Momentum for Production Inkjet Printing Investment Continues
It’s hard to say precisely what effect the Inkjet Summit has had on the printing industry’s adoption of production inkjet presses, but it’s safe to say that no other event has given the trend nearly as much encouragement.
Now in its eighth consecutive year of that evangelizing, the Inkjet Summit comes to a new conference venue with its enthusiasm undiminished and a fresh set of facts and arguments in favor of investing in production inkjet capability.
It’s clear that the industry has been finding what it hears about inkjet technology to be persuasive. According to conference chair Marco Boer (I.T. Strategies), between 300 and 350 production sites in North America now operate inkjet presses, including a few companies with double-digit numbers of the machines.
These installations, Boer clarifies, represent only a tiny fraction of the commercial shops, book manufacturers, transactional printers, and in-plants that could be benefiting from the process. Nevertheless, even if adoption hasn’t happened in an avalanche, the pace of the embrace has been gaining momentum — and likely will accelerate further.
Convergence of Forces Drive Success
Conference advisory board member Barb Pellow (Pellow and Partners) says that “all of the forces that are designed to make inkjet successful have converged:” more media options, more equipment choices, and greater affordability for mid-tier commercial printing firms wanting to break in.
What they’re realizing this means, Pellow says, is that “I can make this profitable for my business.”
Another Inkjet Summit advisory board member, Pat McGrew (McGrew Group) sees improvements in inkjet print quality as one of the primary drivers. She says that book publishers, for example, are starting to turn their attention to magazines and catalogs as products that inkjet equipment potentially can deliver with the level of quality they require.
For commercial printers, McGrew points out, an inkjet press affords the opportunity “to do all of the work that doesn’t belong on an analog press:” the short-run, versioned, and customized work that makes up an increasingly large share of the volume for many commercial shops.
In the opinion of advisory board member Elizabeth Gooding (Insight Forums), the most compelling reason for commercial printers to invest in inkjet right now is the fact that “there’s offset work they’re not going to get if they don’t have an inkjet printer.” She explains that this consists of the long-run, static work customers will want to buy from the one-stop sources that are also equipped to give them printed materials for A/B testing and other applications that play to the strengths of inkjet.
But, despite its well-documented advantages, inkjet adoption remains a commitment that isn’t easily made. As Gooding points out, the justification cycle can be lengthy and full of tough questions to answer, such as retiring existing equipment, finding qualified personnel, and managing the data associated with the process.
Investing in an inkjet press “is not for the faint of heart,” affirms Boer. “You buy your first one, and you grow into it. And then you realize that you really can’t live without it.”
Helping first-time buyers and subsequent purchasers reach this desirable state of dependence is what the Inkjet Summit exists to do. Because there’s still a hunger throughout the industry for information about profiting from inkjet, says Boer, “that’s why this Inkjet Summit still survives.”
Baptism to the Technology by Immersion
Through its two-and-a-half day program of immersive learning experiences, the forum also counters misperceptions about inkjet that can get in the way of making the investment.
One of them, McGrew notes, is fear of the unknown: worries that an inkjet press will be too cumbersome and expensive to operate, or that customers won’t like the quality of what it produces. Her riposte to these misgivings is, “on any given day, there’s probably a piece of mail in your mailbox that has been printed with inkjet.”
Boer concurs that a lack of confidence “is the biggest issue we see,” despite mounting evidence in inkjet’s favor. This needlessly extends the deliberation cycle when printers should instead be prepared to “pull the trigger” at the right moment of opportunity.
Don’t forget to include customers in the deliberations, advisory board members agree. As Gooding observes, “they gain choice and flexibility” when served by providers that offer them both inkjet and conventional options. McGrew calls it “power” — the ability to order “what they need, when they need it, and to be as variable in those formats as they want, in quantities that make sense to them.”
In Pellow’s view, the benefits that inkjet holds for producers of direct mail and other marketing materials make a strong case for adopting the process. “If I’m improving their response rates,” she says, “I’m helping to improve my customers’ profitability.”
