Look back in dismay

This has been a strange year, with nothing really noteworthy, just more of the same and a vague hope that everything will get better next year. This is particularly true of digital packaging printing, where we’ve seen a number of inkjet presses amid the belief that this is the next great frontier, and yet it still seems to me that everyone is waiting for the next, faster generation of printheads.

Christmas lights in London

Then again, there has been a continuing emphasis on packaging across all printing technologies, with many vendors now concentrating their efforts on this market sector, which is largely due to the weakness in commercial printing. 

Most new products announced this year have been updates to existing ones, a slightly faster press or a further iteration of software. Probably the most interesting new development has been the announcements from Screen and Xerox at the beginning of the year for inkjet inks that would allow offset-coated papers to be used in their respective presses. 

There have also been a lot of partnerships. Clearly the days of companies designing and building everything themselves have long gone but there does seem to be a lot more cooperation between different vendors than we’ve seen in previous years. In part this reflects the complexity of integrating different bits of kit as well as the need to save development costs, but it also means that vendors are more focused on solving customer problems rather than simply trying to sell their own kit.

Strangely, several digital players, such as EFI and Kodak, have seen setbacks in their recent financial figures while the old-world heavy metal guys, namely Heidelberg and Koenig and Bauer have managed to reinvent themselves and seen a resurgence in their fortunes. 

Then there is Brexit. I would like to think that everything will be rosy and that Britain will emerge from this a much stronger country basking in the admiration of the other nations of the world. But alas, our leaders are fools, the Brexit promises are unravelling and I fear that confidence in England is slowly draining away as the country becomes even more polarised. We have families surviving off food banks and people in full time employment that can’t afford to rent, let alone buy, somewhere to live – in short, the economy is not strong enough to weather the damage that will inevitably follow pulling out of the single market.

This is bad news for the British printing industry which has remained competitive by investing heavily in new technology. An economic downturn will inevitably mean less print being ordered and a loss of confidence for printers to invest in newer kit. Worse still, if the City of London sees its status downgraded then there will be less capital available to fund further investment. 

On top of this, we have already seen a steady rise in prices, most recently in packaging inks, mainly driven by shortages in raw materials. Few printers have the margin to absorb these prices and most will have to think hard about whether or not they can afford to borrow to invest in more efficient equipment. Most companies will be better off tightening their processes, improving their own efficiency and eliminating waste. In many cases, small investments in software rather than big investments in hardware may prove to be the best bet. 

Finally, at the risk of sounding self-serving, this site has grown in popularity this year with a healthy number of visitors every day from all over the world, which hopefully means that I’m doing something right! So, thanks for all your support.

This will probably be the last post this year as there’s not so much news at this time of year. Besides, people, it’s the holiday season and you’ve all got more important things to do than reading about printing technology – and if not, then you’re doing something wrong.

Happy Christmas – see you back here in the New Year.

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