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Ebbenhorst: Innovation makes inkjet the future of digital print

Kyocera's Hardware Expert gives his vision on the future of production printing.

Marcel Ebbenhorst is our Hardware Expert at Kyocera Document Solutions Europe, so who better to quiz about the transformation our industry is experiencing? Thanks to developments in inkjet technology, it is now suitable for production printing, which could lead businesses to rethink the way they achieve high-volume output.

1. How would you define Production Print?

There is more than one way to define this important printing method. From a business and an opportunity perspective, production print can be seen as one of the most important growth areas for any major printer vendor in today’s modern business world.

Production print allows these printing companies to increase engagement with their end customers’ product and end business models, which is essentially what differentiates production print from other methods. By better understanding your end customers processes, you can provide more adequate printing solutions for them.

2. Which business industries do you think can benefit the most from Production Printing?

Any industry which uses print can benefit. In general, we have seen tremendous market pressure for the last twenty years in terms of volume and demand of varied products. The financial crisis impacted this industry quite heavily, forcing it to drop businesses’ printing capacity. This situation has now stabilised, and production printing can really bump up business numbers and bring innovation into the market.

Production print provides a platform for firms to continue to produce printed content at lower prices, but now in an even more cost-efficient way, enabling them to make further profit. These businesses have been known to lower their prices to remain attractive for consumers, and now with production print they can continue to maintain lower rates in a sustainable way.

However, controlling your production costs cannot be the only objective for companies creating printed content nowadays. Companies are starting to understand the need to add value for their end customer, and the only businesses that are guaranteed a successful future are those who shift their targets away from only cutting costs towards how they make their documents more appealing and valuable. This is something that many companies are struggling with currently and that can be resolved by digital devices which offer new innovative ways to offer value.

3. How exactly will production print drive business success?

Business principally stands to gain from production print through two motives. One is offering more cost-efficient printing techniques and secondly, through opening up a world of opportunities in content customisation and personalisation, which adds value to the final product.

Production print is more of an opportunity for companies that strive for innovation within the sector and focus on becoming more customer-centric, and refuse to look beyond cost management. The data intelligence part of the print business is vital for businesses nowadays, especially in this kind of sector. The companies getting the most profitability in the market are those who are integrating data intelligence into their strategies, seeing as the innovative features that production printing offers, like variable data, will make these companies stand out from the competition. It just goes to prove why companies have to think about the medium and long-term, rather than purely focusing on short-term cost cutting measures.

This represents one of the biggest challenges for business. Acquiring knowledge and driving integration of data intelligence will be key in the next years. These companies can no longer expect to continue to produce content the same way they have been doing for years when there is innovation in technology that is providing new opportunities. Instead they need to harness the power of innovation that digital technology in production print has to offer.

Companies looking to do this can do so by engaging with more expert vendors like Kyocera Document Solutions, for example. By entering into partnerships with companies like us, they can receive adequate knowledge and training on new software and business models. Kyocera’s expertise in data management gives us the possibility to consult and guide companies towards translating their data into more valuable print.

4. Are there any other sectors that could also gain from a transition to production print?

Of course. Some great examples are finance, insurance and education. These sectors have massive printed volume requirements, which are easily and efficiently handled by a modern production printer. Through this type of printing, these sectors can also gain complete control over their exact print output, being careful not to overstock. More importantly, schools, colleges as well as insurance and finance companies all need to send out huge quantities of personalised documents for their pupils and patients. The variable data input options that digital production printers offer today are a perfect solution for this.

We can already begin to see the production print trend take off in these sectors, as institutions are realising the potential advantages that it will bring. They are now engaging with production print devices, especially in monochrome to begin with.

5. What has driven the shift from analogue towards digital print in the production print arena?

Everyone is becoming more creative with their content. There’s an increasing need to produce more creative content. When the financial crisis hit companies, one of the first things to disappear was the marketing budget. Companies began reducing the funds they had previously allocated to marketing tactics and took their content into their own hands and demanded more value from it. Now, consumers are demanding better eye-catching and detailed content than ever and companies can turn to variable data input to easily carry out these needs and provide that highly sought after benefit.

Another solution that production printing brings forward is waste reduction. Over-stock can be easily dealt with and eradicated with the technology that production print includes. No longer do firms have to overprint in order to achieve economies of scale. This also helps cut costs, seeing as companies can study workflow and utilise digital technology to manage their required volumes easily and without waste.

6. How important a role has inkjet played in the rise of digital printing?

Inkjet is the future of digital printing, because it still has room to grow and innovate and adapt to new market demands. Although inkjet currently has the same capabilities as laser in terms of document management, laser has peaked technically. Laser technology cannot get any cheaper or innovate any further, which makes way for inkjet to become the next big trend in digital print.

Whilst they are at very similar levels now, inkjet has potential to go far further. Inkjet has the potential to jump into enormous print volumes and will offer more productivity in one single device.

