As Inkjet Technology Matures, More Printers Reach the Summit
Production inkjet presses are not plug-and-play systems. Marco Boer, VP of IT Strategies, made that very clear in his closing remarks at the fourth annual Inkjet Summit in April.
Successfully implementing production inkjet technology means changing the entire culture of your business and taking a fresh approach to your workflow, software, finishing, product applications, sales efforts — everything, insisted Boer, who served as conference chair of the sold-out event. “It is truly going to change your culture,” he said.
The 100-plus printers in the room, who hailed from across the nation, hung on his every word. They were all there to learn how they could get a piece of the expanding production inkjet pie. None of them left disappointed.
“I have been in the industry for 25 years now and this was one of the best printing events that I have ever attended,” praised Jud Posner, pressroom manager at the Church of Scientology International Dissemination and Distribution Center, which recently installed a Fujifilm J Press 540W continuous-feed inkjet press. “From Marco’s opening keynote address, through all of the different seminars, case studies and breakout sessions, I probably learned more over the three days at the Inkjet Summit than I have in the two years that I’ve been doing my own research and due diligence on inkjet technology.”
The Inkjet Summit, held for the fourth year in a row at the elegant Ponte Vedra Inn & Club, near Jacksonville, Fla., has become the industry’s top event for production inkjet education and peer-to-peer networking. Attendees this year hailed from commercial printers, direct mail operations, book manufacturers, transactional document centers, data management firms, insurance companies, banks, universities and much more.
All attendees were pre-qualified by the summit’s organizers, and NAPCO Media (publisher of Printing Impressions and In-plant Graphics magazines). Participants spent three days networking and learning from one another, while enjoying a nonstop program of keynotes, user panel discussions, case studies and expert consultant presentations. The near-constant flow of information provided printers with an in-depth look at everything involved in making inkjet work for them.
Attendees were split into four market segments based on their business focus: books, direct mail/marketing, general commercial and transaction. Sponsors presented case studies for each segment, experts offered industry research and analysis on those markets, and current inkjet users lent their experience to some insightful, very interactive discussions. This year’s conference featured a higher percentage of shops that had yet to install their first production inkjet output device, in comparison to the past few Inkjet Summits.
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, an approach that drew praise from all sides.
After $20 billion of R&D investment in inkjet technology so far, said Boer, “the technology is rock solid.” There are now both cut-sheet and continuous-feed production inkjet presses available, and the number of compatible and inkjet-treated substrates continues to grow. Ink prices are coming down. The production inkjet market is growing at a 27% compound annual growth rate, he added. Last year about 250 billion inkjet pages were printed, Boer proclaimed, and more than 1,500 systems have already been installed worldwide.
The quality of inkjet printing has also drastically improved, he insisted. And while Boer acknowledged it is still not offset quality, he stressed that it doesn’t need to be.
“You might be very surprised at what people are willing to accept,” he noted, “especially when they learn of the lower cost.”
Unlike the attendees of the first Inkjet Summit in 2013, Boer remarked, “you are no longer an early adopter.” Margins will continue getting squeezed as more printers add inkjet technology. Don’t wait [to invest] until presses become more affordable, he cautioned. “The longer you wait, the more you’re going to find yourself at a disadvantage,” Boer warned, and the more likely you’ll find yourself fighting to hold onto your business.
The biggest cost of implementing inkjet, he said, is not the output device — it’s the learning curve. If you wait, you’ll just be giving your competitors time to go through that curve themselves.
Boer’s message was emphasized by keynote speaker Jamie Huff, president of Progressive Impressions International (pii), a Taylor Corp. division, whose company drastically altered its entire business by adding inkjet technology, including an Océ VarioPrint i300 sheetfed inkjet press. A few years ago, Huff noted, pii spent millions preprinting shells; today, “we’re basically an inventoryless shop,” he said. More than just replacing offset presses, though, production inkjet capabilities enables pii to offer new and exciting applications to customers.
