The NEC hosted a print exhibition last week that showed that there is nothing wrong with the venue. Numbers at Sign & Digital UK may have been down on previous events, but the extent of the two halls provided ample room to showcase technology and increasingly to show applications in use.
Show director Rudi Blackett emphasised this, pointing to live demonstrations of vehicle wrapping carried out by Spandex, wall coverings by Antalis and textile production by Mimaki. Visitor numbers will be audited before publication, though with plenty of space to wander, aisles were never deserted and few stands were empty for more than a few moments.
Exhibitors reported steady business and a strong level of inquiries. Companies from across the board are still happy to invest in new technology it would seem. And there was new technology to see, some aimed at commercial printers testing the water in flatbed printing, much aimed at inkjet printers expanding into textile printing.
Much of this was about the benefits of printing on polyesters for banners and exhibition displays. Examples were everywhere, not least the main theatre area of the hall, hosting a chat show discussion programme that was a key part of the show’s television output. This was joined by on the fly interviews with exhibitors and visitors and more formal presentations on the theatre’s stage area.
On the first day the focus was on Queen of Shops Mary Portas, who took questions in a 45-minute session and then walked the floor for a further 45 minutes. Her key message was about enhancing the high street experience for shoppers through custom design and signage. This was important for independent retailers, a message that chimed with the equally independent small businesses that dominate the signage and display sector.
There was much for them to see within Halls 17 and 18 of the exhibition centre. The textile flag was flown by Epson and Mimaki, introducing a press specifically to address these opportunities, as well as specialist dealer RA Smart and materials from Spandex among others.
Blackman & White, UK producer of flatbed cutting tables, has enjoyed good business on the back of interest in textiles. It offers a laser cutting head, a technology better suited to accurately cutting textile than knife. Managing director Alex White points out that few competitors can offer this technology. “It’s a differentiator that sets us apart,” he says. “We are comfortable with complex patterns and flags.”
The company has continued to develop the technology, managing to maintain quality and tension in the fabric while handling on the table. The company is also building a following across the world for demanding cutting applications, where using lasers or more conventional cutting and routing heads, aided by adoption of a 10k stronger spindle.
Another product launch for Sign & Digital comes from Jetrix supplier InkTec Europe. It unveiled the Jetrix KX6U LED_UV flatbed, selling for £68,000 complete with Rip and training for the entry level machine. “This has better options than the equivalent entry level Mimaki flatbed at a similar price,” says Inktec managing director Joey Kim. “It comes with a three-year warranty and roll to roll option at the front.
“The entry level flatbed sector is growing fast in the UK and we wanted to lower the price to make it more attractive as well,” says Kim. The printer comes with anti static bar as standard and can be upgraded to a higher spec. “It is ideal for people moving from roll to roll to flatbed. If they are not certain about the demand, they can buy the entry level machine and upgrade it later to double the print speed.
“One of our dealers was very encouraging, telling us: we have customers waiting for this machine at the right price and right speed,” adds Kim.
Agfa is also attacking this sector, introducing the Anapurna 1650i to the UK through dealers i-Sub and Josero. It shares the majority of components with the larger 2500i LED UV printer. The Agfa machine is more expensive at around £90,000 than the Jetrix, but comes with four colours plus white or a six-colour head. Agfa inkjet marketing and channel manager Steve Collins explains that it is designed for new customers, especially newcomers to flatbed printing. “This is more appropriate for commercial printers: a 2 metre flatbed is a big step for a first time investment. This is attractive to commercial printers and we can bundle it with a plates deal if that suits.”
A machine will go to Agfa’s showroom in Leeds and to the i-Sub showroom. This dealer will use Agfa’s service and support network, while Josero has its own team to deliver service and support.
The largest stand at the show went to CMYUK which has already booked one that is larger still for the next event. It had filled this year’s stand to reflect its expanding showroom and training facilities in Shrewsbury. “We have now taken an extra 200m2 to add to the 750m2 we already have. It will the one of the biggest in Europe,” says managing director Robin East.
“We will have all the top products in one place: the entire Mimaki range, most Vuteks (we have a 3.4m RTR machine, LS3, 16Hi, FabriVu), three Esko cutting tables. we can show UV, solvent, latex and 3D printing.”
The company had the Massivit 1800 3D printer on the stand, along with samples of output. However, a step into large format 3D printing requires more than just the printer. There is the finishing and spraying to consider let alone the sales approach for something that is outside the experience of many large format printers.
But the opportunity is there for those able to reach the right decision maker for large brands. One had built a large 3D hand to show off its latest product in the Westfield shopping centre. The hand had cost £20,000, says East, but was considered worthwhile because of the social media attention it garnered.
“It is about the high impact, high attention that this type of display can make. But customers will need to understand that they need to buy more than just a printer. For them, it is a great opportunity.”
Inktec Europe introduced the entry level Jetrix LED UV printer at a price and performance intended to attract new users, including commercial printers who have yet to move to large format flatbed printing.