When we look back at 2020 all we see is Coronavirus, some sort of dystopian world that until now only existed in movies or sci-fi novels. So far 1.5 million people have died of Coronavirus and around 70 million people have been infected. Many countries around the globe are at the brink of recession and millions of workers have been furloughed due to pandemic. So there are many good reasons for all of us to be depressed at best and to be hopeless at worst. But 2020 was more than a tragic year or a nightmare for so many people. It can be considered a catalyst, a transitory juncture that accelerated many trends that were already existed but their pace was too slow to be able to take the world by storm.
For our industry 2020 brought mixed results. For magazines and newspapers which were already facing a steep decline in readership and dwindling circulation the situation got worse. Many publications switched to online subscription models and stopped print editions altogether. The demand for printing dropped and printers all over the world felt the pinch. However, package printing became a super vital element in the supply chain during pandemic and a savior of printing industry. Online shopping went through the roof and with it the demand for safe and corrugated packaging rose dramatically. Printers realized in order to survive they have to adapt and try other avenues in order to survive.
The age of webinars
With the cancellation of major trade events and B2B exhibitions in 2020 companies opted for webinars to showcase their products and galvanize their relationship with the customers. Webinars mushroomed in the virtual world and it has become the de facto mode of communication in our industry. Major manufacturers launched webinars loaded with information, new technologies and meaningful discussions and panels. For its part drupa also introduced drupa Preview, which offers a series of presentations and live web sessions from industry experts.
In 2019 if somebody would have predicted that face to face and in person meeting in printing industry would vanish overnight everybody would have called him a mad man or a mad woman (I mean the predictor could have been a woman). But it happened and even if the Coronavirus is resolved one way or another the culture and habit of webinar will be with us for many years to come. It won’t be a question of bad habit anymore. Companies now found out that they can do many things virtually. It is cheaper and hassle free. But for their customers, webinar is more convenient as well.
During 2020 many companies in our region sprang into action and quickly set up all kinds of live webinars as a way of maintaining contact with their existing and potential customer. Perhaps the most talked about webinar was Canon Middle East (CME) state of printing industry webinar which was hosted in partnership with ME Printer Magazine. The webinar revealed the study’s results which was also conducted jointly with ME Printer magazine. The Canon ME Printing Industry Market Study 2020 has revealed that the print industry is at a turning point and the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the need for print service providers to transform their objectives and operational model, and to look toward new avenues to diversify their offerings.
There were other important virtual events including Gulf Print & Pack First Virtual Industry Round Table. Six panelists, representing leading MEA suppliers took part in the lively discussion,
The year 2020 cannot be considered a year of major product announcement or disruptive technologies. It is more likely a year of progression and upgrade of existing hardware and new software. Many printers are now trying to rely on software and workflow rather than people. Web to Print solutions are also becoming very popular. Printers are now opting for prepress automation tool that allows their operators create workflows and manage the business process of prepress online. A number of Web to print solutions were introduced in 2020 that can help printers enter in this lucrative market. When it comes to web to print solutions one product that stands out is Customer’s Canvass by Aurigma. This technology also won Intertech Technology Award. This technology is customizable and enables printers to design and introduce online store fronts for their products. It supports third party software and provides an opportunity for printers to get a solution that is better tailored to their internal workflows and give their customers a more unique and intuitive experience.
Heidelberg, Koenig and Bauer, RMGT and other sheetfed manufacturers also introduced new sheetfed presses during 2020. By new I mean the enhanced and more automated version of their existing sheetfed presses. Heidelberg introduced new plate-to-unit technology and added yet another component to its Push to Stop concept. Other enhancement included FoilStart Cure, which is used to print metallic finishing effects with cold foil on inmold labels (IML) with LED UV on a Speedmaster XL 106. Koenig and Bauer introduced a new and good looking Rapida 106 X which is equipped with a wide range of automation tools and can be monitored and controlled via a mobile app. Now how cool is that! Koenig & Bauer also made headlines by launching Evo line range of CI flexo presses. The new presses are designed for short, mid-sized, and long runs and can run up to over 600 m/min. with web widths up to 2,000 mm. RMGT also introduced a new enhanced version of its 10 series.
During 2020 the company which perhaps implemented a radical change in its infrastructure was Bobst. In spring of 2020 the company announced new industry vision which is based on four pillars: Connectivity, Digitalization, Automation and Sustainability. Bobst also a host of new equipment based on these four pillars including die-cutter MASTERCUT 106 PER and TooLink, connecting tooling with the machine, the new ACCUCHECK – an in-line solution to inspect carton blanks for defects and VISIONCUT 145 PER, the latest edition of large format flatbed die-cutter. The company also launched MASTERSTAR, sheet-to-sheet laminator, suitable for both folding carton and corrugated board. In flexible packaging, the new MASTER CI flexo press is Bobst newest solution for converters who are looking for a fast and sustainable flexo press.
