Inkjet Adoption Fuels Rise of 2014 Inkjet Summit
If a high-speed, production inkjet press is on your shopping list you really needed to be at the Ponte Vedra Inn and Beach Club for the second annual Inkjet Summit. The attendees left no doubt that this 2014 edition was even stronger, more informative and more engaging than the first one, and plans are already in motion to raise the bar still further.
“It was great to see noticeable improvements from last year’s event to this year,” remarked veteran attendee Jimmy Vainstein, senior project manager at The World Bank’s Printing & Multimedia Services operation, which installed an HP T-230 continuous-feed inkjet press last year. “This time around the Inkjet Summit was a bigger event with more users in attendance. This was very positive; as more people come to these events, there is more interaction between industry members. As the industry keeps evolving and growing so does the user base.”
Similar sentiments were expressed by Incepture Senior Director Gene Rauch: “You guys did a wonderful job again this year. What a great conference. Nothing but positive feedback from both attendees and vendors alike. Keep up the good work.”
Organized by nGage Events and North American Publishing Co. (NAPCO, which publishes Printing Impressions, In-plant Graphics and Package Printing magazines), the Inkjet Summit is a very different business model than traditional industry trade shows, conferences or the vendor-run events that take place at their demo centers and customer sites. And that difference is what made it more valuable.
What makes the Inkjet Summit different is the format. nGage and NAPCO brought a couple hundred top-level executives all together at a four-star resort outside of Jacksonville, FL, to learn about the business opportunities offered by integrating a high-speed inkjet system, helping them understand the tools and equipment required, and the steps needed for a successful implementation. Although entirely sponsored by vendors, this conference is not a series of sales pitches from a podium, but instead provides a chance to hear from industry analysts and experts about the size and shape of the market, where the opportunities lie, what to watch out for, and steps to take when integrating this rapidly growing technology into an existing operation. Sessions included industry expert and keynote presentations, boardroom-style case history discussions and, most importantly, panels featuring print providers who shared their candid assessments and commentary on the good, the bad and the risky sides of high-speed inkjet printing.
Structured as a hosted buyer event, more than 90 pre-qualified printers received all expense-paid trips to attend the 2014 Inkjet Summit in exchange for committing to attend all of the scheduled educational, one-on-one and social events. The 36 participating sponsors, a sell-out, comprised the major manufacturers of production inkjet presses, feeding, finishing and postpress equipment; leading inkjet paper/substrate and ink suppliers; and providers of workflow and personalization software. Among them, Keynote-level sponsors this year were Canon Solutions America, Fujifilm, International Paper and Ricoh.
The overarching content is divided into a few large presentations that all attend, but the group quickly divided into small, special interest breakout sessions of about 10 to 25 people. The sessions—where much of the real value lies—focused on the four key areas of opportunity for production inkjet: book production, transactional work such as bills and statements, direct mail, and (new in 2014) general commercial printing. These breakout sessions comprised industry expert presentations and user panels. During the boardroom-style meetings, equipment and software vendors introduced customers who provided real-world examples of how inkjet technology has worked to meet end-customer needs in their businesses and then answered questions about how they have handled the integration. These were not lightweight sessions, and some of the questions and answers got quite detailed and fostered additional one-on-one discussions elsewhere during the conference. The learning and peer-to-peer networking were non-stop throughout the event.
As voted on by the 2014 Inkjet Summit printer attendees, Canon Solutions America was honored for giving the “Best Sponsor Case History Presentation” and the “Company to Watch Out for” recipient was Fujifilm.
About three hours were also set aside each afternoon for attendees to meet with vendors individually—for about 30 minutes at a time—to talk about the challenges they face and how they think inkjet might help them address those challenges. The vendors then explained how their equipment, software or consumables might be a fit for that operation. Rotating from one vendor to another every 30 minutes provided attendees focused exposure to a variety of technologies in a compact time frame and paved the way to future, more detailed discussions, if they so desired. For vendors, it not only generated solid leads, but helped them better understand the issues being experienced by many print providers.
“In this still relatively new stage of market development there is a direct co-dependency by both the manufacturers and the users of this technology to learn from each other and to ensure that the technology produces the monthly page volumes it is intended to produce,” explains Marco Boer, vice president at digital printing consulting firm I.T. Strategies and conference chair of the 2014 Inkjet Summit.
In addition to Boer, other industry experts who participated in the event and served on the program advisory board were Elizabeth Gooding, of Gooding Communications Group; Jim Hamilton, InfoTrends; Skip Henk, Xplor International, Charlie Pesko, founder of InfoTrends and of the former On Demand show; and Mary Schilling, of Schilling Inkjet Consulting.
One element that made this second iteration of the Inkjet Summit so powerful was the presence of numerous print providers who were early adopters of inkjet technology and who were willing to share their experiences. One general session printer panel discussion featured five veteran inkjet users discussing the implementation challenges and other issues they faced. They included Vainstein, of The World Bank; Rauch, of Incepture; Dave Johannes, vice president of digital print at IWCO Direct; Robert Kolva, director of imaging operations at Action Mailers; and Bob Radzis, chief customer officer, SG360°.
Their wish lists, as noted by InfoTrends’ Jim Hamilton, was for vendors to move faster to make current machines more productive through paper, ink and, especially, workflow enhancements. In addition, panelists cited a need for more tools from suppliers to help them better educate their customers about inkjet’s capabilities.
