Ipex, held every four years in the UK, has traditionally been the second biggest global printing exhibition after drupa, a quadrennial event in Germany.
However, the latest Ipex at ExCel, a London exhibition site, in late March confirmed that it has been drastically affected by the trend among major companies, not just in printing but in many other sectors, to shun large exhibitions as a means of promoting their products.
In the printing supply chain, the leading players, including the major ink producers, are under pressure to find new means of making contact with their customers in the face of the competitive onslaught from the Internet.
As a result, Ipex has become a much-diminished show whose position as a promotional outlet for the global printing sector is quickly changing. Among international printing exhibitions it is number three in the world, falling further behind ChinaPrint, the second largest.
Just like the printing sector as a whole, Ipex’s organizers are striving to give the event a new purpose, which may not become clearly evident until Ipex 2018.
“We are committed to creating an event which would reflect the changing industry we represent,” said Peter Hall, managing director of Informa Exhibitions, London, owners of Ipex.
That means helping to reinforce new relationships between suppliers, like ink manufacturers, with their buyers – i.e printers.
“Ipex will continue to focus its interests on the print service provider, which is the printer,” said Hall. “This is the core community for Ipex and will continue to be so. The format of the event is changing is order to stay relevant with the needs of this community.
“I don’t see size as being our unique proposition,” he added. “After all, claiming to be second in anything is probably not good enough these days.”
A key part of the strategy of the Ipex organizers in their search for a new identity has been the holding of a series of seminars, panel discussions and educational workshops within the exhibition.
It was during these gatherings at last month’s show in London that a strong optimism about the future of the industry became evident, which could provide a platform for a new Ipex.
Total attendance at the ExCel show was close to 23,000 with around 400 exhibitors. This compares with an attendance of about 50,000 with 1,000 exhibitors at the previous Ipex in 2010 at the National Exhibition Centre (NEC) in Birmingham, England, where the total space available was 50,000 square meters against 15,000 square meters at the ExCel.
At the last drupa in Dusseldorf in 2012, there were 314,500 visitors and 1,850 exhibitors. But the numbers of attendees was 19% less than in 2008, a decline so sharp that it seems to have triggered a change in attitude to large exhibitions among major companies. Some of these have been setting up their own demonstration centers, user groups, seminars and workshops.
ChinaPrint is fast becoming a major international event. At last year’s exhibition in Beijing, it attracted 184,000 visitors, just under 37,000 of which were from overseas, while the number of exhibitors was more than 1,300, 35% of them from abroad.
Heidelberg and Koenig & Bauer Group, the two leading offset printing equipment manufacturers, both based in Germany, were among the first to announce they would not be participating in this year’s Ipex. They were followed by some of the big digital printing players such as HP, Xerox, Canon and Kodak.
Konica Minolta, with an emphasis on equipment and services covering the full printing process, was the largest exhibitor at the show, followed by Fujifilm. Komori was the only major offset press maker participating in the event.
Most of the leading ink producers, like Sun Chemical, Flint Group and Siegwerk, also stayed away, although there were a number of large companies present, like Fujifilm, making both printing equipment and inks.
“Sun Chemical is selecting exhibitions that target our growth areas (and are) featuring new products and technology,” said Angus Blundell, Sun Chemical’s marketing director for packaging and liquid inks in Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA). “We did not participate in Ipex this year, but there is currently a great deal of focus on our presence at the other European shows.”
He cited four exhibitions – Metpack and Interpack, both for packaging, InPrint for industrial printing and FESPA Digital for wide format, all taking place this spring in Germany – as examples of other exhibitions where Sun Chemical is exhibiting.
Heading the half dozen dedicated ink producers at Ipex were Van Son of Netherlands and Martinez Ayala of Spain, who were able to gain a higher profile due to the absence of larger competitors.
“There are more opportunities for us to promote ourselves with so many of the big boys not being here,” said Stephane Lalanne, area export manager at Martinez Ayala, which launched a bio-based food packaging ink with low migration properties at the exhibition.
“We’re an 82-year-old company wanting to expand in growth areas like packaging, and also international markets where we now have a presence in 45 countries,” he added.
Van Son, one of Europe’s oldest ink producers, was using an exhibition dominated by digital technologies to extend its activities in the aftermarket for inkjet inks.
