2021 Inkjet Summit Begins
The 2021 Inkjet Summit kicked off the afternoon of Monday, July 26, at the Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort, near Austin, Texas, punctuating strong evidence of a resurgent post-pandemic printing industry. Hundreds of people, including two dozen in-plant managers, came to Austin for the event and have spent the week engaged in deep conversations about inkjet and other issues.
The event is sponsored by more than 40 industry suppliers and association partners serving the cut-sheet and continuous-feed production inkjet printing market. This includes “Keynote” level sponsors Canon Solutions America, HP Inc., Ricoh USA, and SCREEN Americas. The audience is comprised of 120-plus commercial, direct mail, transactional, publishing (books, magazines, and catalogs), and in-plant printing professionals motivated to step into, or expand within, inkjet print production. The annual Inkjet Summit is organized by In-plant Impressions, Printing Impressions, PRINTING United Alliance, and NAPCO Media.
The Inkjet Opportunity Explained
During the Inkjet Summit’s Keynote Presentation, Marco Boer, VP of IT Strategies, spoke of the turbulent world faced in the past year by print providers, their customers, and everyone else. He spoke of the tumult of COVID-19 and the lifestyle changes it necessitated. He mentioned a growing interest in sustainability, coupled with supply chain issues and political polarization. He also presented compelling trends that speak to changes in market requirements and print buying behavior, and the conditions that make inkjet adoption a solid choice for digital production.
Boer said that while sales of new sheetfed offset presses are declining, the productivity of today's highly automated presses is increasing, leading to excess offset capacity. This reality, however, is offset by changes in the segment both during and since COVID-19. While some offset business lost during the pandemic has come back, he says it will likely not recover completely because the needs of customers have changed. He says that while only 9% of pages today are printed using inkjet, those same pages are much more profitable and of higher value than those printed using offset, partly because of the commoditization of offset and consolidation that's occurring in the commercial segment. Boer contends that fewer pages are being printed, in part, due to both higher paper costs and flattened print budgets.
The time is right for inkjet, Boer says, and profitability in that area can expand because users of the technology can offer new and different services, including approaches such a micro-runs, increased personalization and relevancy, and expansion into new application areas. As the capabilities for inkjet production – higher speeds, a wide diversity of stocks, and the inherent abilities of digital printing – have grown, the technology is delivering additional value to print, and presenting new opportunities for print service providers to engage the customer.
Realizing the Benefits
A panel discussion, moderated by Barb Pellow (Pellow & Partners), featured four printing professionals sharing their inkjet experiences and offering recommendations to their peers.
Casey Hendrick, COO of United Mail and a Canon Solutions America press user, said that while marketing dollars were on hold during the COVID year, the company worked to offer new services, including more variability-based campaigns and an increase in fulfillment services. Cheryl Kahanec, CEO of the Quantum Group, which uses HP PageWide inkjet solutions, said that during the past year her company mailed more than 100 million direct pieces for its clients – a 60% growth rate. Further, Kahanec added that Quantum Group changed its service mix because its clients, the focus of which is Fortune 1000 companies, had changed.
Michelle Steinberg, CEO of Sepire, an all-digital company (and user of Ricoh continuous-feed inkjet solutions) focused on healthcare, insurance, and direct mail, said that her company has benefited from its inkjet-based approach because, “customers need more now than they ever have before.” She added that the team at Sepire is essential in moving it forward. Finally, Geoffrey Eisenberg of Tidewater Direct, a direct mail component parts provider and SCREEN inkjet user, spoke of his company’s inkjet journey. He said inkjet is essential in helping his trade printing operation emphasize personalization, focus on customer acquisition, increase speed to market, and achieve faster response on price quotes.
Asked to provide recommendations for other inkjet users, Hendrick suggested companies focus on people, personalization, technology, and being easy to work with. Kahanec advised others to be open minded, accept changes, and listen to customers to meet their needs. Sepire’s Steinberg advised investing in inkjet now, saying there is no better time to add those capabilities. She said companies should figure out their paths and then stay the course, be transparent, and automate everything. Last, Eisenberg urged companies to make their inkjet investments impactful, and to carefully consider finishing technologies into the end-to-end workflow equation.
All Signs Point to Now
Drawing meaning from the input provided by the panel of print professionals, conference chair Marco Boer called forward a panel of industry analysts: Barbara Pellow, Bob Neubauer editor-in-chief of In-plant Impressions, Nathan Safran of NAPCO Research, and David Zwang of Zwang & Co. Each discussed what they’ve gained from their experience with hundreds of companies from across the printing spectrum to offer trends and observations for those already using or considering production inkjet.
Asked by Boer to offer their suggestions, Pellow offered that while marketing executives are seeking personalization via direct mail, they may want auxiliary marketing services including follow-up emails, help with data management, and IP targeting. Safran offered research data, stating that printers' sales and confidence have increased drastically. In Q1 of 2020, he reported, only 4% of print provider respondents reported sales growth, as compared to 78% in Q2 of 2021.
Zwang spoke of the benefits of automation and workflow, identifying color management as a way to make production easier and achieve standardization between processes. Neubauer reported that in-plant operations can utilize inkjet to increase their value to their parent organization by adding inexpensive color to documents that were previously monochrome. He added that the technology can also eliminate the high maintenance costs incurred by toner equipment, since inkjet presses have uptimes above 90%.
The annual Inkjet Summit, now in its ninth year, is an invitation-only, hosted-buyer event designed to bring carefully-vetted printing professionals and industry vendors for meaningful connections, purposeful discussions, and top-notch networking. To be considered for a future Inkjet Summit, visit ijsummit.com/attend.
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