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Inkjet Summit 2013: Production Inkjet, the True Game Changer

June 2013
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Considering the key role he played at the onset of the print-on-demand revolution in the early 1990s, it was no surprise that Charlie Pesko—founder of InfoTrends and the On Demand Digital Printing Show—had a few words to say at the inaugural Inkjet Summit held April 9-11. Citing the way the Xeroinaux DocuTech set the printing world on fire back in 1991 and launched the digital transformation of the industry, he noted that inkjet technology was similarly poised to transfigure the printing world.

“Production inkjet printing will be what we call the second stage of digital printing—lower cost and extremely higher speeds than EP (electrophotographic) technology,” proclaimed Pesko in his opening address. “The annual retail value of production inkjet printing will top $10 billion in five years in the U.S. alone. It is a very disruptive technology and will displace both EP/toner-based digital and offset volume. Inkjet is the next big game changer in the printing industry.”

From that point on, the rest of the three-day summit set about proving that statement, and impressing upon the assembled printers the need to act now before their competition beats them to it.

Held at the elegant Ponte Vedra Inn & Club, near Jacksonville, FL, the first-of-its-kind Inkjet Summit drew more than 65 print professionals, comprising CEOs, general managers, and senior vice presidents in charge of plant operations, technology and digital print operations at leading companies, including Allegra Network, Cenveo, Classic Graphics, Consolidated Graphics, Courier Corp., RR Donnelley, DST Output, EarthColor, Hallmark Cards, IWCO Direct, GLS Cos., Japs-Olson, Mercury Print Productions, Total Printing Systems, Tribune Direct, Publishers Printing, Standard Register and Walsworth Publishing, to name a few.

All attendees were hand-picked and vetted by the summit’s organizers, nGage Events and North American Publishing Co. (publisher of Printing Impressions and In-plant Graphics magazines). They spent three days networking and learning from one another, while enjoying a non-stop program of keynotes, panel discussions, case studies and user conversations.

The near-constant flow of information provided printers with an in-depth look at everything involved in making cut-sheet and continuous-feed production inkjet printing work for them—from the effect of paper and ink choices on productivity, to the critical role of automation and in-line finishing on their profitability.

Attendees, some of them admittedly blasé about inkjet at the onset, were bowled over by the deluge of practical knowledge they received. Many commented that they had never considered factors like their digital front ends and other workflow needs, feeding and finishing requirements, as well as paper selection and how profoundly their paper choice could impact print costs and productivity.

Attendees were split into three market segments based on their business focus: books, direct mail/marketing and transactional/transpromo. Sponsors presented case studies for each segment, experts offered industry research on those markets, and current inkjet users lent their experience to some insightful, very interactive discussions.

The enthusiasm of attendees and sponsors alike was very high, with many compliments going to organizers for bringing the two groups together in such an intimate setting. The event included scheduled one-on-one meetings between individual printers and appropriate vendors, a novel approach in the industry that drew praise from all sides.

“The Inkjet Summit provided much needed insight into the current state of inkjet technology and the opportunity to talk to “real” users first-hand,” praised attendee John Lacagnina, CEO of SoftPrint Holdings. “The good, the bad and the ugly about inkjet were all there—just what is needed to make informed decisions.”

John McGrath, print technology coordinator at Veritas Document Solutions, a Consolidated Graphics company, agreed. “The event was extremely informative whether you were an asset owner or potential inkjet purchaser. The environment allowed for great sharing of ideas among peers, and the one-on-ones with suppliers really helped expand my knowledge of the products available in the market.”

The Inkjet Summit featured leading industry vendors in the burgeoning inkjet printing business. Canon Solutions America, Finch Paper, Ricoh Production Print Solutions and Xerox Corp. were all Keynote-level sponsors, while companies like Appleton Coated, EFI, Fujifilm, GMC Software, Impika, KBA North America, Konica Minolta, Mitsubishi Imaging, Muller Martini, New Direction Partners, Pitney Bowes, RISO, Scodix, Solimar Systems and Unisource were also major supporters. Noticeably absent were some of the continuous-feed inkjet press manufacturers, which chose to sit out the first year of the event.

Dustin Graupman, vice president and general manager, Inkjet Business, at Xerox Corp. was pleased that his company was a sponsor. “This event was a great success. Because of the unique nature of the production inkjet opportunity, the value everyone got out of the dialogue was fantastic,” he noted. “We may find that this type of event portends the future of the industry ‘trade show,’ which has long been as much, or more, about information sharing and relationship building than about showing new equipment.”

George Promis, vice president, Production Solutions & Technology Alliances at Ricoh, agreed that the Inkjet Summit provided printers with a unique opportunity to network and share views, business directions and perspectives on the future role of inkjet technology in the industry. “Building relationships and communicating directly with customers is vital to our business, and we welcomed the summit’s innovative approach in balancing informative sessions with one-on-one meetings with high-quality attendees.

(Videos featuring Tonya Powers from Canon Solutions America and Dave Bell from Mitsubishi Imaging sharing their feedback on the value of participating in the inaugural Inkjet Summit can also be viewed at www.piworld.com/video-services/)

Speakers Provide Strong Educational Component

Organizers secured some of the top experts in the digital printing business to speak at the summit, including Conference Chair Charlie Corr, former vice president of corporate strategy for Mimeo and ex-group director at InfoTrends; Howie Fenton, NAPL senior consultant; Marco Boer, vice president of IT Strategies; Gilles Biscos, president of Interquest; Elizabeth Gooding, president of Gooding Communications Group; and Skip Henk, president and CEO of Xplor.

