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SGIA ’04 Recap: The Microcosm Meets the Macrocosm

The digital revolution. UV. The marriage of digital and screen. Multiple technologies. The buzz of energized attendees joined the hum of equipment at SGIA ’04 (Minneapolis, October 6­9), where more than 11,000 people represented 73 countries and every US state.


Attendees surveyed the specialty imaging industry as a whole — and prepared to take home and apply what they learned. New technologies and applications (shown by 471 exhibitors) sparked their imaginations.

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  • UV & White Ink “Pop”
    Back in the wide-format world, Platinum Sponsor VUTEk described an imaging environment where doors are constantly opening.

    “The big thing right now is UV and flatbed printing,” said Applications Specialist Brian Bernard, who helps customers maximize their printers. “Each year, it seems more customers are getting into UV and flatbed. All sorts of applications are popping up, things you wouldn’t have thought to do digitally.”

    ValPrint XL (Fresno, California) Manager Mike Davis is planning to add a digital UV flatbed to his roll-to-roll presses and noted dropping prices. “It was interesting to see the evolution of UV flatbed printers; they’re now to the point where they’re affordable to smaller shops. … The technology has trickled down to let the market penetrate downward.”

    Patti Williams, of industry consultant IT Strategies (Boston, Massachusetts) made a similar observation about digital equipment costs — and predicted manufacturers will need to reexamine the way they do business because of it.

    “Hardware pricing keeps dropping. That will make it more difficult for some manufacturers to sustain their business models, especially if they rely on hardware [rather than consumables] for revenue.”

    Having recently invested in a digital UV flatbed printer, Graphics Gallery (Glen Allen, Virginia) CEO Steve Samuels was scouting for consumables, and he was excited about what he found:

    “They’re producing white ink, clear coatings, varnish [to use] with these machines,” he said.

    It wasn’t just the printer manufacturer to whom he referred. Several SGIA ’04 exhibitors now offer white ink for digital UV. Among them: DuPont (also exhibiting products from Runjiang Group), Durst (touting its as the first available in the market, worldwide); Leggett & Platt Digital Technologies (currently in beta testing in Europe, its white ink will be available late this year); Mimaki and Zund America Inc.

    Manufacturers say white ink can back an image and add depth, making it “pop,” and allow for color-correct printing on a wide variety of media.

    Designs on Interior Design
    “Every time I come to SGIA, there’s something that gets me excited!” said attendee Ben Fein of Diversified Screen & Digital Printing Inc. (West Conshohocken, Pennsylvania). This year, it was interior design, Fein said. SGIA ’04 featured displays and seminars describing the technologies, applications and customer base serving this burgeoning market.

    “I’m exploring digital printing on fabrics. I came to SGIA ’04 specifically to investigate it,” he said. Interior design is moving into a “limited edition” phase, he noted. The market niche is catching on, but is not yet mainstream — and there is an intense rate of change.

    “Just look at how fast they’re adding media, substrates and fabrics,” he said.

    Diversified started as a print-for-pay screen printer, gradually expanding into graphics and digital imaging for POP. Throughout his 23 years in the industry, Fein has missed just one SGIA show.

    “I usually don’t come for the whole show, but there was enough to warrant it this year. When I leave SGIA, I usually feel like I haven’t spent enough time there!”

    Garments Get Digital
    More buzz on the show floor came from a developing technology, direct-to-garment digital printing. Kornit Digital and the US Screen Printing Institute joined Mimaki in this arena when they launched their digital garment printers at SGIA ‘04.

    With what it calls a high-end, industrial machine, Kornit targets not only the garment printer looking into digital technology, but fashion decorators and large-format digital imagers currently focusing on the trade show market. Marketing Manager Sarel Ashkenazy said the company’s performance exceeded his expectations, and at SGIA ’04, they established several distributorships in the United States and Central America.

    “SGIA was our first product launching in the world,” said Sarel Ashkenazy, Kornit’s Marketing Manager. “It was very good exposure, and our success assured us that we really developed something that market needs.”

