Welcome to 2018 – Time Flies as Inkjet Accelerates

By Elizabeth Gooding / Published:

Suddenly, it’s a new year.

It’s been coming on steadily for 365 days and then “time” happened over night. Those are the tricks that time plays. Many people who had vacation might say that the time flew by, while others will note how time “slowed down” as they relaxed. Unless you are traveling at the speed of light, time is constant. However, the rate of technological and economic change is not. In that context, time flies.

Technology is changing the face of the economy. Consider that 10 years ago, or even 5 years ago, only 1 out of 5 of the top publicly traded companies by market capitalization was a technology firm (Microsoft). As of November 2017, 4 out of 5 of the top publicly traded firms by market cap were technology firms: Apple, Alphabet (Google), Microsoft and Amazon. It would have been 5 out of 5 but Facebook was edged off the list by Berkshire Hathaway.

Is printing a technology industry? Arguably digital printing is a technology industry.  R&D money is pouring into the development of faster, more productive and increasingly flexible digital technology. Leading printing organizations are investing in both technology and data services to deliver new capabilities to the market. Technology and data the two levers that seem to make the world go faster. They certainly make markets change faster. Think about Netflix, Uber and Airbnb, just three examples of technology and data driven start-ups suddenly dominating an established industry.

Could this happen in the printing industry? Sure. Any time someone comes up with a way to remove friction, increase automation, or remove a layer between the end consumer and the product being consumed they gain a competitive advantage because with printing, like everything else, time is money.

Time is money

Time is money for printers and their customers. Customers want faster time to market so that they can leverage their own investments in data. A direct mail campaign that can be personalized in full color and delivered within a day or two of a new price, promotion or consumer-driving event (like a snow storm or a heat-wave) can compete more effectively with (or complement) an online campaign more effectively than one that takes weeks to process with offset shells and mono digital overprinting.

Book printers know that the touchless delivery of single-book orders through e-commerce channels has become a competitive necessity.

Transaction printers have always been working against the clock – but deadlines are getting shorter and quality expectations are getting higher.

In any of these segments, lack of automation means one company will spend more time doing things than its more automated competitors. That extra time may mean that that they can’t deliver in the time frame that their customers demand – or a at a price that their customers are willing to pay.

The Time is Now

To survive and thrive, the printing industry needs to reinvent itself through automation and innovation. Every step in the process: product design, customer acquisition, ordering, manufacturing, distribution, billing and customer service must be examined. Can it be done better, faster, more efficiently? Can you do something that no one else has thought of?

Is there an Alexa for print services? Not yet, but the capability exists. What if you are finally getting around to choosing a web-to-print solution when you could be the first to deliver a voice-based, “virtual assistant” print-buying solution?

Are you finally getting around to justifying a new printer purchase when you should be re-thinking the end-to-end process? These days, automating a piece at a time can be a colossal waste of time.

Don’t Waste Time

In the recent past, print organizations have typically spent 12 to 24 months evaluating their inkjet investments (many in-plants have spent multiple years on the justification). Markets and technology are moving too quickly to allow that luxury. Inkjet innovators are grabbing volume from their less-automated brethren across market segments, as well as generating net new pages due to inkjet’s inherent opportunities for cost-effective versioning and personalization.

While offset is still the dominant production method, its page volume is projected to have a negative compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of -1 percent between 2017 and 2020. By contrast, production inkjet pages are projected to have a CAGR of 26 percent during the same period. Digital printing as a whole is also growing, but only a 5.3 percent CAGR is projected. Digital toner devices have topped out in terms of speed and can’t compete economically with inkjet for high-volume personalization and versioning. By 2020, inkjet is projected to produce 62 percent of digital marketing collateral, 77 percent of digital pages in the book segment and 85 percent of digital direct mail volume.[1]

Inkjet has been a transformative factor in retooling production processes to enable super-efficient products in these segments. Many companies who already own inkjet are the first in line to evaluate new devices as they come on the market (particularly sheet-fed devices), add field upgradable options or expand their finishing lines to enable new services.

The bottom line is that inkjet growth is accelerating. Therefore, the processes used to evaluate and successfully implement inkjet must also accelerate. Rather than an annual exercise, strategy must become a core capability that enables continuous improvement:

  • Continually evaluate new devices and device options
  • Scan the market for papers that deliver higher quality, use less ink or both
  • Probe software processes for opportunities to improve integration, drive out manual processes and gain insight on customer trends.

Earlier I said technology and data are the two levers that seem to make the world go faster. They are also the levers that can help your business grow faster.

Just in Time

Inkjet Insight is here to help organizations accelerate their success with production inkjet. Our New Year’s resolution is to help as many organizations as possible become educated on the potential of inkjet for their business while helping current inkjet adopters to be become increasingly productive and innovative.

In 2017 we launched the site with RFP checklists and Customer Education Tools and quickly added Paper Finder, Device Finder and Software Finder to enable a continuous evaluation process. We will continue to offer a range of free content for printers and suppliers who register on the site. We also have a growing range of premium content (e.g. quality analysis tools and requirements gathering workbooks) that is funded by our member’s support.  Expect more great tools in 2018 as we accelerate our development to help you accelerate yours.

Happy New Year.


Time Flies. You're the Pilot

[1] Source: 2014 NPES World-Wide Market for Print


About the Author

Elizabeth Gooding


Elizabeth is the Editor and Co-founder of Inkjet Insight. She has a rare ability to see print related issues from many perspectives. She has managed creative teams on complex design projects, selected outsourcers for major brands and helped print organizations to retool operations, focus their market positioning and educate sales teams to accelerate growth. She works with a team of top analysts to translate experiences into tools, data and content to help print organizations evaluate the potential of inkjet, optimize their operations and grow pages profitably. She is a founding member of the Inkjet Summit advisory board, the co-author of an award-winning book on designing for inkjet and a curious consultant constantly seeking innovative ways to drive new pages onto inkjet presses.

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