by DPS Magazine Staff
As we enter a new year, several trends stand out in the print industry, including automation and sustainability. The adoption of digital print continues in all segments and its inherent benefits help solve challenges like labor shortages and meet demands for faster turnaround times, personalization, and sustainability.
Rick Salinas, president, Duplo USA, says print providers will continue to seek new and innovative products in 2024. “They will also continue to look for every opportunity to improve processes to maximize profits. Meeting these two initiatives will be a challenge industry wide.”
Production flexibility and versatility remain a focus going into the new year. “Solutions must offer a good mix of high capacity on one hand, while having the agility required to change application types at will, on the other. That is the only way to ensure print providers can address market demand changes in a timely fashion,” shares Chen Lalzary, marketing communications manager, Landa Digital Printing.
When we talk about digital transformation, Andrew Gunn, director of production marketing, Xerox Corporation, points out that it means something different today than it did 20 years ago. “In the past it was more focused on offset transfer, but today that’s assumed and now it’s more personal.”
Modern print providers look for tools that help them better utilize staff, improve automation, and leverage ecommerce to onboard more jobs from web to finish.
Ray Hillhouse, VP sales and marketing, the Plockmatic Group Offline Business Unit, is firmly focused on automation being the one trend that can keep the industry moving in the right direction. “Smart equipment works out less expensive than the human alternative for most of the markets that we serve. Once purchased it will not demand a pay rise, take coffee breaks, compassionate leave, have Monday morning/Friday afternoon issues, or demand frequent holidays.”
Mark Little, senior manager, graphic communication business development, and Kenneth Tucker, senior manager, in-plant business development, Ricoh USA, Inc., expect to see printers—both commercial and in plants—gain an interest in shifting work form offset to digital production. This is fueled by technology trends in both inkjet- and toner-based digital printing.
Specific to the label industry, Victor Gomez, director, Epson America, Inc., says the headlines continue to focus on faster digital presses that challenge flexography for longer runs. “The high-production space is also served by a revival of hybrid presses. The segment that may have been somewhat neglected in recent years is light production. Digital presses that can do short runs profitably but represent a reasonable capital investment may see a resurgence in a year that could include a recession.”
Overall, Dario Urbinati, CEO, Gallus Group, expects the world economy to make a difference on the extent of the trends and challenges of 2023 carrying over to 2024. “If we also see changes to sustainability targets, regulation, etc., then the commercial pressures on converters not yet adapting their business models to accommodate digitalization could be substantial.”
Automation and AI
The continued evolution and adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) will play an increasing role in print automation.
Gunn says it is time to take the “boogyman” factor out of automation and AI. “One begets the next if you will.”
AI will start bringing feasible value to the industry. As AI becomes more refined and accessible, Dmitry Sevostyanov, CEO, Customers’ Canvas by Aurigma, expects to see more printers integrating it into operations to optimize efficiency and enhance capabilities.
AI is expected to automate everything from capturing job information based on natural language processing to automating back-end processes and offering real-time views of a print shop. “There are some experimental proofs of concept we’ve seen already, but we might see some initial products emerge that really put AI to use,” says Leccese.
“We will hear more about the use of AI and how we can further simplify print workflows to address key challenges of staffing and productivity,” agrees John Henze, VP, sales and marketing, Fiery. “Integrating AI and machine learning into workflow solutions will gain traction, enhancing automation and efficiency throughout the print production process.”
The continued expansion of rapid onboarding will hasten the rate of change as organizations find ways to achieve efficiencies and cost savings. “AI initiatives continue to push greater personalization of communications to ensure that a person receives the correct message at the right time on the channel of their choosing, which is no longer a marketing dream. It can become reality with technologies like preference management, responsive HTML, and real-time document transformation tools. Low-code dashboard tools provide real-time visibility to organizations for managing print and mail operations and we see more clients using them for tracking digital channels and reviewing customer responses than ever before,” shares Ernie Crawford, president/CEO, Crawford Technologies.
Stan Carmichael, director of special projects, Significans Automation, expects an increased use of robotics, especially in larger print and packaging.
Two types of AI include generative and predictive. Generative being AI capable of producing text, images, or other media using models that learn patterns to create new data with similar characteristics, whereas predictive AI uses statistical analysis to identify patterns, anticipate behaviors, and forecast future events.
It is important to differentiate the types of AI and determine what pain points they address. For example, Tonya Powers, director of marketing, production print solutions, Canon Solutions America, points out that generative AI may differ from previous approaches in how it can apply to the print industry while also being mindful of related business risks.
One area where predictive AI will come in handy is design. Gunn sees it play a growing role by allowing designers to take a file and change the text by simply dragging and dropping with converting tools.
Pål Naess, VP of growth, Gelato, agrees, noting that AI will completely change print on demand in the next year by simplifying the creation and design process for ecommerce companies. “We’ll see a lot more designs made through AI and content in general will explode—creators who don’t use AI for designs will risk losing customers. By the end of 2024, creators will use an AI assistant to handle sales channels, product descriptions, online sales, and other aspects of the business that machine learning can solve.”
The Role of Inkjet
The furtherance of digital print—especially inkjet—is a trend continuing into 2024. Jon Congdon, manager, Skandacor Direct, Inc., forsees more printers embracing automation and print embellishment as a differentiator and profit center.
Carmichael predicts a continued rise of digital inkjet technologies and the rolling out of new equipment, as well as more prevalent adoption of hybrid printing.
