Comment by Olaf Lorenz, Senior General Manager, Digital Transformation Division, Konica Minolta Business Solutions Europe
The world of production print will never get the same type of headline-grabbing attention like other sectors of technology, for example Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IOT), but it continues to evolve as an effective communication tool.
As we head towards a new year, we see accelerated automation, greater use of embellishment and the continued growth in online print purchasing and development of web shops among key drivers. What we can confidently predict even in these still-unprecedented times is that the unstoppable trend from analogue to digital production will continue.
Print is a vital part of cross-channel communications
Demand will continue to increase for complete start-to-finish manufacturing process with more all-in-one solutions, as well as a need for production devices that need fewer and less-skilled operators. And print will continue to play a vital part in cross-channel communications, including evolving areas such as robotics, IoT, AI and mobile devices.
The evolution of print technology means that it is used beyond graphical and packaging applications. Increasingly it is used in areas such as wallpaper, laminated printing and décor. Inkjet textiles, ceramic printing, printed electronics, glass, automotive and transport, life sciences and biomedical are areas that forward-thinking printers may look to enter.
Helping brands to satisfy the changing demands of their own customers
Brands will also increasingly use digital to provide more engagement and greater interest in their products – all in a more sustainable environment. Responding quickly with highly automated systems producing small quantities is a way of succeeding, helping brands to satisfy the rapidly changing demands of their own customers.
Simplifying production to meet rapid response demands
Aligning strategies and tactics with the forces influencing competition and customer expectations are essential, while at the same time simplifying production to meet rapid response demands from an ever-more discerning client base. Software is also a crucial component in the desire for increased profitability.
Rethink possibilities with engaging label and packaging solutions
We see at close quarters how brand owners are looking for innovative and engaging print solutions for commercial and industrial applications. With dedicated global support delivered locally across the world, we work closely with our customers and brands in a partnership approach and continue to help them rethink print possibilities.
Digital technology gains ground
All these trends are examples of why digital printing is now seen as the technology of choice for so many different applications and in so many diverse markets. The technology will continue to gain ground over the traditional litho territory. Commercial printers are being forced to expand their digital print service offerings as traditional offset / flexo volumes erode over time.
This is a theme running through analysis from industry experts. “The analogue to digital print transformation continues, with the Covid-19 pandemic accelerating the change as time to market and responsiveness are increasingly important,” says the Smithers “Future of Print to 2030” report . “In 2015, digital methods accounted for 13.3% of the global print market value and 2.3% of the print area, with the bulk being in graphics book printing, books and labels. By 2030 the digital packaging sector will have grown significantly: digital’s share of value will be 23.1% and it will account for 6.3% of print volume. The value is the prize for companies adopting the technology.”
Digital printing is expanding into most print-for-profit applications and in labels and packaging. The report  points that toner printing and inkjet are available in many forms, with monthly duty cycle ranging from the equivalent of a few thousand A4s per month up to hundreds of millions.
Meeting requirements of an evolving print market
At Konica Minolta, we’re justifiably proud of being ranked #2 for 2020 market share in Western Europe for production cutsheet printer/MFP shipments, with 22.2%, according to IDC’s Western Europe Production Cutsheet Printer MFP Market Share, Growth Opportunities in Inkjet . Our flagship top-of-the-range AccurioPress C14000  prints at 140 A4 pages per minute is highlighted because it’s 40% faster than any other toner-based device from Konica Minolta.
“Konica Minolta continues to make products to meet the requirements of the evolving print market environment,” says the report .
The considerable market potential for inkjet printing – latest reports  say that, globally, inkjet printing by value will grow by $41billion to $118.3 billion (53%) in a five-year period to 2024 - was behind the decision to launch our AccurioJet digital colour UV inkjet sheetfed B2+ production press.
Since the official commercial launch  at drupa in 2016 it has become a natural bridge between offset and digital. The Konica Minolta AccurioJet KM-1e (evolution) was unveiled in the summer of 2020, and is continuing to help drive trends in the changeover from offset to digital printing.
Digital embellishment is a key growth driver
Digital embellishment also continues to be a key growth driver in the production printing market and at the same time a profitable way for print service providers, commercial and in-house printers to set themselves apart from the competition. UV spot coating in defined areas can be used to enhance four-color digital and offset prints with exceptional 3D haptics.
Embellishment techniques and digital varnish technologies are helping print service providers to take creativity to a new level – and increase premiums they charge for products, according to research . One of the reasons for this might be that packages with specialty printing and enhancement have more than 46% higher quality perception. Also, for instance, foil-enhanced packaging increases the rate of attraction by up to 2.5 times over the same packaging without the high-visibility enhancement. 
As a global technology provider with a local service structure, we still see significant opportunities in the years ahead for digital printing with our toner and inkjet technology within commercial and industrial print markets.
We all recognise that the ongoing Covid-19 situation has created unprecedented challenges, but face-to-face meetings are resuming and a sense of normality is returning. But we will continue to build our online presence as we help shape ideas for our customers in a partnership approach – no matter the ‘communication channel’.
Our commitment remains to deliver the best possible service to all our clients.