By Andreas Weber, Head of Value | German Version
In the run-up to drupa 2020, the technology group Ricoh has raised an interesting question in the context of its inkjet printing activities: “How do experts rate the status of the ‘offset to digital transition’ happening in the production print arena? – Below my assessment. Comments welcome!
To be honest: I know Ricoh’s inkjet printing developments right from the start, and I was very impressed with Ricoh’s progress with its flagship product VC70000 at the Hunkeler Innovation Days 2019. My conversation with Ricoh Europe’s Business Innovation and Solutions Director Erwin Busselot showed that image quality and productivity has made a quantum leap and meets the most up-to-date requirements.
At the same time, aspects of the optimal utilization of such a high-end system by commercial printers were revealed; and whether there are currently and in the near future a sufficient number of PSP’s that have the necessary huge amounts of data easily available and then process them accordingly. Specially for variable data printing, which is far from mainstream in the classical production environment, but absolutely necessary to mark an effective unique position, respectively, to guarantee the profitability and future viability of the printing company.
Which brings us to the core issue, when we think about the offset-to-digital transition: A) Which printing technique is the future? And according to B): How are sustainably successful print productions of the next decades designed to successfully meet the requirements of the digital age?
Here are my assessments and comments:
A) Which printing technology process does the future belong to?
- Offset printing as well as flexographic printing as a process are clearly specified, well-proven and, at the latest since drupa 2016 in the course of Industry 4.0 solutions through digitization and automation of all process steps capable of highly productive and effective editions of any kind. Autonomous Printing has brought the classic printing world the leadership in industrial on-demand printing for runs of 250 and less, as shown above all in Online Printing, but also in classic commercial printing.
- Accordingly, the increase in productivity, measurable by the Overall Equipment Effectiveness OEE, has increased exponentially in classical printing. Several thousands of printers have already succeeded in evolving from production printing to industrial production. The increase in print volume in offset and flexo printing, which can now be achieved, exceeds the page volume of digitally printed print jobs by far.
- This is made possible by standardization, scalability and automation in offset printing; This is accompanied by new business models that are based on Big Data / Industry 4.0 / Real-time Management a. s. o. As well as allowing new, highly innovative financing options such as subscriptions, in which technology is no longer bought, the printing company pays for its use – with a constant increase in OEE.
Example of productivity growth through Autonomous Offset Printing at Elle Media Group, UK, via LinkedIn:
Some stats from November 2019 which will see another 7 million plus impressions month [by a single offset printing system]:
Year on year 22% sales growth ✅
2 mins 58 average makeready ✅
1.96m impressions in 167 hrs ✅
150k in 10 hrs ✅
10.8k average operating sheets per hr ✅
Source: Anthony Thirlby via LinkedIn
- Digital printing is not a term that, like offset printing, characterizes a specific technology, but is an auxiliary term for a large number of different printing techniques, which are based on countless specific areas of applications. Accordingly, the development effort is enormously high, as well as the effort for commissioning, services, go-to-market, etc.
- However, it is quite clear that inkjet printing has taken the lead in digital printing both qualitatively and effectively. In fact, the latest generation of inkjet printing systems created new applications (for example in packaging printing) and are replacing less offset printing systems than existing toner-based digital printing systems. Note: The digital revolution in print eats its children.
- The fact is in most cases that the use of digital printing systems does not meet the requirement of industrial production; many installed systems are used virtually stand-alone, with their own proprietary digital front-ends and specific processes.
- To make matters worse: The vision of success in digital printing is based on wrong assumptions and has a long tradition! Most notably, in spring 2004, market research agency CAP Ventures (later acquired by InfoTrends) publicly announced at the On Demand Congress in New York City that in the near future, one-third of the worldwide offset page volume could be substituted by digital printing in black and white and color. A fatal mistake! Until drupa 2016, it was significantly less than 5 percent of the world’s print volumes that were printed digitally. As a result, a lot of money was wasted and unnecessary effort generated.
Conclusion: Digitization has captured all print technologies in equal measure. “Classic” printing processes have long gone through the digital transition and today, as in the next 10 years, they are indispensable in order to manufacture the majority of printed products around the world in the required huge quantities in a customer-oriented manner.
However, digital printing can gain ground through industrially usable inkjet printing technologies. Provided inkjet printing becomes part of the Industry 4.0 evolution of industrial printers, who are dedicated to the world of Autonomous Printing and are able to operate all printing techniques that are useful to them in terms of collaboration and coherence.
Exciting: In the agency scene, as with the example of the Nice Branding Agency, people actively engage with print. But less from a technology perspective, but from the benefit perspective.
B): How are sustainably successful print productions of the next decades designed to successfully meet the demands of the digital age?
Technology on its own cannot guarantee the success, but the benefit for the communication of the clients of print productions. In order to increase the benefits, the strengths of print must be exhausted and presented in the best possible way.
At the same time, print benefits from convergence. In terms of digital printing applications, variable data is the measure of all things when it can be used wisely for contemporary multichannel communication scenarios. This also makes a clear differentiator to offset and flexo printing applications visible.
By the way: In Germany, the “CREATURA” initiative of the f:mp Fachverband Medienproduktion has created a standard work in book form that scientifically demonstrates what print in the digital age can do and how quality printed matter works (see my review on “The Power of Print”).
On the other hand, the expert network #Think!Paper has compiled a collection of information through short analyzes of some of the world’s leading experts, which can be viewed in the ValueBlog. (See: #ValueCheck: Print has a future! But the industry is facing a radical renewal!).
It turns out that the term “print” contains all the key terms that represent the value system and the benefits of print:
P = Personal
R = Relevant
I = Iconic
N = Never-ending
T = Trustful
There’s nothing more you can say or know. Right?
As a knowledge worker and advisor, Andreas Weber accompanies communication with the media — characterized by a preference for print innovations in the digital age.
To date, he has realized more than 550 innovation / transformation projects, held various teaching assignments (including the School of Visual Arts / NYC, University of Liechtenstein, RheinMain University of Applied Sciences) and held lectures in more than 30 countries.
His blog valuetrendradar.com (ISSN certified) inspires decision makers from more than 160 countries. Since the summer of 2019, his new blog “#HotspotSubscription – The Renewal of Print” has received worldwide attention from innovation experts.