SGIA Expo 2017: A Show of Possibilities

The question on our minds: ‘Is there anything we can’t do?’

New Orleans welcomed thousands of visitors to its lively – albeit sweltering – streets for SGIA Expo 2017 last week. Exhibitors, press, and roughly 19,000 attendees admired booths displaying scenes from jazz clubs, balcony-lined streets, Mardi Gras, and more. What better way to celebrate the question that seemed to be on everyone’s minds: What can’t you print on?

We saw it all: images printed on cinderblocks, shoes, cornhole boards, lunch boxes, armchairs, and more. Time after time, we heard manufacturers repeat the thoughts of Sharon Rothschild, Massivit product manager: “It’s our customers that are teaching us what’s possible with this technology. … Innovation is infectious.”

A new way of seeing the industry became clear: Manufacturers are no longer selling machines. Print service providers are no longer selling print. We at Big Picture magazine are no longer selling you a magazine. We’re all working together to sell something else: an idea.

Seeing Opportunities
2018 is creeping closer, and in the modern-day market, there’s nothing more valuable than an idea. The ability to take the pressure that’s squeezing businesses from every side and turn it into an opportunity is essential to survive. Perhaps it starts with the internet; some say retail is dying. Perhaps it starts on the shop floor; some say automation will leave us all jobless. Maybe it starts with the price; many say the only way to make a buck is to churn out as many square feet as possible – regardless of quality.

But the mood on the show floor betrayed none of these concerns. The word was “opportunity.” Gabi Seligsohn, CEO of Kornit Digital, posed a question: retail meltdown or retail revolution? If Amazon plans to ship products to Prime customers in under two hours, doesn’t that create an opportunity for local printers across the country?

Epson reported that 20 percent of the world’s water supply is affected by pollution generated by the textile printing industry, a figure that could be reduced by as much as 95 percent if production switched over to digital. Today, only 3 percent of the world’s textiles are printed digitally. If that’s not opportunity, what is?

EFI Senior VP and General Manager Scott Schinlever shared that 99.8 percent of thermoforming production is still run on analog machines. The main barrier to going digital? Awareness. Hello, opportunity.

“A complaint about price is not a problem,” said David Fellman, president of David Fellman & Associates, during the pre-show session “Your Business: Prepare for Success.” “It’s an opportunity to tell people why they should buy from you.”

Industry-wide challenges were framed as possibilities at every turn. Challenge: inventory management. Opportunity: Move into e-commerce. Challenge: Customers know and care about how things are manufactured. Opportunity: Run your shop responsibly, and market it. The list goes on.

Efficiency Begets Opportunity
“That’s great,” you’re thinking, “but who has the time?” You have a business to run, and that’s why “workflow” was hot on the heels of “opportunity” as the most-uttered word of the week. We saw OEMs taking an interest in every step of production: There was a widespread emphasis on versatility, from hybrid machines to printer/cutters to automatic tool changers and more. Some decided to form smart partnerships and offer PSPs end-to-end integration. Brent Moncrief, Fujifilm VP of marketing and brand management, said, “Aligning with the right partners is becoming a source of competitive advantage.”

Nearly everyone spoke about data. Tom Trutna, owner of Big Ink, stressed its importance in the pre-show session “Your Business: Prepare for Success,” saying, “Nothing changes unless it is watched.” The phrase “adapt or die” has never felt truer, and you can’t adapt without knowledge.

Software and hardware manufacturers alike focused on the bidirectional flow of information. You can get info from prepress to the printer to the cutter? Great. What can you learn from that process? How can you communicate it to your CSRs and salespeople? If every piece of your business is in tune with the others, you’ll have the time to focus on those ideas and opportunities. Ask yourself: Did you get into business to push papers, or did you do it because you have a valuable idea?

Shop owners are often intimidated by the idea of automation, said PrintFactory CEO Eric Strik, but it doesn’t have to be a lights-out transformation. Simplifying even a few steps or removing a few touches can make all the difference. Einar Ek, Esko market manager, had an equally approachable message: “Work smarter.”

Get to Work
It’s almost impossible to sum up the impressions left on us by 500-plus exhibitors, but after sitting in 60 or so meetings, walking more than 90,000 steps, and drinking just a few cups of coffee, our editorial team is happy to report that Rothschild is right: Innovation is infectious. And this industry cares enough to innovate and push the boundaries every day. We saw print shop CEOs swapping ideas, OEMs partnering with one another to make a better product, and optimism at every angle. We left feeling invigorated by the thought that today’s customer is ever-more demanding, because that demand is an opportunity to please. To all of you holding on to a great idea, it’s time to put it into motion.

Read about the Women in Print Awards or check out more key takeaways from the 2017 SGIA Expo.

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