The printing industry worldwide is in reasonable shape as the clock ticks down to the start of Drupa, little more than a year away.
The sixth Drupa report records an industry where the same pressures are being felt whether in Los Angeles, Berlin or Leeds. Runs are becoming shorter, turnaround times sharper and prices are under pressure resulting in diminishing margins.
Despite this printers are optimistic. The report, which questioned 620 printers from around the world, 358 from Europe, finds a positive balance of 27% in terms of confidence going forwards. This is not evenly spread. Packaging printers are more optimistic than commercial printers for example, publishing more so than functional printers.
And there are strong regional splits. Printers in North America are doing better than their colleagues in other parts of the world. Africa reports a considerable drop off with printers in South America, the Middle East and Asia also recording that business has not matched expectations when the fifth report was compiled towards the end of 2017.
The biggest discovery was that for commercial sheetfed printers “a decisive fall in volume was reported for the first time”. This may be a blip, but may also be an inflexion point. Certainly digital is gaining ground, though not in leaps and bounds. The share of turnover that can be attributed to digital printing has crept up from 25% in 2013 to 29% for commercial printers at the end of last year when the survey was conducted. Digital presses are taking on longer runs than in the past.
Variable data still only accounts for 1% of jobs. Is this a sign of untapped potential, a lack of customers or a lack of knowledge? Skills shortages are one of the top three issues that printers face along with tough competition from rivals and the loss of work to digital forms of messaging.
Overall the skills issue was placed three, but for printers in North America it is the No1 problem and is No2 in Asia. And this comes as printers are planning to increase throughput on their assets in order to counter the decrease in margins, thus raising the number of jobs that need to be processed in the same amount of time.
While MIS and prepress automation are areas where printers are planning to invest, this technology comes behind finishing equipment and printing, presumably to modernise rather than as additional capacity. Digital press investment is titled towards toner rather than inkjet. Some 29% plan to invest in toner technology, 19% in inkjet with inkjet split across sheetfed, rollfed and large format which will surely win the lion’s share.
Sabine Geldermann, Drupa director for Messe Duesseldorf, says: “The report shows that with a little more than a year to go to Drupa, the global industry is in robust health overall. Clearly, there are significant differences in prospects across different regions and markets as demand rapidly changes with economic conditions and evolving uses of print.” It helps printers identify where they are best advised to invest, she explains.
Richard Gray, operations director at Printfuture, which along with Swiss company Wissler & Partner produces the Global Trends Report, says: “Most panel members are positive overall about the future, despite very clear concerns about the economic and political prospects for 2019 and beyond.
“It is striking that many show an increasingly confident grasp of how to exploit the rapidly changing opportunities for print, as the wider markets make increased use of digital communications.“
By Gareth Ward