Opening-day remarks at Graph Expo by Bernhard Schreier captured the tone of the event and offered a restrained but still optimistic outlook for global print markets.

Recalling the chaos that the disasters of September 11, 2001, brought to attendees of that year's show, Print 01, 10 years ago to the day, Schreier said that the aftermath became "a new experience in friendship and sticking together in fighting the world of terror." Many who heard him shared sharply etched memories of helping one other to organize emergency travel out of Chicago as Print 01 was abruptly cancelled and the entire country went into lockdown.  

Schreier, chairman of the management board, Heidelberger Druckmaschinen AG, used the occasion to keynote Heidelberg's return to Graph Expo after its sabbatical from the show last year. Although company has come back with a full complement of conventional and digital printing equipment, Schreier noted that displaying printing machinery for its own sake was not the point.

Given what most printers are up against, he said, Graph Expo "is not the time to showcase tons of iron and steel, but a time to showcase business solutions."

Heidelberg, Schreier said, expects the global demand for print to grow "modestly" through 2020, with some countries likely to experience much more robust increases than others. But, he admitted, the various economic crises around the world over the past few weeks tend to cloud the forecast with uncertainty.

Although the industry is good at identifying long-term technological trends, said Schreier, "short-term planning gives us headaches."

He cautioned against harboring illusions about what competitive pressure from other media will do to the demand for print. "Everything that can go online will go online," Schreier said, adding that from now on, print's future will be shaped as strongly by digital media as by printing technology per se.

To have the best chance of finding a secure path to the future, he urged, "let's ignore the output technology for a second." This, he explained, means first identifying the kinds of work that can be produced most profitably, and then asking, "with what kind of technology can I make money?" Depending on the nature of the job, the answer could be conventional offset, color digital printing, or grand-format UV inkjet-all of them now available from Heidelberg, which has broadened its portfolio in response to shifting print market trends.

The answer, Schreier reiterated, lies in more than just the choice of output equipment. "People who do not understand their cost structure are already on their way to fail," he said." So are those who underestimate the crucial importance of leveraging production efficiency wherever it can be leveraged.

"There is no way around automated workflows in the future," Schreier said. "There is no way around automated equipment."

Print will survive, he predicted, "because print will have more applications in the future than in the past." This will be true, Schreier added, not just in high-growth print markets, but also in those where growth will be relatively restrained.  

Print volumes will decline in the United States and other industrialized countries as they rise in emerging nations, where the appetite for print remains strong. North America now accounts for between 10% and 15% of Heidelberg's business overall, Schreier said.

Although the North American print market falls into the slow-growth category, Schreier pointed out that it still ranks as Heidelberg's largest market in terms of print volume. Between $40 billion and $50 billion worth of value still is produced annually on offset equipment in the U.S., he noted.

He then cited an estimate that the worldwide commercial print volume has declined by 20%. Would it recover?

"I don't care," Schreier declared. "Eighty percent of print is still there, and 80% of print still needs to be retooled in the future."

The press conference that included Schreier's remarks also was an opportunity to salute Jim Dunn, who recently announced his retirement as president of Heidelberg's U.S. operations. Dunn presided at the press conference, giving what would be his final overview of the Heidelberg product line at a trade show. Schreier praised him for his seven years as the leader of Heidelberg USA and for 34 years of service in total to the parent company.

Dunn will be succeeded later this year by Harald Weimer, who currently is president of Heidelberg Mexico.