Yes, we know drupa 2020 has been moved and Covid restrictions mean that there will be no trade shows for 2020 at least. Still vendors want to launch new products and since even open houses are out of question for now the last resort is virtual events. There have been a few in the last couple of months.
There are pundits that extol the virtue of virtual, but I find them somewhat unsatisfying – and I know that I am not alone. There are big differences in the quality of the virtual events as well, in terms of content, presentation and getting the attendants enthusiastic. But the main point is that marketing anything around print, which distinguishes itself as something multi-sensory and tactile, only virtually is a bit dicey.
Trade fairs have been under pressure in recent years. Cancelling most events in 2020 is making vendors considering their stance towards trade shows once more. So far drupa has been beyond discussion as the one trade show in which a vendor needs to exhibit to be taken seriously in the printing industry. Product and technology development plans have been timed for this show to maximise impact. Now drupa being moved to 2021 wreaks havoc to many plans and a good share of vendors decided to hold virtual launch events instead.
Two major vendors bailed out of drupa 2021 recently and opted for virtual events. Xerox cited insecurity around large events during a pandemic. Bobst announced that it was cancelling its participation at most trade shows, including Drupa, citing several reasons: A change in strategy to forego trade shows (except selected few in Far East) in favour of virtual events and experience centers, environmental reasons and that 2021 is already “full” for Bobst.
Virtual press conferences
As the first of the major vendors which cancelled their drupa participation for 2021 Bobst held an international press conference on the 9th of June. Several articles have been written on the launches presented, but I would like to focus on the underlaying question: how well does a virtual event as a substitute for a trade show participation.
First kudos to the event organisers. According to Bobst more than 100 journalists and analysts joined. The virtual press conference was well organized. The stream contained a mix of CEO Jean-Pascal Bobst talking, mixed with slides and him drawing on a flip chart (you still remember what this is?) to explain some workflow details. There was ample time for questions, also expertly moderated by Francois Martin.
Still – getting technology developments explained via a couple of slides always gives me the feel that I want to walk over and kick the tires of the new product at the booth or demo site. Given the wide range of listeners to a call it is impossible to give enough detail for the exports while not to overextend the ones that dabble in this field of expertise (or in the print industry as a whole). Crucially, as an analyst I want to learn about the important points that are not on polished vendor presentation slides, like pricing, availability, tech details, pros and cons and more. I find being able to stand in front of a piece of technology and talking to product managers, sales guys and technicians incredibly helpful. This is usually the opportunity to examine print samples as well. And you have a bit of time to let the first information settle and recall the points you want clarified.
When judging applications being in demand during and just after the Covid crisis, antibacterial print is certainly high on the growth list. Even beyond the current crisis there will be usage for antimicrobial print and paper to fight germs as consumers become more health conscious. Applications are found everywhere where print products change hands frequently: from paper money, restaurant menus, key cards, safety documents, playing cards and packaging.
Paper itself is a pretty low risk material. Erwin Busselot from Ricoh already laid out some arguments on paper and board reducing transmission risks. He states that tests have found that the Coronovirus survives the shortest on board, when compared to other surfaces. According to the WHO the likelihood of spreading the virus on packaging is low. Also, the paper manufacturing and printing processes do reduce the number of viable particles required to infect someone. Paper packaging or wrapping can also be used reduce transmission risks. Even paper towels are efficient in reducing germs, while hot air driers spread them around.
Coating to fight germs
Paper and print can even go beyond just having a low risk potential of spreading viruses to become a material to fight germs. Antimicrobial paper has been in use for years. There are solutions available adding copper or silver compounds to the paper, to the paper coating or to apply as print. Both are relatively expensive materials however and I am not sure whether they interfere with existing paper recycling processes. But there is more.
Last week IMI Europe hosted a mergers & acquisitions in inkjet forum on the day before the 2019 European digital printing conference. I have to admit that it has been a long time that I gained that much insight on trends that will shape our industry from a conference – although I am not even in danger of buying or selling a company any time soon.
Ken Stack from Proximus LLC led through the forum on drivers and market activity in mergers & acquisitions for production inkjet technology and related companies. Despite the negative assessments print is receiving sometimes, there is a healthy interest in production inkjet companies from various sectors such as public companies, private equity (PE) and increasingly private companies as well. There is no lack of funding capital either, especially in the era of zero interest rates. On the other hand, R&D in new technologies is pricey and protracted, with spending well above a hundred million US$ for a new inkjet head generation or press design. Hence even for established players acquisitions can make a lot of sense.