As we enter 2020, now is a good time to have a look back at what mattered for inkjet production print in Europe in 2019.
The big inkjet event in 2019 for Europe was undoubtedly the Hunkeler Innovation Days. From humble beginnings as an open house of a finishing equipment manufacturer the event morphed into the most important trade show for document-oriented inkjet production printing. The visitor numbers for 2019 improved again from about 6,000 to 6,500 and about 100 exhibitors from around the world were present. While most of the visitors are still from Switzerland and surrounding countries the portion of overseas visitors increased again, with the share of visitors from the Americas doubling to 9%. Judging by the focus and the quality of attendees this show even eclipses drupa in importance for CF inkjet. The most important take-away of the event was the maturity level that production continuous feed inkjet printing has reached. Vendors demonstrated that given the right paper and production conditions quality is not a concern anymore. See Inkjet Insight at Hunkeler
Environmental issues remained big in 2019, probably even gaining momentum. One of the main focus areas of the newly elected European Commission for the next five-year term will be the environment. Currently the printing industry is subject to continuous restrictions of its solvent emissions (VOCs). New limit values will be adopted for large heatset, gravure and flexo printers in 2020 and those will be applicable as of 2024. Inkjet solvent emissions are usually much lower but could become the target of scrutiny as well. The current commission made a commitment that, by 2030, all plastic packaging will have to be reusable or easily recyclable. This might not all be bad news since, for example, the proposed ban on plastic straws in the European Union (for 2021, or in some countries even 2020) is a boon for paper-based alternatives, with some printing companies starting to supply those.
Recycled paper usage will be on the rise as well, but not immediately. The Chinese ban on waste imports, implemented in January 2018, has led to “a crisis situation” in the European paper recycling sector. It led to an oversupply of recovered paper and plummeting prices according to the European Recycling Industries Confederation (EuRIC). For years China was a major importer of waste paper, not only because China lacks pulp, also because the waste paper was used as cheap ballast for empty container vessels returning to China. While new European paper recycling centres are being built, it will take another two to five years before they are available, and this will improve the availability of recycled paper grades.
Sometimes the effects of a regulation touching the printing industry becomes only visible some time after. GDPR (the European privacy regulation) came into effect in May 2018. There was some unclarity however on how the regulation will affect the direct mail industry. The regulation would give consumers a lot more rights on how personal information would be stored and used for marketing purposes. As the main objective of the regulation it does require opt-ins for electronic media channels and data processing, while physical mail is based on a “opt-out” model. There are some more regulations to adhere to, for example strict policies on storing and processing data and having a data security officer in the company. Fines could be drastic: up to 4% of the annual turnover. The expectation was that direct mail would be affected much less than electronic channels and might even benefit. But it seems that insecurity prevailed and direct mail was negatively affected as well. The UK household panel of Wilmington Millennium found that direct mail volumes dropped by 30%. It is likely that other countries had strong volume declines in 2019, but data is lacking so far.
With respect to inkjet product introductions, 2019 was a quiet year in Europe. This is no surprise as drupa 2020 looms large. The Hunkeler Innovation Days in February did bring lots of progress and improvements on existing inkjet devices, but little true news. For example, Ricoh showed the VC70000 but had announced it 9 months before. Later in the year two interesting launches did make it to the European market. In October, 4 months later than in the US, the Xerox Baltoro was launched in Europe. With Kyocera and the TASKalfa Pro 15000c a new entrant joined the fray in production inkjet later in the year. The Pro 15000c was previewed more than a year before, but now the device is for sale and the first devices are in operation in Europe and more shipments are expected before year end.
A major event that did not happen in 2019 is Brexit. The printing industry might not be in the limelight of discussions when it comes to Brexit, but the impact will not be small either. The BPIF (British Printing Industries Federation) reckons that approximately 50% of all UK print exports are to the EU – £1.4bn of £2.9bn, whilst only 35% of imports are from the EU. Almost all of the positive trade balance in printed products is as a result of EU trade. Tariffs or lengthy border procedures can endanger this. The supply chain will be affected as well. The bulk of raw material used for print is obviously paper and board – however the UK is not a big producer of both. Most paper and board is imported and with 80% stemming from Europe price rises and disruptions are likely if no agreements with the EU can be reached. A post-referendum survey of the BPIF suggested that companies held the impression that the overall effect of Brexit would have a negative impact upon business.
Finally, on a somber note, Xerox closed the former Impika site in Aubagne, France. After Impika was acquired by Xerox in 2013 the site had been leading the CF inkjet developments for Xerox. Before, Impika developed and sold a good number of CF inkjet products and also supplied the VL-Series to Kodak. Closing the site has been under wraps for a while not to endanger the undertaking by violating French labour laws. In the future all Xerox inkjet developments will be made in the US.
With a sluggish economy, Europe will remain a difficult market in 2020. But all industry news and events next year will be dwarfed by drupa and we at Inkjet Insight look forward to reporting directly from the show. Will you be at drupa? Please get in touch.