In addition, Kent Smith, manager of strategic business planning with the U.S. Postal Service, gave a lunchtime presentation that detailed the challenges facing the USPS and how it envisions its future.

In his opening keynote, Corr called inkjet “the disruptive digital printing technology” that will challenge offset and allow the industry to move forward. He was not, however, talking about the quality of inkjet or electrophotography compared to offset. For now, offset has won this battle. However not every job requires the highest quality, he pointed out, and these “good enough” color jobs are where the opportunities lie.

One key message at the Inkjet Summit, repeated by many of the speakers, was that inkjet technology is ready for prime time, so start making plans now to move in this direction.

“This market’s moving faster than even I anticipated it would,” proclaimed Corr. He was backed up by Fenton, who said, “This early-adopter phase is not a bad place to be.” During the next decade or so, he added, equipment prices will drop and inkjet will “cross the chasm” and become a commodity. Early adopters, Fenton noted, get “first dibs” on customers.

Much attention was paid to paper. The need for special paper or application of a bonding agent adds costs and is hindering adoption, Fenton said. The type of paper you use will affect your duty cycle, performance and costs. Also affecting productivity are roll changes, which many new users forget about, leading them to overestimate potential productivity. And don’t forget, Fenton added, inkjet-printed papers don’t de-ink and recycle as well as toner pages.

Ink coverage also impacts costs and runnability, speakers emphasized. More ink on a page means a longer drying time. It also increases the chance that pages will curl, impacting how well it runs through the finishing equipment. One recommendation was to keep coverage at less than 30 percent.

The faster and more consistently you keep your press running, the more life it and your inkjet heads will have, speakers stressed. Conversely, the more you stop the press, the less life. Boer noted that most users are profitable with a minimum of 4 million pages a month, at which point color inkjet will cost less than toner. At 10 million pages a month, he said, inkjet costs will be much closer to offset costs.

Determining the Total Cost of Ownership
Discussions on cost of operation of inkjet seemed to all come back to the idea that costs will differ for each user. Still, noted Fenton, it’s critical to determine your total cost of ownership so you know when it’s safe to go below cost.

Speakers noted that inkjet presses have fewer moving parts than toner-based digital printing equipment, thus will have lower maintenance costs than people imagine.

“The real cost in this is in the time,” noted Boer, meaning the learning curve and the process of figuring out how to get additional value out of the press by offering new products that currently can’t be done.

Current inkjet users warned that black-and-white shops that move into color inkjet will need to hire people who understand color. They will also need to teach clients how to prepare color jobs for inkjet. Designers must produce inkjet-friendly designs and set up files correctly for printing.

“Make sure you know where those pages are going to come from,” urged Boer. He has seen buyers set up enough business to get started, but it’s the next 20 customers that prove to be more challenging.

As awareness of inkjet’s benefits grows, he said, this will get easier. But it will also get easier for your competition, so delaying a year could mean missing the boat.

Users noted that customers who are used to offset shells imprinted with variable text may notice the change in image reproduction quality for hybrid jobs shifted over to an inkjet press, and expect to pay less. So, you’ll have to be prepared to show them the benefits they can get from inkjet production printing, which more than make up for the quality difference and which include far higher personalization.

Users stressed the importance of doing plenty of research into the technology, talking with current inkjet operators, having a thorough understanding of where your work will come from and allowing enough time for the transition to inkjet. Future scalability should also be considered, since inkjet press models will continue to run faster, print wider and produce higher quality.

The inkjet user panel for the book segment featured Gary Calleo, RR Donnelley; Stephen Franzino, Courier Corp.; Rick Lindemann, Total Printing Systems; and Christian Schamberger, Mercury Print Productions. The direct mail specialist panel comprised Mark DeBoer, Darwill; Dave Johannes, IWCO Direct; Patrick Murray, Japs-Olson; and Lou Tazioli, Tribune Direct. Discussing transactional/transpromo inkjet applications were John Augustine, TransCentra; Gene Rauch, Incepture Print Solutions; and Gary Powell, Allstate Insurance.

As voted on by the Inkjet Summit attendees, the “Company to Watch Out For” winner was Canon Solutions America. Muller Martini was honored for giving the “Best Sponsor Case History Presentation.” And Courier’s Stephen Franzino was chosen by the Advisory Board as the “Best Overall Contributing Attendee” for his involvement in the user panel discussions, group meetings and peer-to-peer networking opportunities.

By the end of the event—which came to a polished conclusion with an elegant awards banquet featuring a comic and closing remarks from the event organizers—attendees and sponsors alike were eager to know if there would be another Inkjet Summit in a year’s time. Organizers were happy to confirm this.

It will take place April 7-9, 2014, at the same venue, and all signs point to next year’s conference being bigger and better than even this year’s hugely successful experience. For more information on the 2014 event, visit www.ijsummit.com. PI
    —Reporting Provided by Bob Neubauer and Mark Michelson
 

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