“Since we invested in cut-sheet inkjet, it’s been a game-changer,” says Rick Baker of Print Tech of Western Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), who is fueling up on coffee and food, preparing for the day ahead. He is attending the Inkjet Summit – his “third or fourth time” – to source continuous-feed inkjet, which will represent a move up from his current cut-sheet devices. For all Inkjet Summit attendees, Baker included, this second day of the event will take them closer to the solutions they seek – toward the business-building technologies that will define their next phase.
The Benefits of Digital
The morning’s kick-off, efficiency-focused panel discussion, “Digital Print: It’s About Efficiency and Effectiveness,” moderated by industry consultant Barb Pellow, manager of Pellow and Partners, focused on how digital printing can bring an elevated experience for those concepting, sourcing, and consuming printed content, and how easier, more flexible, less labor-intensive production can change the printing playing field.
Darrin Wilen, president, Wilen Group (Melville, New York), a commercial printing and direct mail company, shared how inkjet has allowed his company to create more relevant pieces through data-driven marketing. Noting his company experience in inkjet, which started in 2008 or 2009, he says it has enabled, “the ability to harness the power of data. Instead of doing something six weeks in advance, we can do it six days in advance.” Wilen said that as the printing industry continues to evolve, bringing a resurgence of direct mail, and a stronger focus on data management and shorter runs, the model has also changed. “It’s not about how cheap is my piece,” he said, “it’s `what is my ROI,’ or `is it creating conversions?’”
Bringing the digital experiences of book manufacturer Core Publishing Solutions (Eagan, Minnesota), a division of Thomson Reuters, Larry Soler, director, says the market dynamics of the book segment are changing. He highlights an increase in younger readers, more back-list sales, and a higher number of self-published books. Inkjet quality concerns, he added, have also been alleviated, allowing for significant changes in the production model. This, he says, is supplemented by the technology assisting with short runs, a requirement for less labor, easier training, and support for automation. While Soler mentioned strong projections for the book segment, he reflects the uncertainty of the current environment. “My crystal ball is cracked,” he said.
This second day included two additional general sessions to help increase company value and open opportunities for growth and enhance profitability.
Increasing Business Value
In a strategically-focused discussion, “Driving Up the Value of Your Business,” Marco Boer, Inkjet Summit Conference Chair and VP of IT Strategies, and Peter Schaefer, partner at New Direction Partners, discussed the conditions that are driving today’s robust M&A markets, and how companies can position themselves to sell, or to acquire. “We’re seeing M&A activity because the economy is strong,” Schaefer says, “but there is still too much iron out there, so we will see continued consolidation.” Schaefer presented three key strategies for acquisitions: looking for a tuck-in to fill up available capacity, to add a technology or product that will make you more efficient, or if a mature company seeks to purchase a rapidly growing company. He shared that the commercial printing segment has bifurcated into “the haves and the have-nots,” noting that the “haves are the ones with the storefronts, the data analytics.” For sellers, Schaefer says, value comes from differentiation.
An End, of Sorts
In her general session presentation, “It’s Not Finished ‘til It’s Finished,” Pat McGrew, managing director at industry consultancy McGrewGroup, highlighted opportunities in the final, essential step in print production, finishing. Giving finishing the props it truly deserves, she shared how it can be a valuable conduit toward differentiation and a growth-based business strategy.
“The thing we know about high-speed inkjet is that it really is high speed,” she said. As devices get faster and there is higher capacity, finishing needs to be held to the same standard, she explained. Particularly, because printing companies should be thinking of finishing as their differentiator.
“If you aren’t thinking of your finishing capabilities as your differentiator,” she said, “now is a good time to start. … Finishing is equal parts mechanical and art.”
This is where vendors can help printing companies understand what is unfamiliar to them and how to set up the equipment most effectively, McGrew suggested.
Similar to sessions leading up to McGrew’s session, automation was a key focus. She explained that there has been a lot of innovation in automation in the past few years, specifically in the finishing world.
“The more you can automate paper changes on the front end and the faster the roll change happens, the more you can increase the value proposition of your print shop,” she said.
One solution? Robotics. McGrew described four main groups of robotics that could assist in finishing automation: Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs); Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs); Robots; and Collaborative Robots (CoBots).
She explained that although some robots may look “outlandish,” they’re a great solution for repetitive tasks “and they don’t need a coffee break,” she joked.
One example McGrew pointed to was Valpak, which is making use of AGV and AMR technology. In response to an awe-inspiring video that showed how the company has automated paper moving and paper handling without a single operator in sight, McGrew commented “they have gotten automation down to absolute perfection.”
Although implementing a robotic operation as extensive as Valpak isn’t feasible for every print shop, McGrew assured the attendees that there are options in every price range.
Case Studies Get Specific
As a way of highlighting solutions for specific production challenges, and to share how their specific technologies can be used to facilitate these solutions, a series of more than 100 sponsor-driven case studies was presented, organized in tracks to help directly address the needs the communities in attendance. These case studies allow attendees to learn directly from other printers, and to build upon shared experiences. With an average of 12 attendees in each session, the case studies allowed for open discussion and free exchange.
Cory Sawatzki, VP of purchasing, AlphaGraphics, who is attending Inkjet Summit for the first time, said the case studies were informational.
"A lot of times you get that overload from the sales cycle from them calling you and telling you things, but when you get to hear what the actual end users are saying about it, it hits home a lot better," he said. "It answers the questions that we're going to ask as those users."
Seeking a Perfect Fit
For first-time attendees expecting a trade show experience, their first trip to the event's 1:1 Meeting Zone changes their expectations quickly. It is deeper, more personal, more tailored to address specific needs. The space includes tables for each of the Summit’s nearly 60 sponsoring companies, staffed by knowledgeable teams fully prepared to talk specifics: how their printing, finishing, or workflow solution will deliver value to a specific company.
Over the course of the event, attendees had nearly six hours of time to learn, discuss, consider, and return with additional questions – all in support of their goals of building their businesses toward growth.
It’s Not All About Work …
After a busy day filled with sessions, case studies, new concepts and important considerations, Inkjet Summit attendees shared drinks, a generous spread of Texas barbeque, and their thoughts and impressions of the day as evening became night. Alive with boisterous energy, the evening event included games and giveaways, a casual vibe, and the benefits of gained camaraderie.
Summing up the day, attendee Leighton Verderber, supervisor, print and graphics at Sherwin-Williams, said he found the case studies particularly helpful in forging his operation's path ahead. "The time is right for us to make that jump [to inkjet] this year." He is considering the technology, "to produce at comparable quality at lower cost and higher speed."