This added value is what inkjet users need to promote, Boer emphasized. “Don’t think about this as a replacement for offset necessarily; at the end of the day ... you really have to think about how you’re going to squeeze out more value.” You need to meet with customers, analyze their current applications, show them what inkjet technology can do for them, and help them discover new printed products that will help them improve the value they can offer their clients.
Throughout the Inkjet Summit, current inkjet users imparted lessons they learned [often the hard way]. In one panel discussion — which also featured Bob Kolva, director of data and imaging operations at Action Mailers — John Jeffrey Bogart, VP and managing director of Freedom Graphic Systems, noted that the jobs he expected the company would get after adding an inkjet press, such as financial services work, were not what they got. Instead, clients in the retail industry dominated the customer list. Inkjet allowed Freedom Graphic Systems to offer new applications that hadn’t previously been considered.
Another panel featured prominent printers who had yet to adopt inkjet, and delved into the decision-making and justification process they are currently going through. It included Kurt Cron, director of digital technology at Deluxe; Robert Kashan, CEO and founder of EarthColor; and Bob McDonald, principal at EU Services.
Dave Johannes, senior VP of operations at IWCO Direct and a well-versed expert on the technology, noted that variable data printing is where the true value of inkjet lies. If you’re only going to print static pages, you won’t get as much as you could from inkjet.
Posner, from the the Church of Scientology’s in-plant, related an early misstep, when his shop initially used offset paper on its inkjet press, with low quality results. After switching to inkjet-treated paper, the quality improved dramatically. After negotiating with the paper vendor, the in-plant now pays less for this inkjet-treated stock than it was paying for offset stock, he revealed.
Brett Birky, senior VP of operations for Urban Fulfillment Services, spoke at two sessions about his operation’s continuous-feed Ricoh inkjet presses, which are used to print mortgage documents with very fast turnaround times. Selecting the right workflow software, Birky revealed, was a major part of the process, since workflow is crucial for streamlining operations and getting files to print seamlessly.
Ralph Graves, imaging/direct mail operations manager at TCS-Time Inc., also spoke at two sessions. He related how justifying the purchase of a high-speed Xerox inkjet press required his operation to re-imagine many well-established processes. Some 2,700 offset-printed forms had to be transitioned to inkjet, and workflows had to be built that could accommodate both single-piece jobs and those with more than a million pages.
Other current users who related their experiences included Steve Franzino, VP of technology at RR Donnelley; Rick Kegley, senior VP at Harte Hanks; William DeAngelis, VP of business development at Allied Printing; Andy Cork, managing director of Printondemand-worldwide.com; Adam LeFebvre, president of Specialty Print Communications; Nate Milliken, VP of Epsilon; Cesar Rodriguez, media factory manager at Arvato; and John Arndt, VP of operations technology and resilience at Fiserv.
Boer gave attendees a preview of several inkjet technologies, including several new cut-sheet models, expected to be shown at drupa this month. He noted that image quality on these newer devices will be higher, as will substrate compatibility and productivity.
As the Inkjet Summit drew to a close, attendees were given the chance to vote on what they considered to be the best sponsor case study presentations, and the winners were revealed at an awards dinner on the final night. HP was honored for its case study presentation geared toward the book segment, Xerox for direct mail, Kodak for general commercial printing and Ricoh for the transaction segment. Canon Solutions America received the “Company to Watch” award based on attendee voting, and the Inkjet Summit advisory board acknowledged EarthColor’s Robert Kashan for being the “Overall Best Contributing Attendee.”
Based on their enthusiasm throughout the event and the positive survey feedback afterwards, attendees overwhelmingly felt this year’s Inkjet Summit was a great experience and well worth their time. PI
—By Bob Neubauer with additional reporting from Mark Michelson
Key Takeaways from the Inkjet Summit Advisory Board
Inkjet Summit Advisory Board members Marco Boer, IT Strategies; Barbara Pellow, InfoTrends; Elizabeth Gooding, Gooding Communications Group; and Skip Henk, Xplor International, provide key takeaway points from the Inkjet Summit 2016:
Marco Boer on How Production Inkjet Is Changing the Book Manufacturing and Publishing Markets
In North America, printed books have faced the “perfect storm” of challenges during the last decade. From electronic publishing to a shift in leisure activities to the economic recession topped by a dramatic shake-up of the book reseller channel as a result of Internet retail, the net result has been a 25%+ decline in printed book pages during the past decade.
