Successful Inkjet Summit Wraps Up
As the industry’s first in-person event in nearly two years, this week’s Inkjet Summit looked and felt in every way like a pre-pandemic event. Attendees greeted each other enthusiastically after so much time apart, and everyone’s mission seemed to be to put COVID aside for a while and rekindle the spark that conferences used to have before the pandemic forced us all apart.
The auditorium at the Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort outside of Austin, Texas, was packed with print providers and suppliers for Monday evening’s opening keynote by Marco Boer, of I.T. Strategies, and all of the sessions that followed. As at past Inkjet Summits, participants broke into smaller groups by segment (e.g., in-plants, commercial printers, transactional, etc.) to hear case study presentations on Tuesday and Wednesday, then attendees went to 1:1 meetings with the suppliers who sponsored the summit. All of the event’s dinners took place outdoors, where it was a bit toasty, but no one seemed to mind, as the networking continued in full force.
“The one-on-one sessions were excellent,” praised Melissa Wallis of Geisinger, whose in-plant supports a hospital system in central Pennsylvania. “It had unlimited opportunities to ask questions.” She reported being in the beginning stages of a significant system upgrade and came to the event to learn. “I’m gathering information, talking to others, and finding out what I don’t know,” she said. She indicated it will give her a great idea of what to do when the budget for her future purchase is approved.
Trends in Inkjet
To open the second day of the Inkjet Summit, Conference Chair Marco Boer, VP of IT Strategies, outlined trends in production inkjet technology development. He began with the basics, stating that inkjet printing is not simply about printheads, but is instead a system that also includes ink, printer and design integration, software, and sales and service. Exploring what has changed in the past five years, Boer mentioned inkjet now has two times higher nozzle density and three times higher firing frequency, resulting in either higher speed or higher resolution. Further, he said the life of inkjet presses can often be extended by upgrading head technologies. Additional gains include ink development ushering in an expanded choice of substrates, deeper integration into workflow software, and a significant shift toward shared or self service.
What remains to be addressed? Boer indicated that inkjet head costs remain high, a reality that may be addressed by extending their usable lives, thus reducing system costs. He also mentioned the need for increased adhesion of inks, shrinking the footprint of presses, and making existing and new software work together. In sales and service, Boer spoke of the increasing possibilities of predictive analytics – allowing the press to specify maintenance and anticipate parts replacements.
Workflow is about maximizing value from equipment, says David Zwang, President of Zwang & Co. In his presentation, he stressed that workflow is not solely software, but is instead the movement of work in, through, and out of a facility; and the streamlining and automation of production and business systems. Zwang noted that e-business is driving a great deal of change in workflow, coordinating production resources, creating standard structures for business, and facilitating new connections between buyers and sellers.
Zwang described the workflow challenges facing printers as a thoughtful series of “either/or” choices including printed products versus printing services, hybrid versus bespoke approaches, process integration versus modularity, and full process automation versus what he calls “islands of automation.” There is indeed much to consider, given the myriad opportunities a new, capability-rich inkjet system can provide. All of this, Zwang says, helps to prepare printing operations for “Industry 4.0,” which will feature computers and automation to create smart systems utilizing data and AI.
Considerations in Finishing
Highlighting finishing as an integral part of the broader printing process, Pat McGrew, Managing Director of McGrewGroup, provided strategies for maximizing the benefits of print finishing and using it as a point of differentiation. McGrew described common finishing challenges including the underestimation of time needed for finishing, use of the wrong substrate, and quality lost as a result of finishing activities.
McGrew stressed that effective finishing, and the avoidance of many of the challenges she highlighted, requires up-front planning. To help printers manage their finishing challenges, McGrew provided a systematic approach for assessing current finishing approaches to determine they’re effective, analyzing costs related to re-work and lost opportunity, and planning for future finishing needs or approaches.
On Wednesday, Mark Michelson, Editor-in-Chief, Printing Impressions, assembled a panel of veteran inkjet users who shared their triumphs and tribulations. The panel featured Sheree Byrd, VP of technology, L&D Mailmaster; John Gaspari, senior VP of operations, Specialty Print Communications; Kevin Heslin, president, Seaway Printing; and Jeffrey Matos, senior director, operations engineering, Broadridge Financial Solutions.
Through what was a fast-moving discussion, a few key points emerged. The panelists urged attendees to run test prints in different modes on a variety of substrates, to pay careful attention to process control, to consider the implications of front-end software and finishing, and to understand how increased capacity can affect numerous production calculations. All four panelists said they are facing challenges in both labor force and paper supply. One key lesson, learned by Heslin, came from over-estimating the learning curve needed to get his HP system up and running.
“If I had known we would grow so fast,” he said, “I would have invested in a finishing solution. It’s great problem to have.”
Today and Moving Forward
Asked to moderate – and curate the questions for – a session featuring Boer and Barb Pellow, manager of Pellow and Partners, Cheryl Kahanec, CEO of Quantum Group, rose to the occasion. Her questions, which focused on where the commercial printing sector is today and the factors that are influencing its future, brought thoughtful, illuminating responses.
Boer sees a potential increase in M&A activity, partially driven by the post COVID, post PPP business environment. He noted that consolidation will cause those businesses that come out on top to get bigger and gain a larger share of the work. Boer also noted that a rise in available capacity – driven by the speed of inkjet systems – could lead to a lowering of margins.
Pellow noted developments within the commercial printing segment, where printers are working in additional areas including, for instance, transactional printing. This concept was echoed by Kahanec, whose company has seen massive growth in direct mail.
For the final session of the summit, attendees broke into their segments to hear presentations and panel discussions. In the in-plant segment, IPI Editor Bob Neubauer assembled a panel of four inkjet users who discussed their inkjet experiences and took questions from Neubauer and the audience. On the panel were Ben Bean, of Brigham Young University; John Bartik, of Western & Southern Financial Group; Greg Estep, of the U.S. Government Publishing Office; and Craig Coley, of Pinnacol Assurance. Each had different inkjet presses and provided candid comments about the benefits and hurdles they have experienced.
The Inkjet Summit wrapped up Wednesday evening with an outdoor dinner and award ceremony. Attendees were overwhelming pleased with the event.
“I enjoy the Summit because you have the opportunity to meet with so many vendors in one setting,” said Christina Esparza of InfoIMAGE. Her company is seeking a technology to augment previous inkjet purchases in 2017 and 2020, and she came to the event motivated to speak with vendors. “I have questions prepared, and I’m seeking answers,” she says, “and this is the best format for that. We can make the connection here, then follow up remotely.”
The annual Inkjet Summit, now in its ninth year, is an invitation-only, hosted-buyer event designed to bring carefully vetted printing professionals and equipment vendors for meaningful connections, purpose-driven discussions, and top-notch networking. To be considered for a future Inkjet Summit, visit ijsummit.com/attend.
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