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Focus On

Digital Print Economy

A sector rich with technological innovation and creativity, Harriet Gordon takes a look at the current economic topography of digital print and maps out its peaks and troughs

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Digital printing has improved tenfold in recent years and its adoption across the industry has been widespread. Pictured: An vibrant digitally printed graphic on the Konica Minolta stand at The Print Show 2017

Picture of paradise

If there is one thing we can say for sure about the print industry, it is far from stagnant. By necessity, changes have swept through the industry in the last 20 years—print runs have become shorter and applications more creative, in an effort to stem the onslaught from digital communications and technologies.

A driver and enabler of this transformation was, of course, the growth in digital printing. The technology has improved tenfold in recent years and its adoption across the industry has been widespread. Yet, while the creative possibilities of digital have helped put print back at the forefront of marketing and communication strategies, it is not the time to take a breath yet. Times are still tight and competition is becoming fiercer than ever. Luckily, manufacturers of digital printers are continuing to push the boundaries, enabling you to offer an increasingly creative and competitive service.
At a glance

Tatsuo Murakami, general manager of Riso UK, provides a brief overview of the market, identifying the challenges 2017 has brought: “Print companies, like any business, have to maintain their margins, but they will also have to work harder than ever before to retain their customer base.

Riso UK saw intense interest in their digital inkjet printing technology at The Print Show 2017, where the growth and ingenuity of this sector was plain for all to see

There has been a lot of merger and acquisition activity in the sector; some good, some not so, and this is likely to continue.

Print companies, like any business, have to maintain their margins, but they will also have to work harder than ever before to retain their customer base

“It is a fact that trading conditions are tough, but they have been for many years now. There are opportunities out there for the printers who can respond to customer needs. And that is why digital has such a strong future—it offers the printers the flexibility they need. The future for print, and in particular digital, we believe is positive. As a manufacturer with a long and proud heritage, we are in a strong position to seize the opportunities we know are there. We have the dedicated research and development facilities, and we have knowledgeable people and that makes the difference.”

Duncan Smith, director of industrial and production solutions at Canon UK, also acknowledges the challenging times ahead, suggesting that printers are under increasing pressure to offer a wider range of services, faster and more cost-efficiently.

The Centre is Canon’s production print showroom in Birmingham, designed to showcase real world applications

He continues: “While hardware investment can help with quicker production, or support a move into new markets, software additions and taking a wider look at every step in the production process can also identify areas where savings can be made. By working collaboratively with customers, we can help them take a broader view of their operation to see what positive changes can be made.”

Yet Smith is also quietly optimistic about the future of print, identifying the ability of new technologies to adapt to the changing needs of the market. He continues: “Customers are constantly looking to uncover new revenue streams, improve their margins, and make the most of their equipment.

“New applications and services have been made possible, but ultimately consumers’ experience of print has been made more valuable than it has ever been. We believe that the opportunities will increase, as the needs of our customers and their customers continue to evolve. But the challenge lays in helping customers understand what their focus should be and supporting them as they make the required changes.”

On the topic of challenges, Smith cites research by Canon that identifies aggressive price competition as one of the major concerns for commercial printers: “The need for differentiation is greater than ever. We help our customers identify new ways of adding value to their market propositions using tools such as our Canon Essential Business Builder Programme, which is delivered by independent experts and consultants. Other practical support is offered through a strategic approach to the market provided by The Centre, our production print showroom in Birmingham. It combines our insight and expertise along with that of independent industry mentors and is a showcase of real world applications.”

Full steam ahead

There is no question that systems today need to cater for a more fragmented market, where the average print run is becoming increasingly shorter. Digital printing can be an economical solution to meet the demand for these short runs, while its adaptability means that digital print companies can expand the industries they serve and potentially open up new opportunities.

Charles Lissenburg, general manager of Konica Minolta Europe’s professional print division, is another industry insider with an optimistic outlook, but similarly tempers this with a word of caution: “Whilst some stability has returned to the print industry recently, it’s no time for complacency. It is even more important than ever for print companies to adapt, transform, and work collaboratively across the whole supply chain.”

Lissenburg’s belief is that the print industry will continue to diversify itself based on print companies’ abilities to invest, acquire, or merge, as they struggle to compete with and embrace the rise in digital communications.

He continues: “It’s clear from independent research that the analogue to digital transition is accelerating significantly. This is in part being encouraged by significant developments in inkjet, which is enjoying major investments in research and development on heads, inks, and printing systems such as our own Accurio Jet KM-1.

