For me, it’s always interesting to look at new technologies and products that have been developed to streamline processes. Not just to see what they do and how they work, but also to see how they can create value and opportunity for your operations. However, as a change of pace, for this article I decided it was time to use this breather between new press and technology introductions to see how companies are adopting and benefiting from some of these new introductions I have reviewed in this series.
In speaking with the representatives of the four companies I interviewed, it appears that while production inkjet technology has been around for about 40 years, it has really taken off in the last 2 years. Paul Caravello, the EVP of Wilen Direct said, “More has happened in four-color variable printing in the last 2 years than the previous 30 .” Much of the output from early production inkjet was either for less demanding transactional or document printing, or imprinting offset production. However, in the last few years things have changed. Darren Loken, the President of K&H Integrated Print Solutions in Everett Washington, shared that following a 2-year hiatus from print industry which ended last year, he noticed that “inkjet had exploded.” But it takes more than technology to ignite an industry and the markets that support it.
The perfect storm
If we look back to 2008, something most of us would rather not do, we remember that we were staring at a major realignment. The global economy was tanking, and forward-thinking companies were looking at transforming in order to survive. As a result, there was a reevaluation of how and where publishing, marketing and advertising expenditures should go to grow this new economy. Targeted marketing and distribution have historically had much better response rates than broadcast in both print and eMedia; but to do it right it was “harder” and more costly. But the truth is, as most studies have shown, it’s not more costly if you look at return on investment. So now we have a demand driver.
Another factor is that targeted marketing with variable data requires, first and foremost, ‘good data.’ While mailing lists have been around for a long time, effective targeted marketing campaigns require a lot more information than just a name and address. While some very large companies have been able to grow and maintain information about their customers, with the initial introduction of the Internet and the subsequent introduction and adoption of mobile technologies, data analytics has gone mainstream. So now ‘good data’ is more readily available, not just for Internet and mobile, but also for print. Wilen Direct’s Caravello shared that he evaluates how data-centric his clients are, and when he feels the client is ready, “we work with them to bring them over to variable print.”
New technology has expanded viable applications
Throughout this series, and the Drupa 2012 series, I have highlighted the primary technology drivers and constraints of production inkjet. We have looked at the factors that have constrained variable print to move from lower quality applications to higher quality direct mail and marketing applications. In the last three years, advances in a few areas have made that move possible. The advances are primarily in new and better control of print heads, better inks, and a much wider selection of readily available and more affordable inkjet treated papers.
One of the real advances in the newer production inkjet presses is the ability to handle a wider range of applications. When K&H was looking at production inkjet presses, they wanted one that they could get certified for election ballot production, but that also could be used for commercial print. They selected the Canon Océ ColorStream 3900, and had it installed last July. Loken mentioned that when they first installed their press, they found that inkjet treated paper availability in the Pacific Northwest was not what it is today. Part of the problem was that they were one of the first printers in the Northwest with a production inkjet machine. Sometimes it is challenging being the first to jump in to new technology, but the long term benefits of an established platform and reputation can make up for it.
According to Martin Aalsma, President and COO of Documation in Eau Claire, WI, he noticed that about 1 ½ to 2 years ago the enhancements in HP inkjet technology enabled him to upgrade his 2 HP T200’s to T230s and to move from B&W to color publishing production. He expects that just as the upgrade increased his application range, the introduction of HDNA and other new HP technologies will enable him to further support the increasing quality and productivity demands of their diverse client requirements.
Wilen Direct is not new to production inkjet. The company has had Kodak printheads on its offset presses for about 10 years. The imprinting gave them and their customers a taste of what could be done with variable print, and the introduction of the Prosper 5000 a little over two years ago started a drive to transform Wilen and its customers to over 95% variable data production. Wilen recently purchased a Kodak Prosper 6000 to increase capacity and speed while further enhancing quality to expand their offerings.
Hansaprint in Finland was the first company to order the new Ricoh VC60000 after its beta in the Netherlands, and it will be running production work next week. Jukka Saariluoma, Hansaprint’s Business Unit Director, shared that this new press will bring new capabilities to the company which already is a “white paper” variable data printer. Hansaprint started with a Kodak Versamark press in 2002 and has subsequently added other presses, including an Infoprint 5000. Its existing work is a mix of book, newspaper and magazine publishing and expanding further into direct mail and perhaps even POS. Hansaprint sees the VC60000 as a platform that will offer them the flexibility to support their diverse mix.
It takes a village
A recurring theme I heard in our discussions was the need for increased sharing of information about how to get the most out of these new investments. We have seen this before, with the introduction of digital prepress, digital print, and in many other areas. In the spirit of coopetition, getting together with others using new technologies is a win/win for all of those involved.
One of the most valuable things you can do is join a user association sponsored by your vendor like the recently held Jetcomm users group founded by HP. where users can share experiences. Canon recently announced its new production inkjet user group and thINK conference, to be held in September. Canon also added its Designers Guide to Inkjet to their press.go business development portal, which is a great backgrounder for creatives on how to design for production inkjet. IWCODirect, a direct mail service provider has a link with a valuable collection of information on variable data and inkjet printing. We’ll be visiting IWCODirect in June, so watch for more detail about its implementation of production inkjet technology.
It is fairly evident that production inkjet is mainstream, and for many it is not just mainstream, but their present and future.
All of the companies I spoke with saw Production Inkjet as THE core technology moving forward. They all expect to be adding additional production inkjet presses in the next year or two, mostly to replace digital toner and offset presses. More importantly, they are very excited about what they have been able to accomplish to date and the prospects for even more new applications and opportunities to use the technology to grow their business.
What are we missing and what can we expect?
In the next article, we will look at where we are, what we are missing, and what we can expect in the field of production inkjet presses over the remaining months in the run-up to – dare I say it? – drupa 2016!