    Saving Time with 3D Signs
    In conjunction with Sign-Tronic, Océ debuted new digital technology for creating three-dimensional signage. By printing directly on a flat, unformed sign blank with specially-formulated inks, then vacuum forming the imaged substrate, a printer can create a 3D sign in less than an hour, Océ says. Sign-Tronic executive Gert Christianson cited the successful experience of their beta-testing company.

    “The beta-testing customer paid for the system within three months; over that time, he saw his P & L statement change by 85 percent,” Christianson said.

    Narrow-Format Stands Out
    Several people reported that narrow-format digital imaging made a wide-reaching impact, including Glenn Toole of first-time exhibitor Xeikon America Inc. , a narrow-format manufacturer. Specialty items that can be produced on Xeikon’s machines include magnets, backlist, posters, transfers and ID tags/cards, Toole said.

    “We started looking at SGIA ’04 when we saw our customers were already coming here. … [It also provided] good, informal market research. There’s a very broad attendee base.”

    Toole said that because this was Xeikon’s first time in the specialty imaging industry, his goal was to get the company’s name out, to spread word-of-mouth and begin the sales cycle. Before the show closed, he reserved Xeikon’s SGIA ’05 booth.

    SGIA ’04: Expanding Businesses
    Looking for What We’ll Need Tomorrow
    For some attendees, the cutting edge of technology is too tame: “I came to SGIA ’04 with a commitment to looking at developing equipment,” said Eric McCabe of Ad Graphics (Hugo, Minnesota). “My focus is on going beyond what’s coming out.”

    In addition to his exploration of the “cutting edge,” McCabe said he found equipment Ad Graphics can put into use today. And because Hugo is just a short drive from Minneapolis, Ad Graphics made a point of sending a large contingent to the show.

    “[That way] everybody will be on the same page as we go into capital expenditure budgeting. I use SGIA as the show I’ll price my capital expenditures off of; I’ll nail down pricing, create return on investment [statements] and make recommendations. This event is the trigger for our capital expenditures for the year.”

    Wide-format shop ValPrint XL (Fresno, California) is a division of ValPrint, a commercial printer. Manager Mike Davis was in Minneapolis to look at equipment, and he brought CEO Jack Emerian with him. Davis was using the opportunity to show Emerian just how much specialty imaging has changed since they attended DPI ’01 together.

    “It was important that he see how drastically different the industry has become in three years,” Davis said, noting the difference between experiencing a show and hearing it described. “I think he was rather astounded at the … breadth of offerings in the industry.”

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    Enhancing Today’s Tools
    While his imagination was sparked by new technologies on the show floor, Diversified Screen & Digital Printing’s (West Conshohocken, Pennsylvania), Ben Fein came to SGIA ’04 to hunt down pre-press and color management solutions.

    “Systems and color management are getting more complex. … The expectations of customers have risen over the years, and they expect [to print the item] one time at the right price,” he said.

    Planning ahead Decoration Engineering Manager Ken Elwell of Gemline (Lawrence, Massachusetts maximize his trip. Because he registered early, Elwell received his badge and attendee packet in the mail and skipped the registration line. By using the Virtual Trade Show on, he efficiently planned his time on the show floor.

    His mission: finding new textile tools. Gemline’s roster of technologies for decorating promotional bags includes screen printing, embroidery, embossing, debossing and pad printing.

    “On each row we found different things and applications that will help us improve our overall efficiencies. At SGIA, you find people you can talk to — it’s a lot more productive way to get materials into our shop and tested,” he said.

    Elwell noted that the variety of technologies represented at SGIA ’04 gave him a chance to think of creative solutions. “We’ve seen things from other industries that will help us.”

    Elwell’s a veteran of SGIA conventions, but Dan Dahlen of Dahlen Sign Co. (Shakopee, Minnesota) said this was his first SGIA event. Dahlen Sign Co. uses screen printing, die cut vinyl and handwork. Intrigued by new doming technologies and with an interest in large-format digital, Dahlen came to SGIA ‘04 to see what’s available.

    “There are a lot more digital materials you can print on now, more ways to use [digital technology]. This show is a great way to compare machines,” he said.

