Workflow, Wide-Format and Artificial Intelligence Dominate Connect 2017
The halls of the Wynn Las Vegas were filled with Electronics For Imaging (EFI) customers last month as the 17th annual EFI Connect user conference took over the resort/casino. They came from 37 nations to learn about EFI technology advancements, attend more than 200 educational sessions, network with other users and hear some very interesting speakers. Both Quad/Graphics CEO Joel Quadracci and new Xerox CEO Jeff Jacobson were interviewed on stage by EFI CEO Guy Gecht in separate “fireside chats” (though the fireplace was printed).
A number of in-plant managers attended EFI Connect this year, from Arizona State University, The World Bank, Arlington County, Va., and Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta, to name a few.
In his opening keynote, Gecht traced the history of Artificial Intelligence (AI) from Deep Blue, IBM’s chess-playing computer, to today’s self-driving cars. He discussed what futurist Ray Kurzweil terms Singularity, a point in the future where machine intelligence becomes infinitely more powerful than all human intelligence combined, to which the human race can’t adapt.
AI will be the next big thing in the graphic arts industry, Gecht told the record crowd of approximately 1,500 EFI customers, supplier partners and media representatives. He cited EFI’s Printflow as an example of a learning software. Gecht also shared research showing the public’s concerns about the possible dangers of AI. He brought some levity to his presentation by bringing out a wise-cracking “robot” named Nano.
During his fireside chat with Gecht, Quadracci related some of the marketing campaigns Quad/Graphics handles, using a multi-channel approach, with wide-format print an important part of the marketing mix. Direct mail, signage and point-of-purchase, he said, are “all part of a campaign. Integration of channels is the key. Knowing what channel drives what and the interconnectivity between them is essential.”
Numerous Product Debuts
In Connect’s bustling solutions area, EFI debuted its largest soft-signage printer, the 5.2-meter EFI VUTEk FabriVU 520. The printer gives users new capabilities for producing a broader range of soft signage products, including wall murals, theater drapes and other superwide seamless applications. The printer can produce up to 4,800 sq. ft. per hour, and prints at resolutions up to 2,400 dpi. It can do both direct-to-textile and transfer printing with an easy changeover using the same ink set for greater versatility. A patented ink-recovery system saves more than 95% of the ink lost in textile printing systems offered by other manufacturers.
EFI also introduced two new LED, roll-to-roll printers, the VUTEk 5r and 3r. Printing at speeds up to 4,896 sq. ft. per hour in resolutions up to 1,200 dpi, the 5-meter EFI VUTEk 5r and 3-meter VUTEk 3r printers feature high-resolution, 7-picoliter EFI UltraDrop Technology. Upgrade options include light colors and white for multi-layer printing; inline finishing for all-in-one printing, cutting, slitting and collecting; and auto backlit and blockout printing.
On the workflow side, EFI unveiled version 5 of its Productivity Suite end-to-end workflow and highlighted next-generation EFI Fiery digital front end (DFE) production technologies.
EFI also touted upcoming technology advancements, like its AquaEndure eco-friendly aqueous inkjet technology for display graphics, and its new Nozomi C18000 single-pass LED inkjet corrugated board press. EFI presented a technology demonstration of a new 65˝ wide-format LED inkjet hybrid roll/flatbed printer, showing the continuing evolution of the ‘cool cure’ platform.
State of the Products
The advancements will continue, noted CFO Mark Olin in his State of the Products address.
“We have to continue to invest to drive the state of the art in Fiery, the state of the art in inkjet,” he said.
Olin noted that EFI launched more products this year at Connect than at any previous conference.
He traced the increasing importance of the digital front end, from the basic hot folders of 2010 to today’s fully automated Fiery Command WorkStation. The same Fiery that’s driving your VUTEk printer, he said, can now be integrated to your Pace MIS application to provide common integration.
“Fiery has now become part of our fully certified MIS integration suite and an integral piece of the total end-to-end production for both content and business workflows,” Olin said, “so if you’re not taking advantage of that yet, you’re really putting yourself at a competitive disadvantage.”
He went over recent Fiery technology innovations like the Fiery NX servers and NX station, and the new Fiery Navigator add-on that lets users monitor color management settings across all Fiery DFEs in their operation.
‘Explosion in Demand’ for Soft Signage
Olin pointed out several inkjet products that EFI has launched over the past year: The VUTEk HS 125 Pro, the VUTEk LX3 hybrid and the VUTEk FabriVU 180/340/520 series of soft signage printers.
“We’ve seen, really, in the last year, an explosion in demand for soft signage printers,” he said.
He noted some entry-level offerings launched recently, such as the H1625-SD thermoforming printer, the H1625-RS road signage printer and the next-generation Quantum LXr 3/5 roll-to-roll LED printer. He also pointed out the new Jetrion 4950lxe label press with low-migration inks, the new larger-format Cretaprint M4 ceramic printer and the availability of clear ink on VUTEk HS2000 Pro and GSlx Pro printers to create a varnish effect.
Olin discused some future launches as well, like the Nozomi single-pass inkjet press for corrugated and AquaEndure inks, a new water-based UV-curable ink to enable a broader range of display graphics applications.
“The benefit of that is that you get the…curing associated with UV and LED, but with a water-based ink,” he explained.
EFI’s investments in inkjet technology will continue, Olin said. Work has already begun on EFI’s new facility in Londonderry (a suburb of Manchester), N.H. — a $40 million commitment to inkjet. EFI anticipates the building will be completed by February 2018 and the company will close its facility in Meredith, N.H. at that time.
Also, last March EFI acquired Rialco Limited, a European supplier of dye powders and color products for digital print and industrial manufacturing industries. EFI plans to improve its inkjet portfolio with Rialco’s advanced ink component capabilities.
Bob has served as editor of In-plant Impressions since October of 1994. Prior to that he served for three years as managing editor of Printing Impressions, a commercial printing publication. Mr. Neubauer is very active in the U.S. in-plant industry. He attends all the major in-plant conferences and has visited more than 170 in-plant operations around the world. He has given presentations to numerous in-plant groups in the U.S., Canada and Australia, including the Association of College and University Printers and the In-plant Printing and Mailing Association. He also coordinates the annual In-Print contest, co-sponsored by IPMA and In-plant Impressions.
Denise Gustavson is the Editorial Director and Special Projects Editor for the Printing & Packaging Group, which includes Printing Impressions, packagePRINTING, In-plant Graphics and Wide-Format Impressions magazines, among other brands. She is also the Editor-in-Chief of Wide-Format Impressions.