drupa ante portas: Big Data Up Close

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Digital technologies impact the entire cosmos of print media and complete workflow, too.

By Andreas Weber


Note: The latest market trend analysis by Andreas Weber is the extended version of an article which will be published by the leading technology newspaper VDI-nachrichten. VDI-nachrichten addresses a premium reader target group of more than 310,000 technical and innovation experts in German industry.  — See as well market trend analysis “Focus Packaging”.


The internet is the enemy of print. That had long been the perception in the print media branch. A blind eye was turned to the fact that technologically for decades, digital high-performance networks and data transfer have been indispensable for print technology development. 

This occurs on various levels, whereby online, a system architecture is freely available that automatically generates print data and transfers it by internet to selected service providers / printing systems. The simplest form is prints of any data via smartphone or tablet. The first were Apple with AirPrint and Google with CloudPrint; print system manufacturers such as Canon and HP followed with proprietary e-print solutions. On the other hand, data from Wiki platforms such as PediaPress technologies, are transformed into books based on Wikipedia articles selected by the user online. Furthermore, social media users can transform their chronicles on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook into publications at the push of a button to automatically create, for instance, printed posters of Facebook/Instagram friends, canvas prints or diary chronicles in book form from Twitter and Facebook (see mySocialBook, Twenty20 or boomf with the printing of Instagram photos on edible marshmallows).


A few samples how Social Media became already the source for new print applications (driven by innovative suppliers).


These services are used for promotional purposes by both consumers and companies who include such projects in their digital marketing concepts. For pure business applications, marketing and IT data are automatically merged without media disruption to create cross-media customer campaigns that couple a company offer such as an insurance contract extension with feedback from tens of thousands customers, which is then exported to the company’s IT and CRM systems for keeping customer profiles up-to-date and even documenting individual transactions. All documents are then available in both digital and printed form. The customer chooses which form he prefers.

The internet protocol TCP/IP got its breakthrough by enabling large amounts of data to be transferred quickly and reliably, especially for publishing and print applications. The user interface/mouse and particularly PostScript as a page description language revolutionised the generation of print data and print media production already in the 1980s. The sheer unlimited and ubiquitously available storage options through the internet for large amounts of data stemming from all areas of life and industry gave rise to the big data “phenomenon” — with the lure of evaluating unstructured or semi-structured data in relational databases for analyses of any type. 


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Digitalisation sets the pace

Two aspects were the logical result for the print media branch: 

  • first, all production workflow has to be “digitally” optimised;
  • and secondly, much more data is easily available through the internet that can be printed without media disruption.

The Internet becomes tool and marketplace in one. Accordingly, the online printing sector has grown dynamically: new specialised firms led by CIMPRESS/Vistaprint, Flyeralarm, Onlineprinters/diedruckerei.de or United Printers have accounted since 2009 in Germany alone for a trebling of volume that will most likely surpass the 3+ billion Euro mark in 2016. Popular applications/products are photo books, posters, flyers/mailings, brochures and more.

Key to success for online printing are the principles that characterise the 2016 motto “Touch the future” of drupa, the world’s leading print trade fair: automation, flexibilisation, digitalisation form the basis of “Print 4.0” — a new term borrowed from “Industry 4.0”, the highly commended industry standard from the Hannover Messe 2016. The rudiments of “4.0” have already been established in the printing branch for more than 10 years. The basis: JDF. The digital “Job Definition Format” allows made-to-order production to be taken care of automatically. Added to that is the complete cross-linking of production workflow and production machines including online remote services.


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The print technology manufacturers have readied themselves for that. Heidelberger Druckmaschinen has developed a new digital strategy integrating all print technologies and is going one step further at drupa 2016: The “Heidelberg Cloud” moves into focus with its smart print-shop concept. That is a new, extended approach that cross-links fully automated production with business aspects for the transparent and efficient operation of a printing business — incl. engagement with the customers/print buyers who are informed of the status of their orders online or per mobile. Even the automatic ordering of consumables and printing paper is integrated. In the digital printing sector, HP is doing likewise with its “PrintOS” platform that is to be launched at the end of May 2016 and cross-links the proprietary HP systems/technologies used by its customers.



HP PrintOS wants to enable the processing as simply as possible of any number of print orders from order acceptance to mailing, to work efficiently with partners and colleagues and exploit new growth potential. On a cloud-based, and according to HP open and absolutely secure platform, users have access at any time – no matter where they happen to be. However, PrintOS can only be used by those who have HP printing solutions (HP Indigo digital presses, HP PageWide web presses, HP Scitex presses and HP Latex printers). https://youtu.be/Rd2x2hRnikE


Internet as tool and marketplace in one

The internet, including the online and mobile worlds, is thus becoming an integral part of any type of print media production. Even imaging specialist Canon, the only exhibitor that can cover all drupa highlight themes, backs digital cross-linked transformation and synchronisation of all production, communication and business processes. The social media-conforming Canon motto #UnleashPrint particularly substantiates the drupa 2016 aspiration.

