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Technology Report

News paper file rorcereal killer?

Cancer risk in your cereal box' and 'Corn flakes cancer scare', cried the headlines. When the story broke in recently, on first glance it looked like just another food panic designed to make us feel guilty about what we should and should not eat.

Only this time around it was different. The origin of the cancer scare was not from the food itself, but rather the cardboard box that it was packaged in.

A Swiss study had found food packaged in recycled cardboard to be a potential health risk. And while the national newspapers were typically emotive and not entirely accurate in their handling of the story, the evidence from the study was a cause of major concern for anyone involved in the production and use of the material - and rightly so.

Later

Adapt to the new reality or risk being left behind

The shift to short-run digital labelling has had a dual impact. For conventional label printers, it is seemingly an easily solvable situation: buy a digital press. And for those commercial printers looking to add a revenue stream, it appears to be an easy win: labels are one of packaging print's most buoyant sectors and there is now an opportunity to get a piece of the action.

While both are understandable reactions to the shift from long runs with lengthy makereadies to a splintered array of

Jon Severs investigates the recession impact

At first glance, you may think that TV makeover guru Gok Wan has little relevance to the macho world of printing. Indeed, your average printer probably hasn't even seen Gok's particular iteration of the makeover format. However, following the recent release of the Heidelberg Speedmaster CX 102 and the Komori Enthrone, the fashionista's philosophy of creating a 'new you' by doing nothing more than putting the subject in different clothes may strike a chord among printers. For rather than

Look after your MIS a n d i t wi l l look after you

According to MIS developers, if printers treated their computer systems like they treat their MIS, then most would not be operating the latest iMac, but instead would boast a decrepit 1980s BBC computer with floppy discs the size of a dinner plate. Technology would have passed them by.

This is, the MIS vendors say, because many in the print industry buy an MIS and then leave it to go about its work untouched by upgrades or customisations, failing to ensure it evolves with technological advances

Finding the right plate chemistry

The charge levelled against processless, chemistry-free or low-chemistry plates is that they can't cope with long-run jobs. The case for the prosecution centres on two main issues - cost and technology - and the perceived wisdom is that larger B1 outfits are better off with conventional plates because they're cheaper and more durable.

However, the case for the defence is gathering some momentum. The environmental benefits are considerable and the cost of processless plates is coming down

The big brain that knows how your press measures up

Charles Babbage, the 19th century computing pioneer, once made the far-sighted pronouncement that "errors using inadequate data are much less than those using no data at all."

Imagine what Babbage would make of today's data-driven world and the modern-day incarnations of his 'Difference Engine'. Today, data and databases lie at the heart of pretty much every imaginable interaction. And it seems the opportunities to analyse and learn from these data are becoming more powerful and sophisticated on

Keeping track of food on the move

In the not-too-distant future, the humble milk carton could carry a printed code, which, when scanned with a mobile phone, will direct the consumer to a website containing information on the brand, a promotion and details of the farm where the milk was produced - and maybe even the name of the cow.

The idea that consumers want to know that it was Daisy, rather than Buttercup, who has whitened their morning cuppas may be bizarre, but the technology to make it happen exists. Such codes have been

Don't let DM turn into an identity crisis

Many people would be glad to receive a piece of personalised direct mail from their favourite clothes store. Consumers happily sign up to receive details of the latest offers or new product ranges. However, not quite so many would be so pleased to find the bright, glossy mailer is promoting the very same dress or suit they bought just the week before.

While current technology, in theory, means the possibilities of creating print specific to an individual are virtually limitless, the success, or

Fabrics a la mode

Textile printing is in fashion at the moment. Wherever you look, advertising hoardings and high-street stores are covered with a glittering patterns. But whereas historically these results were achieved using screen presses, increasingly the in-vogue method of choice is digital.

Fabric on Demand is one example of this burgeoning trend. This California-based company allows customers to create their own fabric designs and get them digitally printed via a simple step-by-step submission process on

All aboard the QR Express

We've had this conversation, but this time, you really have to listen. This time, it's not enough to just say 'that's interesting' and forget about it. Because this is an opportunity that, as an industry, we should not be missing. This is something we should be pushing. This is print's route into the digital world. A route that puts print in the driving seat with the keys in its hand. We just need to get moving. This year, 2011, is the year that so-called 'quick response' (QR) codes might just

Where will ink's future run?

In the past two years, the mass closure of print firms has put enormous pressure on the ink market. Bad debt coupled with fluctuating raw material prices has created incredibly challenging trading conditions, making it difficult for the ink industry to plot a strategy for the future. Despite this bleak outlook, some suppliers have coped admirably, reorganising their businesses in an attempt to differentiate themselves from the competition.

But what does the future hold for the sector in general

The unsung heroes s t e p u p t o t h e p l a t e 2011-07-01 885

Here are so many glamorous and eye-catching items of printing technology to get over-excited about these days that the poor printing plate tends to get overlooked. As one plate specialist mournfully puts it, "we're usually tucked away at the back of the stand at Ipex or Drupa, rather than being at the front."

When you consider the central role plates play at printers of all shapes and sizes up and down the country, this seems an odd state of affairs. Malfunctioning, unreliable or unsuitable

Pressing changes

In December last year, press manufacturer KBA announced that it would diversify "into emerging areas to create sustainable successful business activities" that would "complement its press manufacturing tradition". Dissect this rather complicated sentence and the message is quite simple: diversification away from its core offset presses business is on the agenda.

