Since the initial unveiling of production inkjet presses at the 2008 drupa, they have come of age. In September, production inkjet held center stage at Graph Expo 2015. Now into the third generation of many of these presses, production inkjet has gone mainstream and it is poised to become the primary driver of production printing in the next five years.
According to InfoTrends, by 2018, inkjet will account for 59.1 percent of the total production digital color volume. At certain run lengths, inkjet is now competitive with offset and suitable for high-volume printing.
“We are entering the new era of production print, emerging from the time when offset was for mainstream applications and inkjet was for short-run specialty niches,” said David Murphy, WW director of marketing & business development, HP Inkjet High-speed Production Solutions (IHPS). “Inkjet is entering the mainstream. At HP, we continue to experience tremendous sequential growth rates in inkjet page volume from our customers. Enjoying the benefits of higher inkjet quality and productivity, our customers are able to convert ever more offset and toner volumes to inkjet. Beyond transferring current volume from other devices, many data-driven marketing service providers are creating incremental inkjet work that was previously impractical or unaffordable. They are proving to their brands and agencies that high volume graphics-intensive variable content can be produced efficiently while generating high response rates and low costs per acquisition.”
“Inkjet production printing has truly arrived,” said Eric Hawkinson, senior director, marketing, Production Print Solutions, Canon Solutions America. “More media selection and improved inks are enabling near offset quality in the smaller runs that the market demands. High-speed, highly productive inkjet printing systems also rival offset in productivity and affordability. And because they’re data driven, print providers can offer customers something they couldn’t before: single-step personalization and color.”
According to Beth Ann Kilberg-Walsh, vice president, marketing communications & customer engagement programs, Xerox Corporation, machine placements are on the rise, and page volume growth has been strong as jobs continue to migrate from offset and older digital technologies. “The market is clearly still on the upswing, with room for continued growth,” said Kilberg-Walsh.
“There is a considerable year over year increase in the number of pages printed with inkjet but much of this additional volume is from large printers aggressively pushing out more products, especially in the book market,” said Roland Ortbach, vice president of sales for manroland web systems
“The quality increase, in both print and additional paper selections, have allowed inkjet to penetrate new market segments,” agreed Lance Martin, director of sales, MBO America.
“More media selection and improved inks are enabling near offset quality in the smaller runs that the market demands. High-speed, highly productive inkjet printing systems also rival offset in productivity and affordability. And because they’re data driven, print providers can offer customers something they couldn’t before: single-step personalization and color,” said Hawkinson.
“A number of exciting new products have been shown or launched in 2015, at events like Hunkeler Innovation Days and Graph Expo. Advancements in workflow software, inks, print heads, paper and services are helping PSP’s reinvent their operations and capture new growth. And with Drupa in 2016, we expect to see another wave of innovative press and solution offerings in the wide web, narrow web, and cut sheet spaces—this will give PSP’s more choices and greater capabilities,” said Kilberg-Walsh.
And while continuous feed is the mainstay of production inkjet devices right now, InfoTrends predicts that by 2019, 55 percent of all production inkjet unit sales will be sheetfed.
Consumables are the Clincher for New Opportunities
Developments in the inkjet space are happening at break-neck speed as manufacturers are working to stay ahead of the curve and make a much broader range of application types eligible for production inkjet. This will be accomplished primarily through advancements in ink, printhead, and media technology. As media versatility expands, print quality increases, and productivity is improved, more volume will migrate to inkjet.
For example, today, millions of pages of high quality marketing communications, such as brochures and catalogs, are produced on attractive, glossy offset stocks, using litho and toner based systems, noted Kilberg-Walsh. “Today’s inkjet systems are largely incompatible with these stocks, or require expensive and time-consuming pre-treatments to achieve compatibility. As ink and paper chemistry evolve, production inkjet presses will be able to print effectively on these paper types. As a result, PSP’s will be able to add more of these types of jobs to their inkjet print streams and bring the benefits of production inkjet to their customers.”
“The ability to move towards common paper types and quality, rather than very special inkjet substrates, has had a dramatic effect on the market,” said Martin. “This should allow deeper penetration of the inkjet platform into more general print markets than ever before.”
