Is screen printing being threatened by inkjet and other technologies? Or are broader forces at work, including our own inertia?
By Mark Coudray
Our special "SWOT: Changes & Challenges" issue brings industry experts together to consider strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats to screen printing. Our "Digital Dimensions" columnists opens the "Threats" section with a look at forces both inside and outside our industry that may limit our potential.
Any process or technology is inherently threatened by disruption in today’s digital economy. The threat comes not from the evolution of new technologies or printing processes, but from the underlying driver of all things digital. Simply stated, the speed at which the digital economy is evolving threatens everything. There is no such thing as a status quo any longer.
In the industrial economy of the last century, everything was measured in years – product lifecycles, research and development, and the lifespan of the final product itself. There was time to make decisions. Markets could be developed around the expanded capability of capital investments in new equipment and automation. “If we buy it, they will come” was the common approach to acquiring a major new piece of equipment such as an automatic press. Purchases were often made under the assumption that the company would grow into the new production capacities over time.
But the digital economy is disposable. It’s based on iterations measured in months, or even weeks. As systems become self-learning, product evolution will compress further until it becomes continuous. There isn’t much we can do about it. It’s happening in every area where digital technology has a foothold, which is pretty much everywhere.
One consequence of this acceleration for any business owner is that you must hit the ground running as soon as any capital equipment you’ve acquired is in place. You don’t have time to develop your market or go through a steep learning curve. It’s not just that your own processes for developing and launching products are compressed – the equipment and software you’re buying have short lifespans as well, so you have to be productive from day one. The clock is ticking down from the moment you sign the contract to buy.
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