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Drupa 2016: Touching the Future of Print

(August 2016) posted on Mon Jul 25, 2016

Düsseldorf exhibitors surprised many attendees with unexpected advances in the printing of corrugated materials; additive manufacturing; postpress automation; and more.

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By Steve Duccilli

Every four years, the global printing industry gathers in Düsseldorf, Germany, for drupa, the world’s largest exhibition of printing technology. And, within a day of the massive fair’s opening, the journalists in attendance (nearly 2000 of us) begin jockeying to coin a moniker that best captures the essence of the technology we see.

At prior shows, we settled on the “digital drupa,” the “JDF drupa,” the “transactional drupa,” the “inkjet drupa,” and so on, themes that seldom aligned with those used to market the events, but looked snappier in headlines (and, later, hashtags).

So, it’s odd that “Touch the Future” – among the more ambiguous themes chosen for a drupa promotional campaign – may end up being the catchphrase that sticks for the 2016 show. It was characterized by a great number of technology demonstrations and previews of far-ranging R&D plans, not unheard of at drupa, but this year they painted an unusually consistent and promising picture of where printing technology is headed. At a time when print itself is in the midst of an unprecedented identity crisis as traditional markets evaporate and core technologies await what appears to be inevitable displacement, drupa 2016 underscored why, and how, print will continue to thrive.

Attempting to curate drupa is a bit like describing Las Vegas to someone who has never been there. The scale of the show alone is incomprehensible to those who haven’t experienced it, with a quarter of a million visitors spread across 19 packed halls over 11 days. But for those of you who couldn’t be there, we’ll summarize a few of the technology trends we witnessed that have the most relevance to Big Picture readers – with no pretensions that our review of such a massive event could possibly be comprehensive.

Corrugated Poised for Liftoff

One of the bigger surprises at drupa was a sudden, intense interest among inkjet OEMs to crack the corrugated cardboard market. Several companies previewed extremely fast, single-pass print lines with fully automated material handling systems – unusually comprehensive units for technology demonstrations, even at drupa. (And the weather in Düsseldorf the first week of the show, with nearly constant rain and equatorial humidity, presented the strongest possible test for printing a substrate that is notoriously prone to severe warping and dimensional changes under such conditions.)