Heralding the Fourth Industrial Revolution in Print

March 7, 2018

The fourth industrial revolution is upon us, and the future of print looks good for those who embrace it – this was the theme in this year’s EFI Connect 2018. Sha Jumari finds out more. 

"Was the presentation ok?” asked EFI’s Guy Gecht when we crossed paths right after his opening keynote speech at Connect 2018. I thought it unwarranted yet strangely endearing, since just 10 minutes ago, he held an entire ballroom full of print people captive for an hour.

 

Gecht is the charismatic spokesman for EFI, adept at bringing ideas to life on a big stage. I first met the effervescent Gecht at drupa 2016, when the EFI Nozomi C18000 inkjet press for corrugated packaging was first introduced. Back then, EFI had also announced it was on track to meet the 2016 USD$1 billion revenue target, which Gecht ambitiously aimed for in 2010. At the close of 2016, EFI reported a $992.1 million – just shy of reaching that billion-dollar target, but a remarkable feat nonetheless.

 

That streak continues on, as shortly after Connect 2018 concluded, EFI announced a record revenue for Q4 and 2017. For the quarter ended 31 December 2017, the company reported record fourth quarter revenue of $269.2 million, up 1% compared to fourth quarter 2016 revenue of $266.7 million.

 

For 2017, EFI reported revenue of $993.3 million, up 0.1% year-over-year compared to 2016 figures. Not bad at all, considering for a short while in 2017, EFI’s stock took a tumultuous dive down as much as 43.8% due to muddled accounting practices.

 

EFI celebrates its 30th birthday this year. For its size within the print industry, the Silicon Valley conglomerate is impressively young. In 23 years, Gecht has managed to bring EFI from a solely software company to the more comprehensive digital print company that it is today. With the visionary Gecht at its helm, I’m confident that EFI company will join that elusive billion-dollar club.

 

The Coming of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

 

“Print is far from over,” boomed Gecht’s voice as he began his iconic keynote presentation. The thematic speech revolved around Industry 4.0, as Gecht extolled the coming of the fourth industrial revolution, and its impact on the print industry.

 

“There is a power in the printed material. We are so bombarded with electronics that we default back to printed materials,” said Gecht. He referred to the nomophobia phenomenon, which is the fear of being out of cellular contact. As people are beginning to be aware on the negative impact of nomophobia, print will present itself as a better experience.

 

“The Internet of Things changes our relationship with the physical world,” said Gecht. “With computers, cloud, connectivity around the world, the fourth industrial revolution is the emergence of artificial intelligence, robots, virtual reality. It changes how industries manufacture things. That has fundamental impact on the world, and printing play a gigantic role in this because a lot of those industries love great images.”

 

Gecht emphasised that artificial intelligence, or AI, is happening in a big way. He attributed this to three major reasons; big data, tremendous computation power in the cloud, and faster processing power in the device.

 

The increased use of AI and robots will potentially accelerate growth in manufacturing. Concerning threats that robots can cause unemployment: “The countries that have the most amount of robots per capita are Japan, Germany and Korea. These countries also have very low unemployment rates. Robots do not cause unemployment,” said Gecht. “In fact, it allows us to do other things that can add value to the company and the world in other more important ways.”

 

EFI is unsurprisingly on-board and aligned with AI, as Gecht unveiled the new virtual reality Nozomi initiative. The Nozomi VR system can be used for demos and can also allow engineers to remotely service the machine. In essence, you can have the “best engineer in the world see your printer now to figure out what’s going on with the machine.”

 

Print: The Bridge Between Virtual & Physical Worlds

 

The fourth industrial revolution will fuel on-demand manufacturing, as it calls for more personalisation and frequent design changes.

 

“Industries like fashion, building materials, display graphics, packaging, they will need a lot of the tools that we build over the years - us as an industry, not just EFI. This is every material in the world that needs images, that needs print. Those are much bigger markets than have ever been addressed before,” said Gecht.

 

Industry 4.0 will change the way companies approach marketing: “We no longer target a market segment. We can target the people we want and we can give them the product we want.”

 

The role of the print industry would be to translate the virtual world into the physical world. Some examples Gecht gave include:

 

Packaging – Shipping boxes that are commonly brown and white, will now be digitally printed and customised to every customer.

 

Apparel – As one of the most design-dynamic industries, digital print will be the only way to do the apparel of tomorrow. Digital process, colour management, and digital printing will be the key enablers in fashion as changes in design have fast turnover times now. 

 

Building Materials – Customisation on a broader category that includes home décor components such as flooring. For example, in printing wooden flooring designs on ceramic tiles which all of the advantages of the organic look of wood, but with none of the maintenance and care.

 

“With that, we believe there is a new definition of print. This is no longer just documents, no longer just publishing. Print every material in the world that needs to have some images. If we as an industry embrace that, there is a bigger opportunity than we’ve ever addressed before,” said Gecht.

 

Perfectly Poised for Industry 4.0

 

EFI is well-positioned for the new industrial revolution with two enabling platforms, inkjet printing and smart automation: “Those two platforms are what EFI is doing and not by accident. Those two platforms are key in the enablement in printing in the world,” said Gecht.

 

“Inkjet printing is the one single type of printing where you don't have to touch the material. It's a technology that is not dependent on the material. Inkjet is semi conductor driven so it can only get faster and better over time. The more we improve, the more application we can approach,” Gecht explained.

 

Of smart automation: “In a word of fast customisation and fast job adoption, we have no time for the human touch. There needs to be a smart algorithm that can take design to e-commerce to production with minimal human contact.”

 

In his closing remarks, Gecht borrowed advice from print veteran, Frank Romano, for print companies: Embracing digital print, defining your markets and excelling in them, and the ability to cut cost, without cutting quality.

 

“My message today is the fourth industrial revolution is upon us. It is happening all around us, and it is happening in print. I think it will have a fundamental impact on our lives – in a good way. It is very exciting,” Gecht concluded.

 

“New areas of print are substantially larger than ever before and we can go beyond what we’ve traditionally done. Which is why I say - Print is far from over.

Read the full feature in Issue 02/2018 of Print Innovation Asia. 

 

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