Buckle up

So, a brand new year, and already it’s clear that 2024 is going to be a very wild ride for many of us, with multiple wars, the ongoing cost of living crisis and looming elections, not to mention Drupa, all happening at the same time.

In an ideal world we would only have to consider those issues that are important to printing such as new print applications, along with image quality, productivity or margins. But sadly all these things are ultimately subject to the wider geo-political situation, which affects everything from pricing to logistics and which will also have to be included.

New Year’s Day brought an enormous 7.6 magnitude earthquake to the Western coast of Japan with considerable damage to infrastructure and around 48 deaths so far. Fortunately we have not seen the huge tsunami that followed the 2011 earthquake, nor any damage to nuclear power plants. However, this morning has brought fresh tragedy with a passenger airliner colliding at Tokyo’s Haneda airport with a coastguard aircraft en route to the earthquake zone, leading to both aircraft catching fire and the loss of five of the coastguard crew.

Otherwise, the most pressing issue is the conflict in the Middle East. This directly affects many of us in printing as there are a large number of printer manufacturers in Israel, including HP, Landa, Kornit, Highcon and Nano Dimension, meaning that many of us have friends in the region. Added to this, there is the continuing risk that the conflict might spread to include the West Bank and Lebanon. Several Western warships have already seen action in downing missiles fired from Yemen, and many shipping companies are rerouting to avoid the Suez Canal, which will add costs and delays right across the board.

Many Western governments rushed to support Israel after the full horror of the 7th October attack but are now facing growing opposition from their own electorates over the scale of destruction in Gaza and the shocking number of deaths amongst Palestinian civilians. The longer the conflict lasts, the greater the risk of more countries being pulled in and the harder it will be to find a lasting peace in the Middle East. This is something that should concern all of us as many countries have both large Jewish populations and Palestinian diasporas.

Then there is this month’s election in Taiwan, which is essentially a battle between the right to freedom and self determination on the one hand, and annexation to Chinese rule on the other. The West, which refuses to recognise Taiwan, has pledged to fight for its right to exist. That carries huge risks for many Western companies that have partnerships and supply lines in China, including Apple and Heidelberg.

In the UK, the opposition Labour Party is attempting to convince everyone that there will be a general election in May, in order to paint the government as cowards for not taking this early option. In reality the most likely date remains 24th October, which is the latest date that would still allow politicians to campaign in daylight before the clocks reset to GMT. Either way, everyone expects the government to lose.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the Tories’ discomfort along the way. For starters, there’s the blowback over Liz Truss’s honours for her cronies while most people are still wondering why David Cameron was allowed into the House of Lords. Then there’s the likelihood of more wrangling over the Immigration bill with many Tory MPs still wondering if they have time to ditch Rishi Sunak for another leader before the general election. And there’s an opportunity for Sunak to lose a by-election in Wellingborough, with the possibility of a second in Blackpool South following Scott Benton’s 35-day suspension from the Commons. This will be followed by the local government elections in May, which will give some idea of the scale of the likely government defeat to come in the general election. So maybe Sunak will decide after all that he just can’t be bothered to cling on till October.

San Francisco, California

And then there is the election that really counts, with the spectre of a second Trump presidency already casting a shadow over the world. For now this has most keenly been felt in Ukraine, with the flow of military aid tapering off, which has undoubtedly emboldened the Russians. The war is an existential threat to European security while America’s dithering also threatens Western alliances, particularly Europe’s reliance on American leadership, and encourages further division on everything from migration to climate control at a time when we desperately need unity and solutions.

Meanwhile the British people appear to have finally reached consensus on Brexit. The latest opinion poll has found that only 10 percent of Britons think that leaving the EU has helped their personal finances while 63 percent believe that Brexit has contributed to last year’s high inflation and cost of living crisis. The poll suggests that most Britons now regard Brexit as a failure.

The economic conditions are still challenging for most of us. The UK continues to skirt recession, Germany is still very weak and even China is still seeing sluggish growth. The USA economy does seem to be pulling ahead though this does not seem to have won President Biden much credit.

In the print industry, most of the suppliers appear to be recovering from the pandemic and subsequent supply and logistics problems. However, this has mostly been achieved through price rises, which has put further pressure on printing companies. There’s likely to be further consolidation amongst printers but I think this should be seen in the context of greater diversification. Thus we are seeing printers take advantage of digitalisation to expand into other areas, including everything from photobooks and garments to labels and packaging. Equally we are seeing a growth in more industrial printing as the technology expands beyond the graphic arts into other manufacturing areas such as automobiles and furniture.

And then of course there is Drupa, which will at least be very good news for everyone in the hotel business in Dusseldorf. It’s too early to say if we will see any ground breaking new technologies. Mostly I would expect the show to highlight the trends that we’ve seen in recent years. That includes the growth of packaging printing, both conventional and digital. This will include a number of new presses for paper-based packaging such as the Xeikon Idera and Domino X630i. Several vendors, including Fujifilm, Screen and perhaps even Landa, will also show off new single pass inkjet presses for flexible film. And of course there will be much talk about sustainability though none of this will count for much until we also have new, more easily recyclable materials together with the recycling streams to process them.

