How disruptive technologies are driving print industry evolution

By Erwin Busselot, Business Innovations & Solutions Director, Graphic Communications Group Ricoh Europe

Demand for greater digitisation, sustainability, productivity and automation is driving evolution in the $760.6 billion global printing industry. It is also being reshaped by the impact of the Coronavirus, whereby new business and buying models have emerged.

This is according to Smithers’ Ten-Year Forecast of Disruptive Technologies in Print report. It assessed the market potential for more than 20 innovations in the print industry through to 2031 and identified a number of highly influential trends.

The five that stood out for me are:

1. Market applications

Smithers reported the focus will be on developing digital systems to print on packaging substrates – corrugated board, folding cartons and flexible plastics – as well as integrated digital finishing. Other opportunities in packaging and beyond will come from the wider use of inkjet in direct-to-pack and direct-to-object application. Some of these capabilities are already offered on our broad digital press portfolio. For example, the Ricoh Pro™ C7200x runs a wide range of substrates and can incorporate inline finishing solutions, while the forthcoming Ricoh Pro Z75 will deliver exceptional print quality on media up to 400gsm for numerous application types.

2. Materials and chemistry

Presses will need to handle and print at high quality on a new generation of flexible paper, biopolymer and monomaterial plastic stocks. For consumables, the emphasis will be ink sets that incorporate more natural, sustainable ingredients.

3. Workflow innovation

Wider automation and digitisation of commercial and packaging print workflows, will present significant opportunities. As a result, there will be increased innovation in robotic handling and the installation of the first generation of cooperative worker-robotic systems, or “cobots”. We have been working with a number of partners such as Softbanks Robotics EMA to explore this technology in different market areas including developing cleaning systems for hotels, offices, healthcare and airports.

4. Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Growth of print specific AI software deployed by press manufacturers to automate a variety of labour intensive and time consuming tasks. Over time AI carefully measures the results of each task, noting differences in results and methods and gradually, intelligently and automatically improving the system’s overall performance.

5. Increased digitisation

Digitisation will be enhanced by the wider rollout of 5G connectivity, and, by the end of the decade, 6G telephony networks. Other advances that could be levered include commercial accessibility to quantum computing power via the Cloud. Among the ways we are exploring this is our partnership with IBM to deliver our information management solutions via the versatile IBM hybrid cloud.

These trends are all in various stages of evolution. Some are long established and already part of our everyday production landscape. Others are being explored and are in the process of opening up greater opportunities for us and the partners with whom we work.

All are being developed to assist clients as they identify the technologies that will future proof their success. We call it co-creation and it remains a foundation of our HENKAKU (transformational innovation) mindset.