From 3D applications to printing products “cross-linked” through augmented reality, application scenarios that pool all of Canon’s expertise will be shown at drupa 2016. The driver in the “background” is Canon’s solutions skill for accelerating digital transformation through customised software and the merging of proprietary and third-party (such as Microsoft, Oracle, etc.) solutions. Canon gave a taste of what was to come at its future show “Canon Expo” in October 2015 in Paris: It was demonstrated live and explained in presentations how a (fictive) brand of mountain bikes can be staged in media and communications right from the start, from the photo shoot to marketing materials up to e-commerce with a web shop. Everything cast from the same mould, everything seamlessly interwoven. And this, too, at the point-of-sales, for example, where the quality of digitally printed packaging is determining the way forward. Equally impressive was the “creative” zone which showed what a consumer experience is like when everything that one imagines can become reality: From the perception of the world “out there” to one’s own home — everything is supported by Canon in multimedia, by image/photo, video, printed photo book, iPad app, etc.


The Art of Print – Rembrandts revival!

Causing a sensation worldwide recently was “The Next Rembrandt” project: On the initiative of art experts at the Het Rembrandthuis Museum in Amsterdam and scientists from the Delft University of Technology with the support of technology partner Microsoft, all available data and information left behind by Rembrandt was evaluated – some 15 terabytes of data in total. “The Next Rembrandt” was to be made up of 168,263 Rembrandt painting components derived from 3D scans that resulted from a laborious, digital 3D composition in a synthesised new painting. However, no 3D printer was used as reported by the media, but a digital printing system. It is not public yet what kind of digital printing system they used. But: Mid of March 2016 at the Canon Business Days in Venlo, The Netherlands a printed copy of the „The Next Rembrandt“ was shown. It could be produced by advanced Océ VariaDot Imaging-Technologies which are already used to reproduce image motifs in relief, based preferably on 3D scans, such as for the reproduction of old fabric wall coverings formerly created by artists. [See the exclusive ValuePublishing story „Rembrandt verleiht Print postum eine ganz neue Bedeutung“ (in german language)]. 

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Print 4.0 needs Communication 4.0

“In dealing with digitalisation, the print media branch focussed a long time on increasing production efficiency. Accordingly, any type of print media product always followed digital processes. That is a good thing. But, the effectiveness of print as a cross-linkable medium in the digital age was given short shrift and now has top priority,” stated Didier Gombert, founder and CEO of technology developer Objectif Lune (OL). For more than 20 years, the visionary entrepreneur has been a pioneer of a new “digital” philosophy that integrates print media topically in the communications mix.

For Gombert, the foundation is the “connect” principle. From one “digital” building block of various solutions, a scalable solution scenario develops that helps both beginners and pros to optimally use print in business and customer communications and always cross-links easily and affordably with digital communication processes. His success proves him right: With 240 employees and 3 development centres in North America, Europe and Australia, OL serves more than 20,000 companies around the world and is supported by a network of qualified partners. For Gombert, theme highlights at drupa 2016 are new communications tasks that are “beyond technology” so to say, such as “customer experience” and “customer journey”. This is understood to (further) develop 100% market and customer-oriented products and solutions in a dialogue with the customer. In focus: optimal interfaces between man-machine — machine-machine — machine-man.


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From Pipelines to Platforms

Up to now, print production processes have followed a rigid, linear workflow scenario: Data are edited digitally, formatted with expert tools and then prepared unalterably for print. People tell the machine, so to say, what to do. An innovative approach, therefore, is to dissolve this rigid process, whereby data from various sources can be processed online or offline, from analogue to digital and vice-versa — quasi as an iterative process – seamlessly transformed and automatically enriched with customised and “on-demand” output per digital printing. Seen from a technical workflow angle, a pipeline process is transferred to a cross-linked interactive platform concept that offers new forms of connectivity.

Interesting stimuli are also coming in this context from post-press processing and paper technology. For automation, paper technology specialist BW Papersystems banks on a new type of online remote service such as its ExpertOnline. Originally conceived as a technical services support, it soon became apparent that masses of machine data from giant paper production plants could be exported and intelligently analysed. From this, production workflows and techniques could be optimised.

On the other hand, BW Papersystems is the first specialised technology manufacturer to rely on dialogue throughout the entire value chain in print production – that is, from pre-media, print, paper and processing technology and application specialists – to enable continuous, fully-automated processes. No continuity in print production can be ensured otherwise. This type of automation is important, especially for online printing and particularly for the latest digital print productions as print production facilities become more efficient in their output and vast amounts of data are accrued. At Onlineprinters/diedruckerei.de, for example, 500,000 customers are served, with up to 4,000 orders carried out per day on an annual average and 1.25 million deliveries per annum.



The handling of “big data” in print production has several dimensions: From the web and social media world or via cloud services, the amount of data is exploding that is being transferred from the virtual world to print; content can be automatically compiled on the basis of intelligent algorithms for masses of customised, needs-oriented print products. On the other hand, huge data streams have to be handled intelligently in production management to be able to produce and deliver efficiently, with quality, without media disruption and as quickly as possible, that is, within the deadline of a day.


Tip for drupa visit

  1. Exhibitors such as Objectif Lune in Hall 7a/E23 and BW Papersystems, Hall 10/D20 on automation through digitalisation from pre-media to post-press processing

  2. In the drupa innovation parc, Hall 7, new digital innovative solutions are grouped, which are also explained in technical presentations

  3. Different to all other drupa exhibitors Canon covers all drupa high-light topics in once. The motto #UnleashPrint comes to life. Hall 8a/B50.


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