Interview series: What’s the next game-changer? – Answers from John A. Bambery
John A. Bambery, chairmen, BPIF (Source: BPIF)
NarrowWebTech asked label printers and converters to give their views about the past, the present and the future of the label industry. What was the most important thing to note in 2016? What will be relevant in 2017? Read here what John A. Bambery, chairman, BPIF, think about the latest developments within our industry in the past year and in the immediate future!
John A. Bambery
Looking back at 2016, what were the most important developments in terms of technology and production workflow to affect the label industry?
Looking back over 2016:
A small sample of BPIF label member companies were asked to share their thoughts on how their companies fared during 2016. All confirmed that they had achieved solid growth throughout the year, with major investments in plant and machinery taking place. What was encouraging was that investments in both training and personnel also occurred. We are seeing signs that the recruitment of apprentices into the industry is starting to gather momentum. Also reported was the increase in on-line ordering and the investment in management information software that companies need in order to take full advantage of this.
Amongst our supplier members it was reported that they are responding to the challenges of higher demand, pressure on exchange rates and the ordering of smaller batch quantities by looking at their internal cost structures. They are managing to maintain their margins by improved productivity both in the administration and production areas.
Some describe Industry 4.0 as the ‘4th Industrial Revolution’. What is your opinion on this evolution of communications within the production chain, and how does it affect your workflow?
Changing patterns as a result of the digital economy:
This change in ordering patterns, plus the wider use of digital technologies, is affecting all companies within the industry, from raw material suppliers and machinery manufacturers to label converters. No section of the industry is unscathed. The wider use of the internet both in terms of the use of websites and electronic communication is commonplace throughout. This is leading to leaner practices being used and enabling companies to respond to customers’ demands in an extremely efficient manner. Again, from our survey it was reported that lead times are becoming shorter, batch sizes are becoming smaller and prices are having to remain stable. There is pressure from all sides. However, the good news is that companies are responding to these challenges as they become smarter and able to cope with the challenges they now face. With growth forecast to increase over the coming years, companies are able to invest with confidence in new and up to date equipment.
What are your concerns and expectations for the label industry in 2017? What do you consider will be the game-changing developments? How does your view relate to what you might see at Labelexpo Europe 2017?
Forecast for 2017:
From our survey it is clear that all companies are looking for the current strong growth within the sector to continue. Predictions are within the 10% region. Raw material suppliers are bringing on increased capacity to cope with this encouraging trend. There is some concern that the BREXIT negotiations might dampen trade, but most feel that any effects of this will be negligible as the home market is growing so well. Investments in new digital equipment are planned and further capital equipment purchases in front end systems are forecast. Underpinning this are further increases in personnel. The industry appears to be in rude health. What is interesting is that companies are continuing to invest in the conventional processes, despite the rise in digital technology. Investment in colour management software, shrink sleeves and HD flexo are all playing their role in creating a widely diverse industry capable of responding to all the challenges that customers present.
Do you currently have digital printing capability? Will you be investing in a digital press (or presses) in 2017?
Hybrid Revolution threat or panacea
There has been much talk about the use of Hybrid presses in the industry, with a number of press manufacturers launching presses at LabelExpo at Brussels in 2015. While some machines have been sold to those companies who have niche markets, the jury is out on whether there is a large market for these presses. Clearly, for those companies using toner technologies off-line finishing and converting is by far and away the better option. However, with the improved running speeds of inkjet systems we are seeing that the break-even point between off-line and in-line is being reached. We look with interest towards LabelExpo in September to see if the trend to manufacture Hybrid presses will continue. It is clear that in some markets a Hybrid press incorporating inkjet printing, conventional decorating, varnishing, coating and die-cutting is becoming a viable option. Obviously, run lengths and frequency of changeovers will play a huge part in this decision-making process. So I suppose to sum up, the ‘jury is still out’.