Growth and New Markets: The 2014 Inkjet Summit

nGage’s Inkjet Summit is in its second year and it has grown to around 90 end-user attendees and 39 sponsor companies. The concept is relatively simple: find prospective buyers of high-speed inkjet equipment, pay their way to a resort location, and sit them down in front of the sponsors for case study presentations and one-on-one meetings. This assures that the level of knowledge and experience of the average attendee is very impressive. They have done their research and have a good idea of what they need. Not all of the attendees, though, are first-time buyers. Those looking to purchase a second (or third, or fourth) device were also in attendance. They make up a significant portion of the audience and have hands-on familiarity with inkjet technology.

Similar to the first-time buyer/experienced user split, another split was particularly noticeable in the Inkjet Summit audience. This was the first year that nGage created a track for general commercial printers. The needs of this group are quite different from the direct marketers, book printers, and transactional service bureaus/in-plants that make up the bulk of early high-speed inkjet installs. Substrate flexibility, high area coverage, and the need for glossy substrates make commercial printing a challenging market for high-speed continuous feed inkjet systems. It’s true that putting a sheeter at the end of a continuous feed system may meet some commercial printers’ needs, but cut-sheet solutions seem to be a more natural fit for many of these sites. Yet the cut-sheet inkjet market is still in its infancy, with only a few models available today, but as events of the past two years have shown, a lot of technology demonstrations and beta tests are underway, and more products will be joining the fray before long.

As I look back on this year’s Inkjet Summit, a few things stand out:

  • Finishing Is Key to Unlocking the Value of High-Speed Digital Print: The capabilities of high-speed inkjet printers are amazing, yet in terms of avoiding bottlenecks and enabling new applications, I’m convinced that innovative feeding systems can make a huge difference in driving inkjet volume. New flexible systems are capable of producing more than one application, for example, newspapers in one shift and books or booklets during another. Some feeding systems can move sheets without conventional grippers, opening up imaginative new possibilities for printing and finishing systems. Working hand-in-hand, there is much that could be accomplished in the right combinations.
  • The Paper Supply Chain Needs Work: One of the speakers in my general commercial session was late to the panel because his sales rep had sold a big variable data job and my speaker needed to assure that the paper was in place to print it. This type of real-world example was a reminder of the work that still needs to be done by paper distributors, mills, and system vendors to get the right papers to service providers when and where they are needed. It’s not a trivial problem. It also relates back to the vendors’ paper strategies for the use of general purpose and ink-jet treated stocks, as well as the selective placement or flood coating of bonding agent with in-line coaters. There’s another supply chain aspect to inkjet, which was noted by one end user who said that his company, rather than being a book printer, is really a supply chain partner for his publishing clients.
  • There Is an Unmet Need for Mid-Volume Cut-Sheet Inkjet: Not everyone has the print volume to support a continuous-feed inkjet system. Some of those in attendance will purchase entry-level continuous-feed systems (a number of which, of course, are available today) but others would benefit from a cut-sheet production inkjet solution, of which there are only a few today. There is a big opportunity for the right cut-sheet inkjet product design. There is a huge installed base of monochrome cut-sheet toner-based printers in transaction and direct mail markets that are ripe for the move to a white-paper-in to color-document-out workflow. Yet the product needs to have the speed, quality levels, running cost, and ability to run on coated stocks suitable for direct mail. And by the way, the system shouldn’t cost more than a million dollars.

There were many customer panels at the Inkjet Summit, and one general session that featured experienced users was notable for the wish list of items expressed. These users wanted:

  • Vendors to move faster to make the current machines work better (vis-à-vis paper, inks, and workflow)
  • Standardization of the print language to improve productivity and workflow
  • Workflow that can keep the machines running more effectively
  • More tools to help them educate their customers

The 2014 Inkjet Summit was a fascinating and engaging event. Print service providers in a buying cycle should definitely consider attending next year’s event (if you can wrangle an invitation from the organizers). The Inkjet Summit has a bit of a user group feel to it, because of its high-volume inkjet focus, and that’s an important benefit to attendees because they can participate, share, and learn in a multi-vendor environment in ways that just aren’t possible at other events.

Note: I was invited by nGage to be on this year’s Inkjet Summit advisory panel, participate in some panels, and give two presentations, both of which (in addition to being available to Inkjet Summit attendees) are also available to InfoTrends clients. I presented on two topics:

  • Factors in Selecting a Production Inkjet Printing Solution
  • Inkjet Trends and Opportunities in General Commercial Print

If you have questions or comments on either of these topics, please don’t hesitate to contact me via Twitter (@jrhinfotrends) or LinkedIn (jrhinfotrends). In regard to the wish list comment about customer education tools, InfoTrends’ Business Development Solutions services can help end users with this type of issue as well as sales and marketing advice on production digital print services.

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