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Commentary by Steve Aranoff & Robert FitzPatrick, The EAGLE
Including comments by Guest Writer – Lou Laurent of Laurent Associates International; firstname.lastname@example.org
Part 1 of a 2 part series
February 1, 2007 --The Eagle: 2006 was the year in which we finally felt the explosive growth of wide format imaging virtually everywhere. As had happened in the CtP world, as that technology matured, most wide format printers today work well and their price/performance has dramatically improved. One might say that we are at the point where wide format printing has become available as a mass market product for many printing, corporate and advertising market segments. We guess you could say that this product category has “crossed the chasm.”
Traditional printers, not just the early adopters, now realize that wide format inkjet printing has many great advantages over offset, screen and flexographic printing in that printed objects can be manufactured for all kinds of application; there are far fewer media and printing limitations with some inkjet printing. This is especially true with UV flatbed printers, since they are designed to print on a very broad range of untreated rigid and roll media.
Depending upon the ultimate use of the print, UV flatbeds often preclude the need to adhere the print to board stock and then laminate after printing. In essence, the labor savings can be extremely high, especially for screen printers with single-color presses. Two of the other tremendous advantages of flatbed printers are on-demand and variable printing. Imagine printing five 4/color real estate signs on galvanized steel, each personalized for individual realtors, and then delivering them to the customer the same day. The value-added that UV printers offer users, along with the dramatic reduction in overhead costs, have resulted in ROI achievement in months instead of years for most users.
This new capability has caused a great expansion of the applications that UV printers can perform. They offer creative users countless opportunities to sell new products from printing ceiling tiles and doors to trophies and decorative tile.
Although printed media may be rectangular, as in supermarket signage, many printed images are graphical shapes, sometimes irregular, as in screen printed decals or point of purchase graphics. Their size and shape bring a need for different kinds of finishing than for traditionally printed materials. We had initially introduced this emerging need to Digital Output magazine, where we write a monthly column, about two years ago. We have produced a number of articles on digital finishing, but until recently, it was not a hot topic for most industry publications. Therefore, we were gratified to see others begin to recognize this opportunity and appreciate the recent comments in both Graphic Arts Monthly’s January issue and in The Big Picture’s December issue, both bringing this market opportunity into focus. As a person focused upon the growth of this business, we asked Lou Laurent of Laurent Associates International to look at this market with us and to comment further on its relevance.
Lou Laurent: According to Henry Freedman, Technology Editor for Graphic Arts Monthly Magazine, “here lies the inherent challenge. How do you print directly onto rigid materials or mount flexible graphics and then cut out these wide format printed images accurately and maintain a good quality and a profit while keeping the customer happy?” Enter the "i-cut®/i-script® workflow" by MGE, Inc. of Lake Geneva, WI.”
The i-script that Mr. Freedman refers to is a GDL (Graphic Description Language). My intent here is to use his question or challenge to introduce The EAGLE’s readers to a significant capability you may not be aware of, one that is very much akin to that developed two decades ago by Adobe, in Postscript® and later the PDF workflow. Adobe’s Postscript was not the first PDL (Page Description Language), but it became the method of choice in order to describe printer independent pages for print. In a similar manner there are a growing number of “standards” that are developing within the wide format display and specialty graphics markets. Just as was the case with Postscript® and PDF, digital workflow is at the core of the evolution of standards. Look at it this way; after you purchase a wide format printer, what happens to the printed output? Does it fall on the floor in front of the printer or do we adopt a continuing digital workflow that optimizes your entire production operation? The critical issue now becoming apparent is the need to maximize the digital printing workflow as media are being prepared for print and finishing on the varied equipment types now in prominent use.
As you look at the December 2006 issue of The Big Picture, there in a multi-page spread: The Razor’s Edge, written by Marty McGhie, VP Operations at Ferrari Color in Salt Lake City. The article covers many available types of cutting equipment from manual to automatic rotary cutters and to automated X-Y cutters using both knife blades, router bits and lasers. The most interesting item to note is that most of the X-Y flatbed cutters/routers discussed were connected to the i-cut/i-script technology. In other words, i-cut/i-script is the vision system or electronic “eyes” that enables these systems to function in a fully digital production environment.
