By Digital Output Staff
The COVID-19 pandemic taught us to pivot quickly. With that lesson came a host of others that many in the industry leveraged as positive takeaways from the pandemic. Our 2022 state of the industry report is a compilation of trends in the last 12 months. We asked contributors of this article—seen in the August issue of Digital Output—to also share lessons learned over the last two years or so.
Resilience in Spades
It’s been repeatedly said that the pandemic showed just how resilient humans are in addition to how innovative.
“One positive outcome I took away from the pandemic was how resilient the graphics industry is now. Print service providers (PSPs) found new ways to do business these last two years and many companies quickly changed gears by offering safety signage,” notes Amanda Smith, marketing communications manager, graphic products, Mactac.
Kylie Schleicher, director of product development and product manager, Ultraflex Systems, Inc., lists face shields, face masks, protective aprons, gowns, and pop-up hospital signage as other applications produced from PSPs’ existing equipment in order to survive.
“Printers are more capable than they think. I was amazed at how quickly print producers were able to bring personal protection equipment to the market. It restores my faith in humanity and our ability to adapt,” notes Brian Gibson, wide format specialist, GBC SEAL.
“The pandemic has to some degree contributed to the adoption and uptake of digital inkjet technologies in traditional PSPs that may not have considered diversifying or even looking at digital printing to supplement their product offerings,” adds Darren Claassens, head of sales and marketing, NUtec Digital Ink.
A perfect example of this, Sal Sheikh, senior director, LFS marketing, Canon U.S.A., Inc., notes how some PSPs focused more on growth applications that were previously not offered such as interior décor.
Jodi Sawyer, strategic business unit manager, retail and advertising, FLEXcon Company, Inc., agrees that the pandemic was really a test resilience. “It pushed us to reflect on how we do business—to spend our cash wisely, lean out processes, invest in automation, and optimize inventory. It taught us the importance of working closely with our supply chain partners and clients to forecast and plan for demand. It also highlighted the necessity of cross-training employees to avoid shutdowns due to illness of staff members. And it made us work our innovation muscles—to understand customer needs so we could pivot to new offerings to meet them.”
Yes, innovation certainty was witnessed across the board. “The old cliché ‘adapt or die’ really did apply during the pandemic. The industry found ways to think outside the box. Some learned new applications, some learned to work with new materials,” admits Tony Caruso, VP of sales, Advanced Greig Laminators, Inc.
The creativity shouldn’t have been too surprising, says Kevin Duffy, VP sales and marketing, Vycom. “The pandemic taught is that digitally produced signage can go with the flow. So many new applications came out of the pandemic, but that’s not really surprising as this group of entrepreneurs are innovators.”
How We Work
While going into the office changed in a blink of an eye, as we emerge from the pandemic, working remote is now standard.
“Working remote is a great idea. People can be and are more productive. We advanced the digital age in what seemed to be a nanosecond. We learned that asynchronous communication was a good thing,” say Mike Richardson and Bob Rick, business development managers, Jessup Manufacturing Co.
“The pandemic gave us the opportunity to adopt new working methods. We improved remote communication with our customers while still providing five star service from our homes. Print providers had more time to deep dive into different solutions, and learn how better to use our software, which triggered a high demand for training,” shares Sarit Tichon, senior VP international Sales, SAi.
However, despite how wonderful all of this technology can be, it was realized fairly quickly that in-person human interaction is vital. “From where we sit, we didn’t realize how much we missed all our friends and, from a business perspective, our enemies. Whether in an office, in a restaurant, a bar, a hotel, a plane, competing for business in back-to-back customer meeting we learned how much we need each other,” note Richardson and Rick.
The pandemic also brought to light a need for more efficiency and flexibility. This is a need that’s continued as we face other challenges like labor shortages and supply chain issues.
“The pandemic taught us a lot about managing our core business. You need to be mean and lean when you get hit with such a disruption. You need to assess your core values and make sure you are able to take care of your employees and customers and if not adapt to what they do need,” explains Brian Phipps, president and GM, Mutoh America, Inc.
According to David Stevens, technical development manager, Trotec Laser, the positives lie in learning just how important it is to be flexible. “This puts renewed emphasis on investing in tools and equipment that are equally flexible and support manufacturers in making these kinds of rapid changes with their modularity, upgradability, and longevity.”
In regards to supply chain shortages, Michael Aldrich, product manager, FDC Graphics Films, Inc., says a positive taken away from the pandemic is using products in places that maybe some of these products were not originally meant to be used in. “We’re finding new ways to reach out to our customers to get them excited about the alternative products that can be used that were not affected by supply chain issues as much.”
In correlation with efficiency, environmental themes are presented. “Another aspect is that the sudden lack of industrial activity helped highlight the benefits of a more eco-conscious marketplace; this manifests in the creation of more environmentally-minded themes, as well as a preference for more sustainable production practices, in terms of both non-toxic materials and a process that eliminates waste from the equation,” comments Robert Zoch, global content manager, Kornit Digital.
While the last two years brought challenges, they were learning opportunities. PSPs took those experiences and adapted them into today’s business strategies. “Much like the American people in general, our industry is resilient and will work to provide solutions at a time when few are seen,” notes Michael Johnson, VP – North American graphic and industrial sales, Nazdar Ink Technologies. Creative thinking and a bit of good old fashioned resilience are two traits that certainly carry the industry through trying and successful times.
Aug2022, Digital Output