Examining the Analog-to-Digital Conversion
With economic conditions in the U.S. gradually improving, print executives who forestalled capital investments through the depths of the recession are increasingly analyzing their long-term technology decisions. In August, Fujifilm North America hosted leaders from 32 printing companies at its training and demonstration center in Kansas City, Kansas, for a two-day Tech Summit that examined the analog-to-digital adoption rates in wide-format and the strategies companies are using to adapt to changing customer demands. It was the sixth such training event staged by Fujifilm in 2013 (four in Kansas City and two in the UK).
Approximately three-fourths of the attendees hailed from businesses that predominantly use screen printing, the process that has long been targeted by technology developers as ripe for replacement by inkjet. Speaker Mark Hanley of IT Strategies observed that to this point, wide-format digital has grown not by replacing analog processes but by complementing them.
“The wide-format market, to me, is one of parallel development, and I don’t to this day see serious attrition against the whole of the analog wide-format analog print providing industry.” IT Strategies is forecasting 3 to 4 percent compounded annual growth rate of digital printing in wide-format graphics. “If digital is 40 percent of the market today and the volume of what can be printed, by any means, does not significantly change, then a CAGR of 3 to 4 percent is still big.”
Terry Mitchell, vice president of marketing for Fujifilm Graphic Systems Division, discussed market drivers such as accelerated delivery times, declining run lengths, version changes, and need for cost efficiencies that he feels will accelerate the digital conversion. “Anything analog today will eventually be digital in the future. There is still a tremendous volume of jobs produced annually by analog techniques, but the pressure points are such that all of this work will eventually be digital.”
A highlight of the Summit was a panel discussion of printers in various stages of converting their production from analog to inkjet. Mark Taylor, COO of GFX International, said that the ability to better control process variables has prompted him to start a more aggressive transition in his business even though he doesn’t believe screen printing will be phased out entirely.
“My goal over the next 12 months is to drive about 12 million square feet of production from screen over to digital.”
Panelist Richard Labuik, owner at Holland & Crosby Ltd., discussed his firm’s complete replacement of screen printing with inkjet between 2007 and 2009. He said the transition enabled Holland & Crosby to reduce its print production staff from 17 people to three, even as revenue increased by 40 percent.
John Mills, the recently appointed CEO of Inca Digital Printers, provided an overview of inkjet technology and discussed recent technological trends in wide-format digital printing, including the drive to get finer drop sizes at increasing speeds as offset printers increasingly add wide-format digital to their businesses. Asked to speculate when a true single-pass wide-format printing technology might be commercially available, he said it might take three to five years, with ink and substrate issues a more limiting factor than printhead technology.
In addition, attendees were given demonstrations of various Fujifilm and Inca machines, including the Acuity Advance Select-8 (shown with a roll-media option configured as CMYK with two cyan and magenta, white, and gloss); the Acuity HSX2 (shown with roll-media option); the Acuity LED 1600; the UviStar Pro 8; the Inca Onset S40i (shown in ¾-automatic configuration); and the Inca Onset S20.
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