This is no fluke. Six years ago Steen Mikkelsen, MGE’s founder, realized that he was selling X-Y cutting equipment as a partial solution to the inadequacies of manual finishing. With the initial motivation to reduce scrap, created by the typical finishing of screen printed media, the i-cut System was created as an important element of the solution.
As many screen printers began to enter the wide format market, their knowledge of X-Y cutting continued to grow. With expanding wide format printer capabilities and greater market acceptance of these devices, this nascent digital production solution, beginning with MGE in 1999, has become one of the standards of the display and specialty graphics markets.
In addition to screen printers, sign shops, design graphics firms, reprographics houses, commercial printers and commercial/industrial photo labs have entered the fray as users of wide format printing technology. Subsequently, three years ago the printer manufacturers themselves began to believe in the needs for digital finishing making their printers more productive in a competitive landscape. They began recommending digital X-Y finishing solutions to improve the usefulness of their printers and the profitability of their customers.
As the marketplace has become more competitive, maintaining profitability has required new thinking in terms of reducing production costs. As is the case with most manufacturing processes, it was inevitable that workflow would become the driving factor in the production of display and specialty graphics.
In part 2 of this article, we will examine the growth of workflow technologies specifically for specialty graphics and how broad based it has become.
Stephen P. Aranoff is founder and principal of ARTTEX Associates. He has 28 years experience in the development and profitable distribution of printing/digital imaging market products. Managing prepress technology companies from start-up through significant growth, such as Xyvision, Eikonix, Raytheon Graphics, UNDA, and ScanView, he has played a leading role in introducing many first-of-a-kind successful printing industry products.
Since 1986, ARTTEX has provided pragmatic business, marketing and sales strategy and implementation consulting to both large and small client companies based upon this successful operating expertise - including bringing off shore products to the domestic market.
Well known clients include: Cactus/3M, Dainippon Screen, Heartland Imaging/VieNet, Island Graphics, Kodak, Ricoh, and Scitex, as well as venture capitalists, law firms and startup technology ventures.
Since 1995, Mr. Aranoff has specialized in the marketing and distribution of Digital Imaging products, with emphasis on marketplace convergence brought about by the use of powerful off-the-shelf components.
Mr. Aranoff also holds a Masters Degrees in Systems Engineering and an MBA Degree, with Distinction, in Sales/Marketing. He often serves as a speaker and forum moderator and for many years, has done so at NAGASA's Forums. He is also a frequent guest writer for digital imaging publications.
Contact Stephen Aranoff at: 25 Canyon Shadows Drive, Sedona, AZ 86336 USA, Tel: (928)282-4173, Cell: (928)300-8757, Fax: (775)254-5768, email: Steve@arttex.com
Robert L. FitzPatrick, president of FitzPatrick Management Inc., is an industrial relations consultant, writer, speaker, facilitator, and trade association advisor. He is a nationally recognized analyst of mature industries. His work involves grasping the fundamental economic needs of all parties in the supply chain as well as understanding the dynamics and life cycles of products.
Since 1981, Robert FitzPatrick has continuously published THE EAGLE, a unique and influential journal that analyzes technology, manufacturer/ dealer relations and trends in analog and digital product distribution. His articles on the dynamics of mature industries have appeared in trade journals for graphic arts, sanitation supply, automobile parts, office automation, wholesale florist and food processing industries, among others.
He has been a featured speaker at dealer conferences for Hewlett Packard, FujiFilm, among other major companies and he has organized international dealer/manufacturer conferences in Antwerp, Belgium and in Guadalajara, Mexico. Consultancy clients of FitzPatrick Management include Fuji Photo, DuPont, Lastra S.p.a., Anchor Chemistry, AB Dick, #1 Network, London Litho, Heartland Imaging, VieNet.com, among others.
He was a consultant and featured speaker at the meetings of Food Industries Suppliers Association (FISA) four consecutive years. In 1997, Robert FitzPatrick co-authored and published the first book to expose and critique the multi-level marketing model of sales and distribution. Entitled, False Profits, this book is available in bookstores nationwide or from the publisher at web site www.falseprofits.com. He has served as Expert Witness in various cases involving pyramid scheme fraud perpetrated against independent distributors.
Contact Robert FitzPatrick at 1522 Lilac Rd., Charlotte, NC 28209 USA. Tel.: (704) 334-2047, Fax: (704) 334-0220, Email: email@example.com.
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