Walking and running

Over the next couple of weeks we’re going to hear a great deal about Print 4.0, with many analysts having already decided that this will be the major trend for Drupa 2016. This probably says more about these analysts’ need to boil the show down to a simple, easily digested idea then it does about the show itself.

Plug_DC23982_WQAfterall, if it was that simple then we probably wouldn’t need to turn up in Dusseldorf for the show itself and could save ourselves a fortune in hotel bills. Then again I’ve never understood what exactly an analyst does but I suspect that it’s more to do with marketing than journalism, which is probably why many, mainly American, vendors seem more comfortable with analysts than journalists.

The Print 4.0 concept is a little easier to understand and follows the idea that we’re experiencing the fourth industrial revolution: the first was powered by steam; the second driven by electricity; the third based on IT technology; and the fourth being the Internet of Things.

But wait, wasn’t there something about oil and our huge dependency on petroleum power, not to mention all the many petrochemical solutions from paint to plastics? Should this include the Jet age, or is that a separate revolution in its own right since it means that everything is now available worldwide all the time, ushering in the whole concept of globalisation?

Gosh, darn, there are just so many revolutions it’s hard to keep track of them all. Fortunately, as a British person I know that we can blame this sort of thing on the Europeans and their fancy ideas and that life will be much simpler once we’ve left the EU.

The Internet of Things refers to the idea that everything will be connected to the Internet – it’s hardly a new idea – I’ve written stories about this going back at least 16 years ago. It means that you can cook dinner before you get home and that your fridge can order things when you run out. Of course, the idea that a foreign government might hack a nuclear research facility and destroy the equipment therein is just fantasy.

The Print 4.0 idea builds on this, but in a print context. Its supporters are all excited at the idea that we might finally find a use for all that JDF stuff that was so popular a few years back. But wait, aren’t there plenty of people already using JDF? Havn’t we had things like remote diagnostics and cloud storage for some years now? Could it be that we havn’t seen anything genuinely mind-blowingly new, like the discovery of electricity or the invention of the semi-conductor, and are instead experiencing continuous iteration of our existing technology?

Can we confidently predict that printing machinery will become faster, more efficient and more automated over the coming years, and that there will be a greater reliance on the Internet? Yes, but we could have predicted that at any time in the last 20 years when we were experiencing the digital Drupa (2000), the JDF Drupa (2004), the Inkjet Drupa (2008), the Inkjet Drupa again (2012) and now the Print 4.0 Drupa (2016). Could it be that it is taking a really long time to develop inkjet printers that are big enough, fast enough, and cost effective enough to seriously challenge offset printing and that the analysts are having trouble distinguishing between one show and the next?

Personally I think that we’re going to see a range of differing technologies and that it would be facile to try to roll them all up under a single banner but I’m only a simple journalist. Besides, technology is just an enabler and any revolution in printing will lie more in the way that the printers and their customers use that technology.





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