And KBA is not alone. Other offset press manufacturers seem to be going down a similar route, with recent reports suggesting

Always use the right tool for the job

If you invited the various print sectors to represent themselves with a tool, you would be able to spot a wide-format company working in the retail sector very quickly. While the fine art printer would no doubt delicately hold aloft a wood plane and your no thrills commercial printer a hammer, the wide-format retail printer would be struggling at the back of the room breathing heavily under the weight of a whole tool box.

Wide-format printers are the boy scouts of the industry; those

Can you bank on print's future?

Settle down in your living room and, while surfing the web on your wide-screen TV, why not check the health of your bank account?

When you click on the link, a virtual bank clerk appears and tells you your current balance and advises you on any pre-approved or special offers. The new ISA deal sounds attractive, so you decide to book a face-to-face meeting with an advisor at your local branch, but you don't have to leave the comfort of your chair - the meeting will take place in your front room

Don't get caught in the ink storm

Do I think things will improve in 2011?" ponders Tudor Morgan, Fujifilm Europe group marketing manager, graphics and wide format, when asked if the upwardly mobile ink prices of 2010 will continue their ascent this year. He pauses. It is a pause full of the uncertainty in which the industry is currently immersed when it comes to the cost of inks. And then: "I'm not really the man to ask, but I bloody hope so."

Printers will no doubt echo the sentiment, but the problem is that, for them, hoping

MIS: some assembly required

Some people have a problem with letting go. “I’m just an old-fashioned printer who wants to do everything, even sweep the yard,” explains Peter Arnel, joint managing director at the White Horse Press. That desire to do as much as possible has filtered its way to the company’s management information system (MIS). Buying an off-the-shelf product from an MIS vendor was never an option; Arnel started working on his system as far back as the early 1970s.

“Then in

BOARD

For those of a particularly pessimistic persuasion, an attribute sometimes levelled at printers - here is something to cheer your cold, printer's heart. While much of the print industry is suffering with a drop in demand as rival media and tighter budgets work to reduce volumes, one sector is providing a glimmer of hope by not just maintaining an even keel but growing as demand for its products increases. That sector is rigid board.

Unlike elsewhere in the print market, which has largely seen a

To infinity and beyond

Why would anyone in their right mind spend money on printing units that will be sitting around idle half the time? Well, for some companies this apparent contradiction will be a price worth paying in order to achieve the Holy Grail of zero makeready times and continuous production.

There’s a printing plant in St Petersburg, Florida, where such a nirvana already exists. Cox Target Media invested some $220m two-and-a-half years ago in a brand-new facility set up specifically to produce

Finishing line is on the move

The finishing department used to be such a predictable place. Dull, even, with a standard range of equipment doing all that unremarkable fold, stitch and trim stuff.

However, Madonna-like, finishing has reinvented itself in the digital age, and is now likely to be viewed as a powerful profit centre. It's an area that's certainly the focus of an enormous amount of invention. Witness the dazzling range of devices on display at Ipex, in particular, the kit targeted at digital printers. A host of

Keeping it consistent

Colour accuracy and consistency are becoming increasingly important. In the offset world, the move is towards print produced to the ISO 12647 colour standard.

The problem for anyone producing digital print is that there are no standards for digital colour – neither toner nor inkjet. The ISO 12647 specification is process-specific and, while the most common part of the standard, ISO 12647-2, refers to offset reproduction, there are other parts of the standard that relate to other

The heat is on

Ask a printer to explain to you the environmental performance of his presses and, without pause, he will be able to regale you for several hours on the subject. Ask him, however, about how green his building is and he'll probably just look puzzled. For when it comes to print and the environment, the focus is all on print and not the building in which the process happens.

According to Dominic Burbridge, a senior advisor at the Carbon Trust, this means printers are missing a massive opportunity

Cracking codes

The Thing’ sounds like the sort of 1950s B-movie monster whose presence is accompanied by the eerie sound of a Theremin to add extra spookiness. However, in this instance it refers to the Great Seal bug, an eavesdropping device that the Russians sneaked into the US Embassy in Moscow. Presented by schoolchildren, The Thing was a cunning device designed to pick up what was being said and transmit it by radio for interception. By coincidence, it was designed by Léon

A need for speed

One of the most important changes heralded in part by digital print, but also due to the changing dynamic in the wider world and a desire for immediate gratification, is the switch from high-value high-volume work to low-value low-volume work. Before you can even get an order you need to get the customer a price.

"Lead times are vanishing," says director of digital printer Cypher Digital Paul Calland. "Customers want quotes in minutes or hours because they've left the job to the last minute

Digital goes heavy metal

For all digital print’s many advantages, there are some applications that have remained stubbornly the preserve of more conventional processes. And this is a problem for anyone wanting to produce short-run jobs economically, while exploiting print’s unique tactile and aesthetic qualities.

For print to compete with other media, it needs to play to its sensory strengths while addressing its cost weaknesses. If you want to add value to short runs, then you need to be able to do so

Taking the tablets

In 2010, print is a 24/7 industry. This makes anytime, anywhere availability of information vitally important. But until the 1980s and the advent of management information systems (MIS), it was virtually impossible to achieve this. Prior to the 80s, if you wanted to check the progress of a job you had to walk onto the pressroom floor and ask the press minder. MIS was the game changer in terms of enabling business owners to keep tabs on the ebb and flow of jobs going through their presses