- by Jeff Tomlinson, President Atlantic Graphic Systems
For members of our industry, the DRUPA International Trade Fair in Düsseldorf, Germany can be described as a professional pilgrimage. The expo, which occurs every 4 years, is the “World’s Fair” of Graphic Communications Technology.
DRUPA 2016 consisted of 19 exhibition halls, had 1,828 exhibitors and logged over 260,000 visitors from 183 countries. The industry equipment on display represented both the latest consumer-ready products as well as manufacturer prototyped technology.
The weather in Germany is generally beautiful at this time of year and it doesn’t hurt that you can grab a beer and a brat and take in some sun in the open courtyard between exhibit halls. However, given the time and treasure required, that alone is not reason enough to attend.
So then why attend? As so often is the case in business, management is hunkered down in the day-to-day and as the idiom goes, “can’t see the forest for the trees.” The DRUPA Expo provides those print executives tasked with planning for the future, an opportunity to step out of the trees and gain perspective. At no other place and time is there such a gathering of industry peers, speakers, consultants, engineers, and manufacturers. Given the international flavor of this event, attendees from North America are also exposed to a broader take on our industry and its trends.
From my perspective as an equipment supplier, I attended in the hopes of getting a better understanding of where manufacturers are investing their R&D money and what was the overall theme of their exhibits. Here’s a quick overview of what I came away with:
Print Output Devices: While their current iterations were on display, both traditional and digital printing equipment manufacturers alike had their commercial grade inkjet print platforms featured front and center in their exhibits. Unlike currently available models, most of these second or third generation prototypes target higher quality, larger format and higher volume print segments that have traditionally been dominated by offset technology. These machines were impressive and great strides have been made in this technology since DRUPA 2012. It was evident, however, that we’re still in the pioneering phase of inkjet print technology as it relates to the general commercial and packaging segments of the market.
Binding & Finishing Machinery: As you’d expect, these manufacturers are also scrambling to keep up with developments in low and high volume digital print output. At DRUPA, most exhibits featured machinery design that focused on a very high level of automation and ease of operation. Whether it was cutting, folding, stitching, binding, die-cutting or foil-stamping, the theme was reducing the touchpoints and associated labor in the manufacturing process. Many brand new finishing platforms have been developed to replace antiquated machinery or to address processing needs not previously in existence. The varied array of these solutions was very impressive.
Perhaps the most important takeaway I had was the fact that while evolving quickly, the Graphic Communications industry is still very much a vibrant, exciting industry. New technologies were abound including expanded offerings in laser finishing, grand-format, and 3D printing. I gained a much better understanding of what is viable present-day technology and what the ultra-smart, thinkers of our industry envision in the not so distant future.