At Nexpo: The No-Equipment Equipment Show, Earth Day, and Virtual Reality

By: Mark Fitzgerald The Sounds of Silence? Nexpo is North America?s biggest newspaper equipment show, but a day spent to the thinly attended show floor Sunday prompts a question: Where?s all the, you know, equipment?

It?s been a long time since vendors would bring actual running printing presses to Nexpo, and competitors would snake the show floor with long lines of clattering single-gripper conveyors or inserters.

Still, this year?s version seems particularly, well, still.

Only Muller Martini Mailroom Systems Inc. installed a full-sized example of its wares. Once an hour or so, a demonstrator fired up CombiStack bundle forming systems and NewsGrip-A conveyor to show off its PowerWrap system that packages newspaper sections in a plastic wrap that is sealed with glue rather than heat.

A few other exhibitors brought along working equipment, but on a far smaller scale. Goss International, for instance, had several machines at its island, including its MagnaPak inserter, and stackers. Virtually all the platesetter manufacturers also demonstrated their devices, reflecting a sector in the newspaper equipment business that is probably the most competitive right now.

A Newspaper Plate?s Virtual Reality Trip

The cost of dragging equipment to Orlando and setting it up at the Convention Center is the obvious reason fewer machines are making noise at Nexpo these days. But at least one vendor believes virtual reality (VR) technology now offers a better way to show off its equipment than giving potential customer a look under the hood of actual equipment.

Plymouth, Minn.-based Burgess Industries makes plate management and handling systems for newspaper and commercial printing. And while it believes its machines have competitive advantages over similar offerings from other vendors -- it's not really possible to point them out looking at the actual device, said marketing executive Michael Swan.

?We make punch/benders, and everybody knows what they do: bend and punch the plate,? Swan says. ?Literally, you can?t see the advantages (of a Burgess-manufactured device). There are too many components in the way.?

So Burgess engineers created a virtual reality presentation that uses actual measurements from a prospective customer?s shop floor to show exactly what a platehandling system configuration would look like. The first VR videos were produced for commercial customers at the big Graph Expo show in Chicago last fall.

?With these movies, we?re able to show people in a very short time exactly how this works,? he said. ?So we said, let?s do this for newspapers, too.?

Visitors to the booth can strap on a pair of VR glasses and make their way smoothly, or, in my case, stumblingly, around a production floor while plates are sorted and stacked.

Creating the VR presentations is complicated, Swan said: ?It?s not a video game. There are a lot of components, and they have to have many more details.?

Chloe, I Need You To Patch Me Into Rewrite!

One striking difference between a commercial printing show like Graph Expo and the newspaper trade show is that the biggest commercial-side vendors jazz up their presentations by turning them into musicals or sketch comedies. Musicals and sketch comedies that is, as produced by the creative minds of people who manufacture stitching systems.

Nexpo vendors, on the other hand, serve up their demos straight. That works when the system on display has some innately interesting facet, but it also leads to dozens of sleep-inducing demonstrations with the exhibitor repeating some variation of ?and if I want to re-size the ad, I simply drag it over to ...?

But this year, Saxotech, the editorial and Web content software maker, decided to go with the jazzy approach. Its demo takes the form of episodes of the television show ?24,? with the same tick-tick sound effects and screen shots that say, ?The following takes place from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m.?

Green Day Live At Nexpo

Earth Day, April 22, attracted no special attention at Nexpo, but many vendors are doing their best Al Gore impressions.

Burns & McDonnell, the architectural firm, for instance, were showcasing what they called the ?Green Newspaper Plant.? Their booth was decorated with solar energy panels.

Earth Day was also good to Metafix, which makes environmental compliance systems. ?We?ve had quite a bit of interest in this product,? said Chris Thorne, sales manager of the Montreal-based company?s graphics division.

Metafix was showing off its CTP-pH-Control System that treats effluent from computer to plate systems so they are legal for discharge. CTP platemaking tends to produce effluent that is considerably higher in pH than most state and local enivornmental regulations allow for discharge into sewers, Thorne said.


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