COVID-Driven Shake-Up Accelerates Tech Shift in the Print Industry

COVID-Driven Shake-Up Accelerates Tech Shift in the Print Industry

The COVID-19 pandemic and the economic crisis it has created are the major factors shaping the print and printed packaging sectors across the world. With human behaviors irrevocably changed by the virus, the analogue to digital print transformation trend is being accelerated and time-to-market and response are increasingly important, according to a new study from Smithers, The Future of Print to 2030.

Worth a total of $743.4 billion in 2020, the global print industry is redefining itself as the importance of publications and graphics diminishes, pushing print businesses towards packaging print. Taking over is the use of smarter, more digitised, short-run printing that is more flexible and cost efficient.

In 2015 digital methods accounted for 13.3% of the global print market value and 2.3% of the print area. By 2030 the digital packaging sector will have grown significantly, achieving a 23.1% share of value and 6.3% of print volume. This value is the prize for companies adopting the technology. To support this growth, suppliers are continuing to develop improved print machinery and consumables to compete against analogue methods in mainstream markets.

Print output during COVID-19 and beyond
The Future of Print to 2030 market report shows total print output in 2020 will be 41.4 trillion A4 print equivalents; down 13.4% from 2019 due to the impact of COVID-19. Global value also dropped, falling from $814.7 billion to $743.4 billion. Showing some resilience is packaging and label printing while publication, advertising, and graphic printing have been most affected.

A revival of normal business activity in 2021 will see the market rebound slightly to reach $752.8 billion; but much of the volume lost in 2020 will not return. Value growth will return to push the market to $846 billion in 2030, as it undergoes a profound redefinition.

Part of that redefinition will be reflected in print substrates, with total volume falling from 1.95 trillion square metres in 2019, to 1.85 trillion square metres forecast in 2030. Overall tonnage will increase from 251.7 million tonnes to 264.4 million tonnes over the same period, as heavier packaging grades are employed and graphic paper volumes decline.

Digital impact drivers
When looking at print processes, multiple manual production and administration tasks will be handled by robots by 2030, with vision systems handling quality control. Machine learning will be built in, allowing machines to take on more decisions about print or finishing quality. Artificial intelligence will be more prevalent in print from creation to delivery to minimize waste and environmental impact. This will lead ultimately to the evolution of the hyper-autonomous press. By the end of the decade, new equipment builds will be highly autonomous with operator involvement reduced to specific problem-solving actions, the Smithers study says.

Supply chain changes
In the wake of Covid-1919 and beyond, there will be different supply chains for many products, with much manufacturing re-shoring back into Western Europe and North America. Simplifying production methods will be one enabler, with new printing methods incorporated to allow cost effective short run, fast turnaround.

To safeguard against future shortages and supply chain disruption, buyers will opt for faster time-to-market for many products. Improvements in response time will take place as print companies adjust to the “Amazon-Effect” and expectations of same-day or next-day delivery. In labels and packaging, some brands will bring production in-house, or invite a partners to cooperate via through-the-wall operations. This will drive further incorporation of digital and Industry 4.0 concepts to simplify workflow, artwork generation, print production in combination with online specification and ordering.

Developing trends for PSPs
The economic shock of the pandemic for print service providers (PSPs), will lead to bankruptcies and fewer operational sites as well as mergers and acquisitions. Companies that do emerge from the pandemic will need to focus on cost, responsiveness and digitization for continued survival. PSPs will also need to expand the products and services they provide. Social distancing signage and personal protective equipment (PPE) emerged as a means for expansion in 2020 and the trend toward industrial and functional decoration will continue.

Chris Fernando

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