But there is a silver lining. As overall run lengths have declined, more titles “fit” with digital print run capabilities, especially with the adoption of high-speed production inkjet printers. Printing books digitally, just in time, has allowed a dramatic reduction in waste and inventory, freeing up cash for publishers to more aggressively promote new titles and authors, resulting in resurgence of sales. In fact, 2015 was the first year in many that several major publishers saw an increase in printed book sales.
Add on top of that the continuing growth of self-publishing (enabled in large part by Amazon’s easy-to-access distribution), and things are looking better for those book printer/manufacturers that have embarked on a digital printing strategy.
IT Strategies estimates about 6% of all book pages were printed digitally worldwide, with digital print’s share projected to double by 2019. Any book printer/manufacturer considering deploying production inkjet printing to benefit from this growing segment of the book publishing market (note: in the United States, e-book sales growth has flattened) needs to take a hard look at their infrastructure before taking the leap into mass-volume digital printing.
It might seem counter-intuitive, but the focus should not initially be on digital printing technology but rather the benefits that the technology will enable. To successfully and profitably deploy production inkjet technology, one needs to take a hard look at the existing workflow and infrastructure.
How will you handle (order entry, finishing, shipping) significantly more orders consisting of smaller runs? What is the best way to get your existing customers to recognize the benefits of a change in workflow and infrastructure, especially when you have to tell publishers the cost/book is likely to increase in exchange for greater overall efficiency and profits?
It is still stormy in the book printing industry, but the skies are clearing and there was no better place than the 2016 Inkjet Summit for attendees to share and learn about the journey to digital book printing.
Barb Pellow on Why Data Is at the Heart of Business Success for Direct Mail Service Providers
As marketers seek techniques to create effective direct mail, technologies, such as high-speed, full-color inkjet, are creating opportunities to produce personalized and customized direct mail pieces that will truly capture consumers’ attention. At the 2016 Inkjet Summit, the importance of data was a key area of focus. Data-driven marketers want to get the right message in front of the right audience, at the right time, to drive the right [desired] consumer behavior. It’s not about obtaining more data, but about capturing data that can drive business decisions.
Harte Hanks’ Rick Kegley discussed how good data capabilities were integral to effectively leveraging advanced digital printing capabilities. As senior VP and GM of Harte Hanks, Kegley is uniquely positioned to share how a worldwide direct and targeted marketing company can quickly and economically deliver variable content. Kegley notes, “During effective campaigns, marketing service providers will continually work with customers to define and then refine their target audiences and messages for optimal response.”
According to Kegley, data analysis fuels growth. “It identifies the things that motivate current customers to act, while also pinpointing where and how to reach new ones,” he elaborates.
“To be effective, though, the data must be cleansed, enriched and translated into actionable insights that drive customers to click, call, buy or otherwise act. You must work with the customer to capture their data, understand it, augment it with additional lists and then apply it.”
Kegley continues, “If you want to be truly successful in this market, you must have good data skills and understand how to map that data. Prepress competency and the ability to design for inkjet are also critical. You need to be prepared to educate your customers on the value of variability rather than placing a very strict focus on color. Be mindful that effective campaigns integrate all channels, and make sure you’re able to deal with the digital dynamics. Most importantly, find a way to deliver ROI to your clients!”
For direct mail service providers, the most important takeaway from the Inkjet Summit was the need to help marketers embrace data to deliver a relevant message. This means implementing the right resources to work with clients on understanding the data they have and identifying the data points that will drive more relevance to ultimately engage the customer.
