by Cassandra Balentine
The past two-plus years have been interesting to say the least. The emergence of COVID-19 led to global shutdowns, bringing challenges and opportunities to nearly every individual, organization, municipality, and country.
As the world continues to go back to “normal,” the after-effects of the pandemic have lasting implications on the global economy. Fueling more challenges is the Ukrainian/Russian war.
“In 2022, the aftermath of the pandemic plus the war in the Ukraine brought with them imbalances that continue to test our ability to adapt. Shortages of labor, an uncertain media supply, and shortages of raw materials for adhesives or liners were accompanied by constant price increases, the likes of which we haven’t seen since the Volcker and Reagan years,” comments Victor Gomez, director, Industrial Labels, Epson America, Inc.
He points out that at the same time, people finally feel free to leave the house unmasked, go on vacation, eat at restaurants, and drink in bars for the first time in two years.
“The ensuing shift in consumer demand from products to services—and rising cost of transportation just when people are back traveling and commuting—leaves many retailers with excess product inventory and a whiplash-inducing turnaround from a year ago, when no one seemed to be able to get or keep any product on the shelves. These macroeconomic gyrations keep us in the digital printing world on our toes,” admits Gomez.
“Print businesses are recovering from the dark times of the pandemic and it’s exciting to see the growth in digital printing within these operations,” says Bob Barbera, director, production solutions marketing, Canon U.S.A. He points to recent research commissioned by Canon that indicates the increasing use of digital print technologies. From the beginning of 2022, 184 commercial printers that participated in this research commented that two years ago about 40 percent of their work was digitally printed, while today that is 44 percent, and is projected to be 48 in two years. “It’s hard to get offset workers and offset business. So digital printing and wide format is becoming a more strategic part of the business.”
“The speed, output, and print features from a digital press have increased as the time from order to market for print jobs continues to be shortened, driven by ecommerce growth in the last couple of years. In parallel, increased personalization in digital print continues to grow at the same time digital print applications continue to push boundaries beyond what was typical of commercial print to enter areas such as wallpaper, décor, and corrugated,” says Peter Hultberg, chief commercial officer, Baldwin Technology.
“There has been an increasing trend towards production methods that enable more automation, produce less waste, shorten job turnaround times, and generally bring greater efficiency. In addition, the trend toward resource conservation and greater sustainability—which has already been evident for a number of years—has intensified,” notes William Mansfield, director, solutions marketing, Kodak.
Katie Graham, regional marketing and communications manager, Bobst, agrees, adding that the major trends are clear. “We are seeing more short-run jobs, as brands demand just-in-time delivery of labels with multiple SKUs and more frequent design changes to respond to consumer behaviors and sales figures. This requires an agile and automated workflow to keep the cost of labels competitive while also being able to deliver faster.”
To combat challenges including labor issues, printers and converters are transforming the way they do business.
“The biggest 2022 trends include prevailing issues with the supply chain and increasing costs, as well as challenges with labor and finding employees to replace training staff that are retiring or leaving the industry. The result is an uptick in interest to use workflow automation to address many of these challenges,” comments Elisha Kasinskas, marketing director, Rochester Software Associates.
“According to the Smithers Pira report, The Future of Digital Print for Packaging to 2022, the market will grow at nearly 13 percent each year. Furthermore, the digital printing market overall is exploding at 15 percent,” says Chris Minn, head of global marketing, Infigo. “For printers to keep up with the speed and readiness of digital print, it’s imperative their processes are automated to realign their business to focus on what matters most—getting more products through production faster and creating capacity for business growth.”
“We saw a huge shift in our lead flow and onboarding throughout the course of the pandemic and into 2022,” shares Reuben Quesus, director of business development, Racad Tech. The main concern initially was that the shutdown inhibited walk ins and disrupted conventional business thereby inhibiting orders. Subsequent to that, inflation was slowly on the rise, which was eating away at people’s profits.
The move to the cloud is expected to become increasingly important and adopted.
“One of the biggest, if not the biggest challenges to the print industry over the past year is finding enough good staff to work so shops can keep up with demand. This challenge was an opportunity for our company to showcase one of the most valuable aspects of PressWise—it allows companies to automate their print workflow,” explains Tony Tarpey, COO, PressWise by Smartsoft. He says with the right tools, print providers can get more done with fewer people “We see this trend for increased desire for automation and remote access to continue through 2023.”
Automation through connectivity is a priority for teams, leaders, software OEMs, and print suppliers. “The most sought-after areas for automation in the print environment stem from order entry such as ecommerce through to estimations, automated prepress, including advanced preflighting and file fixing, nesting and layout—including smart ganging—and output. Thus, a true web to print environment whereby print facilities can enjoy unmanned production processes that are fully automated with immense return on investment and geographic opportunities. By enhancing the existing software investment and streamlining processes, printers can drive long-term growth and focus on the unique value they add to the customer’s experience,” shares Marc Raad, president, Significans Automation.
“Across the industry there is an increased interest in sustainability, recycling, and the circular economy,” states Alasdair McEwen, global product manager, labels, Innovia Films.
Minn agrees, adding that several brands—along with their customers—are highly focused on sustainability measures. “Immediately your mind may go to recycled materials or a reduction in carbon footprint, but digital printing reduces material for set-up and eliminates the need for plates and cylinders. Digital printing also allows for a response to demand with less supply chain waste and inventory needs. Digital storefronts provide the ability for customers to order as they need, around the clock. Automated workflow solutions allow for optimized layouts and intelligent ganging, leading to a reduction in material and assisting with sustainability measures.”