All of the above for inkjet adopters — technology issues, implementation strategies, market opportunities, and customer relationships — will be explored in-depth at the Inkjet Summit at the Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort & Spa, in Austin, Texas, August 17-19.
Boer will sound the event’s main themes in an opening keynote on the opening night (August 17). He says he’ll emphasize the fact that while making the right investment in the technology is important, “just buying an inkjet press isn’t going to make your business instantly more successful.”
Adopters also have to prepare to meet customer demands that parallel expectations raised generally by Amazon.com: frictionless ordering, the ability to make last-minute changes, and near-instant delivery.
Another Amazonian trait that inkjet providers will have to acquire, according to Boer, is the ability to measure their costs, not just in the aggregate, but on a strict job-by-job basis. That information will then allow print providers to price and promote their offerings to optimize their profits. It all adds up to “a huge business model shift” for print providers to acknowledge and adapt to, Boer advises.
General sessions during the next two days will aim to show attendees how to do it. Pellow, for example, will moderate a panel of best-in-class inkjet providers who’ll offer well-grounded advice about adding value with inkjet printing. McGrew will lead a session on workflow; Gooding one on designing for inkjet; and Boer another on finishing automation.
The attendees will also hear about integrating and managing “big data,” a prerequisite for success with inkjet, from a prominent authority in the field. And Mark Michelson, editor-in-chief of Printing Impressions, will moderate a panel of early adopters who will recap their decade-long experiences with implementing and using the technology. And, reversing the usual conference format, Boer and Pellow will team up for a Top10 trends review that will be moderated by a member of the audience.
Nothing but the Truth
A peer-to-peer, invitational event, the Inkjet Summit is the industry’s only inkjet forum in which attendees hear exclusively from other printers, printers’ customers, and top subject-matter experts in the general sessions — sales-driven commercial pitches aren’t permitted from the main stage.
In separate meeting tracks, sponsoring vendors make presentations designed to provide the kinds of substantive, high-value information about inkjet solutions that prospective adopters need for due diligence. At these breakouts, attendees gather a volume of detail in just a few hours that might otherwise take them months of research to uncover.
The conference model of the Inkjet Summit is unique. Those taking part must be pre-qualified to attend, and their travel, lodging, and meal expenses are covered by the sponsors. In return, attendees commit to full participation in the conference agenda, which includes social events and other opportunities for both peer and vendor interaction — one of the most valuable aspects, past attendees say, of the experience.
“The peer-to-peer networking at this event is outstanding,” declares Audrey Jamieson, president of Marketing Kitchen Inc., and a 2019 attendee. “It’s rare that you get this many experts in one room willing to share so much information with you.”
Others attest to how the structure and the content of the program drive the outcomes that the Inkjet Summit endorses. As Brad Thompson, president of Inland Press, observes, “It’s like drinking from a firehose, but the information is exceptional and targeted. There is no wasted time.”
Michael Ryan, CEO of Statement Outsourcing, says that as a result of attending, “we’re in a much better position to make an informed decision about purchasing the right equipment for our situation and needs. Discussing scenarios with industry peers was invaluable.”
‘The Place to Be’ for Those on the Cusp
For those on the cusp of a decision about inkjet, this can be the key to getting past the hesitation and moving confidently ahead. “I felt that it would be a long time before we could invest in inkjet, although we know this is the future,” reflects Doyle Mortimer, senior VP, Alexander’s Print Advantage. “But, through the Summit, I garnered several ideas that may make it possible to adopt inkjet technologies earlier than we thought.”
“If there is the slightest chance inkjet is in your future,” sums up Steve Priesman, manager of printing and publications services, Omaha Public Schools, “this is the place to be.” For more information, including details about qualifying for attendance at this year’s Inkjet Summit, visit ijsummit.com.
The 2020 Inkjet Summit will be co-located with the premier edition of the Wide-Format Summit, a similarly organized event from NAPCO Media LLC and the Specialty Graphic Imaging Association (SGIA).