Inkjet Summit Day Three: The Benefits of Knowledge
Though inkjet is not a new technology, it is on a development curve that is bringing big benefits to a range of print providers. For 31-year industry veteran Jeff Spence of J.J. Keller & Associates, those benefits are growing.
“We bought a cut-sheet inkjet [press] in 2021, and we’re in line for a continuous-feed for 2023,” he said during last week’s Inkjet Summit, in Austin, Texas. Spence, whose operation runs a Konica Minolta AccurioJet KM-1E, was one of more than two dozen in-plants attending the event, which celebrated its 10th year this year.
On the third and final day of the summit, Barb Pellow, manager at Pellow and Partners, returned to the Inkjet Summit stage to moderate a panel discussion on “The Sales Process: In a Post-Pandemic World.”
“What changed about the sales process during the pandemic? Basically everything,” said Pellow. Building on the experiences of the past two years, she welcomed two printing business leaders to discuss how they learned to pivot and succeed within a new reality.
Returning to the stage, Adam Avrick, owner at Design Distributors (Deer Park, New York), a direct-mail company, said that part of moving his company from a job-shop to a solutions-based operation has required different ways of working, and selling. He said that while his client base has been streamlined, customers have a higher level of involvement throughout the company. “We have fewer people selling, and we have fewer clients, but they are dedicated teams.” Among the changed approaches of his business are a stronger, more engaging approach to remote communication – even providing additional value through the now-ubiquitous Zoom meeting. Further, the pandemic helped Design Distributers gain access to different markets, such as healthcare.
Describing the significant changes in approach in his company, Keith Miller, president and CEO at Strategic Factory (Owings Mills, Maryland), a printing and marketing company, said a changed focus on vertical markets has been beneficial. This approach includes having specific teams to address each vertical market served. In so doing, the company provides a deeper, more knowledgeable level of service, coupled with a stronger connection with customers positioned across verticals. Each vertical is also assigned a person. Additionally, Miller said his company has doubled down on marketing, including a strong focus on email marketing and social media and leveraging HubSpot. For this tool, he hired an automation engineer to streamline the experience. Highlighting the value of engaging customers thoughtfully, Miller said, “If you do a good job for your customers, they’re not going to leave you.”
Exploring Cut-Sheet Inkjet
While much of the excitement surrounding high-speed inkjet for commercial printing applications is focused on continuous-feed or roll-fed printing, the cut-sheet inkjet printing space is also robust. To illustrate, Marco Boer, Inkjet Summit Conference Chair and VP of IT Strategies, was joined by Nathan Safran, VP, Research at NAPCO Media and PRINTING United Alliance, presented “Where Does Production Cut-Sheet Inkjet Fit?” to discuss how cut-sheet technology (including B2-format devices) can be used, and how it is developing.
Boer said that the technical challenges of cut-sheet inkjet, “It’s harder to hold a sheet than to move a roll,” have been largely addressed, and that the technology has a welcome place in the commercial printing space. “Our world of commercial printing is really a cut-sheet world,” he said, noting it provides flexibility to produce of wide variety of applications.
Safran provided data from a recent survey report, produced by NAPCO Research, which included data showing current users experiencing success in the production of variable data jobs, access to new applications, and short-run work. “For current users,” said Safran, “satisfaction levels are strong in image quality, color consistency, and sheet size.” Summing up, Boer said a guiding question in the cut-sheet inkjet space should be, “How can I extract more value?”
Highlighting the Commercial Segment
For attendees whose companies are firmly rooted in the commercial printing segment, Mark Michelson, editor-in-chief of Printing Impressions moderated a panel discussion featuring four seasoned printing professionals. Using production inkjet as the overarching topic of the discussion, the panelists touched on many of the trends affecting business today.
In a discussion that showed the differences between their business, and the benefits of a common technology, the panelists shared their knowledge. Eric Kahn, executive chairman at Graphic Village (Cincinnati, Ohio), a commercial printing and direct-mail company, said, “We’ve seen a significant efficiency boost moving work off of toner-based devices” He said the biggest surprise in adding high-speed inkjet is “how amazing the up-time was,” noting it was over 90% .
Perry Klein, VP at Mittera (Des Moines, Iowa), a printing and marketing company, shared that his company is benefitting from added flexibility. He said cut-sheet inkjet has allowed greater productivity per employee. Further, inkjet fits well into his company’s general approach – more than 80% of jobs utilize personalization. He added, “We’ve been able to get new business from others in the market hearing about it.“
Discussing his experience, Nick Larsen, director of technology at commercial printer Quantum Graphics (Eden Prairie, Minnesota), whose employees were excited the company was investing in new cut-sheet technologies, said, “the quality has been fantastic.”
