Frankly Speaking: The Quiet Revolution of Digital Printing

A few years ago, you could not turn around without hearing or seeing something about digital printing. The noise has quieted down, but the changes keep on coming.

Offset press manufacturers now send out a press release every time they sell a system because it is such a unique event. There is still a good market for offset presses, but it is smaller that ever and getting smaller.

Komori and KBA were the only press makers at the PRINT show. Komori actually had a press. “Find us by following the noise,” I was told.

Digital printing volumes are growing nicely, but no one notices. As the machines have gotten more efficient in terms of speed and capability, we do not need as many of them. And now inkjet is moving down market from wide format to the wider world of document printing.

Canon has a 14×20 or so inkjet printer now called Niagara. 14×20 is the size of the HEI GTO. I remember when it was introduced at Drupa 1972 and there was great discussion about the size. Now many digital printers are moving beyond 12×18 to 13×19 and on to 14×20.

Landa made a strategic move by emphasizing packaging for the first iteration of their high-tech system. Any machine that has a “cockpit” is high tech. It may be that they are counting on their partners—Heidelberg, Komori, and Manroland to do the heavy document lifting. The recent announcement of the partnership with Komori on sheetfed Landa machines is to Komori’s credit. Komori is developing a very strong digital printing expertise (they showed the Konica KM-1 at PRINT). Heidelberg and manroland need to get off the stick.We recently saw samples of Landa quality and felt they were ready for prime time, but the company is not satisfied and wants even more quality.

Xerox has focused on its acquisition of Impika, but there is still a lot of activity with the toner machines. The company has been relatively quiet of late, but I predict that there are surprises to come.

Konica Minolta and Ricoh have done a great job building market share. And HP Indigo continues to grow at a strong rate. It is funny that HP corporate never seems to talk about it. The new B2 machines have helped. The Dscoop conference is now the largest in the industry. Francis McMahon took the concept of user group to the highest level.

Roll-fed inkjet continues to make steady gains. Canon Océ, Ricoh InfoPrint, Kodak Prosper, and others are doing well in the market without a lot of hoopla. We expect many companies to hook up a set of inkjet heads to a web mechanism and become de facto competitors.

What we are not seeing is “sheet fed inkjet” and I think it will be at Drupa in 2016. Because of the need to move the heads for cleaning, some inkjet systems are behemoths. My philosophy is that the machine, or at least its parts, should fit through a normal office door. RISO has done it. I expect others will as well.

I have not visited a printing company in the last three years that did not have a substantial investment in digital printing of some kind. I am not counting inkjet used for proofing.

What began as a trickle in 1993 has become a steady flow of machines, applications, events, and cash flow. There comes a time in the evolution of any technology when the noise quiets down and the revolution quietly moves ahead. We are in eye of that hurricane right now.

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