Len Lauer Discusses Printing Industry Trends and the Best Opportunities for Printers in 2019
(Editor's Note: Memjet CEO Len Lauer recently shared his thoughts with Printing Impressions on the current state of the printing industry, emerging trends and where printers can find the best opportunities for success in 2019.)
Printing Impressions: What do you think are the most significant trends in the industry right now?
Len Lauer: Over the past three years, we have seen an expansion in the printing industry. This expansion has not come from printers adding more business; rather it is an increase in the number of printers who are either adding new technologies to become more competitive or printers who are migrating into other market segments.
This convergence trend has been well-reported in your publication and can also be seen in research (click here to download) done by you and the Specialty Graphic Imaging Association (SGIA). That research shows that an astounding 95% of printers said there are opportunities for expansion outside of their own business, and 93% said that expansion is happening within the industry as a whole.
This reflects what Memjet and our OEM partners are seeing. For example, commercial printers are adopting packaging printing so they can add smaller packaging to their product mix. We also see label providers who are adding digital label presses so they can produce customized, short-run labels to meet customer demands and supplement their analog label production.
To capture the opportunities that come with this type of expansion, printers need access to printing solutions that are fast, easy to use, and enable a faster return on investment.
Based on this trend, it is no surprise that, in 2018, more OEM partners integrated Memjet technology in their printing solutions. Memjet’s modular architecture enables partners to rapidly develop solutions with the speed, quality, and affordability needed to meet the current and future expansion opportunities in the market.
Memjet’s partnership with Konica Minolta is an example of how companies are responding to this expansion trend. This new strategic partnership resulted in the development of four digital inkjet solutions that serve the commercial print, packaging and label markets. Each of these solutions delivers the speed, quality and affordable cost of ownership that providers in these each of these markets need to capitalize on this expansion trend and to grow their businesses.
Another product is the MVZ flexible packaging printer from Rigoli. This is the first Memjet-powered, roll-to-roll, wide-format inkjet printer designed for flexible packaging applications. The low cost and ease of use enable a variety of users — package providers, commercial printers, even brands — to produce colorful, low- to middle-run lengths of customized, flexible packaging.
As we look forward to 2019, we will see more of these expansion-enabling solutions become available across both our VersaPass and DuraLink technology platforms.
PI: Convergence sounds like there are a lot of future opportunities. What is the outlook for the print industry in 2019?
Lauer: The research produced by SGIA)and NAPCO Media reports that the U.S. commercial printing industry in 2019 will be comparable to 2018 in terms of overall business conditions. After growing 1.7 % in 2018, sales from all sources are projected to increase by 1.5-2.5% to $87 billion in 2019.
Printers will have to compete to realize a profit from that growth due to the tight labor market and ongoing issues with the paper supply chain.
The U.S. unemployment rate was 4% at the start of 2019. In this type of full-employment market, finding qualified workers is hard for any industry. Making it especially hard for analog printers is that once their experienced employees leave, it is nearly impossible to find replacements with the same skill set.
Adding to these difficulties is the ongoing shortage of paper. In 2018, Inkjet Insight chronicled the many factors that have affected the availability of substrates, including mill closings, the shift of pulp to packaging markets, and transportation issues.
Early this year, Georgia-Pacific announced it is exiting the communication papers business, making it clear that these supply issues will continue into 2019.
These two trends — and the need for printers to continue growing their businesses — indicate that the time for inkjet is now. Inkjet’s technology and ongoing innovation support printers through these struggles.
Memjet has been developing technology and resources for the print industry during this time. Last year, we formed a partnership with Michelman to develop an inline primer to use with our new DuraLink technology. Using this new primer on offset paper gives printers greater flexibility in the media they use with their DuraLink press and provides a lower cost overall than using Inkjet media. Memjet will have more primer developments announced later this year.
Inkjet also helps printers with their struggle to find the right workers. The skill set needed to operate inkjet-powered printers is more accessible and adaptable than analog presses. When operating Inkjet presses, the focus is on technology rather than craft, making it easier and more cost-effective to find, train and keep qualified employees.
PI: Convergence and technology are thriving. What advice do you have for print providers who want to take advantage of these trends?
Lauer: Memjet provides a high level of application and engineering support to our OEM partners. Our assistance, combined with the modularity of Memjet technology, streamlines the product development process and enables OEM partners to bring solutions to market faster and more affordably. As a result, Memjet OEM partners are developing an increasing number of creative, easy-to-use solutions that give printers the resources they need to meet the changing demands of the markets they serve. These solutions will help printers succeed.
Printers will also need to be creative and resourceful with how they use these printers to solve customer needs. Problem-solving starts with understanding what customers’ business goals are and using creative ways to respond to those needs.
Take some of our mailing and packaging printers, for example. These new printers go beyond simple envelopes and print directly onto materials with ink-receptive surfaces. These include cardboard, postcards, bags and even thicker materials such as wooden planks, folded boxes,and padded envelopes.
What can a print provider do with all that functionality? Solve problems. Go and sell a direct mail campaign, but do not stop there. That same business likely needs other promotional products. So sell it the boxes, bags and promotional items you can produce with the same speed, quality and cost-effectiveness your customers expect from you.
Some of this does not come naturally to print providers. So, in addition to acquiring technology, also acquire knowledge. Attend webinars, read publications and visit industry events. The upcoming PRINTING United expo, for example, is all about convergence and opportunity.
A combination of printing solutions, the right functionality and creative problem-solving are what is needed for printers to succeed in 2019.
Related story: What the Printing Industry Needs to Know for 2018