new workflow software that will finally tie in all the components of running a printing business. Isn't that supposed to be the whole idea behind workflow software? Everything is bigger (or smaller and more compact), better, faster, more integrated, more intellegent, more automated.

Oh, and everyone — absolutely everyone — is jumping on the bandwagon for packaging. The 2008 drupa was touted as the "inkjet drupa", so I can't imagine why the pundits aren't referring to this one as the "packaging drupa". During three days of back-to-back press conferences, the word packaging was mentioned in every single one of them. Packaging is a growth area. According to some studies, it is the only growth area in the US offset market and, believe me, the manufacturers have taken note.

At the risk of stepping on some toes, I'll say that some of the companies that outlined thier entrance into the packaging field left me shaking my head. I won't name names, but I've made my notes, and there are at least two smaller companies that I expect to see bite the dust if they stick to the plans they outlined at drupa. I just don't believe that the products they are bringing to market will be able to compete against the bigger brands.

From another angle, I certainly hope that most US printers will resist following the example of the vendors. Yes, many more will get into packaging work, but if everyone jumps into the market, then packaging will quickly cease to be a growth area and will end up being commoditized in much the same way traditional printing has been. Just saying...

From my own perspective, drupa is one of the only chances I ever have to really interact with the editors of print publications from other countries. I want to know if they are facing the same challenges we have. Are advertisers moving from print to interactive ads in other regions? What are the hot button issues for their readers?

Of course, we're all so busy chasing down press conferences and interviews that there is little time to talk amongst ourselves. The publisher of Middle Eastern Printer was surprised to learn that I receive and read the English language version of his magazine. And my friend Paulo Stucchi, editor of the Brazilian magazine Desktop, still thinks it's pretty odd that I want access to a magazine that is written in Portuguese, which I obviously can't read. What can I say...I want to be aware of what's going on in the rest of the world. And it's better to do more than play catch up once every four years.

No matter how big or small your company, the perspective you can gain from attending drupa offers long lasting benefits. You'll get more out out of it than simply goggling at the latest product innovations. I will give you a different viewpoint and a better grasp of what's going on in the printing industry at large. So give some serious thought to drupa 2016. The intangible benefits you'll bring away from the show will last longer than any souvenir. It is well worth the effort of making the trip.