Printing industry trends during 2020 in our region are more or less similar to other regions around the world. Some believe we were less affected by the Coronavirus than other parts of the world. I don’t know how to interpret this. Does this mean we were less affected because we are less developed or because we took preventive measures early on? During 2020 there were investments in new equipment and printing facilities in our region. So it wasn’t all bad news. The Public Authority responsible for the printing and distribution of the Holy Quran and Prophetic Sunnah (traditions) and sciences in Kuwait recently announced the Authority’s plans for printing and distribution of Holy Quran. The Authority will invest 14 million dinars for this project which includes construction of a new modern print house. There were another announcement regarding printing of holy Quran during 2020. The Minister of Islamic Affairs, Advocacy and Guidance, the General Supervisor of King Fahd Complex for the Printing of the Holy Qur’an in Madinah, Sheikh Dr. Abdul Latif bin Abdulaziz Al Al-Sheikh, recently announced a number projects for production and translations of the Noble Qur’an.
The projects included the printing of Qur’an in 13.5 x 3.19 cm and 35 x 24.5 cm formats, with the new improved script, and the translation of the Noble Qur’an into the Tagalog (More than 50 million Filipinos speak Tagalog) as well as 14 other languages including Tamazight, Bassa, Tagalog, Dagbani, Tajik, Malay, Mandarin, Anko, Turkish, Telugu, Farsi, Vietnamese, Malabari, and Nepali as well as sign language.
Caretaker government of Yemen is planning to rebuild Bakathir press. The first phase includes complete repair and overhauling of three web presses to print the official November 30th weekly newspaper. Estimated repair cost is around $ 297,000. During The second phase commercial sheetfed presses will be restored. On a separate development the Yemen Ministry of Education in the temporary capital of Aden and the Kuwait Humanitarian Society for Relief signed an agreement for supplying 3 CTP (Computer to plate) equipment to Yemen. The CTP systems are yet to be delivered but the new prepress equipment will contribute to the modernization of the printing industry in Yemen.
Xerox sold a number of machine in 2020 including to Egypt, Saudi Arabia and RAK. Xerox Versant 180 and Xerox Iridesse Digital Production Press proved to be popular choices among printers in our region.
There were lots of developments in 3D printing sector in our region. Many startup companies are offering 3D printing services to regional markets. An exciting and successful knowledge based company is Innotech, a leading Omani company established in 2013, specialized in modern manufacturing technologies and 3D printing. It is the first company in Oman that provides a wide range of services including 3D printing, artificial intelligence applications and modern education technologies. The company was established by a group of Omani engineers interested in the manufacturing sector and education, ambitious young people who seek to bring about technological progress at the industrial and social level. The company also supports other institutions operating in the same field by supplying 3D printers, manufacturing equipment and devices, and providing maintenance services and spare parts for 3D printers.
On the other hand, Immensa Technology Labs, the region’s leading additive manufacturing (3D Printing) company, has announced its foray into the Saudi market through the acquisition of two leading 3D- printing companies in KSA, Shakl3D and LayLabs. The move is part of Immensa’s mandate to further extend its presence regionally and expand its reach and range of services to its clients in the Kingdom. The company is based in Dubai Production City.
Surprisingly enough there were also investments in new offset presses, mainly in Saudi Arabia. Dammam based Shater Al- Ebtekar took delivery of an all new Heidelberg XL106 during 2020 as a sign of hope for the whole industry.
There were some milestone events during 2020, which didn’t make lots of noise but it is very important nevertheless. United Security Printing (USP) part of the United Printing and Publishing Company(UPP) recently obtained International Organization for Standardization (ISO 14298) certification, the level of the Central Bank. This International Standard specifies requirements for a security printing management system for security printers. Achieving this standard USP will be the second company in the Gulf region, and the thirty-second in the world to hold this certificate.
During 2020 Saudi Arabia and Egypt launched polymer banknotes with state-of-the-art security features. This is good news for our region and definitely will incentivize other countries in the region to launch polymer banknotes in different denominations.
2021 is still a mystery to all of us. We are entering the new year with a blend of hope and dread. Vaccination is under way in UK, Russia and soon hopefully other countries will join them. But we haven’t still fully recovered from 2020 and the Coronavirus shock. I believe the great lesson of 2020 is that things can get even worse so we have to be always prepared and plan for unexpected. Coronavirus did teach us few lessons including automation and end to end workflow should be a norm and not a luxury. We also have to believe what we see on the screen of our computers. In- person and face to face meeting is a thing of the past and now we have learned that we can do many things virtually. Also printing is still a very important element of our daily lives. Some areas of printing are becoming obsolete but other areas including packaging and label are thriving. So let’s be hopeful. I mean 2020 was awful in many ways but soon it will be gone and we can start a new beginning.