7. Why is inkjet more cost-friendly?

Producing printed content on an inkjet device is essentially a cheaper process than using other types of digital printers, like laser. Ink is always cheaper to use than toner, and inkjet machines have less components such as drums and fusers to utilise which results in lower energy usage and fewer maintenance requirements.

Inkjet has always been the more cost-efficient option, but until recently the quality difference has been so substantial that it was not worth contemplating. Now, this technology is able to create much more vibrant colours than before, as technological advancements have allowed inkjet to improve technically and eliminate problems such as ink bleeding. In short, inkjet technology is edging evermore closer to the high quality that can equal laser’s output and at a lower cost.

Companies are starting to understand the need to add value for your end customer

Marcel Ebbenhorst

8. How do inkjet and laser compare?

Inkjet is closer than ever to reaching the quality levels that laser provides. However, laser could never match inkjet’s speed, which is incomparable.

Another limitation that laser has is handling print size. Inkjet can easily adapt to any paper size, while laser finds this task very complicated and costly, seeing as large quantities of toner need to be heated up depending on the print page size requirements.

Inkjet offers more diversity for those companies looking to print in different sizes and on different material such as plastics. The material handing is much more versatile and flexible in inkjet.

9. What are the other benefits of inkjet apart from higher productivity and costs?

Inkjet devices save more power as their energy consumption levels are significantly lower than that of laser. Their productivity rate is also much higher as they have fewer moving parts to deal with, as well as lower failure or malfunction rates as a result.

Production print also allows companies to harness the power of print to increase ROI through variable data. The content personalisation factor is key because it puts the focus back on print. When companies begin to see that they are gathering higher response rates and are receiving more ROI through increased content customisation and creativity, these companies will want to increase their print output to continue being profitable.

10. What role will laser have to play when inkjet matches it in quality? Is that possibility imminent?

My prediction is that within the next five years, the major players in inkjet will be able to mirror laser’s quality levels. That doesn’t mean that laser won’t be important, even if it does increase the likelihood that inkjet would be the more popular choice for many companies.

However, there will still be a market segment that laser can still thrive in in the future. Those smaller businesses with a lower output that cannot justify purchasing an inkjet device will still turn to toner. Smaller office machines are the perfect example.

In addition, those companies that need to use mostly speciality colours in their printing processes, such as specialised white, gold or silver toners, can rely on laser for this specific task. This is just one example of how toners and laser technology will always have a role to play, even if it moves towards more niche markets as inkjet becomes more competitive in the mainstream arena.

11. Is inkjet the best option for a company looking to become more sustainable and look after the environment?

Inkjet is a more eco-friendly printing process in comparison to laser, due to its noticeably lower energy consumption and minimal components. Any company with a higher print volume that is looking to go for a slightly more environmentally friendly option and do their part for the environment will be pleased with inkjet printers.

This is such an important topic for Kyocera as well. As a company, we continuously strive to offer the most sustainable products and services as possible, to contribute to minimising the impact that printing already has on the environment.

12. What challenges lie ahead for the Production Print market?

In terms of market challenges, the biggest obstacle that inkjet is currently facing is adequately educating future customers on how crucial it now is to add more value to their printed pages.

Distributing knowledge on data intelligence is also an ongoing challenge and demonstrating to future clients that they need to invest in more software that consolidates data. These points are fundamentally linked and show the challenges that lie ahead for vendors and consultants like us at Kyocera in driving the growth of this market.

13. Is production print a market that has reached maturity or is it still growing?

In terms of volume, the idea is to shift print outputs in a declining market towards production print, to maximise efficiency.

Digital technology currently accounts for only a small percentage of all printed output worldwide, so there is a huge growth perspective for digital, which will capture a much larger percentage in the next few years. The amount of print produced by digital printing is expected to reach almost half. It’s exciting to think of the upcoming possibilities.

Companies that are yet to engage with production printers and also businesses looking to update their current models to more efficient ones will be the key drivers in this growth in digital production print. Devices that offer improved beta-data management and enhanced security features to verify what you print will be launched into the market and generate real interest.

14. What role will Kyocera play in the industry?

We’re expecting to become a big player in multiple market segments of inkjet. Some of our main targets will be to investigate various printing technologies and industries.

Also, Kyocera goes beyond hardware and offers its expertise on the software development side of printing. We integrate data integration into the mix and are looking to move towards becoming a complete provider of inkjet printing processes. Other companies are teaming up with third parties for the software and data intelligence component, but Kyocera has the knowledge and capability of covering this kind of technology as well as the hardware products themselves.

Kyocera is also going to participate in DRUPA 2020, Hall 6, the world’s most important trade fair for printing technologies, which will be held from 16 to 26 June 2020 in Düsseldorf (Germany), so we’ll be among the companies fuelling innovation within this industry and leading the way as pioneers in production printing.


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