By Cassandra Balentine
The print industry continues to reinvent itself. While print runs may decline, it remains an essential method of communications for a wide range of sectors, including publishing, direct mail, transactional, signs and display, and labels and packaging.
As industries and businesses continue to adapt among COVID-19 safety guidance and restrictions, print holds a front and center role in communicating important messaging.
In particular, digital print shines as it enables variability and shorter runs, which is growing in demand.
Trends to Consider
Over the past two years, several trends have emerged. Overall, the trend of improving business processes stands out as a key priority for those in the print industry.
Dmitry Sevostyanov, CEO, Customer’s Canvas by Aurigma, points out that two years ago something like mobile support was a rare requirement. “Now, many printers view it as a vital part of their project. This request is more common among business to consumer providers, although business to business storefronts occasionally want this feature, too.”
He admits that it’s not that easy to roll out mobile support because it entails developing a responsive design and a new user experience due to smaller screen real estate and finger input.
Integration is also essential. “Our customers increasingly desire integrated services. They usually have several automation features, and ideally, these services should be able to communicate with each other without the help of a human,” explains Sevostyanov.
Robert Barbera, director marketing, production solutions, Canon U.S.A., Inc., continues this sentiment, but notes that while ecommerce is essential, it is still underutilized. “One trend I have been looking into with our various studies is print job submission. After almost two decades, the overall utilization of ecommerce web to print (W2P) solutions is still low,” he shares.
For instance, communication buyers that participated in Canon’s recent Enhancing the Print Customer Connection survey report claim only 26 percent of the digital print orders were submitted through ecommerce W2P in 2020/2021, the same as it was pre-COVID-19. Further, the study only projects a slight increase to 29 percent in two years.
“This is not good news for print providers as integrated W2P solutions provide the back-end automation and tools to streamline their workflow and processes,” he cautions. “Print providers are going to have to do more to help educate buyers on the benefits of utilizing ecommerce W2P or start looking at new cloud-based file upload solutions like Canon PRISMAprepare Go that offer an easy file upload solution for the buyer and the back-end production automation for the print provider.”
Mary Ann Rowan, chief experience officer, Solimar Systems, noticed a shift from build-your-own solutions to acquiring productized solutions with low professional service requirements. “Additionally, we see purchasing departments looking for more options in how they manage the cost of the solutions they implement. Both scenarios stem from the need for organizations to manage changes to their business including people exiting, new people coming into the team, and variability in the work they need to deliver to their customers,” she adds.
The labels and packaging sector saw consolidation and more support for automation and digital technologies.
“As with any other period of crisis, last year saw a renewed consolidation of the label printing industry,” says Victor Gomez, director, Industrial Labels, Epson America, Inc.
Predictably, the resilient demand for labels despite the storm at a time of low interest rates proved too much for venture capital to ignore. “Much of the M&A activity that we saw in the last few months has its origins in the whipsaw business conditions of the prior 18 months. Companies with liquidity and a willingness to invest snapped up former competitors or expanded operations by merging or acquiring family businesses for whom the pandemic was a good time to exit,” he adds.
Finishing is an important consideration.
“About 1.5 years ago, Komori purchased MBO with goals to further grow our solution portfolio in the printing and packaging markets. This step has confirmed that the industry is not only considering print to evolve. The same movement and challenges are present in finishing,” says Lance Martin, VP marketing, Komori America & MBO America.
He admits that there seems to a slight delay in focus when comparing printing to finishing. “Printing is out front with striking color and data and is the ‘sexy’ part of the industry. Finishing sometimes lags as a necessary evil, hard to understand and requiring great skill. Still, it is hard to sell a flat sheet or large 50-inch print roll—it has to be finished into something consumers can use. Finishing digital print adds further complexity. We see the market focusing in on improved finishing solutions that contribute as much more to the bottom line. This trend should also continue as print manufacturing evolves.”
A common buzzword heard throughout the pandemic in reference to print businesses was “pivot.”
“As commercial printers were faced with adversity, many of our customers were able to pivot using their digital equipment to produce those items in higher demand, like dye-sublimated masks and outdoor/indoor signage to address COVID-19 protocols. Others were able to increase local production to make up for foreign production that was stalled or supply chain issues that made products unobtainable from other regions. This impacted everything from the fine art market to signage to our fabric products,” notes Reed Hecht, group product manager, Professional Imaging, Epson America, Inc.
Sal Sheikh, VP marketing, large format solutions, Canon Solutions America, expects trends on the material/substrate side of the business will open up new opportunities. Examples of this include PVC-free wallpaper and antimicrobial laminates.
Vendors did not stay idle during the pandemic. Many unveiled new products and solutions to support an evolving print industry.
Aurigma introduced the new version of its flagship product, Customer’s Canvas. “We’ve equipped it with advanced typography support and made it ready to work in the cloud for on-demand scalability,” says Sevostyanov.