Angie Mohni, VP of marketing, Nobelus, sees a strong demand for packaging to include an element of sustainability, whether it be plastic-free film, recyclable materials, or manufacturing facilities with a low carbon footprint. “The industry and brands we serve are finding a balance between progress and perfection in sustainability efforts. Finally, automation is a driving force in the industry due to labor shortages. PSPs are having difficulty hiring enough staff, so they look for new and different ways to get their work done. Many times this results in the purchase of capital equipment, such as laminators.”
Graham believes more sustainability in the process is created through less waste of substrates and ink and lower energy usage. She points out that converters need more flexibility to deal with various types of new eco substrates.
Added Value Prints
Ever-increasing opportunities for printers to help clients stand out from the competition, with personalization and print embellishment—whether it be for direct mail, label and packaging, point of purchase, signage, or product marketing is a standout trend from 2022, according to Mark Geeves, director of sales and marketing, Color-Logic.
“The print industry is demanding more short-run digital packaging production with a high level of embellishment to differentiate products from the competition, be it through tactile and holographic laminates or foil and spot UV effects applied post lamination,” shares Mohni.
This can be seen in various types of flexible packaging, such as stand-up pouches, sachets, and stick packs, as well as in the prime label space.
Smaller, targeted runs as well as versioning are all part of this. Minn notes a recent increase of SKUs across most brands since the pandemic. “By increasing SKUs, a brand can reach a wider range of customers. From added scents or flavors, to seasonal and promotional items, to personalized products, added SKUs along with shorter runs create complexities for converters. A design or prepress department may be handling five times more files for the same quantities printed in the past,” says Minn.
Beyond this, innovation in terms of technology integration is evident. “We are seeing trends in how print is becoming more interactive with technologies such as quick responses codes and Augmented Reality (AR). It’s exciting to see the USPS offering unprecedented postage discounts to customers that explore these technologies in direct mail pieces in addition to virtual reality, mixed reality, and Video in Print,” and shares Brad Kugler, CEO/co-founder, DirectMail2.0.
Creating a New Culture
One of the biggest trends Jonathan Malone-McGrew, edp, CMP, G7 Pro, senior director of engagement, Solimar Systems, notes is the openness to change and embracing software technology. “Prior to 2020 and 2021 there were industry wide methods for dealing with production environment challenges. In many cases, instead of changing a process, the method for dealing with more work or slow onboarding of jobs into an environment would be to add people or increase labor,” he states.
2020 kicked off a set of challenges that have persisted and morphed. “Labor, whether skilled or unskilled, has become a challenge. If it was hard to hire in 2019, for some it may seem impossible to hire today in 2022. As an industry, we were dealt other difficulties around paper and ink supply delays as we progressed from 2020 to 2021 and now into 2022,” he offers.
There are still delays in the manufacturing, delivery, and installation of new equipment. “All of these market forces have led organizations, and more importantly the people who populate and manage them, to be more open to change. To look for ways to improve people, processes, and technology so goals are achievable and success realized,” adds Malone-McGrew.
Being open to change has naturally led to embracing software technology. “Software can often be delivered remotely, which makes it less impacted by shipping delays and materials manufacturing concerns. Software also complements an organization’s labor force, especially in the digital printing space,” notes Malone-McGrew.
Further, it opens the doors to automation, optimization, and visibility. These are all capabilities that empower digital print providers or print service providers to more effectively manage work coming into their environment, optimize that work for the fastest production, and leverage their investments in people and equipment to their full potential. “While adding labor was sometimes the easier method, the long-term positive impacts of software combined with today’s high-quality digital print equipment are proving to pay dividends to savvy organizations,” he concludes.
Outside of the U.S. and in the U.K., Phil Brophy, U.K. and Scandinavia market manager, Polyart Group, notices that inkjet is a developing technology now taking on the traditional offset market with B2 configurations and more. “Systems like the HPT700i are becoming more of a threat to conventional offset,” he states. The use of water-based inks and reduced curing temperatures, which provide a good platform for a more sustainable method of printing. “I have seen printers replace their HP Indigo presses with inkjet systems,” he marvels.
In Asia, Holmes Ong, director of business development, Asia Pacific, Polyart group, says the draw to print technology depends on the market segment. “Documents/transactional printing are sunset business where there is hardly growth regardless of conventional or digital printing are also notable developments.
For instance, Ong points out that Konica Minolta formed a new industrial printing division, which has acquired substantial share holding in MGI in order to offer complete printing/finishing solutions to the label and packaging industry. Fujifilm also expanded its solution offering from document printing to label and packaging by carrying Epson’s Surepress series of label presses. Meanwhile, Canon Inc. acquired U.K.-based packaging converting equipment manufacturer Edale, with the aim of strengthening Canon’s label and packaging business. Lastly, a smaller scaled Japanese printer OEM, Oki, expanded its business from document to label printing by introducing a desktop range of dry toner based roll-to-sheet label printers.
In the finishing industry, Matteo Muto, sales and marketing operations, Valiani s.r.l., feels that flatbed cutting plotters’ success and appeal are following an increasing trend in recent years. “The main function of these devices is that they allow the operator to cut several substrates without the use of a traditional die cutter. These machines are an effective solution to meet the basic needs of graphic, packaging, and printing companies. If you recognize yourself in these types of needs, you should consider purchasing a flatbed plotter. These solutions allow users to prototype quickly, outsource less work, eliminate start-up cost issues, create original projects independently, and offer just-in-time production.”
Countdown to 2023
The print industry touches nearly every other industry that exists, and therefore is affected by the demands and challenges them all. Evolution is gradual and consistent. This time next year we’ll most likely be dealing with the same challenges, benefiting from similar opportunities, and introducing more of the two. In any event, the need for more automation and the appeal of digital printing technologies—from toner to inkjet—are clear.
Visit us online at dpsmagazine.com for more thoughts on the challenges and trends of 2022 along with predictions for 2023.
Nov2022, DPS Magazine