EFI Connects with printers

EFI Connects with printers
Company says print has bright future in fourth industrial revolution

EFI Connect 2018 saw close to 1200 people descend on Las Vegas in the 18th edition of the user-conference, including printers from Australia.

EFI is one of the giants of the global print industry, with sales of almost US$1bn, and at the core of both technology and market development, so its annual user conference is a keenly anticipated event, as it provides a window into the immediate future.

And this time that window was giving attendees a view into a future with print as a major part of it. The EFI CEO Guy Gecht, kicked off the proceedings, giving his opening keynote address, foreshadowing an upbeat future for the future of print.

Centred on the concept of the fourth industrial revolution, which will involve big data, personalisation, virtual reality and augmented reality technologies, and the internet of things (IoT), Gecht contends that print will play a key role for consumers, bridging a gap visually between the virtual world and the physical world.

He says, “This is an important moment for the world, for technology, for industry, especially for printing. We think it is the early stages of the fourth industrial revolution. “Involving artificial intelligence, robots, virtual reality, new applications that require more computing power and more data, will lead to more personalisation. Adaptable designs will become more common, and industries that use images, like fashion, building materials, display graphics, packaging, they will need a lot of the printing tools, that we as an industry build over the years. Manufacturing on demand will change what we want. Marketing will not be the same, people have their own tastes. We will not have advertisements targeted at everyone on the east coast that watch TV at 7am, you will target the people you want to give them the product they want.

“With that, we think there will be a new definition of print. No longer are people after just documents, no longer is this an industry just about publishing, every material in the world that needs to have images is print. If we as an industry embrace that, there is a bigger opportunity than we have ever had before. There are bigger markets than we ever addressed before.

“Ten years from now when we talk about EFI being 40, whoever is on stage will be asking ‘who remembers when boxes were just black, or white, or brown?’ and younger people will be confused by it. In packaging, personalisation will enable every single box leaving the factory to be tailor-made for the customer.

“In apparel, the changes in the design are so fast now, that the only way to keep up is with inkjet, digital printing, and colour management. There will be a great revolution there, it is only at the beginning.

“Our role will be exactly where the virtual world meets the physical world. We are going to translate the images from the virtual into the physical.

“Those who were quick to embrace the first digital revolution, the third industrial revolution, took advantage of the opportunities that presented themselves, and are doing well now.”

Gecht pointed out that while a lot of printing businesses had closed, many of those who remained had seen increases of revenue, benefiting from less competition. Gecht noted that Darwinian ideas of the survival of the fittest came into play, with the print business still remaining those best able to adapt to a new environment.

Talking to ProPrint the following day to discuss Connect, EFI, and the future of the industry Gecht provided more insight into the mega event.

He says, “We are aiming to do multiple things at the conference. The first is to connect with customers, listen to them, see what is new in their business. It is a once a year opportunity to speak to them, try to understand what they are trying to accomplish, and what their customers are trying to accomplish, what opportunities they are seeing, what they want from us going forward.

 “We also want to share our thoughts. Where we are taking the products, where we are taking the company, what we believe is going to happen in the industry, and see what feedback we are getting.

“Connect used to be a place to talk about the next year road map, and get training on current products. We took it to a more strategic level, talking about longer term objective and vision, trying to figure out how customers see their business. After Connect we come together to talk about what we learned from customers, what they like and do not like. It became a lot more two-way.”

Strategic direction

EFI has made big investments in R&D, alongside acquisitions to expand its range or market applications. This is the outworking of Gecht’s comments that ‘every material in the world that needs images is print’ and that now defines print, rather than putting ink or toner, onto paper or board. EFI is now across labels with Jetrion, textiles with Reggiani, wide-format with Vutek, with its latest addition being digital corrugated print with its Nozomi press.

The company indicated a change in strategic direction, it will not be looking to major acquisitions to get into new markets, but will be focusing on developing its existing markets.

Guy Gecht, CEO, EFI says, “In the past we made big acquisitions to get into an area. We are not planning to do that now. What we want to do is get deeper in the areas we are currently in.”

“The goal is to get a lot deeper in packaging, textiles, display graphics, commercial print, and give more to the customers. We find it more rewarding and interesting to do more with existing customers than to try and get new customers in new industries.

“Clearly commercial print has a lot of challenges. A lot of things which were printed are moving to electronic media, maybe not as fast as people think, with some areas seeing a bounce back. There is definitely pressure, the question is where is the gulf, where is the value?

“Printing on multiple materials beyond paper is definitely going somewhere, and has a lot more value. If you speak at people that print display graphics they will tell you business is going well, and that it is a lot more profitable than commercial print. We are seeing that as a trend.

“Commercial print has tremendous talent, and a lot of passion given that it is normally a family-run business, and a great customer base. So the question is how do you take that and build different applications.

“You have to follow the money, and follow the trends. What kind of things can you do beyond printing documents for customers? What kind of things they do, and how can you accommodate their desire to customise, to have shorter runs, to not hold inventory. Normally that means digital printing in our industry.

“Can you take out some of the waste and inefficiency in your system? That generally means automating business processes using software that you were previously doing manually.

 “We have smart people in the industry, and the people that invest in the right things, and have modernised are doing really well.

“You need to think about print in a much broader definition. It is about putting great images on any material. If you think that is print, I have the creative skills to do what it takes, what can I do for my existing customers, what can I do with the people I get comfortable with and how can I do that, who can I learn from? That is what makes Connect a great event, being able to learn from your peers.

“If you are a commercial printer, and you say I want to become a supplier to Zara, or Nike, or Adidas, that is going to take a lot of knowledge. But if you say I want to be able to do short runs, some fabrics, some decoration, you can definitely do it. A lot of signage is moving to fabric as it has a great feel, and travels well.

“People found that fabric is a great way to do signage, with the Reggiani technology that started in professional textile and migrated to signage, you can do that at affordable prices, and a great quality.

“For print shops looking to expand offerings, it is about being open minded with taking your skills to different applications.

“Everybody wants to customise things faster. Marketing today is about tying things to a certain time, area, age, gender, and mass marketing is almost gone.

“The next big trend is short run. No one wants to keep inventory, they want things to come in, then out, and then change it.”

Highlighting the trend to short run an inventory the event also featured keynotes from early adopters of the Nozomi press, EFI’s single-pass corrugated digital inkjet packaging solution first shown at drupa, with Eric Bacourt of Spanish company Rafeal Hinojosa, and Mal McGowan, owner of Irish printer McGowans speaking.

When explaining how it had changed his business, McGowan says, “It is the biggest change we have seen in 10 years. The print is better and looks different. It is the easiest sale for my people to do: same price, looks better.”

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