At Inkjet Summit, Marco Boer Sees Broad Landscape of Opportunity for the Process
With all of the attention that inkjet printing has been receiving lately, it can be easy to forget that the technology is hardly new. The first practical inkjet printer appeared in 1951, and the devices have been harnessed to computers for a variety of applications since the late 1970s.
As a method of producing direct mail, books, periodicals, and other high-volume items, however, inkjet is still in short pants. Marco Boer says, don’t be misled by the baby steps — a growth spurt for production inkjet printing is on the way.
He explained why at the recent Inkjet Summit, a conference for owners, prospective owners, and manufacturers of production inkjet printing systems. In a keynote and closing remarks, Boer, conference chair and vice president of I.T. Strategies, said that although inkjet’s present share of total print volume is small, its piece will get bigger as printers realize how advantageous the process can be for producing the kinds of work their businesses depend on.
NPES data presented by Boer indicate that inkjet’s rise is occurring against the backdrop of a general decline in page volume: a net loss of 5.3 billion pages in North America from 2007 to 2020. In sharp contrast, continuous-feed inkjet saw a 73% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) in page volume from 2008 to 2016—a momentum that Boer said would be sustained by printers now getting ready to join the ranks of production inkjet users.
At the moment, that group is small, consisting of about 250 sites operating roughly 600 pieces of production inkjet equipment in North America. The devices include continuous-feed color and monochrome presses as well as sheetfed machines in B3 (two-up), B2 (four-up), and B1 (eight-up) formats.
Consisting of both inkjet and toner systems, digital printing will claim only 5.3% of total page volume by 2020. The rest will belong to conventional production, principally offset lithography.
But, undercutting offset in the longer term is the fact that as time goes on, it will become harder and harder for printers to find people qualified to operate their offset presses. Inkjet, meanwhile, will gain ground in applications welcoming cost-efficient printing, with or without variable data, in both short and long runs.
Boer said, for example, that the share of books printed digitally will double from 8% currently to 16% in 2020. The same kind of migration is expected to occur in direct mail, marketing collateral, and transactional documents.
Boer identified three groups of inkjet adopters, each of which was represented at the Inkjet Summit.
The first consists of those who own fleets of toner-based devices and want to replace some of them with faster, more versatile inkjet devices. Next come current users of production inkjet equipment who are looking to add capacity in the process. Occupying the third group are offset printers on the cusp of a decision about committing to inkjet but holding back because of concerns about cost, quality, or the unfamiliarity of the technology.
First-time adopters can overcome their reservations by understanding that production inkjet operates on a different business model from the one they are used to, said Boer. In the offset model, the standing order is to give customers the highest possible quality at the lowest possible price. Buyers of inkjet printing, on the other hand, will place less emphasis on quality and cost as long as they can be sure that what they are buying will deliver a return on their investment.
As for the novelty of production inkjet, Boer noted that no other printing process has demonstrated its viability in as short a period of time. “Inkjet just runs,” he said, “and the more you run inkjet, the more reliable it becomes.” What’s more, inkjet presses resist obsolescence by being field-upgradeable with software updates and added arrays of inkjet heads. This makes purchasing inkjet equipment “a relatively risk free” capital expenditure, according to Boer.
However, said Boer, adjusting to the new model may require some “painful” adjustments to business practices and company culture. Adopters must also be certain that they have the volume to support inkjet equipment capable of turning out millions of copies per month. Vendors may wish to qualify printers on this basis before agreeing to sell inkjet presses to them, Boer said.
He reiterated that production inkjet is still in an early phase and that dynamic growth rates and new business opportunities may take a little while longer to arrive. His takeaways for Inkjet Summit attendees were as follows:
- No other digital printing technology is as productive or as proven in such a short time as production inkjet.
- No other digital printing technology is as flexible or upgradeable.
- The key to success with production inkjet is being open to company culture changes and application innovation.
- Like all forms of digital printing, production inkjet is about data: IT infrastructure and workflow investment.
With inkjet, Boer assured the conferees, "you grow your business with efficiency gains and net new pages."