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Drupa 2024 showcases digital innovation and the shift to sustainability

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Infosource, as a global market intelligence company and data supplier in the Production & Industrial (P&I) printing industry, couldn’t be missing from drupa 2024, the world’s largest exhibition for printing technologies. With drupa cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic, this was the first time the event was hosted in-person in Düsseldorf, Germany in eight years. 

Drupa 2024 attracted more than 1,600 exhibitors across all sectors of the P&I printing industry, including hardware, software and consumables, from more than 50 nations. Most Digital Printing hardware manufacturers were satisfied with the number of visitors in their booths and were optimistic about the prospects from the exhibition and the future of the digital P&I industry.

The well-known, long-established traditional manufacturers showcased their various applications, innovations, new products and technologies with great enthusiasm. There were also many new entrants, mainly from China, with booths of all sizes.

“Meeting people from all continents and various sectors of the printing industry and having discussions with them was educational and inspiring,” says Eirini Louizou, Infosource’s Head of P&I Printing Program. “The Production & Industrial printing industry, despite the transformations it went through over the last few years, remains resilient. Manufacturers had           many new and enhanced applications to show and developing sectors to serve, derived from the increased demand for sustainability, smart workflows, reduced costs and many other trends.” Fabien Disclos, MD at Infosource, also visited Drupa to meet clients.

Here are some of the major trends,  many of them converging, that Infosource observed on the expo floor and in conversation with vendors:

Drive for environmental protection 

Environmental concerns are top of mind for most end-consumers, and are growing along with rising living standards, educational levels and awareness of environmental good practices. Thus, improved inks, technologies, and more greener, more sustainable devices are in high demand across all printing products (e.g. cartons, textile, graphic displays, etc.).

Sustainability is the keyword

Sustainability has become a major driver for nearly every segment of the P&I printing industry. Across the board, vendors are focusing on creating media and inks that reduce wastage and toxic byproducts—one factor helping to drive faster growth for water-based inks versus other forms of inks.

There is also a major push to improve energy efficiency of printing devices with the aim of reducing carbon emissions, as well as energy consumption. Sustainability is an important factor in the growing move towards printing solutions that enable shorter printing runs as well as the ability to print on demand.   

Especially in packaging, growing concerns about environmental impact are one reason for a shift from plastic to paper or cardboard as well as the development of new mono-component substrates for easier recycling. In many markets and verticals, brands and retailers are required to be transparent about the composition and origin of their packaging.

Additionally, the shift towards sustainable substrates is a commitment to environmental responsibility, under which brands reduce their environmental impact, comply with governmental guidelines and align with the values of their consumers.

Ink development is probably the most R&D intensive field. Most manufacturers are focusing on improving water-based inks to reach color brilliance and good adhesion to a variety of packaging substrates while reducing costs. This move is closely related to compliance, particularly in terms of ink formulations for safe food packaging, where the requirements are increasingly stringent and where the usage of photo-initiators for UV-curable inks is progressively decreasing.

Digital printing is in high demand, gaining ground from analog printing

With an extended color gamut, and the addition of the digital white capability, together with the technological advancements in digital printing devices, both in terms of printing speed and width, digital devices today offer improved output quality at high speed and lower cost. Considering also the capability of shorter runs, digital printing is becoming more attractive than analog.

Thus, digital printing is gaining ground over the analog as smaller batches, lower ordering quantities and shorter lead times are available, hence significantly reducing the costs of inventory management, consumables (paper and ink), operational costs (energy and labor force), and wastage (CO2 emissions, paper and other substrates, inks, etc.).

Demand for customization and better marketing opportunities for product branding

As a continuation of the previous trend, digital printing addresses the demand for high customization while offering marketing/ branding advantages. With the capabilities of variable data, personalized messages and even unique designs, digital printing enables brand owners to engage more with their consumers at a deeper level and lower cost.

Cost pressure, skills shortage and sustainability

Printshops worldwide, as well as other businesses in the printing and packaging sector, need to deal with cost reduction, sufficient and skilled labor force, and sustainability in terms of printing devices, printing processes and consumables to remain profitable and competitive. Many traditional manufacturers have developed platforms, and have integrated AI and other automated tools that could make the operation of digital devices easier, helping to close the skills gap and increase productivity as the uptime of digital devices increases. Furthermore, by offering cutting-edge and intuitive user interfaces, more skilled workers are attracted, and if combined with a low-emissions working environment, their ability to attract skilled operators increases.

Smart digital workflows and cloud applications

Automation, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and smart workflows are in high demand, as they increase production efficiency, and customer service, reducing human intervention. Across the board, printing vendors are making equipment smarter and providing automated and cloud-based software for optimum usage. Remote technology support is a key driver for cloud-enabled devices.

Hybrid devices and hybrid environments

Another trend in Labels & Packaging industry is the convergence between analog and digital. In many cases, traditional clients of the analog industry, now invest either in hybrid devices or integrate a digital printer in the analog environment. In this way, they get the benefits a digital device could offer, most importantly, the small-scale applications and ventures into areas where analog technologies fall short.

Integrated industrial print portfolios

Vendors such as Canon, Epson, HP, as well as other traditional manufacturers, promote automation and integration of different digital industrial workstations, such as large format and digital presses. The idea is to enable printshops as well as other businesses, to offer a wider set of services to their end customers, and therefore become more profitable, while leveraging a single vendor’s integrated product portfolio with ease of use.

The rise of nanography

An innovation we are watching with interest is a digital printing process called nanography. Developed by Landa Digital Printing, nanography employs a combination of offset, inkjet and nanotechnologies to print on virtually any paper or film. The technology enables nano-sized pigments to be transferred to dry media.

One of the major benefits for printers and converters looking to produce more jobs with shorter times and deadlines is that the ink dries extremely fast. It is also more efficient and allows for less wastage. Landa claims that the technology allows for versatile, short-run printing with the productivity and low cost-per-page of offset.

Packaging and book printing on an upward trajectory

Packaging is a key growth area for the Production & Industrial sector. The accelerated increase of e-commerce and food packaging is boosting the demand for Digital Packaging as well. Packaging is no longer just about protection; it plays a crucial role in enticing customers, informing consumers, and optimizing the supply chain.

As for book printing, following a period of disruption from e-books, is one of the hot growth areas for the next few years. People are rediscovering the pleasures of collecting, handling and enjoying printed books, leading to a renaissance for the sector. Digital printing, meanwhile, enables new business models for book publishers and printers. Shorter book runs and even print-on-demand are gaining ground, together with the benefits that accompany short-runs by a digital press device (e.g. lower costs, reduced waste, environmental benefits etc.).

Positive outlook for the Global Production & Industrial printing Industry

Infosource, like the vendors we spoke, remains positive about the current and future evolutions of the Digital Color Press market. We have a positive outlook for the Global Production & Industrial printing industry. Certain geographical areas are expected to increase at higher CAGRs, while specific sub-segments like Packaging is expected to thrive in all territories.

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