    Face to Face with the Marketplace
    Knowing the market — and the players — was of monumental importance to Steve Samuel of Graphics Gallery (Glen Allen, Virginia), who will install a digital flatbed later this year. To achieve their goal of thoroughly understanding the consumables market for the new equipment, he and his business partner split their time at the show. Samuel attended from Monday through Wednesday to take advantage of network with suppliers and take in the first day of the exposition hall; his partner spent Thursday through Saturday on the show floor.

    “It was critical [to be at SGIA ’04], because we’re making our largest investment in 18 years. My whole reason for going was to meet top executives from the vendors I’ll be relying on.”

    What’s more, Samuel said his networking in Minneapolis paid off substantially within days of arriving home:

    “I was in a jam today [October 13], and my regular vendor couldn’t help me. It was a custom order. So I called one of my contacts from the show. He provided the substrate I needed and jumped through hoops to do it.”

    Attendee Steve Alsford, of solvent media manufacturer Metamark, uses SGIA Convention & Exposition to understand the marketplace. SGIA ’04 was also an efficient way for him to meet with his customers — distributors, many of whom exhibited. He noted a tight focus on digital printing.

    “I’m looking at new equipment and competitors, taking the temperature of the market. It’s very clear how digital printing is expanding in the marketplace,” said Alsford, referring to consumables and applications as well as equipment.

    Thieme’s Peter Herman noted a similar digital expansion. Nonetheless, he noted that Thieme enjoyed a solid performance in Minneapolis.

    “The SGIA exhibition was good for Thieme, and the decision makers were there. No question the digital segment was successful and really overwhelmed screen printing exhibitors, but that's the trend. Thieme is actually pleased with the growth of digital, as we will be a player next year.”

    For the members of the Eastern Illinois University student chapter of the Technical Association of Graphic Artists, this up-close-and-personal look at their industry-to-be was paramount. As exhibitors, TAGA members Rachel Daschler, David Hanley, Jennifer McClure, Donny Moberley, Trevor Moore, Valerie Weidner and Amanda Zueck did all the work of preparing to exhibit. But advisor Dr. Philip Age wanted them to go beyond the experience of exhibiting, valuable as it was. “We’re selling students!” Age said with a laugh, noting the networking opportunities that SGIA ’04 provides. “[EIU’s] goal is to get graduating students started in management tracks, making decisions on production, workflow and color quality and making a product.”

    That made networking ultra-important. Senior Jennifer McClure, graduating in May 2005, spent time developing a relationship between EIU and exhibitor Onyx Graphics, and in the process got a first-hand view of the “real world” of the specialty imaging business.

    “Being here I’ve learned more about what this technology is … putting things together … and seeing the cutting edge. Creating partnerships between the school and a company brings you into industry pretty quick,” said McClure.

    SGIA ’04: Decision Makers on the Move
    Eastern Illinois University students exhibiting at SGIA ’04 said they were impressed by the exhibitors and attendees at SGIA ’04, their level of knowledge and their willingness to share.

    “It’s amazing the amount of knowledge people here have to give,” said senior Donny Moberley. Exhibitors echoed the compliment.

    Attendees Decided
    “The traffic we’ve had is excellent; the leads are very, very good. We’ve seen a lot of qualified people coming into the show,” VUTEk’s Jane Cedrone (an SGIA ’04 Platinum Sponsor) said. “It’s been an excellent show for us!”

    Meanwhile, David Bartram of Gold Sponsor Scitex Vision America Inc. pointed out that he wasn’t able to leave his booth for much of the show: “We’ve had people stacked up. Yesterday (October 7) was sheer pandemonium in here!”

    Because of the financial investments involved in acquiring their products, neither VUTEk nor Scitex expects any trade show to result in signed contracts, on site. Both were pleasantly surprised however, saying that quite a few customers had done just that. And they weren’t alone.

    Bruce Butler of MacDermid ColorSpan said the crowd in his booth was three-deep around its new printer — and ready to buy. “We’ve sold equipment on the floor and have had numerous verbal orders,” he said. “We don’t usually sell on the show floor.”

