The fourth industrial revolution ushers in big opportunities for printing

Guy Gecht addresses audience at EFI’s 2018 Connect User Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada in January.
EFI CEO Guy Gecht addresses audience at EFI’s 2018 Connect User Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada in January.

In late January, Graphic Arts’ Editor-in-Chief Filomena Tamburri attended EFI’s 2018 Connect User Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada. Attracting almost 1,000 users and a host of partner vendors, the conference is also an opportunity to get an update from EFI about the evolution of its business and the wider industry. A big theme at this year’s gathering was the dawning of the fourth industrial revolution and what EFI calls the Imaging of Things, a riff on Silicon Valley’s Internet of Things. We sat down with EFI CEO Guy Gecht to get his perspective on these developments, and how printers can move to take advantage of the opportunities they present.

GAM Give us your assessment of the printing industry from your unique perspective.

Guy Gecht This is a very unique industry. Most of the businesses we support are family-owned and therefore they take a longer-term view of what they do. These are parents who want to give their children a better business than they got from their parents. The other thing is that this is a very creative industry. And the creativity is definitely a weapon that the industry is using to be resilient and to grow. It’s very open to new technology. EFI started and is still based in Silicon Valley. A significant portion of our employees are in R&D, and we love to use technology as a way to adapt to the world and meet opportunities and challenges.

GAM What do you see as the challenges and opportunities?

GG The challenge is that people print less of things like annual reports and statements. On the opportunities, we have a lot of technology and tools that address things that still have a lot of value: direct mail, books in some cases, short-run printing and customized brochures. But the larger definition of printing that EFI is using—which is to put images on any material—that’s just the beginning of a tremendous opportunity for this industry.

GAM What’s the larger definition of print? And how does it complement the 4th revolution that you talked about?

GG The larger definition of print is about putting great images on any materials. For a lot of industries, images are a big part of the value of the products they make, whether it’s packaging, apparel or decoration. The image is what makes the product unique. We call it “the Imaging of Things.” In Silicon Valley there’s this thing called the Internet of Things where everything is connected – IOT. Our IOT is the Imaging of Things. This is part of the 4th industrial revolution, which involves artificial intelligence, virtual reality, big data, faster processing power and so on. It will bring more personalization with frequent design changes. Every material that needs an image on it is print—like boxes, building materials, flooring and apparel. Printing is the only way that retailers like Zara can bring up to 12 collections a year to stores, for example. The question is how do we take the fact that so many products in the world are dependent on images and make that into a business opportunity for us and for our customers?

GAM How do you do it?

GG There are two platforms. One is inkjet. It lets you put great images on any material because it’s the only printing technology that doesn’t touch the material, so you can print on anything you want. The second platform is smart automation, the ability to automate processes from the web and link them to inkjet, allowing you to connect the virtual world to the physical world.

GAM Are you encouraged by what you see in the printing industry and what clients are doing to take up these opportunities?

GG Yes. If you look around here, most people will tell you that their business is doing well. I can tell you that in almost any product category when I see customers using the equipment, they do more interesting things with it than we had imagined they could do with the products. Most of the time, when printers go beyond paper, they’re successful. This, as I said, is a very creative industry.

GAM Is it too late for those who have not started down this path?

GG No. We’re in the early stages of the 4th industrial revolution. There is so much to do and I think a lot of them have the right customer base, and they have the skill set of putting down images. They just need to pick a new, modern application that has higher traction than maybe a declining application.

GAM If I was a small commercial printer and I came to you and said I need to change my business, what would you tell me to do?

GG I would say start by looking at a couple of things. Number one: who are your customers and what do they do? What type of application that involves imaging are they doing? The easiest thing to do is to sell different products to the same customer versus trying to find new customers – which is doable but much more difficult. The other thing is let’s talk about how much of your work is automated versus manual, which means it’s more expensive, it takes longer and produces more mistakes. And let’s try to make a science out of your processes so you can save some money and go invest in new things – and invest in what you think your customers may need. Look at your area. Who in your area might need the kind of skills that you have? There’s a lot of technology from EFI and other vendors. You don’t even have to leave the office to see it. Study that. You have the relationships, the skills, the hard work. There’s a lot more of putting great images on materials coming your way if you spend the time to understand that.

GAM What do you foresee over next three years?

GG I think you’ll see a lot more short runs, a lot more customization and very quick turnarounds. More things done on inkjet. In packaging and corrugated boxes, you’ll see a lot more shipping boxes done in colour. It’s going to be a pretty interesting evolution of new applications. People are going to automate their processes and be very connected to the web.

To learn more about EFI and its solutions for the fourth industrial revolution, please click here:



Tony Curcio is the editor of Graphic Arts Magazine.