Sat, Jul

What technological developments will be the most crucial going into the new decade?

Wondering what your company will look like by 2030, and how technology will have changed it? Here’s some current thinking on how things are likely to shape-up over the next ten years.

Which technical developments will have the biggest impact on large-format print companies over the next decade?

Jan De Roeck, Marketing director, industry relations and strategy, Esko:

The digitalisation of large-format converters, especially in those areas that are lagging at the moment, is likely to have the most impact, particularly with regard to customer communications, internal communications, job planning and estimating. The entire upstream part of the production workflow, which I refer to as job onboarding, needs to become more efficient. Once the data and its metadata (data about the job) are available, processing and production is fast and efficient already, but can be subject to further robotisation and automation.

Dan Tyler, Founder, Vism:

Automation. Automation. Automation. With large-format well on it’s way to being the commodity that commercial litho became long ago, the printers that will thrive for years to come will be those that automate where they can and retrain team members in to client facing, creative or project led roles.

David van Driessche, CTO, Four Pees and executive director, Ghent Workgroup:

It’s tempting to point to this or that technical advancement for printing or finishing equipment as to what will have the most impact, but I don’t believe that would be correct. Yes, machines are going to get faster, more ecological, and more flexible. That is a given. But I believe the biggest impact for companies will come from software.

If you want to make a profit, you have to be able to focus on printing jobs quickly and with high quality. Standardisation and automation are the concepts you need to accomplish this. This is a trend we’ve seen in the commercial print sector during the last 15 - 20 years, and one that large-format print is overdue for. Companies focusing on how they manage the complete job cycle, from attracting the order in the first place, to delivering it to the customer, are going to win. Yes, good printing devices are important. But the real key to better margins and efficiency comes from software, not hardware. 

Bryan Manwaring, Director of product marketing, Onyx Graphics:

A trend we have seen grow tremendously in recent years for digital inkjet large-format printing is the need for automation. With the increasingly diverse print applications for this market, the types of technical developments are likely to be equally diverse. PSPs of all sizes are striving to meet evolving customer needs as well as to stay competitive and profitable. PSPs look to and will continue to look to automation to help achieve that. 


There’s lots of talk about artificial intelligence. By 2030, how significant will this be for large-format businesses?

Jan De Roeck, Marketing director, industry relations and strategy, Esko:

AI is a means to drive and increase automation throughout the entire door-to-door process of a large-format business, not just in the press room or in the prepress department. Based on aggregated and curated data from various disparate but connected systems, smart workflows and connected devices, AI will assess how jobs are acquired and processed and will then make decisions based on that historical data. Human roles will be focussed on tasks that add value to the process, while artificial intelligence will take tasks that can be automated away from people. Large-format businesses are in no way different in being susceptible to such changes and will reap the benefits of this technological evolution in the years ahead.

Dan Tyler, Founder, Vism:

I suspect a lot will look to understand how machine learning could help them become more efficient, but it will be interesting to see how quick the industry is to adopt it. Whilst it will play a big part in some businesses, I’m not sure it will be all that widely used by then.

David van Driessche, CTO, Four Pees and executive director, Ghent Workgroup:

There is a huge difference between ‘clever’ software and software that contains real artificial intelligence. Artificial intelligence implies that the software gets smarter over time and learns from, for example, the input from operators. What we see so far is that software gets cleverer all the time, but there are very few examples of software that really learns after being installed. Such software could solve interesting problems in our industry. 

Think about quality control of incoming jobs or job planning taking all constraints in a company into account. But given the challenges on developing artificial intelligence software and the relatively small areas where they could make a difference, I think ten years’ time is not enough to make a significant impact, but I firmly believe artificial intelligence will hugely impact the way we drive to our printing companies in the next ten years!

Bryan Manwaring, Director of product marketing, Onyx Graphics:

For large-format printing, the term ‘artificial intelligence’ is being used to describe automation and optimisation algorithms to improve production efficiency so that PSPs can remain competitive in an already competitive market. Speaking just about ONYX software, artificial intelligence already exists in the form of ONYX Hub aggregated print production data tools to alert print companies about ink usage and media waste. In addition, ONYX software algorithms assist in nesting layouts to conserve media and reduce waste and produce barcodes to automate print and cut workflows. Our latest version can now automate colour management workflows and make ink reduction calculations without manual iterative ICC profiling. While at present, these small steps into intelligence are emerging in large-format digital inkjet printing, we expect this to grow and continue in the coming years. 


