Editor’s Note: This article is adapted from the drupa Essentials series offering long-time attendee perception of the trade fair. At Virtual drupa, an online experience set for April 20-23, 2021, one central theme, “Embrace the Future,” will link a conference area, exhibition space and networking plaza. Show planners have indicated that Virtual drupa will provide decisive impulses for printing, media, packaging production and industrial applications and say, “This is where innovations are introduced, new business models are presented and new partnerships are forged.”
Important elements of the conference arena include drupa cube, Touchpoint Packaging and DNA—drupa Next Age, which is billed as the center of disruptive developments and the innovative heart of drupa. Managing Director Sabine Geldermann promises the event will focus on an “industry seeking innovation in a fast-changing world.”
Think about the World Cup of Printing. I did. Ask yourself, “What can we expect from Virtual drupa 2021?” My assessment follows.
First and foremost—innovation! Printing, including packaging, is under intense pressure to transform itself. Brand owners are upping the pace and have new, different requirements. The industry is more competitive than ever and innovation is what our clients—brand owners—are looking for.
One very important aspect is sustainability. Printing, and especially packaging, is under huge pressure to improve its carbon footprint and to limit waste. While everyone wants a better, cleaner planet, nobody is prepared to pay for it! Packaging customers are out to cut cost, whatever it takes.
I really hope to see more sustainable packaging materials coming through, and more environmentally friendly inks, with print machines able to print and process substrates in a more environmentally friendly manner.
At the World Cup of print, the biggest contest is the convergence between printing techniques: flexography, offset, gravure and digital—the rising star. In the context of increased demand for more sustainability, quality, shorter delivery times and reduced costs, all printing technologies are improving and innovation can move applications from one printing technology to another.
Nowhere else can you be as close to the evolution of printing technologies as at Virtual drupa. I expect major changes to come for all printing processes as they need to improve efficiency, waste management, quality and also reduce their environmental impact significantly.
Something to have in mind is that traditional print techniques are becoming more and more digital, with sensors all over the machines taking away time-consuming tasks from the operators. For example, digital setup tools enable printers and converters to be more efficient; cameras and sensors can reduce the setup time and increases productivity significantly—all without replacing your current operators.
Digitalization of our world and our lives is everywhere and is rapidly entering into the print and packaging industry. Digital may be a competitor, but it can also be part of the solution for printers and converters to be more efficient. With digital tools, they can calculate, in a more precise way, their real costs and integrate physical products into their world using, for example, augmented reality. RFID and printed electronics are also opportunities for the print industry to connect with the digital world.
Digital in general—incorporating prepress, printing and converting in one system—is on the rise, with the automation of all the steps of the print workflow, thereby helping to optimize the entire production floor—not only the printing part. It links printers and converters better together with their customers and suppliers. In a digital world, print can be seamlessly integrated into multichannel communications.
Reshape the Future
What about my expectations for Virtual drupa 2021? Well, I don’t usually have specific expectations—most of the time I get surprised by visiting a booth I didn’t intend to visit, which then informs, or even inspires me about something unexpected.
In the end, if you are anything like me, you will get a different view on your investments, or on the market trends and dynamics. So, “expect the unexpected” and be open-minded! The printing world is made of numerous applications. With all the innovation and new technologies being made available, the changes happening are in fact opportunities for printers and converters to reshape their future.
Finally, think beyond the printing press; it will take more than a new press to be successful. At Virtual drupa, you need to look at the entire production chain for print and packaging:
- Substrate innovations are going to be critical in the coming years
- Digitalization and the automation of the entire workflow will change your organization
- New technologies will require the hiring of new staff and development of new skills
- The way you will engage with your clients will change significantly
Refrain from resisting change. Instead, stand ready to embrace it.
About the Author
Isidore Leiser is CEO of Stratus Packaging Group, one of the leading European label converters using both conventional and digital technologies. Headquartered in Viriat, France, it includes six manufacturing units in that country and a subsidiary in Switzerland. All facilities exhibit a commitment to efficiency, as they embrace continuous improvement and a results-driven culture associated with lean manufacturing principles. The group employs more than 300 and generates annual revenues in excess of $60 million. Print output caters to four specialized environments—food and beverage, health and beauty, industry and chemicals, and in-mold label.
Future-focused flexographers take note: drupa has announced its pending return to the familiar schedule and live in-person event with the next installment, set for the Fairgrounds in Dusseldorf, Germany, May 28 through June 7, 2024.