“In inkjet printing, we see paper as a key element that defines opportunities to enter into new markets,” said Hawkinson. “For that reason, we continue to invest heavily into our Media & Solutions lab in Boca Raton which perpetually tests and analyzes papers for both our continuous feed and sheet fed inkjet presses. We work closely with paper mills and paper merchants to review our customers’ needs and through these relationships we have actually been able to develop new substrates made specifically for our equipment that meet our customers’ needs. With our latest equipment offering the ability to print on offset, non-inkjet treated media—this cutting edge lab will be a differentiator that will change the print landscape.”
manroland web systems’ Ortbach agreed. “Paper companies are developing more papers suited to inkjet printing, print quality is improving and press speed, especially for four-color work is increasing. More focus is on finishing today, which will eliminate many production bottlenecks and make the entire inkjet printing/finishing process more efficient.
Currently, a lot of the volume in the production inkjet market is in the transaction space. Commercial applications with heavier coverage and higher quality images will start to shift to inkjet as print service providers adopt the new generation of graphics-empowering inkjet.
According to HP’s Murphy, the publishing market will continue to shift to high-quality inkjet with application like journals, personalized magazines, and color trade/education books.
“Publication printing—magazines, catalogs, and newspapers—will grow in 2016 and beyond as higher print quality, sophisticated in-line finishing systems, and a larger variety of substrates become available,” said Ortbach.
This technology also opens up opportunities in the book printing market. According to Ortbach, book printing will continue to grow as legacy equipment is replaced with inkjet equipment for short to medium run work.
“In book printing environments, inkjet delivers on the promise of on-demand printing, reducing risk, waste, and cycle time,” said Hawkinson. “It offers the ability to print very short runs for review copies, comps, and samples. It also opens up long tail marketing revenue streams for out-of-print editions, specialty, and self-published titles.
Production inkjet is perfect for the direct mail space because of its ability to offer targeted and personalized mailings. Experts see this market continuing to increase ad more and more PSPs make sure of data and VDP to drive marketing campaigns. “The Direct Mail segment will continue to grow, as variable data becomes more mainstream, and it has proven its worth to the ultimate purchaser,” said Ortbach.
“Inkjet offers a more affordable way to create impact with the color and personalization that drives response. It also supports market trends toward targeted lists, relevant and personalized content, and multichannel marketing,” said Hawkinson.
“The direct mail space will also gain momentum with data-driven, mass-customized offers based on known preferences of buyers,” said Murphy.
“As creative marketers use data and their knowledge of their customers to increase the relevance of direct mail content, this application will continue to grow,” noted Kilberg-Walsh.
On the commercial p side, high speeds, high productivity, and low running costs are driving the adoption of inkjet in commercial print environments. “Dynamic personalization and high-quality image output make inkjet ideal for applications like loyalty mailers, manuals, sales collateral, training materials, and personalized catalogs,” said Hawkinson.
“Similar to direct mail, catalogs can be produced by production inkjet, very cost effectively and with fast turnaround time. Combining this with the power of variable information will result in improved response rates by end users of the catalogs, fueling the growth in this application,” said Kilberg-Walsh.
Interestingly, Kilberg-Walsh also pointed to packaging and labels as another market of growth. “This market traditionally grows consistent with worldwide GDP, but only a very small fraction of package printing is done on digital presses today,” she noted. “As digital adoption increases, perhaps in 2016 or certainly beyond, the opportunity in packaging and labels is huge.”
What’s To Come?
Within Xerox, Kilberg-Walsh noted that they have seen a clear movement toward the “white paper factory”, whereby a workflow consisting of preprinted color shells with variable data, black overprint is replaced by a simplified white paper-in process. Both color and monochrome content are produced on a single system with high speed, cost efficient inkjet. “The result is more profound than a mere cost savings – it is a true business model transformation. Many of our customers have successfully made this leap, and we expect this model to become more pervasive in the coming years,” said Kilberg-Walsh.
