Digital Technology is gaining momentum around the globe and everyone in the print and packaging industry needs to address the right investment in equipment and software to take advantage of it. This was the principle message being given out at the first conference session of the 2009 edition of the four day Gulf Print and Gulf Pack, which was opened by HE Sheikha Lubna Khalid Al Qasimi, the UAE?s Minister of Foreign Trade, at Dubai?s Airport Expo.
Gulf Print attracts key international suppliers of printing machinery, printing and publishing software and ancillary equipment, whilst Gulf Pack is the only packaging event for the entire region and is targeted at packaging machinery manufacturers who want to present their products to the dynamic Middle East market.
Opening the session, Saeed Al Falasi, Executive Director of the International Media Production Zone (IMPZ) in Dubai told the delegates that despite the economic downturn, the Middle East continued to witness steady growth, fuelled by interest from overseas, given that prices in the region?s print and packaging industries were some 20 to 30% lower than those found in the West, and on a par with China.
With its world class infrastructure and geographical position, and its encouragement of free enterprise and low government interference, the future looked very bright for the industry in the Gulf. Already 175 publishing companies and 184 graphic arts companies had set up in Dubai?s IMPZ, whilst some 2,000 similar companies and freelancers were operational in the area overall.
Barb Pellow, Group Leader of InfoTrends, a market research company in the industry sector, explained that digital print equipment and software solutions are driving efficiency both in print operations and in business communications for customers. ?With the abundance of new technology, especially in the areas of high speed colour engines and the interface using the web, this is a very bright spot in the industry and is responsible for a huge increase in productivity and cost savings,? she said.
?As more and more companies move across to digital printing, there has been a decline in the amount of offset print volumes, whilst there is a compound annual growth rate in retail value of print of over nine percent in digital printing depending on region; and establishments categorising themselves as digital printers have increased by 250 per cent since 1998. This has also increased employment in the sector by 300 per cent in the past decade,? she added.
One of the most significant drivers of this growth is the demand for shorter print runs with line lengths of less than 500 growing much more than larger print runs, which digital is ideally placed to handle.
?The economics are interesting to see,? Pellow said. ?Early digital devices were expensive in terms of production costs. When Xerox and Cannon brought out their early machines, you could reckon on a sheet of print costing in the order of 25 cents. That rapidly declined to around 10 cents per sheet. As additional new products such HP?s Indigo came on stream, this cost reduced further to around 5 cents. And now with high speed ink jet technology, this price is forecast to fall to around 2 cents by 2011,? she said.
?At the same time, inkjet machines are now capable of running at more than 500ft per minute with widths of up to 30 inches, allowing multiple book printing, cutting lead times and forcing down prices. Longer run applications are now becoming more the norm with newspapers and catalogues more and more able to use digital technology. But,? she cautioned, ?this technology is only of value if combined with the right software and support.
?Two thirds of print buyers purchase over the web compared with 11 per cent in 2000; and printers are projecting that fully 45 per cent of print volumes will be ordered over the web by the end of 2010.?
Meanwhile corporate print buyers are looking to improve their supply chain management using the new technologies to substantially lower costs, shorten turnaround times, offer better tracking and better brand consistency. It is estimated that savings of over 14 per cent can be made as a result of the move to print via web. ?In addition, because this by its very nature moves much of the accountability for accuracy from the printer to the client, wastage is reduced.
?Further opportunities to take advantage of digital technology present themselves through multi-channel communications,? Barb Pellow continued. ?The average consumer nowadays is bombarded with between 250 and 3000 marketing messages every day, and these consumers are becoming more adept at filtering messages. Thirty-three percent of internet users regularly block pop-up messages, for instance.
?By being able to personalise URLs, and customise the print experience, more opportunities are becoming available. A technique called Transpromo, for instance, allows companies to use digital technologies to blend or merge marketing messages onto personalised statements or invoices. As 95 per cent of people open and read their invoices and spend upwards of two or three minutes studying them, this presents the ideal opportunity to leverage the mailing by selling on other services.
?Today?s challenge is all about lean manufacturing,? Barb Pellow concluded. ?It?s about reducing costs, whilst offering new services, streamlining the entire process, and creating direct links to both suppliers and customers. It?s not just about using advanced technology for technology?s sake. No longer is it true that the large operators will beat the smaller ones. The world order is changing. Now, it is about speed and accuracy of delivery. Those able to react and deliver quickly will beat the slower companies, and this will be because of the power of digital technologies.?

Rushika Bhatia Editor

Rushika Bhatia is one of the region’s leading commentators on business and current affairs issues. She is the Editor of SME Advisor magazine - the flagship title of CPI Business. She is passionate about infographics – with special emphasis on data, research and statistics. Rushika has a Bachelor’s Degree from Indiana University, USA and is also CIMA qualified.

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