Finally, Kirk Schlecker, president at Heeter (Canonsburg, Pennsylvania), a printing and direct-mail company, says his salespeople are beginning to see the value in his continuous-feed inkjet presses. “Today, we’re busier than ever,” he added.
Another segment explored was direct mail. The breakout session "Direct Mail and Marketing: The Opportunity, Strategy, Blending with Digital Communications," which was also led by Pellow, brought together a small panel of current users to discuss their experiences with inkjet in the direct mail space.
Audrey Jamieson, president of Marketing Kitchen, located in the Toronto area, described her company's strategies in the traditional and neighborhood direct mail spaces across all industries. What sets the company apart though is the fact that Marketing Kitchen works as a partner with its customers, coming up with the best solutions that meet their needs.
“We're unique in terms of when a customer asks us for a quote we give them what they’re looking for, but 60% of the time we give them an alternative," she said.
Jamieson explained that since Marketing Kitchen added inkjet, the company has seen a lot of growth. One recommendation she had for companies considering the technology: “Create the sticky factor.” She suggested using the technology to suggest interesting elements customers can add to their jobs. "We throw color in at no charge," she said. Doing this, she explained, can help keep a customer coming back once they see what capabilities you have.
Miller of Strategic Factory did double duty on Day 3, participating in the direct mail panel in the afternoon. In this session, he stressed that the company's motto is to say "Yes, yes, yes," to any request, recounting how Strategic Factory once sourced 800-plus padlocks for a school just because it asked.
One of the key factors behind Strategic Factory's growth with inkjet, though, is automation, which was a common theme throughout the three days of Inkjet Summit.
"How do we automate as much as we can?" Miller asked.
Besides the benefits of automation when investing in inkjet, Miller had a recommendation for companies considering the technology. Figure out your company's vision and don't "take a lot of time waffling on decisions."
"We've been very deliberate about making decisions," he said. "Make a decision and go with it."
But most importantly, know your audience and how to get to them.
Making Space for Profitability
In his eye-opening presentation, “Workflow Automation – Providing Profitability and Customer Engagement,” industry consultant David Zwang, principal of Zwang & Company, highlighted how leading PSPs have implemented systems to maximize efficiency, increase capacity, and minimize touches.
One key point Zwang offered about automation is to think holistically, noting only 2% classify themselves as “fully automated." While this goal may be achievable for some companies – transactional printers are an example, others with higher levels of diversity in their operations may be in for a heavier lift. He says recent lessons from the pandemic, typified by work-from-home arrangements, increased the drive for automation for some. However, he offered a word of caution.
“As you begin to think about how you’re going to automate your business and processes, you have to think about where you fit," he said. "There is no one workflow solution that fits everything.”
He stressed that printing is not the only industry on an aggressive path toward automation. This reality, he said, has ushered in both process integration and modularity – elements that drive production reliability and flexibility.
Finally, he said, "Adoption is a function of adaptation."
“You can implement technology, but the reality is, once you bring it into an environment with people, you’re going to hit walls," he said. “Old habits die hard," but the key is to know when to embrace change because it will offer a competitive edge.
Toasts, Accolades, and the Road Home
The 2022 Inkjet Summit ended on a high note, as attendees and sponsor reps joined for a final networking event, which included the sponsor awards and an attendee award. Winners for the best sponsor case study presentations, as voted on by attendees, went to:
- Publishing: Muller Martini;
- Direct Mail: W+D North America;
- In-plant: Standard Finishing Systems;
- General Commercial: SCREEN; and
- Transaction: Crawford Technologies.
Attendees also voted on the "Company to Watch Out For," which went to Canon Solutions America.
Finally, every year, one attendee is named the "Overall Contributing Attendee" based on their participation, engagement, and enthusiasm for the event. This year, that honor went to Larry Soler, director Core Publishing Solutions, Thomson Reuters.
Having said their goodbyes to old colleagues and new friends, Summit attendees dispersed, returning to the shops motivated, changed, and hyped to implement or expand inkjet into their production. Having been given strong, highly-personalized access to industry professionals who can help them choose the exact technology for their path forward, they can see clearly their future success.
For their paths ahead, attendees will take what they’ve learned, transforming intention into action. Summit attendee Willie Devold of Protective Life Insurance – an in-plant operation – said the event helped him discover the availability of software solutions to resolve issues with print from his legacy systems. Asked about his next steps, Devold was clear: “I’m going to buy some software.”
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