Competing with Robots (Look to QuadTech and Valpak)
In our industry, QuadTech is aggressively using labor-saving technologies. From the registration and color management enabling more efficient press production and reduction of crewing, to the fully-automated postpress finishing and packing systems, robots are taking over.
I recently saw a video of a Valpak plant that uses Bell + Howell equipment to finish complex mail packages in a single-step process. Imagine a plant producing more than 20 billion coupons per year using only an automated production facility. Check that. You don’t have to use your imagination; you can arrange for a plant tour and see it for yourself. Yes, there is growing chasm in our industry between those investing in automation and new capabilities, and those hanging on for dear life.
In the 1982 Ridley Scott classic, "Blade Runner"—set in 21st century Los Angeles—Harrison Ford’s character stalks replicants (robots) to kill them for wanting to be human. When artificial intelligence exceeds human intelligence, our kind may be vulnerable to say the least.
Matthew Lynn’s recent Wall Street Journal article, “A Strategy for Keeping the Robots at Bay,” provides solace if not insurance. Here’s a kindred spirit. He’s aware of the situation, dedicated to finding solutions, all the while insecure about his own abilities compared to those of his robot competitors, evidenced by his assertion of his superior newspaper article writing skills.
Lynn comes up with five ideas, some more relevant and potent than others. The first, which is to be the one to make the robots, is something of a stretch for most of us. The second, moving up market, is something we can all attempt. It’s what I’m working on 44 weekends of the year. The third idea is to be creative, because robot technology will take advancement to think in such ways.
The fourth idea is to find a new industry. For many of us in printing, that’s been on our minds for a while. Lynn’s point is that new technology spawns new opportunities. Who knew social networks or smart phones would reshape our lives and livelihoods as they have? When the robots come, they’ll need to be designed, maintained, and they’ll probably even necessitate consultants to proselytize how to use them. What if the robots could replace consultants? Then robots could consult us on robot implementation strategy. Would we still lament the robot consultants as much as we do their human contemporaries?
A third-generation printer, Dustin LeFebvre delivers his vision for Specialty Print Communications as EVP, Marketing through strategy, planning and new product development. With a rich background ranging from sales and marketing to operations, quality control and procurement, Dustin takes a wide-angle approach to SPC