In 2030, do you think robots will be in commonplace in wide-format printing?

Jan De Roeck, Marketing director, industry relations and strategy, Esko:

Observing the speed of innovation and realising what robots can already do today, I believe that our current definition of the term ‘robot’ will have changed by 2030. I don’t think today we have a term available in our vocabulary to adequately describe how robots will be used in our industry. The analogy is that in the 1930s, we were referring to an automobile or car with the term ‘horseless carriage’.  I believe that robots will start to take up more complex and diverse tasks and when connected, the factory of the future may well be a complete robot-cell - you input raw materials and data and what comes out at the other end will be the finished product - the large-format printshop as one large robot.”

Dan Tyler, Founder, Vism:

Absolutely. With a number of manufacturers already showing off some seriously impressive robots at the last few big shows it’s easy to see a lot of the higher volume, repeat work type businesses benefitting from these. And in another 10 years the speed of these machines will no doubt have increased significantly.

David van Driessche, CTO, Four Pees and executive director, Ghent Workgroup:

No. Large-format printers tend to deal with widely varied jobs, and to be able to use the type of robots we have today, you need painstaking standardisation, together with high enough volume to justify the investment and get good ROI. 

Very large companies or companies who manage to specialise highly could be an exception, but I don’t see robots becoming a significant part of most large-format print workflows any time soon.

Bryan Manwaring, Director of product marketing, Onyx Graphics:

As a software provider in the wide-format digital inkjet space, we aren’t in a position to comment fully on this question.


If you could give owners of large-format print companies one piece of advice about how to prepare for technological advances in the next 10 years, what would it be? 

Jan De Roeck, Marketing director, industry relations and strategy, Esko:

The keywords are ‘digital transformation’ of the business. In order for a large-format printer to define where they will be/want to be in the years ahead, it is important to define where one is on the journey of digital transformation today. Digital transformation is a continuous improvement game, not a journey with a well-defined and finite goal. Digital maturity models can be used to assess the current status of digital transformation of the entire business, not just the production floor. And your business may well be at different maturity stages for distinct parts of the business, but only a documented insight into the current status will provide insight to the next steps to be undertaken. If this doesn’t happen, it will at least provide a solid basis for the management to develop a digital transformation strategy that is not built on assumptions of the future, but on assessments of reality today.”

Dan Tyler, Founder, Vism:

Be careful of taking a ‘well, the way we do it works’ approach. Too many have done so and fallen by the wayside. If you want to grow, stay relevant, and ultimately thrive, you’ll only be able to do this if you embrace the opportunities that these advances will bring.

David van Driessche, CTO, Four Pees and executive director, Ghent Workgroup:

Educate yourself and the people who work for you! Read about what’s happening, talk to colleagues and competitors, go to conferences, listen to podcasts - where you find the information isn’t important, but make sure you educate yourself.

Even better, don’t just learn about your industry or the part of it you’re focusing on. We humans are excellent problem solvers and incredibly good at making connections between disparate pieces of information. But that only works if you feed your mind with enough information to begin with.

A (Belgian) VIGC study showed a direct correlation between those companies thriving in their market and those spending time and money on education. So don’t get caught up in day-to-day operations. Broaden your mind!

Bryan Manwaring, Director of product marketing, Onyx Graphics:

It may be advisable to first assess what is most important to the business and where you want that business to be in 10 years before making a software purchasing decision. For example, does the developer regularly release updates to meet the changing technological needs of their print shop? Is the company’s solutions ahead of the technology curve for industry standards that meet evolving user needs? Do they offer end-to-end workflows for automation throughout print production? Can they offer solutions that scale and grow with the business? More specifically, is their solution a full 64-bit product across all applications not just a Rip? Do they offer a network license solution to meet changing daily production needs? Can they support all their devices both now and in the future? Do they offer fully automated workflow capabilities? What colour management options do they have? Can they automate that colour management across devices without having to re-profile? What about other tools, such as those providing efficiency business data or further print production automation can they provide? All these questions and more are just some of the things print companies might want to consider.