The company also refined its consulting service division to help its clients meet the challenge of the skilled worker shortage. “Now, we offer all-inclusive services that cover pre-analysis of a project all the way to developing and maintaining the online storefront,” he adds.
Given the global impact of the COVID-19 in 2020 and 2021 and the challenges it has created for R&D, manufacturing, and sales organizations, Barbera says it is amazing the amount of new offerings that Canon has been able to introduce in the production printing market during this time.
A few examples are the varioPRINT iX-series color cutsheet inkjet press, the imagePRESS C10010VP Series digital color presses, the new Advanced Automation Modules, the introduction of PRISMA cloud-based workflow applications, and the continued expansion of the imagePROGRAF, Arizona, and Colorado large format printers.
Sheikh adds that Canon Solutions America is having a record year for Arizona flatbed printer sales, Colorado 64-inch roll-to-roll UVgel printers, and digital flatbed cutters. “We have supported many customers that have seen growth in their businesses and need new and more printers and finishing solutions to support their business needs.”
Bill Papp, product manager, Document Data Solutions, points to the availability of varied high-speed, full-color and monochrome inkjet print solutions of varying print widths.
Early in the pandemic, Domtar focused on keeping its customers informed about day-to-day operations. “As we’ve navigated the last 18 months, we’ve very much kept this practice in place, keeping our customers informed about the market and the industry as a whole,” shares Meredith L. Collins, customer marketing manager, Domtar.
This year, the company also announced that it will enter the packaging business with the conversion of its Kingsport, TN paper mill. “It’s very exciting to bear witness to how Domtar is adapting and changing with customer needs.”
Gomez says Epson’s biggest accomplishment in 2021 was supporting customers during a challenging time for everyone.
Hecht adds that the company maintained steady growth in 2021, and even more importantly, continued to support its customers and partners with a breadth of solutions that help them grow their businesses and achieve their goals.
2021 brought about several new product announcements from Epson, including the SureColor F10070H industrial-level 76-inch dye-sublimation printer, an all-new line of production-class SureColor P-Series and T-Series wide format printers designed specifically for high-volume print shops, and the new SureColor D1070-Series professional minilab photo printers, which offers a cost-effective way for printers to deliver high-volume custom output instantly.
Komori has also had a busy 2020/2021, despite the difficulties of the pandemic. “We are proud to say that our sales goals of presses for this year have exceeded our plan. We have seen success in both the printing and the packaging space, telling us the market is continuing to change its capabilities to tackle future needs,” says Martin.
The company successfully completed the purchase of MBO, which grew its footprint in the industry, finding synergies with printing and finishing on many fronts.
Komori also forged growth within the the packaging space. “This is a high growth area where Komori technology can provide long-lasting solutions. We are excited to have the opportunity to present a great customer success story at the Digital Packaging Summit in November, showing how our Impremia IS29 sheetfed inkjet digital printing system is able to provide unique opportunities in folding carton production for packaging.”
Martin notes the company is happy to see the Impremia NS40 40-inch sheetfed inkjet Nanographic printing system placed into a production environment in Asia. “Having a B1-size inkjet offering for the printing and packaging markets is very exciting.”
Scodix rolled out its new Ultra 6000 B1 digital enhancement press in 2021, which Mark Nixon, VP, global sales and marketing, Scodix, believes is the company’s greatest accomplishment of the year. It also introduced PolySense 550 polymer certification for food packaging, and launched a successful IPO.
For Solimar Systems, Rowan says the biggest accomplishments in 2021 are the enduring relationships and understanding we have with our customer base, Customer Advisory Council members, and its partners around the globe. “Through these strong connections, we have been able to deliver impactful solutions that are positively impacting our customers’ and partners’ businesses. We are proud to be able to share these stories through the relationships we build and the case studies they agree to share publicly.”
“Looking back and seeing what we have achieved is a proud moment,” shares Danny Mertens, corporate communications manager, Xeikon. The company continued its development plans with several new and next-generation product launches for different target markets. For example, in March it launched a new Virtual Innovation Center for Wall Decoration and later in the year celebrated the opening of its new warehouse and logistics facilities in Shanghai along with the appointment of a new GM for Greater China. It appointed new dealerships in South America, Greece, and Cyprus.
With 2021 in the rearview mirror, print providers are looking ahead. While the industry is expected to continue managing with fewer skilled employees and a rocky supply chain situation, it is time to invest in new technologies and take lessons learned from a difficult time and leverage them for future success.
“The importance of print on paper is as relevant as ever. At the start of COVID-19, things were quick to switch to digital only. We went to one extreme and people started to tire of it quickly. Most of us were both working and living at home, so getting a break from the digital realm was hard to do. This really helped to reiterate that paper and print provide that mental break that consumers need,” concludes Collins.
Nov2021, DPS Magazine