By Martin Schoeppler
The global pandemic has had a dramatic impact on many print segments, a downturn shared by both emerging and advanced economies alike.
For the author’s company, the pandemic has presented many challenges, but its teams in North America have maintained great working relationships, and mastered collaboration tools like Zoom that have enabled them to keep in touch with each other and to sustain open lines of communication with clients around the world.
Overall, the natural resiliency of present-day industries and increased post-pandemic consumer demand will deliver technological boosts at every level and will power a full-bodied recovery in some of the printing industry segments.
Working with customers, both existing and new, during a pandemic has been challenging. Cultural differences and communication styles are certainly a bit more pronounced while everyone is under personal and economic stress and principal means of communications are virtual—but many have learned to make these interactions just as effective and successful.
One positive aspect of these situations is these new avenues for communications and collaboration are in some ways more effective and surely will outlast the pandemic. It adds new trusted and tested tools to enrich contacts with the company’s supply chain partners, customers, and print service providers (PSPs).
Like many of its longstanding PSPs weathering the storm of the pandemic, the author’s company went into the crisis with a deep experience in navigating the cyclical nature of the North American and global printing markets it has served for more than 30 years.
Although demand has temporarily fallen from previous highs in some areas, the manufacturing and production capabilities of the industry’s sectors remain steady despite the challenges, with planning and development activities there largely continuing in readiness for post-pandemic recovery.
Voices from the field help guage the market
The author’s company monitored and measured the direct impact of the crisis on virtually all PSPs to businesses and the community. Some of these challenges were even more precisely defined in direct feedback it received from customer surveys. Many reported significant declines in business activity and also said they had sought direct help from local and federal governments to alleviate these challenges.
There are already signs of recovery evident in the fact customer surveys indicated an increased demand for print consumables, and some were reporting substantial optimism with a majority projecting a return to normal late in the fall.
North American customers with the author’s company specifically reported they have shifted some of their traditional activities, and taken steps to ensure business continuity during the pandemic, with many offering entirely new products to support urgent efforts of first responders for pandemic-specific signage and innovative packaging solutions.
Here is how some of the company’s specific segments have returned from the pandemic:
Sign and display
Cancellation of trade shows early in the pandemic caused a dramatic drop in North American demand of convention and event banners.
Store orders for promotional banners also initially plummeted. But then demand for social distancing signage and floor decals kicked in, along with temporary closure, reopening, and hours of operation notices from restaurants.
The sign and display segment is a mature one rich in digital printing technology, most of which is based on inkjet technology, which enables PSPs to respond to client needs. For example, providers responded with agility to the need for large-format signage unique to the pandemic—such as public health notices, business-hour banners, billboards, and some even manufactured personal protective equipment (PPE)—which helped sustain this part of the printing industry. Some industry analysts are still projecting this segment will reach $4 billion globally by 2027.
Inkjet printing technologies for signage have continued to evolve even during the pandemic and will be ready to support continued print volume growth, providing a range of reliable, new ink technologies that make indoor and outdoor signage more durable.
The author’s company witnessed growth in the use of printheads for jetting ultraviolet (UV) inks from original equipment manufacturer (OEM) partners and their PSP clients. This is primarily due to the attributes of UV inks, such as improved adhesion to a wide range of rigid and flexible surfaces ranging from paper to metal, ink flexibility, and naturally a broad colour gamut.
The availability of printheads and inks supports a growing range of products from small tabletop to high productivity roll, hybrid, or flatbed printers. UV inks and curing using light-emitting diode (LED) became a go-to technology for printing a range of applications from signs to banners, packaging, textiles, and eye-catching thermoformed signs.
The author is also convinced post-pandemic PSPs will continue and accelerate their quest for productivity and automation, which will expand the cost-effectiveness of providing local high-speed large-format printing.
With global trade routes slowed, fault lines in global textile supply chains will drive more locally sourced fabrics produced using on-demand service. North American printers can address some of the brand needs for mass-customization of garments, fabrics, and décor. Many sign and display graphics providers are also looking at direct-to-garment (DTG) printing as a growth opportunity for their businesses.
Textile printing already spans many segments from high fashion to garment printing.
Production of digitally produced fabrics is continuing to grow at double digits worldwide. Some of this growth can create opportunities for users in graphics production to grow their business and meet emerging demands.
The author has also observed sign and display printers expanding into other markets, including a range of innovative ad-specialty (marketing premiums) print applications, as well as textile or garment printing. It is worthy to note these applications translate into products with higher profit margins and broaden printers’ appeal with existing and new customers.
It is evident the pandemic has had a severe impact on the printing industry at large; however, the author’s company and its customers are already firmly focused on the drivers that will enable a solid recovery. The voices heard from the field are indications of what is to come: advanced and innovative technology, customized customer service, and service dexterity, which will continue to be the foundations of an effective response in gaining a competitive advantage even during this challenging period.
Martin Schoeppler is a seasoned international executive and has been the CEO and president of Fujifilm Dimatix since 2008. He has 35 years of extensive electronics market experience, including prior senior management responsibilities at Hewlett-Packard, Lumileds Lighting, and Agilent Technologies in Germany, Switzerland, and the U.S. He holds a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering (BSEE) from the University of Applied Science in Esslingen, Germany, and attended Institut Européen d’Administration des Affaires (INSEAD) in France and International Institute for Management Development (IMD) in Switzerland.