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2021 & Beyond: Print and Packaging Trends

In the face of the global crisis in 2020, the print industry in Asia Pacific has shown its ability to respond effectively to its customers. We ask the print industry on the trends that are set to shake the print industry in 2021 and beyond.

“What are some trends that you foresee shaking up the print industry in Asia Pacific 2021 and beyond?”

Industry 4.0 – Rise of the Smart Factory

Tim Klappe, MPS Systems Asia Pacific

For me this has to be the growth towards the smart factory. The developments of sensor technology, the internet of things (IoT) is going very fast. The data collection that is possible as of this gives a full transparent environment. It shows the print management what is really happening, without having to rely on subjective input from operators. Efficiencies and inefficiencies are easily detected.

At this moment the actual usage of a narrow web label press is very low. Based on our own analysis, machines in the market are not running for an average of 30% of the time. With sensor technology - connected machines - all functions of a press are transparent and analysed.

For example, you can easily detect that a roll change is five or 10 minutes longer than the market benchmark. Saving these five minutes for every roll change by improving the way of working can add hours of extra capacity for the press each week. The result is a lower cost per label, more jobs, and therefore more profit per year for the printing company.

The shake-up will be caused by label printing companies who fully embrace these technologies and workflows and adjust their ways of working in such a way that they maximize their efficiencies on a continuous basis. These companies will end up faster, lower in cost, higher in profits and giving better services to their customers. Label printers who will not get on ‘this train’ will eventually lose out or will have to make a huge jump to catch up.

So, my recommendation and wish is therefore for all label printers to read about these industry 4.0 trends, about the path towards the smart factory and make step by step investments and organizational changes towards the use of these new technologies. Obviously MPS Systems will be very pleased to support.

Remote Digital Transformation

Christoph Thommessen, managing director, CGS Publishing Technologies

In 2020, we all had to deal with huge new challenges. Travel restrictions has affected the daily business drastically, as face-to-face meetings and personal interaction with customers and partners became impossible. However, the crisis also led to more flexibility, creativity and a strong movement towards digital transformation for many industry members. The use of remote software solutions helped substantially to replace personal visits, especially as press and print approvals do not need to take place locally anymore. The solutions also allowed a holistic and very accurate control of presses, devices and results. Evaluation and certification was done remotely with just a few clicks.

Professional colour management played an important role during this period of change. Printing companies were able to optimise their processes with software solutions such as Press Matcher, Ink Saver or X Gamut, thereby making their work a lot more efficient and reducing costs considerably. Professional colour management solutions has also enabled printing and packaging companies, designers, ink manufacturers or brand owners to digitalize their business and workflows.

If lesser team members were available and special colour knowledge was missing, the use of the software helped to mitigate the lack. Automated processes helped to decrease errors, and led to more consistency of the results.

Applications like CXF Tools supported the digital transformation as it enables real digitalisation of colour, which will become increasingly important in the next years, with or without COVID-19. The applications make it possible to organize, edit and communicate colour with all its spectral properties on a digital level through the entire supply chain and production process. In-person meetings won´t be necessary in future for colour to be described this precise, clear and safe. The future of managing colour is spectral.

Integrated Print Shop Management

Thomas Frank, Managing Director, Heidelberg Asia Pacific

From the beginning of the crisis, digital platforms have taken over large parts of communication, shopping, entertainment, learning and training. All this was not entirely new, but the speed of how these platforms expanded was breath-taking.

The crisis changed the mix of printed matters produced. For instance, if you print for the airline industry, who’d expected 12 months ago what turn it takes? On the other hand, there is higher demand than ever for cartons for the pharmaceutical and food industry. Talking about trends these days is tricky. Strategies fell apart. Forecasts turned out to be useless within weeks. Drupa has been postponed and then cancelled.

However, there are patterns which clearly show which direction the industry is heading to, with or without the pandemic. The occurrence of digital platforms has proven that whatever you print, it could be obsolete tomorrow. Hence, to stay in business, you need to be far more flexible than yesterday, whether you want to penetrate additional segments in the market for print or streamline your processes to be faster and offer greater value.

This is where Heidelberg puts focus on. We want to provide solutions which offer more transparency of your production and delivery processes, which allow you to act faster and acquire new jobs more easily. With ‘Push-to-Stop’ and ‘Smart Printshop’, we started initiatives which go far beyond gradual improvements on a printing press. They are the nucleus for a tailormade and truly integrated printshop management. We can provide this because we have the software available – our Prinect system. We can also provide consulting and training by Heidelberg specialists stationed in our Asia-Pacific region, in local languages, if required.

The crisis has closed borders. Press operators went back to their home countries and labour is getting the new bottleneck. Hence, automation and ease of operation are more important than ever before. The new Heidelberg UX (user experience) is a firm part of our generation 2020 presses and the workload for the operator is dramatically reduced. Running a long press with only one operator is becoming possible. In the Postpress area, traditionally the most crowded place in a printshop, there will be change, too. After Covid-19 outbreaks in crowded factories, streamlining of production processes remains an important goal. Heidelberg has launched robotic systems combined with bindery and converting machinery which help to boost productivity in this area.

A Digital Marketplace Demands Digital Production

By Mani Chan, Marketing Director, Kornit Asia Pacific

While the onset of COVID-19 disruptions have been devastating, even fatal, to broad swaths of traditional brick-and-mortar vendors, producers who have leaned into the digital revolution have not only weathered the storm, but in many cases thrived. In the era of social distancing, consumers have flocked to web-based stores en masse, and while this trend has accelerated the so-called “retail apocalypse,” brands and fulfillers with highly efficient web-to-print operations haven’t missed a beat, often creating new product lines—such as personal protective equipment (PPE)—to capitalize on their production capabilities.

Take, for example, QTCo, Australia’s highest-volume fulfiller of digital direct-to-garment (DTG) imprinted apparel. Due to increased demand for their gear, the company doubled its capacity for on-demand production in the fall of 2020, supplementing industrial DTG production capabilities with popular web-based design and point-of-sale platforms, which further streamline the end-to-end process, eliminate errors, minimize time to market, and free up resources for continuous investment in operations. They’ve established a reputation for shipping customized pieces within 48 hours, and as digital means a low and consistent cost per print, even the smallest orders (down to a single piece) are profitable.

While digital production empowers print businesses like QTCo to act quickly and efficiently, the technology makes no sacrifices on quality. Graphic design and colour gamut are virtually unlimited, capable of delivering photorealistic images; the pigment-based inks are certified eco-friendly, produce no water waste, and are nontoxic and safe for all applications; and the process generates a retail-quality piece that matches rigorous standards for wash, rub, and light fastness. The same ink set can be applied to a broad range of fabrics, using the same print systems.

Brick-and-mortar stores will always have their place, but in the e-commerce age, the most effective - and therefore successful – producers can adapt to fulfill demand immediately, eliminating waste (both by-products and inventory) and ensuring the agility needed to meet unforeseen challenges. COVID-19 disruptions didn’t create this market dynamic, but it has certainly demonstrated the stakes involved. A digital marketplace demands digital production.

Packaging and Sustainability to Continue Growth

Nick Price, APJ Business Manager, HP PageWide Industrial, HP Inc.

In 2020, the world got much larger for all of us. Our lives were restricted to within walking distance, freedom to travel and fly at will was removed and we had to learn to interact with our colleagues, customers and family worlds through a very remote and often impersonal lens. In the business world, this hyper-accelerated many trends that were already evolving and brought many key challenges into sharp focus. This has been very polarizing and is forcing a massive re-assessment of ways we do business.

For example, at HP we saw the decimation of the office printing business, and a global surge in Personal Computers in a very short period that could never have been forecast or planned.

In Graphics Art, we have seen a significant decline in the Commercial Printing business as people stayed home, but a spike in the demand for Packaging to supply supermarkets and e-commerce vendors. This tectonic shift after years of development and growth in a challenge even for the most nimble of companies.

There are a couple of brief but critical changes to consider in packaging for 2021 and beyond.

The rapid growth in e-commerce from people ordering from their homes is changing the landscape of printing. Strong packaging growth is set to continue through traditional retail and e-commerce and we are seeing many traditional printing companies pivot to packaging in some form to tap into the demand. Engaging with customers online and through e-commerce portals for ordering and fulfilment is also proving to be a differentiator.

Opportunities for paper-based packaging and clean print processes will increase as global concern and pressure around sustainability mounts. Brand owners and consumers are more environmentally aware than ever before and the demand for water-based inks, recyclability and removal of chemicals and VOCs from the manufacturing processes will provide opportunities.

Continuing Trend of “Divisional Graphics”

Rodd Harrison, Vice President - Sales, APAC, EFI

Despite the pandemic, there are still opportunities in wide format printing for existing production houses and for suppliers of communications materials, in general. We are seeing an increase in wall-covering applications for interior décor. For example, the multi-layered printing capability on the VUTEk h5 hybrid LED printer is able to produce interior and exterior building materials through textured printing and application of EFI Armor Coatings.

We are also seeing an upward trend in truck curtain production and new categories of “Divisional Graphics” for social distancing measures that will continue. EFI listens and adapts to our customers’ needs and we have invested time, energy and resources to help customers transition into the most active fast-growth markets of the day with Divisional Graphics, Distancing Graphics and similar items.

The barriers and directional signs so many companies are producing now are essential for nearly every retail business and workplace. Even as the pandemic subsides, these types of graphics applications will remain part of the overall product mix. Helping customers establish a foothold in production for these materials is an ongoing, proactive conversation with our customer base, and we’re encouraged by the opportunities our customers are able to create in the wake of an unprecedented change in normal business conditions.

Print businesses need efficiency, low running cost and greater application diversity to survive, as they are the ones struggling the most in the current environment. Much of their customer base are small businesses with short-run bespoke production requirements. To these SMEs, entry-level hybrid printers, the “Swiss-Army knives” of our industry, are often the most suitable solution, with the flexibility to do more with a single device, and a lower total costs of ownership.

The analogue to digital transformation in print that started so many years ago is still progressing and in some ways COVID may even accelerate that. When it comes to progressing with digital today, it’s not enough to just buy a printer and put ink on substrates – it is all about implementing the right solution that will help differentiate yourself from the crowd. Picking the right technology partner is critical, because in simple, practical terms, standing out over the long haul involves smart strategy and the ability to do more work faster, and as efficiently as possible.


First published in Issue 01/2021 of Print Innovation Asia.

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