“We’re not hearing much here about new technological advances in offset,” said Willem Rose, a Van Son product manager. “Instead, most of the announcements about new technological developments are about digital, especially inkjet, because it is where the growth is.”
Some coatings producers were demonstrating new technologies that give tactile as well as visual appeal to printed products.
“Enhanced printing which engages the senses is the future,” said Yael Vidal, region manager at Scodix of Israel, which has developed a bio-based polymer coating for providing embossed effects to colored images already printed digitally or by conventional processes such as offset or flexo.
The coating is applied by a Scodix digital press, after which it is UV cured to provide an additional patterned colored dimension which can be as much as 250 microns thick.
“To get away from the conventional look, you need to be able to differentiate the printed image so that it has a textured effect, something you want to touch,” said Vidal. “We have sold 100 of the digital presses around the world, 50 of them in Europe.”
LumeJet, Coventry, England, a spin-off of nearby Warwick University, was one of the most pleased of the new technology exhibitors at the end of Ipex. The four-year-old company has developed a photonic technology that beams light through a digital printhead onto paper coated with three silver halide layers for emitting red, green and blue. The result is a reproduction of uniquely high printing quality with a resolution of 4000 dots per inch (dpi).
“Ipex 2014 has far exceeded our expectations,” said Miles Bentley, LumeJet’s commercial director. “As a company, we were fortunate that Ipex 2014 came just at the right time for us in our development cycle.”
After selling the first of its S200 digital presses to a London printer late last year, it announced at Ipex three new sales to UK companies, which it believes will provide a firm basis for clinching its first sales elsewhere in Europe and in North America.
“We are targeting premium markets where there is a demand for high-value, short-run applications,” Paul Anson, LumeJet’s CEO, told an Ipex press conference.
The company is currently working on the development of a variation of the photonic technology to speed up the printing process by using photochromic light-activated inks rather than coated silver-halide paper.
“It has taken 12 years of research and development to get where we are at the moment, and we are at least a few years away from the introduction of light-activated inks,” said Trevor Elworthy, technology director and founder of LumeJet.
A focus on new technologies and small companies developing them is likely to be a key feature of the new Ipex. A Future Innovations Zone at the exhibition aimed to raise awareness of technologies set for rapid expansion over the few years, such as 3D printing, printed electronics and photo products.
Also, despite the steep fall in numbers of attendees, the show has retained its strong international character. At 46%, the proportion of visitors from abroad was only slightly lower than the 48% of four years ago.
“Ipex is much more international than shows in North America, for example, because of the numbers of people from regions like Africa, Middle East, South Asia and Eastern Europe,” said Kimberly Bruce, customer relations manager at Enviro Image Solutions Inc., Vancouver, Canada, a specialist in the cleaning of printing blankets for reuse.
Some of the larger print companies which decided not to exhibit at Ipex organized their own off-site events to co-incide with the show. Heidelberg UK organized a two-day open house during the Ipex week, which generated sales of £9 million ($15 million), including five press orders.
The company claimed that the timing of the event “proved of mutual benefit” to Heidelberg and Ipex because many printers attended both. Heidelberg also organized a group to come over from Denmark and Sweden to visit each one.
The range of seminars and panel discussions at Ipex enabled representatives of companies that were not exhibitors to talk about their products, particularly about their new technologies.
Benny Landa, chairman and chief executive of Landa Corp and a participant in a panel discussion on printing’s digital renaissance, was able give some of the latest news about improvements to and the impending launch of his company’s radically new Nanographic printing process based on nano pigments.
He was also able to articulate the strong underlying confidence in the future of the printing that prevailed at Ipex.
“There are lots of people who believe that printing is dead,” he said. “ There are trends in books and newspapers which suggest they both may be largely replaced by the digital media. But books and newspapers constitute only 10% of the $800 billion global printing industry.
“The rest is actually growing,” he continued. “Growth in the $300 billion packaging market is actually outstripping GDP growth in most countries of the world. A decline in commercial printing in North America and Europe is being offset by growth in developing markets. What is clear is that most printing applications are not going to be replaced by the digital media.”
With its mix of exhibitions displays, group sessions, innovation and eco zones and other initiatives, Ipex already seems, despite its shrunken size, to have given itself a new role in a reviving industry sector.
European Editor Sean Milmo is an Essex, UK-based writer specializing in coverage of the chemical industry.