Recently I went to the InPrint Leaders in Technology summit in Cambridge, organised by FM Brooks, the people behind the InPrint show. They have a new show, Pure Digital, which also deals with the industrial print sector but seen from the creatives viewpoint. So this conference bridged both of these sectors and took in quite a wide range of subjects from personalised print through to the difficulties of moving into industrial print as well as more esoteric ideas from marketing through to staff management.
Marcus Timson, one of the co-founders of FM Brooks, set the theme for the event by asking how do we get inkjet into traditional industries? He went on to say: “When we are open to learning we can solve problems. We have to ask how open we are to change and how to focus on being productive. But if you only focus on productivity do you have the ability to change?”
The various presentations reflected three main interconnected themes. This included prioritising innovation in order to grow a business. Simon Biltcliffe, managing director of Webmart print management, explained: “If you want to be innovative, you go into any meeting or discussion with an open mind and not knowing what the conclusion is. If you have an agenda then you will be trying to get to the conclusion and will close off a lot of creative thought.” He also discussed his approach to management, mainly paying staff above average salaries and trusting them to get on with the job and make decisions.
Mark Gilligan, managing director of Blacktrace, talked about some of the difficulties of running a technology company. Essentially, Blacktrace is a company that aims to turn scientific discoveries into products. This includes chemical manufacturing equipment, 3D printers, microfluids and nanomaterials. He said: “I believe in black sheep ideas because ideas that people say will never be done and be the black sheep will eventually be seen as the best way to do things.”
The changing retail environment
Several speakers talked about the trends that were affecting the retail sector. Will Smith, commercial director for the Happen Innovation Agency, which works to help companies spot opportunities and deal with changes, talked about the need to be innovative, adding: “Our work is focussed on why things go wrong so we can do it better next time.” He gave some examples, such as Jacobs Coffee, which had focussed on where its coffee came from but found that people weren’t so interested in this so the company changed the packaging to tell people what kind of coffee it was and what the flavour would be. He also showed examples of how some shops were looking to change the retail experience, such as a Spar supermarket combined with an Eat 17 restaurant. He concluded that millenials don’t really care about mass produced products, noting: “They want to buy things that people cared about producing.”
Steve Lister, Head of innovation and sustainability for Konica Minolta Marketing Services talked about the rise of immersive retail. He says: “Marketers are all looking for what’s going to be the next big thing but it’s challenging to find that.” He adds: “The brands that we deal with don’t have a lot of time to go to trade shows and look at materials. They look to printers as experts. We trade with about 1200 print suppliers across Europe. We get a lot of ideas from them and from industry associations.”
He said that brands are becoming less influential as people are seeking out better experiences and engagement and so brands are having to cope with being ‘always on’, suggesting that this is leading to a more immersive retail environment helped along by smart phone technology.
He showed a video produced by KMMS pitching nine ideas around flags to Red Bull. These included using printed flags to generate rechargeable power for showers, mobile phones or beer fridges.
He showed a number of pictures, such as a point of sale display for Coca-Cola in the shape of a delivery truck and asked: “Why not spend a bit of time making sure that displays look like the product you are selling?” He added: “It’s a cardboard display but with the right shape you can create the impact in the store.” He concluded: “For us it’s about being immersed in a retail environment. People want a bit of fun. They want to connect with a product.”
Richard Askam, speaker and founder of personalised gifts firm Intervino talked about his experiences including the Share a Coke campaign that he helped deliver. He says that nowadays people have a tremendous amount of information available to them coupled with a very short attention span. It needs innovative marketing to grab people’s attention, adding: “Personalisation will do that because it means that someone knows your name.”
But he cautioned that: “Personalisation means different things to different people and depends on whether they can deploy personalisation. Most businesses can deploy customisation which is much easier to do and then they sell it as personalisation.” He continued: “There’s nothing new in personalisation. What’s changed is the digital ability to put things on different substrates.” He concluded: “We are just at the very start of digital personalisation.”
Transition to inkjet
This, naturally, leads us to the major theme for the summit and for the InPrint and Pure Digital shows – namely that inkjet technology can be used as part of the manufacturing process to differentiate all sorts of products.
This theme was directly addressed by Marvin Jensen, business development manager at Mankiewicz, which started out supplying paints before moving into inkjet and developing the Cyconjet range of industrial UV inks. He pointed out that everything is more complex with inkjet, adding: “So you need to have more partners. And not just suppliers. You need a partnership between the customers and the machine manufacturers to work out solutions and to have an open collaboration because you need an exchange and creativity to solve problems that we never had before.” He continued: “Also these customers are new to the world of inkjet and are lost in the complexities of it so we need to take them by the hand and minimise the risks they have to take.”
He showed a chart detailing all the different elements that contribute to an industrial inkjet solution, which illustrated just how complex an inkjet solution could be. He added: “Of course, you always need the right product and they have to fit in the process of the customer and to work reliably with the printer and to fulfil the individual requirements of the customer. Most of the time in industrial inkjet they have to be tailor made to the application and sometimes we have to think outside of the box.”
The final speaker of the afternoon was Lawrence Gamblin, president of Kao Collins Inc, who talked about his long career supplying inkjet inks. He commented: “In the inkjet market, for the inkjet to grow into something bigger the cost of printing has to come down. I say to printer manufacturers that the cost really has to come down.” He added: “If I’m selling much more ink then it doesn’t matter what my margin is. If I can get the cost down then I am going to make more money. If you talk to printers then it’s obvious but OEMs don’t know that yet.”
The event finished off with a panel discussion, which amongst other things touched on wallpaper printing. Pascal Sillet said that he has noticed a growth in digital wallpaper printing, noting: “The great advantage of digital is that you don’t have to invest in cylinders, which can be very expensive. The second great advantage is the non-repeat.” He added: “Running short runs today is difficult and costly. We have demand from designers that want to create their own wallpapers. They have great ideas but they just want 20 rolls so they should go digital.”
The other side of this conference was the networking, which for an event like this is as valuable as the actual presentations. In this regard, Cambridge is the perfect place as there’s a well-established hub of inkjet companies, guaranteeing a good mix of participants. The event finished with a lively competition over dinner to identify buildings printed onto tea towels, a neat way of continuing the industrial print theme.
The Leaders in Technology summit is an annual event, which will return to Cambridge next June. It will be extended to cover a full day and will include more industry specific content with more networking and discussion time. This year’s InPrint show takes place in Munich, Germany, in November. The first Pure Digital show will be held next April in Amsterdam, Holland. There are more details on both on the Events page.