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How Do You Go The Distance In The Digital World?

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09 December 2016 - With a constant shift from analogue to digital in all industries, how do you stand out in the signage and branding industry with digital technologies that are now available? This topic was addressed at the Daily Debate held at FESPA Africa and Sign Africa Expo 2016. It was chaired by Michael Ryan, Group Exhibition Manager, FESPA and the panel consisted of: Lascelle Barrow, FESPA Past President/Print Ambassador, Yasmina Lembariki, HP: After Market Business Development Manager, Middle East, Mediterranean and Africa, Mike Horsten, General Manager Marketing EMEA Mimaki Europe BV and Dr Nicholas Hellmuth, FLAAR Reports.

How Has The Industry Changed?

Lascelle: It first started as screen printers, then screen print offset but in the last 10 years, we've seen a move to digital. This has led to shorter runs, customisation and now you can personalise things very easily. It's led us into different markets and changed the way we do business.

Yasmina: The industry is changing continuously, today it is punctuated by shorter runs and customisation in order to add value to the print. In HP, our product portfolio clearly shows that digital is the way forward. We began our journey with the HP Scitex Industrial Press 10000 in 2013 to now, the HP Scitex 17000 Corrugated Press. We have just recently introduced the HP Scitex Industrial Press 9000 to serve the S&D. This new product launch aims at reaching different levels of printing volumes to attract more customers and help them make the move to digital. Digital has moved from ‘nice to have’ to ‘must have’.

Mike: The industry is changing on a daily basis. Ten years ago, our entry-level printer was doing 6, 7 or 8sqm per hour. Today, it's some 80sqm per hour. The quality perception and expectations are higher and colour gamuts have to be closer to, or bigger than, offset printing and screen printing. The requirements of customers have changed from expecting a nice print to something that is an application and an added value to that print. The perception of digital has changed in the last 10 years and will evolve even more.

How Has The South African Market Changed In The Last Five Years?

Nicholas: From a technical aspect, a lot of new printheads are coming out. A printer needs new printheads to do what is required effectively. Technologically, the quality of printers and inks coming out of China has significantly increased. A lot of Chinese printers realise that they can't just make cheap stuff and have it survive. I've seen some very sophisticated Chinese-made printers.

Mike: There's been a tremendous amount of digital equipment available on a smaller scale in
smaller shops. If you go into rural areas, you will find small print shops printing high quality stuff. The acceptance of quality has also changed, as sometimes you see better quality printing than that in Europe, whereas four years ago, there was quite a difference in the quality. There's massive growth in education and willingness to achieve a higher standard of printing.

Print Is More Than A Poster. Tell Me Where South Africa Should Be Looking For Future Industries?

Yasmina: After visiting a customer in Durban, we see a clear shift to where all clients are looking for personalisation and customisation. Print service providers are facing a lot of one-off and very short run jobs. Consequently, print shops want to sell high value prints to their customers and they do not hesitate to follow the same trends as Europe by investing in the latest digital equipment to differentiate themselves.

What Industries Have Opened For Your Business In The Last Ten Years?

Lascelle: We've gone from printing set-sized posters or placards to printing displays that can be any size. Most people, if you give them the opportunity, will decorate part of their store or environment in a meaningful and cost-effective way. Completely new markets have opened up, such as lift doors, which are now decorated. There are so many areas in which you can apply print, especially in the home environment, which has not been approached before. The market is endless, it's just a matter of having the right means to get to that market. Substrates have developed and software is clever. You have to be able to produce changes very quickly and you have to populate a lot of designs quickly.

What's Been The Biggest Change You've Seen In Your Customer Base?

Mike: People don't say 'I want to buy a machine', they say, 'I need to print on this, do you have a solution?' We're application and solution driven rather than technology driven.

Advice For A Person Trying To Get Into This Industry, Where Should They Position Themselves?

Nicholas: The future is printing on unusual materials because signage is going to continue for a long time but a lot of signage is going digital and as inks come out, UV is getting better and can print on more materials. In terms of printers, I would select a UV curable printer and one that can handle both roll fed and flat materials. Go with a company that has a lot of experience and that brings out new products that can help you and your business in the future.

Where Do You See The Future Of Corrugated Packaging, Is It A Revenue Opportunity?

Yasmina: Absolutely, at HP we are all about corrugated growing more and more digital. That is why we have introduced our new presses within the flatbed range and have just announced the development of a new high production Water Based press that prints directly on corrugated. We believe corrugated packaging is going digital because of shorter runs, personalisation and faster turnarounds. We have solutions ranging from one million sqm/year up to over 100 million sqm/year. Analogue and digital are still going to coexist for a while, but customers today require digital corrugated to free up space on their analogue machines.

In The UK, There's Been Huge Demand For On Demand Packaging And Printing. And There's The Trend Of Online Shopping. How Do You Address This High Demand For Print?

Lascelle: If we speak of on-demand, we have to look at what HP Indigo has done, for example birthday and Christmas cards as well as the Coca Cola campaign. You can have banners and displays personalised. You can have a hundred different posters in a store instead of hundreds of the same. It's a question of managing the information that goes into the machines and making sure it gets to them fast enough. Online printing is the answer to the problem of being competitive, especially when you're dealing with retailers who want to cut the price of everything they buy. If you have the right products, people will buy regardless.

Mike: Online shopping is fantastic if you live in a main area such as Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town. Otherwise, online printing services are not viable because of the unreliable postal system. Buying online is only viable if there is a logistic system behind it that makes it affordable. It took time to take off in Europe and will take time in Africa.

Advice For Those Wanting To Print On Textiles?

Mike: If you want to get into textiles, tell people what you can and want to do. Talk to customers and listen to what they want and then implement strategies. Textiles are used in advertising, retail, airports, sports and ski wear and fluorescent inks and home and fashion. All these markets have the possibility to make money, but you need customers first. Buy a machine you can afford and that is dedicated to that market. Then get education through events such as FESPA Africa and Sign Africa and organisations such as Printing SA. They give you education on not just what to print, but how to sell your print.

Nicholas: Textile inks are improving. You need an ink that can accommodate different materials. Pigmented ink is getting better and better - Kornit have gorgeous inks. Printheads and inks are changing, and all these changes will give more advantages to print shops You have to go to a company that sells this material and is aware of which printhead and equipment is best for which material.