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Dealing with Digital Disruption in Professional Printing

In 2017, Ricoh gathered together a group of printers at the Haymarket hotel, London, to discuss how digitalisation is affecting their businesses. The conversation shifted away from the feeds and speeds of the latest kit and instead explored the wider influences and challenges of evolving technology in the print industry.

Opening the debate, Richard Charnley, technology consultant at NXP Europe, reported a major change in the industry: ‘Everyone wants it quicker. Everything goes out the same day that the order comes in. Our clients’ expectations have all been raised.’

‘We are driving for quicker turnarounds, and the software we use is a huge part of that,’ agreed Jaime Layton, production manager at Ashford Colour Press.

‘Automation is great for the really quick jobs’, opined Nick Murray, managing director of Wellington Press. But there can be a downside if you lack IT support. ‘A divorce and moving house is less effort than installing a new MIS system!’ warned Philip Dodd, managing director of Healeys Group. ‘We have around 80 small jobs a day and only now can we really start to automate these completely.’

The customer base of any business is arguably becoming increasingly tech-savvy. How can printers adapt to this changing demographic of customers?

NXP Europe experimented with creating an app. ‘It was a photo book app and learning how to do it was painful,’ recalled Mr Charnley. ‘You pay a coder to build it, but it’s not that simple. Using an app in the consumer world works, but not for me.’

‘The trouble is we can’t just pick our jobs,’ noted Mr Murray. ‘If you want to build an app for that one customer then fine, but things change so much from job to job so you can’t pinpoint what your app should have.’

The discussion then switched to the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT). Is there an opportunity to be had there in the print room or as a sales technique?

‘It’s trying to identify what’s the trend as opposed to the fad, as we all know some things won’t last,’ believes Mr Charnley.

‘Running a press without anyone there isn’t quite there yet; you still need someone to mind it and even then, if they aren’t trained or skilled enough, they can’t fix any problems when they go wrong,’ cautioned Mr Wellington.

James Belton, operational planning and solutions manager at Harrier agreed: ‘You try to automate as much as possible but you still need a human to watch it. Most of us have a diverse product range so we can’t automate everything; there are too many variables. It is better instead to spend money on efficiency throughout the whole business.’

‘For us, it’s about making the whole workflow talk to itself because if you achieve that then you are close to a “one solution fits all” production chain,’ offered Mr Layton.

So it would appear the word of the day was “compromise”. Automation has its limits and even companies with the most advanced technology can be hampered by issues such as slow/fluctuating broadband speed, a courier that goes astray, or customers who still need to see an email before they can approve a job to go to press. Digital offers myriad opportunities but human practicalities and interaction still have the upper hand, for now…

For more information watch the following video where Ricoh customers share more of their insights into digital disruption in the workplace: