Production print providers across industry segments recently gathered at the Hunkeler Innovation Days (HID) Conference in Switzerland. The show was wildly successful by all metrics. Attendance numbers exceeded that of the last HID in 2019. While predominantly a European show, US attendance also increased over 2019. Attendees were there to make decisions about new investments in print, workflow and finishing. Attendee enthusiasm was palpable. Conference attendees were eager to see colleagues, friends, and new technology.
Innovation on Display
Several major original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) announced enhancements to their print platforms with improved speeds, throughput and expanded media flexibility. Solutions from Canon, Kodak and Screen focused on driving offset pages to inkjet with new innovations. The print solutions demonstrated impressive return on investment with improved end-to-end workflow, along with increased speed to produce more finished pieces per hour.
Many innovations included strategic partnerships between multiple suppliers and competitors. Working together they are offering new solutions with automation for pre-processing and inline finishing options. Several exhibitors had new solutions including those they had co-developed with other suppliers or included through reseller agreements. The expanded offerings demonstrated how leveraging the best from multiple suppliers’ IP and processes is driving innovation.
They Came to Shop
I spoke with many attendees about what drove their decision to attend. They came to shop. Many were looking for solutions that would address their challenges with labor and customers’ time to market. Attendees had done their initial research and were eager to see demonstrations showing improved automation, fewer touch points and the ability to reduce labor costs in their manufacturing process. Many were looking to negotiate deals on solutions they had been considering for months. Seeing software and finishing solutions running jobs was critical to supporting their final selection process. Decision makers had made the effort to attend HID to see solutions running live from multiple suppliers in one location rather than going to smaller single suppliers’ events hosted at their customer demo locations.
From many conversations with attendees, the top four criteria informing investments for hardware, software and finishing were in response to the need to:
- Improve automation
- Simplify workflow
- Improve throughput
- Decrease manufacturing time
Attendees across segments – direct mailers, book printers, transactional service providers and in-plants in the US and Europe – stated their biggest challenge was labor. And their investment decisions were focused on how to reduce labor cost, time, and touch points from receipt of order to finished product shipped.
They were looking for faster printing and finishing. They were reevaluating inline finishing solutions for shorter and medium-length jobs. For example, many shared the desire for one operator to be able to run more than one device at a time. And many stated their goal to reduce manual touch points in bindery and finishing.
Commercial printers spoke about the need to simplify their complex workflows to make it easier to train new staff and process jobs faster. Book printers spoke of their need to implement better finishing to get from printed book blocks to final shipments leaving their facilities. Transactional printers were looking at new solutions to support expanding their capabilities to produce direct mail.
In addition to hardware and software, attendees were also looking for suppliers to offer professional services to support software integrations and training for onboarding new employees. Attendees were seeking out solutions that required less-skilled operators and had built-in intelligence to reduce overall learning curves. They repeatedly shared goals of faster time to market with newly installed solutions. Several attendees indicated they were examining their end-to-end workflows to simplify pre-processing steps prior to printing and reduce steps for finishing.
When asked about which partners they valued, attendees spoke of suppliers that listened to their concerns and were offering multiple service models. Managers of inkjet operations appreciate suppliers that offer reliable and consistent service, because they see the benefits of regular maintenance enabling reliable printers with extreme uptime.
Everyone I spoke with agreed that inkjet devices from many OEMs are producing exceptional image quality. While there is some buzz about what the newer HD inks can provide, the consensus is that inkjet image quality meets and exceeds end users’ demands. Service providers are moving jobs from offset and toner devices to inkjet in many cases, without formal notice to their clients or approvals of samples. The drive for new investments is all about workflow automation, and increased throughput to deliver clients better time to market. Labor challenges are impacting printers in all geographies.
Printers in all segments will invest in new solutions that simplify their workflows, reduce touch points, and allow their current staff to do more in less time. Small improvements in automation are making a big impact in optimizing labor.