Next-Level Printing: 10th Inkjet Summit Begins
The mood was electric, and the room was packed as 127 printing business owners and top-level mangers joined together at the Hyatt Lost Pines Resort (Cedar Creek, Texas), located amid the scrubby hills outside Austin, Texas. Joined by others representing nearly 60 printing focused equipment and software providers — including Platinum Sponsors Canon Solutions America, HP, Ricoh, and SCREEN — and a top-tier roster of industry speakers, the 2022 Inkjet Summit reflected the robust growth of inkjet technology in commercial, transactional, direct mail, publishing, and in-plant printing spaces.
The Inkjet Summit is a unique industry event designed to foster productive relationships between growth-motivated print providers and industry OEMs and suppliers. Because attendees are carefully vetted and are currently considering a major equipment purchase, the event agenda also includes sponsor-presented case studies and one-on-one sessions with event sponsors.
The focus of this first day of the event, however, was on setting the stage for summit attendees with a series of general sessions addressing automation, innovation, business optimization, and labor challenges. David Pesko, executive VP of business development, hosted events, and research at NAPCO Media, welcomed the audience, noting the Summit is not only an opportunity to explore new technologies, but also to connect, learn, and grow.
Describing the Road Ahead
In his keynote presentation, “Automation and Innovation, Driving the Inkjet Opportunity,” Marco Boer, Inkjet Summit Conference Chair and VP of IT Strategies, made the case that automation is essential in escorting the industry toward its future. According to Boer, a more profitable and efficient future will require key elements to be in place.
Boer began his presentation by describing the current state of the printing industry, with a focus on paper shortages, the effects of COVID-19, and how digital printing may have a leg up in managing the new reality. But today’s printing industry faces additional complications, including increased labor costs and a pending worker shortage expected to begin in 2026. Finally, he said the ongoing interest in the printing industry by private equity and the desire of aging owners to sell their businesses is driving a quest to increase value — which is pushing businesses toward automation and efficiency.
“There is no choice but to automate,” Boer said, adding that businesses must also innovate. “Frankly,” he said, “that will not be enough.” More than streamlining processes and eliminating costs, he says, printers must also find ways to take advantage of innovations gained. This, he said, requires a change in business model — toward presenting print as high-value, and through consultative selling — less about volume, and more about value.
The Production Inkjet Opportunity
Moderated by industry consultant Barb Pellow, manager at Pellow and Partners, a keynote panel discussion, “Optimizing Business with Production Inkjet,” featured four printing business leaders whose use of inkjet technology has opened doors of opportunity. Each panelist was placed on the panel by one of the event’s Platinum Sponsors: HP, Screen, Canon, and Ricoh.
The panelists highlighted some of the biggest advantages to bringing inkjet into their businesses. Pellow asked each panelist in turn about their inkjet journey, automation and efficiency gains, overall business benefits, and finally about the recommendations they have for their peers interested in the technology. Two key points were made by the participants: inkjet has been a linchpin in alleviating labor shortage pressures and increasing the automation needed to meet demand.
For Design Distributors, a one-stop direct mail shop, inkjet has given the team the ability to jump around, “It’s all about labor,” Adam Avrick, president of the company, said. The Deer Park, New York-based company installed an HP T240 HD after a series of plant tours where the team spent time with the operators to get an authentic take on the equipment.
Don Mader, CEO of Hialeah, Florida’s Southeastern Printing, which has a Screen Truepress Jet520 device, had a similar message on the benefit of inkjet, the ability to reduce labor made the investment a “no brainer.” He continued, “It’s doing more with less, that’s key. If we don’t invest in the future, we won’t be around to see the future.”
The other theme attendees heard throughout the night was the increased automation that can be achieved with an inkjet investment.
“My job is to harness chaos,” Avrick said. “Digital allows me to dance.”
He explained that being able to go back and forth between different jobs while producing the same quality work has been game changing.
Cheryl Kahanec, CEO of Morton Grove, Illinois-based Quantum, which recently installed a Canon ProStream 1800, recounted one large pharma customer that has 14 different workflow requirements. Some jobs go to fulfillment, some are mailed, some go to inventory, and they all have different reporting needs. This is where automation is key. Kahanec explained that the company's strategy is to automate one workflow scenario at a time and invest 6-8% of revenue to infrastructure and IT.
Shorter SLAs was another driving factor echoed by both Kahanec, and Jeff Matos, senior director of operations at Lake Success, New York headquartered Broadridge, which has a Ricoh Pro VC40000 device. Matos explained that inkjet has helped meet shorter turnaround times and stringent SLAs.
“SLAs won’t get better, they’ll continue to get shorter,” Kahanec said. “Inkjet is the only way to get there.”
But, Matos said, when investing in inkjet, "Start small and grow to meet your needs."
Nearing the end of the session, Mader closed with a sharp recommendation. “If you don’t invest you will ‘die,'” he said. “You might not die, but you will go out of business.”
Addressing the Labor Challenge
In a thought-provoking panel discussion moderated by Mark Michelson, editor-in-chief of Printing Impressions, three printing executives shared their current experiences with — and strategies for — addressing the industry’s ongoing labor challenges through automation.
Randy Sparrow, VP of operations at commercial printing and direct-mail company Corporate Communications Group (Upper Marlboro, Maryland), said that among the initiatives underway at his company is the shuttering of older equipment to focus resources on systems that can be automated, and for which it is easier to control labor costs. Though he said it was a “leap of faith” when the traditionally conservative company installed its Ricoh Pro VC70000, the company has been able to eliminate full shifts on a handful of presses.
Tonya Spiers, president/owner of Knight-Abbey Printing and Direct Mail (Biloxi, Mississippi), a company for which 65-70% of its business is for the casino market, has not yet made the jump to high-speed inkjet. Her company is currently using a mix of traditional offset, with black and white toner systems to provide personalization. “My journey,” she said, “is to look into where we’re headed with automation.”
This includes her current investigation of cut-sheet inkjet systems, evaluation of the bindery, and seeking to eliminate production touches. She said that while MIS-based software improvements have “made a big difference in our labor,” the company is still challenged to find and keep qualified employees.
Representing the realities of in-plant printing operations, Chuck Werninger, senior manager and records management officer, IT administrative services, Houston Independent School District (Houston, Texas), spoke of his ongoing efforts to in-source work to offset a general move toward shorter runs. This includes doing work for other Houston area school districts. His operation, he said, was transformed five years ago with the acquisition of a Canon VarioPrint i300 color digital press. “I was worried we were a little too early in the game,” he said of the acquisition. “But it turned out to be the right call.” Werninger said that his shop’s cut-sheet inkjet workflow has minimized the need for labor in the operation, and he spoke of his challenges to attract and inspire new employees.
While the location of the Inkjet Summit’s first day matched the relaxed vibe of the surrounding Texas countryside, the desire to connect was anything but. Attendees met amid warm weather and overcast skies for drinks, a robust dinner, and top-shelf networking. For Inkjet Summit attendees and sponsors, the next two days will be those of discovery, and of charting the path for success defined by production inkjet technologies.
*Photos taken by Dan Marx.