VIGC will work first half 2020 together with R.I.T. on an Industry 4.0 whitepaper.

Project Scope

With this joined VIGC (Belgium) and RIT (USA) research project we want to map out the impact of Smart Industry Solutions also known as Industry 4.0 on the graphic arts industry. We will start with an overview on the existing technologies within the graphic arts industry.

The goal is to create a comprehensible overview on this subject and to guide the printing companies through the often confusing and by hype driven terminology. Questions such as which technology is already applicable to graphic arts businesses and which one has to be further elaborated will be answered. Preferably we will point out to technologies or cases from other industries which can be used as an example within our industry.

By doing this we will be able to help the printing community to enhance their production environment and create value for the internal organization which will have a direct impact on the financial result and also the relationship towards the business customers.

Smart Industry Solutions applied to the graphic arts industry

In the printing industry the Smart Industry Solution concept is translated into print 4.0. Some suppliers use parts of the Industrie 4.0 concept in their mainly high end solutions. In printing companies the adoptation is rather fragmented and in most of the cases not well organized. The printing companies that have a well-considered policy in this regard have been thinly seeded.

You also see a big difference in adoptation between the sub industries as there are e.g. commercial printing, labels and packaging or sign & display markets. As you see some examples of Smart Industry Solutions in the high volume offset businesses, the large format companies are still struggling with MIS solutions mainly due to the type of (low volume) work they perform.

Management Information Systems (MIS) are well established in the printing industry. What is still missing, however, are smart automated links between parts of the workflow – both internally and externally (links with suppliers) – as a result of which parts of the process are not well matched. This naturally results in a sub-optimal efficiency of the infrastructure and, moreover, the inability to engage in innovative business models. The aim of this project is to allow smart workflow automation to be introduced at a large group of graphic companies, and to help them prepare for the Industry 4.0 revolution that has also been unmistakably used in the graphic industry.

We currently have a lot of knowledge and technology available that is not linked to one specific industry. Knowing that 85% of the printing companies have less then 20 employees the challenge will be to engage the smaller companies towards the benefits of Smart Industry Solutions at an affordable and comprehensive way.

# employees # companies % share
1-4 629 60,5%
5-9 164 15,8%
10-19 109 10,5%
20-49 96 9,2%
50-99 19 1,8%
100-199 18 1,7%
200-249 2 0,2%
250-499 2 0,2%
Total 1.039 100,0%

Figure – Number of employees at Belgian PSPs

A quote from Claus Bolza-Schünemann, CEO of Koenig & Bauer confirms this: “Print 4.0 is the enabler for individualization and personalization in digital printing, high-quality packaging and the fast-growing range of solutions in industrial and functional printing – and it will be the megatrend. Thanks to its networked process chains, Print 4.0 is already the leader of Industry 4.0. To us this means an end-to-end digital workflow made possible by the intelligent networking of our machines and systems.”

Big global companies

Big global companies like Cimpress are stepping up at a rapid pace towards this new technologies and possibilities. It is to be feared that they will further expand their competitive advantage at the expense of the smaller PSP’s.

As stated by CEO Robert Keane at the last Online Print Symposium in Munich (April 2019) it is interesting to be an end customer of an online PSP. The last six months online prices declined by 4%. Because of price drops, the increase of advertising, paper and shipping costs the competition among printing companies is very hard. To be competitive Cimpress spends a lot of money on Intelligent Automation, Big Data and Machine Learning, Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Robotics.

Interesting is that not only in print production processes this kind of technologies are integrated. Keane said that e.g. also customer services tasks use Intelligent Automation. In a broader perspective you could state that a lot of intellectual tasks which nowadays are performed by humans could be transformed by using automation. At Cimpress they use this to see connections in a multitude of data. Connections that simply aren’t visible for humans such as SPAM (e-mail) detection or translations. The CEO of Cimpress sees a lot of economic value in this.

In order to enhance the production planning, the customer data platform, the overall quality and to optimize your processes in general you need a massive load of information and good algorithms. At Cimpress they have 400 mio uploads, 250 mio customers, 350 mio different designs, 100+ websites and 4000 team members. They use this learning set for analysis in order to create profit for e.g. logo conversion were human time decreased by factor 20.

Another example lies in the combination of orders at one sheet. By using ganging mechanisms they gained factor 10 productivity. Now by using AI and robotics thy increased this number to factor 100.

At Cimpress – the biggest global online printer (!) – they can’t do this all by themselves. They have a partner network with over 100 partners they engage with. As a printing company you need a cultural switch. You need to shift from printing to neuro networks and Artificial Intelligence. Therefore you need to embrace co-opetition. You need to work together with your competitors and learn from each other.

What does this mean for PSP’s?

In general, most printers will have to undergo significant transformation to realize the full benefits of Smart Industry Solutions – not just in terms of production methods, but also strategy and policy.

With environmental concerns growing year on year, printing businesses were previously weighing the costs of using heat and chemical treatments to cure their products. With smarter, cleaner curing technologies, these businesses can achieve a smaller operational footprint with the added advantage of lower running costs.

Another important consideration is the rising global skills gap – where rapid technological advancements have led to a shortage of candidates with the required knowledge to operate sophisticated machinery. Smarter solutions, such as print-lines enhanced by IoT functionality can remove the need for experts on the ground, enabling manufacturers to simplify production. This has never been more essential, as demand is rising for evermore complex finishing such as personalized packaging, which requires the management of huge data files as part of the production process.

How can we help?

This Research projects goal is to map useful Smart Industry Solutions at the print production process. Which kind of solutions are applicable at the printing process? Are there already graphic art suppliers who can reach out to us? Or do we need to look at other industries to find solutions?

Fons Put is in charge of this research. If you want to know more or participate in the research please contact Fons Put at or +32 (0)495 232 134