"Print '97 Update"

[Column #35, 11/97]

I'm sure many of the readers of this publication attended the Print '97 Expo held in Chicago in September. For those in the printing industry, it is the one show that seems to cover everything from design to postpress-and then some. This year, Converflex™, a show dedicated solely to converting, added another 200,000 square feet to the expo.

Previously, when the show was held in Philadelphia every other year, we regularly sent a busload of employees from the company to walk the show and check out what was happening in the different areas of postpress. This year, although budget restrictions limited the number of people we could send (because it was located in Chicago), we still managed to get a look-and a good perspective on what's happening in the industry.

Although there are an overabundance of trade shows in this industry, historically this show (because of its capacity and its reputation) provides an excellent platform for networking. We find that nearly every division of our company can locate a niche on the floor and compare notes with others who have similar interests and problems. Often we can take ideas back with us and combine them into our existing systems. It's a great way to separate ourselves from the plant and get a good look at what is happening outside our four walls. Most of the time we are so close to our work we forget there are other ways to do things. In addition, there are technical representatives at the show who can provide answers to questions and problems we are experiencing.

There was no doubt everyone saw huge differences in the size and scope of the show. Most comments were positive but we all felt we could have used at least three days to completely walk the floor. The upside is that the expanded show enabled more exhibitors to participate and alleviated the need for several satellite shows on both coasts-a kind of one-stop shopping. It was also nice to see such a huge array of companies including many obscure specialty manufacturers from all over the world. Director of Plant Operations, Bruce Boyarsky, noted, "The size change made it more comparable to the DRUPA show...where attendees have the opportunity to see everything in one location."

Not surprisingly, the focus of the show as it pertained to postpress issues was on faster, more accurate binding and finishing machinery operated by computer technology. Electronic makereadies are now available on perfect binders, saddle stitchers, cutters, and folders. While we do have one three-knife trimmer equipped with electronic makeready technology, we have been reluctant to jump into the technology on complete binding lines. It does seem, however, that these machines have been refined. I was impressed with Mueller Martini's saddle stitcher in particular.

Our only purchase at the show was an MBO B26-S Perfection Folder. MBO's new Perfection Series introduces VIVAS, or Vacuum Infeed and Vacuum Alignment System. This system is the first folder that is marbleless and instead operates with a vacuum belt. Right angles use large diameter conical wheels in lieu of the traditional large marbles. It also provides for markless production and high-speed accurate transfer of sheets. The automatic paper banding delivery option makes it great for fold-only work. In addition, this folder will outproduce any of our existing folding equipment and requires less labor to run.

Following are some thoughts that came from other people (representing our company) who attended the show.

Bruce Boyarsky "was particularly impressed with the electronic gluing apparatus' that can be attached to folding machines. This technology is very helpful because, with all the new postal regulations, an increasing number of self-mailing pieces require sealing. Glue sealing is much cheaper than wafer sealing. It is also useful for glue envelopes and similar products. These machines are much more precise and are less likely to sling glue. I also found it beneficial to visit smaller manufacturers that produce more obscure specialty equipment. These companies had a variety of interesting folder attachments that could do things like multiple slitting and automatic stacking for mail sortation."

Brian Gebhart, our SED (stamping, embossing, and die cutting) Supervisor was impressed with how new technology has affected the finishing world. "Although there wasn't a lot of new equipment in the converting area, the existing machinery is running faster than ever. One of the more valuable pieces of machinery I saw was a Glue Detection Unit that can be used anytime hot or cold glue is being applied during the finishing process. It monitors the glue that is being applied and detects any malfunction. It then marks the sheet so you can pull it immediately, detect problems early, and avoid excessive spoilage. In the past, these inspections had to be done with the human eye."

Mailing and Imaging Supervisor, Lani Evans, was equally impressed with some of the new equipment available for ink jet imaging. "Videojet has a new 4 1/2-inch system that will be available in the Spring of 1998 and has enhanced graphic capabilities. Scitex is introducing 6-inch ink jet heads that allow the user to work with 8 1/2 x 11 documents and will be used on web presses. From our vantage point, the bigger heads provide great flexibility because, in addition to being able to image a larger area, they provide the ability to print addresses in either direction." (These systems cost in excess of $250,000...it may be a while before Lani gets his wish!)

Another observation made by our Assistant Sales Services Manager, Todd Kagler, concerned ISO certification. "It seemed that the majority of companies exhibiting at the show held ISO certifications. Obviously, most of them are foreign companies but it's interesting to see how this has touched off a similar trend in the United States." (Bindagraphics has recently become ISO certified.)

Sales and Services Manager, Gary Glaser (Remember...as a sales manager, Gary has a habit of wanting to get us into new things that may never sell!), observed, "There were many companies displaying specialty feeding attachments designed to be used inline on folders and packaging equipment. They can feed things like diskettes, CDs, special cards, magnets, etc. We do have some of these mechanisms in-house as a part of our push to expand our packaging services, but it was nice to see that the industry is responding to this ever-growing need for machinery that can automatically package all these new forms of media. I was also interested to see that the ink jet imaging companies displayed their products in many different booths imaging inline on different types of equipment. Maybe some of things we've been doing at Bindagraphics are finally being recognized!"

One of my colleagues, Norm Beange, President of Specialties Graphics Finishers in Toronto, was the only enterprising trade binder to exhibit at the show. He commented, "Although the jobs we were able to land were off-the-wall (since it doesn't make sense for printers to send typical jobs out of their market), the length of time we spent at the show and the exposure we got at the booth afforded us the time to make some valuable contacts. I came across three suppliers that look very promising and found three very specialized machine rebuilders that I knew had to be out there but didn't know where to look. I feel certain we'll be back next fall."

Interestingly, with all the hoopla at the show and all the new technology, it occurred to me on my return that the basic physical principles of how things are bound haven't changed at all.