Narrow Web Europe

On the trade show trail

July 23, 2008

Readers of this column may recall the woes of the Russian Label Show, scheduled for October 2008, which seemed to be attracting very few exhibitors. Happily, there has been a unexpected rise in interest, and the provisional exhibitor list now counts 177 names, mostly Russian companies, but also includes Avery, Heidelberg, Flint, 3M, and Kocher + Beck. Another surprise comes from Russia’s neighbor Belarus, a country whose label and packaging industry rarely makes it into the international press. This year the Belarus capital Minsk is host to not one but two label exhibitions: one in June, the other in September. No more details at present but keep watching this space.
The big news in the European print industry this season has been Drupa, of course, which sets out to be the world’s biggest print show, based in Düsseldorf, Germany. Results just released by the organizers quote over 390,000 visitors milling around just under 2,000 exhibitors. Journalists alone numbered 3,000. The show organizers ran out of superlatives to describe the numerous innovations, the value of the deals struck and numbers of wursts consumed during this two-week extravaganza. In fact, the number of visitors was very slightly down from the previous show in 2004, and fell a long way short of the record-breaking show in 2000, attended by 428,000 people. At the 2008 show, the percentage of non-German visitors rose to 59 percent but the numbers coming from North America remained stable at 6 percent. As one of the organizers admitted to your correspondent, “With today’s euro/dollar rate, we were lucky to see any US visitors at all.” Still, the Drupa 2008 figures are a creditable performance in today’s economic climate.
Any correspondent who claims to have seen all the booths at Drupa is either a Stakhanovite or a liar, so here are just one or two pointers that could indicate which way technology and markets are going. First, and no surprises here, everyone was talking about digital printing, and particularly non-contact inkjet technology. Sun Chemical, the world’s leading manufacturer of inks, launched narrow web inkjet printers and new, higher-performing inks to go with them. EFI Jetrion was demonstrating a digital inkjet color press which Dean Haertel, director of worldwide sales for Jetrion, claimed is “as good as the best in narrow web digital printing and, in Europe, half the price.” Also on a digital theme, and at the show’s second largest booth (Heidelberg, see below, had the biggest), HP Indigo gave ample space to demonstrations of its ws6000 narrow web press.
Inkjet, though exciting, is not new. LED drying, as a possible substitute for UV, is both exciting and new. Unfortunately it is not yet available commercially, but several exhibitors at Drupa, including Germany’s IST Metz, were showing pilot devices. The consensus at the show was that LED based ink drying has the potential to offer high-performance and, above all, energy saving solutions for the world’s printers, but that the technology is still in its infancy, and (maybe) waiting for one of the major press manufacturers to put some serious development money into the technology.