Mike Wing, solutions manager, book technology and digital solutions, and Carlos Martins, solutions manager, Muller Martini, say digital inkjet will continue to grow and take more share of printing. “Quality used to be a concern and is no longer really an issue. Speeds will continue to rise, technology will continue to evolve, and the ‘breakeven’ mark for offset or digital will continue to rise.”
Andre D’Urbano, VP of sales, RISO, Inc., feels that inkjet is growing at the expense of black toner devices. “The day is fast approaching when monochrome digital presses will no longer be needed. We have metrics from high-volume print shops clearly showing how B&W jobs are migrating to color inkjet at a rate of 20 to 30 percent per year.”
John Meiling, senior director, marketing, OEM inkjet for specialty printing and technology solutions, HP, Inc., stresses that when you’re thinking of inkjet, you need to understand which specific type—continuous inkjet (CIJ), piezoelectric drop on demand, or thermal inkjet (TIJ). Each have different strengths and limitations, and it is a continuous struggle to get the marketplace to understand that all inkjet isn’t equal. “Our TIJ is great for the packaging space, offering high-speed, ease of use, and great resolution.”
Jeffrey Zellmer, VP, global sales and strategy, Eastman Kodak Company, points out that CIJ solutions, such as the technology that drives its PROSPER presses, offers productivity, quality, and cost advantages due to its ability to control placement and dot uniformity accurately at very high speeds.
When it comes to mid to long runs, CIJ is able to deliver 200 lines per inch offset quality at 152 meters per minute, even on glossy papers with high ink coverage. “This makes it possible to print significantly more and larger jobs than ever before with inkjet at a lower cost than offset. Therefore, we expect our CIJ technology solutions to continue to replace offset presses.”
Inkjet is also expected to remain more profitable in longer runs. For equipment suppliers, Wing and Martins say finishing devices will be more integrated with digital printing devices from physical connections with finishing but also with intelligent workflows that will handle the entire process from file to finished book.
Chris Van Pelt, president, Therm-O-Type, predicts that labor costs will continue to increase at an abnormal rate, staffing shortages will continue, and the loss of technical skill—due to experienced staff aging out—will be a serious problem for years.
“These factors will require printers to replace outdated, low production equipment with more advanced and productive models,” he anticipates.
Another trend gaining momentum is how to implement inspection. “We have pretty much optimized prepress, but have not utilized those same prepress technologies for press and postpress challenges. It would be nice for postpress inspection tools to benefit even more from how our prepress systems look at a job,” says Mike Agness, EVP, Americas, HYBRID Software.
Software, Workflow, IT
Beyond imaging technology, Little and Tucker say in-plants and commercial printers that leverage the expertise of their suppliers to go beyond hardware speeds and feeds to business optimization, data integration, and workflow improvement will have a competitive advantage.
Sevostyanov predicts that collaborative personalization will gain momentum as buyers demand greater seamless approval workflows to speed up the ordering process. “This involves developing more advanced online tools that facilitate collaboration and streamline the approval process for customized products.”
With a growing availability of digital presses, Mark Geeves, sales and marketing director, Color-Logic, says it is increasingly important for print providers to be more involved with graphic designers producing files for print, and for graphic designers to learn how to produce these files. “We will continue to see the need for brands and marketing executives to differentiate marketing collateral to meet the next generation of clients who have increased buying power.”
Santosh Mulay, VP, business development, InSoft Automation Pvt. Ltd., sees a shift from legacy to new technology platforms. “IT is playing a major role in decision making, bringing systems that are open, easy to integrate, and flexible.”
Ebbs and Flows
Popular applications like direct mail are impacted by cultural shifts that favor options available with the help of digital print technology and the software that drives it.
“Direct mail volumes continue to fluctuate and slowly decrease. As of Q2 2022, year-over-year direct mail volume had decreased by 14.8 percent, but direct mail is a resilient medium. Travel, credit card, and retail/consumer industries all saw increases in the use of direct mail,” attests Kevin O’Connor, VP, channel marketing and planning, Quadient.
Michelle Bocchino, director of marketing, DirectMail2.0, predicts continued advancements of direct mail through various technologies that assist in more targeted and automated campaigns. “Direct mail isn’t going anywhere and the industry will continue to adapt and evolve through the ever-changing marketing landscape.”
Advances in print technology and mail processing equipment make printed mail more impactful and efficient. “Innovations in mail processing equipment, such as folder inserters, will help businesses increase productivity by reducing manual processes and enabling staff to complete jobs more quickly,” comments O’Connor.
“The advancement of AI is moving very quickly and we expect that to fully continue into 2024. Companies need to get on board with this new technology or risk falling significantly behind,” concludes Ryan Semanchik, president, Transformations, Inc.
As digitalization continues to take on an important role in the printing industry into 2024, Powers believes that using more environmentally friendly materials can result in lower client costs, where a commitment to sustainability is important both from a company mission standpoint, but also as a means to make a brand more attractive to customers.
Media is making moves towards sustainability. “One of the trends that I am seeing is functional, fiber-based packaging replacing plastic,” explains Sharon Beeman, VP of global sales, S-One Labels & Packaging.
Julie Brannen, director, regional sales and sustainable solutions, Monadnock Paper Mills, anticipates a continued demand for sustainable products. “Environmental concerns, consumer preferences, and the shifting regulatory landscape will dominate procurement practices. The move towards personalization, swift market access, and digital solutions will persist.”
Carmichael also sees increased emphasis on sustainability in printed products among both consumers and corporate buyers.
Several notable predictions take center stage as we embark on a new year. AI stands out, along with advancements in productivity for digital printing and finishing equipment, integration and automation through software tools, as well a new era of digital transformation.
Jan2024, DPS Magazine