Another drupa year, and I was contacted by a client to discuss going shopping at the major tradeshow.

We were discussing their purchasing plans for the upcoming year, and they had been mentioning that they were considering a digital press for some of their customer’s increasingly demanded packaging needs. For background, this is a small offset printer that has had traditional offset litho work, but has been considering adding packaging and labels capabilities. They made the transition to digital prepress relatively simply enough 15 years ago, but they have maintained a mainly offset business, and have not had to deal much in the world of finishing and converting.

Our discussion ensued as to how much they intended to add as far as prepress requirements and my client motioned towards the young employees in the prepress department, and said, “Our guys have things pretty well under control, we finally got some experienced workers.” We were discussing automated preflight, MIS integrations, and workflow to feed their new digital wide-format devices. This client and I have traditionally gone shopping at drupa, and we were discussing in the department when we might go, and what to target as far as a shopping list.

What is this drupa you keep speaking of?

The team seemed pretty savvy and experienced, and I discussed changes we might make to add automated preflight and imposition. I discussed that we had a few months before drupa to put our shopping list together, and asked the new younger employees if there was anything they might want to know more about from the show.

They said they were not sure, and that they would be in touch with me about it. It was not until the owner of the printer left the room that I was approached by one of these younger workers, and they quietly asked me, “What is drupa?” For about five seconds, I sat there semi-stunned that we have people in our industry that had never heard of this major event…

It had not occurred to me that, after spending almost 30 years in this business and attending a half-dozen or more drupa shows myself, that there are people in our industry, good employees too, that have never even heard of drupa. Now, to be fair, the era of the major trade show has been in drastic decline over the past couple of decades, but the reality is, that when an owner of a printery is going to invest in a few million dollars of hardware and software, they kind of want to see it up and running.

Now that we live in a world of specific vendor-based (or biased) trade shows like Adobe Max, D-Scoop, and events like the EFI customer event, the ability to compare multiple competitive vendor solutions in a head-to-head environment is increasingly rare. Unlike what many vendors will tell you, a show like drupa is increasingly valuable (to the customer) as it is one of the few lasting opportunities for a competitive printery to do some comparison shopping.

Once again, if you ask a vendor, there may be little reason to purchase a booth at drupa, but if you ask a customer, there are almost no other opportunities to compare solutions head-to-head anymore. The vendors hate to invest in expensive booths and travel, and the customers hate to invest without being able to see and compare products. It is a double challenge to the trade show industry.

I have authored other articles about the importance of the major trade shows like drupa, as well as the thankful nature of them only being once every four years. Let’s face it, Düsseldorf is not easy to get to, and not cheap during drupa month, but if you are going to invest a few million dollars on new equipment for your printery, it is a bargain. So, it is a reality that as long as we as an industry are buying complex, multi-million dollar solutions, we are going to want to go shopping. Just because you can get some clothing online, you can only truly buy a good-fitting suit by being tailored for it. That requires you to visit the tailor.

Now, the die, and why it is not going digital anytime soon…

The reality also hit my client when we started to look at the required equipment and software that they would need to incorporate in order to meet the needs of modern digital packaging. Of course there are the basics like folders, gluers, and palletising, but then there are those things that people often forget about when thinking about adding packaging products; finishing and converting. In particular, die cutting. The die is where the mostly-virtual software-based digital print and packaging world runs up against a large, very analogue hurdle: production die cutting.

Sure, there are great solutions for digital cutting, from tools like Esko/Kongsberg and others. The problem is that these are mainly used for one-off prototyping or unique manufacturing. They are not scalable nor productive enough to be used for the production of high (or even medium) volume finishing and concerting. They are linear, and while they can be used to accurately cut, score, crease, and trim print products, they cannot do so in high-volume or production roles. So, this means that even the highly streamlined and automated workflows that many printeries have incorporated into digital offset solutions, come to the reality that labels, and cartons are manufactured projects, and there is no way to virtualise or automate them.

Finally, the question came to me from my client when we were wrapping up our discussion about dies: “Are there not any digital die cutters?” I explained that we live in a world of reality in packaging. It is not enough to just say, “Print me 10,000 sheets of labels,” it is much more required to say “Print me 100,000 labels on 10,000 sheets.”

When considering packaging, you have to take into account software for imposition layouts, nesting, ganging, re-utilising dies from archived libraries, and much more that has nothing to do with traditional publication/document-based print. Lasers might be fast enough, but they scorch the paper, water jets wet it, and well, linear cutters are just too slow. It was about this time that the reality hit them that maybe they were not ready to look at adding packaging and labels.

My client said in the end, “Maybe we are still not ready for packaging, but we will still want to go shopping at drupa.”

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