New legislation is driving a slew of changes amid rapid and widespread global digitalisation and has made print feel the impacts of the changing world, says business management consultant Ricoh SA commercial and industrial print head Vaughan Patterson.
He notes that, while the Protection of Personal Information Act in South Africa and the General Data Protection Regulation legislation in Europe have not curtailed to any great extent how organisations shift customer data from one geography to another, these rules have led to more responsible handling of the data.
It impacts the print industry in many ways such as more targeted marketing, securing data, and not infringing on people’s privacy.
“Packaging is still one of the fastest-growing sectors of the print industry and the challenges around single-use plastics are also emerging.”
He says that people are creating some innovative solutions. One company now supplies a biodegradable food package to replace the plastic typically used for sandwiches and prepared meals.
Patterson adds that the company’s new product biodegrades in a period of six weeks, an individual can freeze the product and immediately heat it to 240 ºC.
Newer legislation around food labels has also impacted on the industry and traceability in particular is filtering into sectors other than food.
Patterson explains that the pharmaceuticals and chemicals industries are also feeling the effect of the legislation, which was designed to create more responsible corporate citizens in a world increasingly driven by sustainability, health and considerations beyond pure profits.
Medicinal tablets that were placed in foil packaging with package inserts on paper that prescribe dosages and contraindications, among other information, inserted into boxes, always required a tracking number in the past.
“Legislation is now being introduced in Europe that requires the same number to appear on the package insert and the box as well. This will bring about a small change in the industry.
“Boomers love to criticise Millennials, and vice versa, yet a younger generation, Generation Z, is the cause behind a resurgence in print. “More people buy printed books, for example, than digital,” he says.
Patterson explains that, last year, publishers collectively made $26-billion from trade, education and fiction titles. About $22.6-billion was for printed books, the remaining $2.04-billion for digital.
In the US, for example, 75% of people aged between 18 and 29 claim to have read a paper book in 2017. The global average is 67%, according to reports on a study by nonpartisan fact tank Pew Research.
Flatbed printing is seeing new applications emerge into the mainstream. Companies are printing direct to kitchen cupboards, for example, countertops, glass, metal and much more.
Any design the customer wants is being put onto their surfaces and installed in their kitchens, throughout houses, in businesses and even for movie sets.
“The movie industry is an interesting application because they’re printing everything they need for sets, saving time and money in the process.
“In the past, the movie industry would print a New York scene, for example, print the number plates for cars to vinyl, hand cut the vinyl and glue it to backing to create fake plates. “Now they print direct to the backing,” he states.
Further, innovation is coming from the unexplored three-dimensional (3D) printing industry. Motor manufacturers have been using 3D printers to prototype parts for quite some time, particularly for their concept vehicles.
Manufacturers who restore classic and vintage cars are using 3D printing to create parts that they cannot source elsewhere. The medical field has begun using the technology to create physical, 3D representations of patients’ organs that doctors can use to plan complex surgeries.
Patterson highlights how futurists are suggesting that 3D printing may go mainstream in the next few years. Futurists say there is potential for 3D printing to become the last mile in home shopping.
“People will order their goods online but, instead of having them shipped, they’ll download the plans and 3D print the item in their own home.
“People have already done that on the International Space Station by printing parts they needed instead of flying them up, which is costly. It will be interesting to see how brands embrace this concept considering the Ingvar Kamprad Elmtaryd Agunnaryd effect,” he says.
“As consumers, we highly value products that we, in some way, help to create, such as assembling iconic Swedish manufacturer IKEA’s furniture,” he notes.
The ramifications are vast when considering that the variety of materials that can be used to print in 3D are also expanding. In future, a customer may browse a store’s jewellery catalogue online or even commission a custom piece then print it at the shop while waiting, he adds.
“As a result, bicycle seats can be printed this way, which is scary, however, it is happening.
“It may be thought of as science fiction, but consider that, in the past, the idea of carrying every encyclopaedia, every possible record, book, video and being able to argue with individuals across the world about politics, sports and cats was also pure science fiction.”
Today, it is a matter of course. People are bound only by their imaginations, he concludes.