    Building Morale & Business
    Butler also used SGIA ’04 as a morale builder for his staff, located in nearby Eden Prairie, Minnesota. “We gave everyone at the plant a half-day at the show to see how we fit into the industry.”

    3M, based in “Twin City” St. Paul, took a similar approach, also showing a broader range of products. “It’s super to show our company to our great customers, and to have more staff able to see the show,” said David J. Murphy, Market Development Manager.

    Show floor success on the show floor went beyond equipment and technology types. Because Midwest Sign and Screen Printing Supply Co. , a distributor servicing the screen printing, digital, sign and graphics industries, is based in St. Paul, Minnesota, the distributor took a much larger space than usual, said Marketing Manager Lynne Berg.

    “Usually, we have a 10-foot by 10-foot booth, but with the show in our backyard, we took a larger booth space and it’s worked out quite well,” she said, pointing to the digital marketplace as a catalyst for their success.

    “Our salespeople have been hopping. We’ve done a lot of quoting and a lot of orders. … With the digital movement, it’s become a strong market and that’s worked well for us.”

    Exceeding Expectations
    For example, Bayer Films was forced to revise its sales objectives for the show after less than two days in the exposition hall: “We hit our lead quote by 1:00 Thursday,” said David Margulis. “This whole area (in and around Minneapolis) is a hotbed for printing in general.”

    Peter Herman of Thieme also came away pleased with results from SGIA ’04: “Overall the exhibition was a great platform for our sales development of the upper Midwest, and screen printing equipment interest was above average and better than Atlanta [SGIA ’03].”

    The buzz points to a trend in attendees: People who came to the show came to find solutions to put into action back home. Exhibitors introducing new technologies in Minneapolis noticed it, too.

    “We’ve had so many leads we’ll be busy for the next three months,” Sign-Tronics Director Gert Christianson said while he paused briefly at the Océ/Sign-Tronics booth. Océ used a satellite booth to demonstrate 3D signage technology the two companies debuted at SGIA ’04.

    Glen Toole of Xeikon exhibited at SGIA ’04 to begin building a customer base and word-of-mouth in the specialty imaging industry. Xeikon manufactures narrow-format digital printers and copiers. In Toole’s estimation, Xeikon did more than succeed: “At SGIA ’04, we bested the performance [we showed] at every other trade show this year,” he said.

    SGIA ’05: More Insight, More Answers
    On the heels of a successful SGIA ’04 and in anticipation of its destination, exhibitors have already reserved nearly two-thirds of the floor space at SGIA ’05 (New Orleans, September 28­October 1, 2005), and the last available sponsorship was sold in Minneapolis.

    Platinum Sponsors for SGIA ’05 are Avery Dennison Graphics Division North America, Océ North America, 3M Commercial Graphics and VUTEk. Stepping up as Gold Sponsors are Bayer Films America, InteliCoat Technologies, Scitex Vision and U.S. Screen Printing Institute.

    SGIA’s sponsorship program, which is moving into its third year, provides broader exposure for exhibitors. But as SGIA President and CEO Mike Robertson noted, while sponsorships benefit the exhibitor, they ultimately benefit attendees.

    “All proceeds are used to improve the show,” he said. For example, funding from sponsorships allows the Association to keep ticket prices low for the Friday Night Dinner Party ($35 in 2004) while raising the caliber of entertainment.

    The 2004 Friday Night Dinner Party, for example, featured Steve Millar & Diamondhead’s Tribute to Motown and Soul, followed by comic magician Tim Gabrielson.

    The Motown tribute had party-goers up and dancing, and Gabrielson had them in stitches, centering his performance on a $100 bill provided by good-natured, incoming SGIA Chairman Kerry Gillespie (Gillespie Graphics).

    “I laughed so hard my face hurt,” said VUTEk’s Jane Cedrone, a new SGIA Board member. The evening ended, as does every SGIA Friday Night Dinner Party, with dancing till midnight.

    SGIA ’04 Platinum Sponsors were Avery Dennison Graphics Division North America, 3M Commercial Graphics Division and VUTEk. At the Gold level, GBC Industrial & Print Finishing Group, InteliCoat Technologies, Scitex Vision America Inc. and the US Screen Printing Institute participated.

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