There were also several breakout session printer panels where seasoned inkjet users discussed their overall experiences within specific product niches. Breakout session panelists, for books, included: Steve Franzino, vice president of technology, Courier Corp; and Kevin McVea, senior vice president at Strategic Content Imaging, who was also voted the “Best Overall Contributing Attendee.” For commercial printing: Dave Gilson, president of Gilson Graphics; Paul Gardner, director of innovation at Hudson Printing; and Larry Durso, director, digital operations, at DG3. For direct mail: Mark de Boer, director of customer experience at Darwill; Jeff McFadden, vice president of technology, Universal Wilde; and Pat Murray, director of supply chain and scheduling at Japs-Olson Co. For transactional/transpromo: Dave Smith, operations director at DST Ouput; Mike McCombs, senior vice president of operations, RevSpring Inc.; and Martyn Viquerat, sales and marketing director of Adare Ltd.
All current users reported overall satisfaction with their continuous-feed inkjet devices, further reinforcing that inkjet technology is more robust and dependable than other new technologies at equivalent stages of their lifecycle. The bigger challenge is filling capacity and training sales staffs to articulate the new value propositions that production inkjet provides. “The ability to produce 100 percent variable color graphics at speeds upwards of 4,000 letter-size images/minute opens up all types of new possibilities for the end customers to communicate with their customers, provided the data is in place to adress those customes with a high degree of relevancy,” notes Marco Boer. “This means the print shop sales staff has to now sell well beyond the traditional print buyer and has to communicate with both the marketing department, IT department and, most preferably, the CEO of the end customer organization.”
Because these continuous-feed systems all come with seven-figure price tags, the investment is significant, and inkjet veterans and vendors alike were quick to caution attendees that a formal plan and strategy are essential to success. Adopting this technology is not a “build it and they will come” approach, they noted.
Also, the adoptive strategy cannot simply be transferring jobs from existing offset or toner-based digital presses to the new inkjet machine. In fact, the veterans emphasized, it turns out that the work filling many inkjet presses is largely new, and not replacing existing jobs. This is a critical point, and one that was reiterated in both the general sessions and during the breakout panel discussions.
When implemented based on a strategic plan, high-speed inkjet presses tend to bring in new business from existing clients and from new customers. Inkjet press owners all agreed that being able to eliminate or reduce warehousing costs, print short runs, provide customized or personalized documents and eliminate preprinted forms all resonate with document owners—who are ready and willing to give work to print providers who can deliver on these promises. Many of the established inkjet users started with just one continuous-feed press, now have three or more, and expect to add additional systems to keep up with demand.
Two other issues relative to inkjet technology also came up: print head life and print quality. With tens of billions of pages now being printed annually by production inkjet presses, head life has proven to be a non-issue. In fact, head life is turning out to be far longer than vendors actually expected, and the more an inkjet press is run, the better the heads seem to work. Also, vendors have instituted measures for cleaning and servicing heads to increase their useful lives.
Print quality is also not a concern for the applications being run on big inkjet machines. While there are still jobs that will probably always be better suited for offset or electrophotographic systems, the range of jobs that can be successfully and profitably produced on inkjet presses is growing. Direct mail, transactional and text books are among the leading applications, but one inkjet veteran with multiple inkjet presses showed examples of personalized inserts that were polybagged with quality-conscious upscale women’s fashion magazines produced by Hearst Publications.
However, paper selection still drives just how good the quality can be, and attendees heard that while paper is not the barrier to inkjet success it was a few years ago, the selection of papers is still limited. But this is changing rapidly and new, inkjet-friendly papers from the major paper companies are reaching the market for all types of applications. And, not a moment too soon, as today’s production inkjet users continue to push the envelope of new applications that require broader ranges of substrates, including glossy coated offset grades.
The emergence of color production inkjet cutsheet presses was also a topic of discussion, especially within the new commercial printing track. Today’s primary market offerings include the Fujifilm J Press 720, Screen Truepress JetSX and RISO ComColor, but other devices from the likes of Komori, Konica-Minolta and Canon Solutions—among other vendors not represented at the Inkjet Summit—have been announced and are in various stages of product development and commercial availability. These cutsheet models will enable smaller- and mid-size printers, which would lack the need for a continuous-feed press, to acquire a smaller-footprint and more affordable color inkjet printer. These devices could supplant a range of low- and mid-volume commercial printing jobs currently output on sheetfed offset presses, as well as the shorter-run and variable data work currently being produced on toner-based digital printers.
Praised by one prominent printer attendee as the HP “Dscoop user group meeting equivalent for inkjet press users,” the Inkjet Summit garnered positive feedback from industry analysts, sponsors and, most importantly, the printer attendees. As Jim Hamilton wrote in his InfoTrends blog describing the open-source conference: “The 2014 Inkjet Summit was a fascinating and engaging event. Print service providers in a buying cycle should definitely consider attending next year, if you can wrangle an invitation from the organizers. The Inkjet Summit has a bit of a user group feel to it, because of its high-volume inkjet focus, and that’s an important benefit to attendees because they can participate, share and learn in a multi-vendor environment in ways that just aren’t possible at other events.”
Stephen Sanker, director of inkjet presses at Fujifilm, was pleased with his company’s sponsorship again this year. “The Inkjet Summit is shaping the dynamic between industry leaders for knowledge sharing and education in every respect. We find the very high level relationship development that takes place at this event to be a great way for Fujifilm to communicate our core values and guiding principles behind our company and our solutions. We look forward to the ongoing expansion of this event; there is clearly a new standard for return on investment coming for conferences and exhibits in our industry. Fujifilm is all in for 2015!”
One printer attendee who runs a substantial direct mail operation also summed up the value of the event well. “I’m going to pull the trigger on one of these presses. The Inkjet Summit is an ideal way to really understand the things I need to consider and to help me decide which system is the best fit for my business.” PI
—Reporting by Mark Michelson and Noel Ward