“There has also been a similar commitment to enabling workflow technology. As one example, Smithers Pira predicts that in 2020 digital will be 17.4 percent of value and 3.4 percent of all print and printed packaging volume, compared to 13.9 and 2.5 percent in 2015

Konica Minolta launched the Accurio Label 190 at Labelexpo and claims it is perfectly placed to fill the gap between entry-level and high-end digital printing presses
“One of the biggest emerging sectors is label printing and, based on our own estimates, 50 percent of converters have digital machines. From this 90 percent of the top end (in terms of revenue) have digital. This compares to just 15 percent in the medium segment. At the lower end 70 percent have digital devices. Our portfolio, which includes the new Accurio Label 190, has been developed in response to market demand. It is perfectly placed to fill the gap between the entry-level and the high-end digital printing presses. We were proud to announce at Labelexpo in September our 100th installation since we moved into the label market little more than two years ago.”

Squeezed middle

Another firm looking to reach this ‘mid-market’ segment of the industry is Riso. As Tatsuo Murakami, general manager of Riso UK, explains: “If you take a snapshot of the industry, it’s clear that print volumes overall are declining as end customers are utilising both print and digital communications. Larger print jobs are becoming less common and less predictable, and print companies have to be flexible in what they can offer.

“Evidence of this comes when many manufacturers launch medium-sized production devices to add to their stable of printers. It’s something we have been at the forefront of, but others are now beginning to follow suit.”

Indeed, this year saw the launch of the firm’s flagship Riso Com Color GD series. Commenting on the launch, Murakami continues: “It’s a new product that has expanded our market share in production print with a number of high-profile customers taking delivery of the GD, a device that takes their printing to the next level.

“For us, 2017 also saw the debut of the new Riso T2, a medium-sized tandem-printing device with a small footprint that is expected to be commercially available during 2018. It’s a powerful printer that is the product not only of years of research and development, but the product of our forward-thinking and a desire to create a production device that the market demands.”
In 2017 Riso debuted the new Riso T2 at The Print Show, a medium-sized tandem-printing device with a small footprint, expected to be commercially available during 2018

These digital developments are not all about hardware, however, as Canon’s Smith explains: “At Canon, we continue to bring bold and disruptive ideas to life, such as our UV Gel. The game-changing technology launched this year is a UV curable ink that gels immediately on contact with the media, requiring no heat to cure. This makes it suitable for a wide range of media, including ultra-thin and heat-sensitive substrates.

“Developing strong partnerships to help nurture and support is also a vital part of Canon’s strategy. It supports our commitment to delivering end-to-end solutions that help customers unlock their commercial print potential and offer inspirational application ideas.”

Smith goes on to emphasise: “We like to work closely together to openly explore the challenges and opportunities our customers face, to inspire them to unleash their print capabilities.”

Smith goes on to describe the wider adoption of digital that he has witnessed over the last year, in a host of different sectors: “More and more markets are looking to make the most of the cost efficiencies and high-quality results that digital print delivers. They want stunningly visual, short runs, fast. Fortunately, systems such as our Océ Colorado 1640, the first 64" roll-to-roll wide-format printer built on the revolutionary new Canon UV Gel technology, do just that.”

New horizons

So, which sectors particularly are set to boost the digital print economy? Canon’s Smith identifies a few: “There are still many avenues for growth in the print industry such as book publishing, where publishers have gone on record as saying that digital printing has changed their world. Other growth opportunities include wide-format printing—anything from signage to wallpaper—and the production of photo merchandise, as well as the power of print in marketing. The possibilities are endless.

“We will continue to develop disruptive ideas and work with customers to better understand their changing needs, so we can support them with tailored solutions and services.”

Konica Minolta’s Lissenburg pinpoints further areas of expansion for digital, commenting: “Aside from labels, direct mail is becoming a hot topic. Personalisation offered through digital print has been crucial to the growth. Konica Minolta will be looking more closely into hardware and software offerings to provide a complete solution. We will also look at strategic partnerships such as the one we have with MGI. Its portfolio includes the MGI Jet Varnish 3D and I Foil solutions, addressing the trend of customisation.”

Konica Minolta says 2018 may include more strategic partnerships, such as the one it has with MGI. Pictured: the MGI Jet Varnish 3D

He continues: “As a world-class technology provider that is constantly innovating, we know how important it is to provide a total solution for our customers. We pay careful attention to their needs so we can build a successful partnership focusing on the new market opportunities.

“We offer a strong business development programme, Digital 1234, that allows customers to identify, assess, justify, and implement the necessary steps to enable their business for print, web, and mobile applications. Similarly, our user group Prokom provides opportunities for members to connect, learn, and grow through networking events.”

O Factoid: Smithers Pira predicts that in 2020, digital will be 17.4 percent of value and 3.4 percent of all print and printed packaging volume, compared to 13.9 and 2.5 percent in 2015. O

Lissenburg concludes on a positive note, predicting continued growth in the digital print economy: “In the end our challenge and therefore greatest opportunity is to continue to work with our current and future customers to drive more analogue to digital conversion. We must identify the right segments and applications that can be converted in both a productive and economical way that enables faster turnaround, short-runs, and more personalised and targeted approaches.

“We are confident that digital print will continue to grow. Konica Minolta’s market position remains strong as we continue to grow, based on our ability to adapt to an ever-changing market and to develop new solutions to help customers.”

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