Print Leaders Forum: Having to dig deep

An excerpt from AP March 2020 Print Leaders Forum – by Lithographic Institute of Australia (LIA) federal president Mel Ireland  

We will see some tight operating conditions moving into 2020, with some further consolidations. Businesses that adopt or mature their automation processes and those that can offer a gamut of products/services will see continued growth.

Economic conditions moving into 2020 will be flat at best. This is a global trend, not just related to the Australian market, and not just related to the print sector. Unfortunately, with several key global events, as well as some extraordinary local events such as the bushfires, Australian industry will find themselves having to dig deeper this year.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Investing in staff and encouraging them to be a part of the ‘ideas trust’ of your business can make a huge difference. If our staff are engaged and enthused, this will flow to our clients.

Clients are also feeling the pinch. It is a great opportunity to revisit conversations with our client base to work with them to help them identify their needs and to innovate together. Add value to your clients and they will bring value to you.

My three key trend picks that will impact industry in 2020 are:

  1. Industry 4.0 is a term that has been used now for many years across the wider manufacturing sector, and sometimes it is not necessarily associated with the printing sector. The enabling tools that are part of this term will continue to evolve. The printing industry is one sector that has great potential to truly adopt the technologies, and in many cases, are miles ahead of other industries. Data analytics, artificial intelligence, and automation will continue to expand and impact the industry.
  2. Climate change and environmental damage will continue to headline media as well as form the underlining issues for policy makers. This social trend is one that, again, the printing industry is in a prime position to pitch its value at. A sustainable industry that has a history of supply chain accountability and reporting as well as having already weathered the storm of carbon neutrality conversations/fees, waste levies and ‘chain of custody/responsibility’.
  3. Circularity is a concept that we will start to hear more dialogue about over the coming 12 months. Whilst the principles of the circular economy are not necessarily new, the global economic, social and political fragility is the perfect storm for circularity to start to pick up a rapid pace. The printing industry could really embrace this trend and be a leader in adopting and forging ahead as examples for other industries.

Printers should be focusing their efforts on continued high levels of customer service. Value adding will be the differences between higher profitability or not. ‘What can we add to our product offerings?’ is the question that printers need to ask themselves.

R&D, design, supply chain management, distribution and logistics, marketing and sales, and after sales service is where value adding will be most prevalent. It is also important for printers to be aware of legislative requirements surrounding the security of their client’s personal information.

Printers should also be focusing their efforts on future skills and staff that are going to be able to pick up the required skills. Investment in onboarding trainees and apprentices is imperative for a healthy future. It is just as important for managers/owners of these businesses to invest in themselves to be the best leaders or managers they can be for their team.

Packaging and labelling will continue to be the growth areas of the printing sector. This will be heightened due to the current global focus of sustainability and circularity and the discussions around the limitation of natural resources.

Personalisation will continue to have growth as a result of marketers wanting to target their messaging. So too will the use of artificial intelligence and data that can be obtained by clever labelling options.

Printing as a service, like so many other ‘…as a service’ offerings that are now becoming the way business is being done.

LIA will continue to encourage, reward, support and recognise new entrants into this industry. We will continue to promote the industry as a viable career option. There are several businesses that are expanding and are bringing in new tech, which we will be showcasing throughout the next 12 months.


This article was written prior to the impact of COVID-19. The digital version of AP March 2020 is available here.

And as part of AP’s 70 anniversary, we’re pulling together a list of 70 local industry pioneers – you can make your nominations here.

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