Additionally, from a manufacturer’s perspective Ortbach observed that there has been much more of a focus on workflow, automation, and integrated solutions “which will remain strong into the future. Inkjet presses are very productive but must be kept running and producing with as little down-time as possible. Automation and workflow are key to keeping the presses running and results in maximum efficiency and profitability.”
In some cases, production inkjet is still dealing with a “perception issue.” “There are still many people who think that inkjet is only for light-coverage, short-run applications where quality is compromised for cost efficiency. That is a 2012 paradigm for many,” said Murphy. “Technology advances in inkjet today are redefining the ‘what’s possible?’ query. The new answer is ‘almost anything.’”
And as PSPs are discovering “what’s possible”, they are still struggling to learn how to take advantage of everything the technology offers. “There are many good technologies available from vendors today, however, the size, scale, cost and complexity of many systems exceed the business needs or capabilities of many PSPs,” said Kilberg-Walsh. “Educating the market is a critical factor for growth. Customers need to understand this differences between toner, inkjet, and offset and how they can leverage all three technologies inside their businesses.”
Finishing too, needs to be considered at the outset and education is needed. “In many instances, the finishing portion of the project is not considered until quite late in the process,” said Martin. “We strongly advise that finishing be considered at inception since this process may yield a plan that changes the workflow, as well as decisions such as the selected format—such as nearline vs. inline.”
The best way to learn, according to Hawkinson, is from industry networking and peer-to-peer learning. “We learn best when we can discuss our problems, evaluate options, and learn from peers. That’s exactly why we launched thINK this year—an independent inkjet specific networking community. Our first event was successful and we look forward to growing this community of learning and enabling printers to learn more about inkjet.”
HP also launched its Jetcomm community in 2015, just prior to the annual Dscoop conference. The Jetcomm user group is dedicated to HP Inkjet Web Press Solutions. Members of the group are leading printers in their markets, uniting to learn from their peers, build trusted relationships, and inspire one another with ideas and resources to enable business growth.
Growth is Within Reach
Over the last few years, PSPs have been struggling with the “Print is Dead” mindset of many marketers. Now, more so than ever, it is essential that PSPs look at their existing operation and challenge the status quo. “Don’t settle for the notion that print is a commodity—prove that print has incredible ROI and show them how your solutions will make an impact in their marketing needs,” said Hawkinson. “Print still remains a critical importance of the marketing mix with 29 percent of all dollars being spend on the printed piece. We are now on another new age in printing and those customers who understand the trends will acknowledge how inkjet technology can impact the marketplace.”
Successful PSPs aren’t restricting their growth plans to 2016, but rather to 2022 and beyond, noted Murphy. “They have a longer-term vision for the potential of digital print and they don’t want to be boxed in by technological capabilities available today.”
“Look beyond the printed page,” advised Kilberg-Walsh. “The first way to do this is on the cost management side, recognizing that only a fraction of a job’s final cost is in the print process itself—paper, ink, running cost, and equipment. The larger share of cost lies in other areas of workflow: job management, pre- and post-press, color management, etc. PSP’s can grow profits by working with vendors that help them automate these critical processes, which will reduce costs and increase efficiency and predictability.
“The second way is to focus on new revenue opportunities, such as delivering products that combines print and e-media. These capabilities, in the hands of creative PSP’s, can drive exciting new revenue sources.”
“Keep listening to your own customers to find out what they want to achieve. Learn how to leverage the combined attributes of data-driven communications, high-quality inkjet, and broad media versatility to bring incremental, repeatable value to your customers. Then apply this knowledge to deliver scalable solutions well into the future,” said Murphy.
“PSP’s need to have a clear business plan that addresses their entire value chain. Technology/device substitution alone is not a plan that will lead to success. Inkjet can help reduce costs and improve operational efficiencies, but PSP’s need to look throughout the entire workflow to ensure that the technology will help them achieve business goals. Work with vendors on these points – understand where the market is going, how technology will evolve, and make use of business assessment and business development tools,” said Kilberg-Walsh. “Lastly, know your industry peers! Study other PSP’s that have successfully implemented inkjet and understand their criteria and blueprint for success.”