11th Annual Inkjet Summit Takes Flight in Austin
The following article was originally published by Printing Impressions. To read more of their content, subscribe to their newsletter, Today on PIWorld.
Every seat was filled as more than 310 printing professionals convened at the Hyatt Lost Pines Resort in Austin, Texas, for the opening sessions of the 11th annual Inkjet Summit.
Keynote Proposes New Models
Marco Boer, VP of I.T. Strategies and Inkjet Summit conference chair, presented the keynote session, providing a view of the current state of high-production inkjet printing and the factors changing the printing playing field. Boer said the COVID-19 pandemic caused change in the printing industry to accelerate: paper pricing has more than doubled, labor costs are up by more than 30%. Consumables are also up. “Printing,” Boer said, “has gotten a lot more expensive … print will become a luxury product.” The result will be a change in business model.
The challenges currently faced by the industry are many, Boer said, including a dramatically smaller workforce and the disappearance of paper mills. This brings about what he refers to as “common requirements” to success. Moving forward, automation will not be an option, customers will require real-time dashboard connectivity, and labor will move from press skills to data skills. He added faster turnaround – from the beginning to the end of the job – will become essential.
Boer described digital printing within commercial printing as a niche within a large industry that is growing, and will continue to. “The growth of this industry,” he said, “has been truly staggering.” For inkjet, which is increasingly known for image quality that is “more than good enough,” and productivity that is “really good, but with space to grow,” one challenging aspect is total cost to operate. The comparisons with offset are hard to establish, he said, especially when finishing is involved.
Regarding the business model change, he says the commercial printing industry must embrace it to move forward, Boer adds, “We need it, not to drive more volume, but to drive more value – we’re heading in that direction.”
The R&D/User Continuum
The efforts of equipment manufacturers are paramount in driving inkjet forward, and a panel discussion moderated by Barbara Pellow, manager at Pellow and Partners, followed R&D updates from the Summit’s platinum sponsors with real-life examples from printing companies well-established in their inkjet journeys.
Eric Kahn, executive chairman at Graphic Village, (Cincinnati, Ohio), says the 225-person company serves markets including manufacturing, health care, and transactional, and provides commercial printing and other services. The shop recently added a SCREEN Trupress Jet 520 HD with near-line Hunkeler finishing. The quality of inkjet, he says, is just as good as offset, speeds are amazing, and it works with traditional stocks. The impact on Graphic Village has been a reduced need for labor and the ability to do a lot more work using a streamlined process, at a lower cost.
Tom Boyle, executive VP of sales and marketing, Heeter, a commercial printing company located in Cannonsburg, Pennsylvania, says the company serves gaming, health insurance, and financial markets — those that need personalization and variability. Heeter has a long history with production inkjet, having adopted its first press in 2015. A need for quick response and to reduce turn times led the company toward roll-fed inkjet solutions. Heeter is now serving as beta site for a Ricoh Z74 cutsheet inkjet press. Inkjet systems have enabled the company to take on work that was once off-shored, the drying systems can handle a wider range of stocks, and a single operator can run two machines.
Randy Scamacca, VP and GM at SG360° (Wheeling, Illinois), says the company has a portfolio including sheetfed and web-fed offset, and digital printing. It started with digital technology in 2012, and installed an HP PageWide system in 2022. The company is currently adding another PageWide system to its portfolio. Output is “near output,” and the system will run up to 800 fpm in mono mode. Scamacca described how finding offset operators today is “nearly impossible,” and added that finding labor to run digital systems is easier. The digital systems have allowed the company to expand to new customers, and it continues to move digital sheetfed work to inkjet. Looking ahead, he says he doesn’t see SG360° investing in new offset equipment.
Jared Carr, director of operations at Toppan Merrill (Houston, Texas), said the commercial printer serves health care and financial markets, and works to simplify the complexity of regulated communications. He says the company started in production inkjet nearly 10 years ago with an investment in a Canon VarioPrint i3000. The shop purchased a Canon VarioPrint iX in 2022. Toppan Merrill abandoned its last offset press in late 2022. “We are now a fully digital facility,” Carr said. With inkjet, the company is seeing unparalleled speed and improved production efficiency and has a goal of 100% displacement of toner technology.
Speaking Truth to Inkjet's Power
In the day’s final general session, Mark Michelson, editor-in-chief of Printing Impressions, invited a panel to the dais to discuss their unvarnished experiences with production inkjet technologies.
Adam LeFebvre, president at Specialty Print Communications (Niles, Illinois), which serves financial services and retail industries, said the company has a letter shop that processes 1.5 billion pieces of mail per year — making it the largest post office in Chicago. The shop has numerous Canon inkjet systems, including two ProStreams, one ColorStream, and an i300. “We knew early on that we wanted to be in the inkjet business,” he said. “We entered this market with no intention of converting business to inkjet.” He says he sees inkjet as a pillar of the company future with a goal of increasing output within the same footprint, and to “produce things faster with less labor.”
LeFebvre also implored all inkjet press manufacturers to work toward lowering their ink prices.
Steven Lewis, director, printing division at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City, Utah), a 215 employee in-plant focusing on perfect bound books, saddle stitched magazines, scripture, and missionary pamphlets, often on lightweight paper. His shop uses an HP PageWide T250 press and a Fujifilm J Press. Tasked with publishing magazines in more than 40 languages, he says, “we started to look at what inkjet could do for us. We’re able to do quantities of one, where on offset, I had to do a minimum of 3,000 signatures.” The J Press is used to produce covers for books and to reproduce. “The J Press has given us really good quality,” he said. “It’s what helped people accept inkjet at the church.
Jennifer Pettinger, COO at Sun Print Solutions (West Valley City, Utah), a 100% women-owned business, said the company focuses on commercial print, folding carton, and direct-mail segments. The company installed an HP DesignJet T250 during 2020, and recently added a Delphax envelop press. Both have served to simplify labor. Pettinger described knowing which printing system to use when — thereby maximizing capability and capacity — as being a work in progress. She shared that operator education has been effective in gaining labor acceptance for new technologies.
Building the Inkjet Community
The day concluded amid food and drinks, as new connections were made and existing friendships were refreshed. Attendees shared knowledge and experience while they worked to better define their paths ahead.
Ashley Roberts is the Managing Editor of the Printing & Packaging Group.