Today’s marketers want personalized and targeted communications to drive business results. They face more challenges than ever before, and they need a strategic partner to deliver data-driven communications.
It’s time to evaluate your data skills!
Elizabeth Gooding on How Inkjet Enables Transaction Printers to Branch Out into New Product Applications
Transaction printers seeking to invest in inkjet, as well as those who already have, cited “the ability to take on new business or create new offerings” as the top benefit from investing in inkjet, according to NAPCO Research and commentary from speakers and attendees during the 2016 Inkjet Summit.
Survey data from current and past conference attendees also show that transaction printers who invest in inkjet are branching out into new areas. According to 2015 and 2016 data on Inkjet Summit attendees, only 10% of transaction printing companies with inkjet offer transaction printing exclusively. Conversely, approximately 60% of transaction printing companies with inkjet are doing at least 35% non-transaction printing work.
Allstate Insurance, for example, purchased inkjet to streamline its in-plant transaction printing operations, but more than half of the inkjet production volume now comes from insourced direct mail. Other companies are filling the valleys between operational peaks with posters, branch materials, custom newsletters or, in the case of in-plants like Urban Lending Solutions, taking on outside work.
However, there are challenges to taking on new types of work, such as ensuring compatible workflows, creating the in-house knowledge base on new applications, and the potential need for new software or technology. Many Inkjet Summit attendees also felt that legacy business models and selling approaches were a barrier to creating new offers.
Attendees were very positive about how much they learned from the sessions and dialogue at the event. At the same time, many were concerned about how much they still needed to learn in order to make an informed purchase decision and justify it to management. The number of options for output devices, front ends, ink, paper, finishing and software are exploding.
Finding the right combination of components to handle current volumes, while forging a path to an even better business model, is a daunting challenge.
Yet, year after year at the Inkjet Summit in Florida we get to learn from inkjet adopters who have done just that — and the consultants and suppliers who have helped them do it.
Skip Henk on How Inkjet Alters the Business Models for Commercial Printers and Service Bureaus
The 2016 Inkjet Summit continues to evolve as an expanding microcosm of what is happening in the industry, providing a unique educational and informational venue for companies to better understand the value proposition of production inkjet printing.
Some observations from this year’s event:
Improvements in inkjet technology, inks and papers have taken the question of print quality off the table with conversations moving to how and when a company makes the commitment to purchase and integrate. Quality and printhead reliability are not the prevalent issues they once were and adding inkjet has become a strategic necessity for most companies.
Inkjet represents a major business shift for commercial printers, as well as service bureaus. It changes the business model. For commercial printers, their expertise in color management, inks and paper represents a tremendous asset in looking at the technology, whereas digital workflow and data formatting represent the biggest changes. Conversely, service bureaus’ expertise lies in workflow and dealing with data formatting.
Whether commercial print or service bureau, there are considerations but, when done correctly, it can yield great returns.
ROI is the deciding factor with cost savings generally being a big part of justifying inkjet technology. Value-based applications, however, have started to increasingly change the value proposition from cost savings to revenue opportunity. Such things as warehousing costs and obsolete inventories continue to be part of the conversation, but the opportunity inkjet represents in terms of application flexibility continues to become more relevant.
The introduction of new production inkjet systems, whether rollfed or cut-sheet, provide flexibility in terms of scalability to a larger segment of the industry.
Inkjet technology, from a hardware and software standpoint, has matured during the past four years and will continue to evolve for the foreseeable future. PI
Bob has served as editor of In-plant Impressions since October of 1994. Prior to that he served for three years as managing editor of Printing Impressions, a commercial printing publication. Mr. Neubauer is very active in the U.S. in-plant industry. He attends all the major in-plant conferences and has visited nearly 170 in-plant operations around the world. He has given presentations to numerous in-plant groups in the U.S., Canada and Australia, including the Association of College and University Printers and the In-plant Printing and Mailing Association. He also coordinates the annual In-Print contest, cosponsored by IPMA and In-plant Impressions.