I believe that several printhead manufacturers are planning to introduce new printheads in the run-up to Drupa. It may be some years before we get new devices that make use of these heads. Nonetheless I expect that we will continue to see inkjet technology diversifying into new areas with more emphasis on reliability and on jetting higher viscosity fluids.

This will play into 3D printing, which is increasingly becoming an accepted manufacturing process. That brings with it a greater demand for scale and productivity, which suits inkjet technology very well. This has led to more vendors adopting inkjet for binder jetting but I also believe that we will see more vendors looking at materials jetting in order to take advantage of the characteristics of the conventional materials, particularly in ceramics. I also expect that more printer vendors will find their way into 3D printing, as it becomes more obvious that the printing industry already has solutions to many of the problems that additive manufacturing is only just beginning to encounter, such as file management and workflows.

This bring us to software, where I expect to hear a lot more about workflow solutions. Too many workflows have become fragmented, resulting in printers being expected to pay more to integrate different systems together. I would hope that we will see a lot more truly plug and play software, which will make it easier for customers to manage their software portfolio and to build workflows that match their needs.

Naturally there will be more talk about Industry 4.0 though I don’t think that anyone has yet really grasped the possibilities behind this apart from as a marketing slogan. Instead we have mostly just seen an evolution of existing processes.

Durst introduced a new P5 Robotics system based around two Kuka robotic arms for easier loading and unloading of substrates.

We can expect to hear a lot more about artificial intelligence this year, which as with most things designed by humans, has the capacity to be both really useful and quite dangerous. For the printing and manufacturing industries, AI will mostly mean greater automation. It’s already used in some RIP and workflow solutions, as well as for setting registration on some presses. Ideally, greater use of AI should take out a lot of complexity in running different print production lines, and in turn lead to simpler workflows.

It’s true that AI – or more specifically Artificial General Intelligence or AGI – may lead to more false information and deep fakes but the real damage in this regard has already been done. The internet has given us the capacity to have more information at our fingertips than any generation before us, and yet most people just skim headlines and social media posts on a smartphone screen. The best way to counter this is through print, which revolutionised the modern world with newspapers delivering everything from news and current affairs to travel tips and sports results every day. This knowledge underpinned democracy and made it harder for empty vessels like Trump and Johnson to sway electorates.

New resolutions

The new year also brings a chance to think about where we can improve things. For me that mainly means writing more stories and trying to finish all the ones that have been started! I am hoping to include more examples of industrial print as well as a greater emphasis on 3D printing but I’m open to suggestions as to what things readers might want to see more of.

In terms of design, I’ve restored the translation plug-in to the menu bar and am hoping to tidy up the overall design to make the website easier to read and navigate. But I welcome any feedback from readers.

Otherwise I hope to continue to publish Printing and Manufacturing Journal without either a paywall or any form of advertising or sponsorship. Ultimately I believe that information should be easily accessible to empower readers to make the choices that work best for them. But this is only possible through the generosity of those readers who have made donations to support my work; for that I am truly grateful and hope that my work has been of value. And I would encourage anyone who is interested to subscribe to Printing and Manufacturing Journal; it’s completely free and you’ll get an update every time I publish a new article.

I have had some limited success in licensing content from Printing and Manufacturing Journal for publication elsewhere. I would like to hear from more publishers interested in republishing the content from this site. At the very least it should offer publishers a cost-effective way of covering shows and conferences that they might otherwise not be able to reach, as well as offering insights into more niche areas, particularly around industrial printing.

Finally, I want to say that everyone reading this is always welcome to get in touch and I will do my best to answer as fully as I can any questions that you might have. In the meantime, let’s all get on with the new year – let the games commence!



, , ,



Syndicate content

You can license the articles from Printing and Manufacturing Journal to reproduce in other publications. I generally charge around £150 per article but I’m open to discussing this for each title, particularly for publishers that want to use multiple stories. I can provide high res versions of images for print publications.

I’m used to working with overseas publishers and am registered for VAT with the UK’s HMRC tax authority but obviously won’t charge VAT to companies outside the UK. You can find further details and a licensing form from this page, or just contact me directly here.

Support this site

If you find the stories here useful then please consider making a donation to help fund Printing and Manufacturing Journal, either as a one-off or a repeat payment. Journalism is only really useful if it’s truly independent and this is the only such news source serving the print/ manufacturing sectors.

However, there are costs involved in travelling to cover events, as well as maintaining this site, not to mention the time that it takes to carry out research, check facts and interview people. So if you value this work, then please help to maintain it and keep it free to read.


Never miss a story – subscribe to Printing and Manufacturing Journal to receive an email notification every time an article is published here. It’s completely free of charge and you can cancel the subscription at any point without any hassle. There’s no need to provide any information other than an email address and subscribers details are not for sale so there’s no risk of any further marketing spam.

Related stories


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *