1. The shift towards automation

How to use technology and automation to combat the talent shortage

Connect BlogApr 8 2024

Posted by Bruce Watermann, Founder PrintReady Network


The shift towards automation in the printing industry

When I was overseeing all the global printing and sales operations for Blurb.com we regularly used partners in China to fulfill projects that had extended timelines. Those partners generally avoided production automation and modern finishing options, opting for throwing labor at the process due to the low cost for manpower.

That began to change in 2011 when the Chinese government instituted a program to double the wages of workers by the year 2016. Suddenly, my Chinese partners were looking at the same capital equipment options that had been instituted in the US and Europe for years before. This also had the hardware manufacturers taking notice of that trend and seeing new opportunities in this huge market.

Move forward to 2020 and the COVID years. The combination of rising wages in the Western world and the rise of the gig economy made the temporary labor that many B2C printers depended on either double the cost or not available at all, with competition from Amazon and the like.

This brings me back to my fifth Drupa show in 2012. As I was walking the halls at Messe Düsseldorf with several of my printer partners, we we’re thinking about how the very cool technologies that were being promoted by the major companies providing bindery and post-press add-ons would revolutionize our print-on-demand workflow. But at that time, most were still living in the traditional offset printing world, and not looking to service the still nascent POD industry.

The role of digital printing in promoting sustainability and efficiency


The examples I note above have now combined and are radically transforming the industry. Printers in the digital space now have access to massive technology improvements both to workflow software as well as hardware options. If Drupa 2016 was the “Inkjet Drupa”, 2024 looks to be remembered as the “Workflow Drupa”, moving from mainly a hardware show to showing how workflow process automation is the key in expanding the digital printing marketplace, which will continue to be the key driver for print in the coming years.

Why is digital the key driver? Because sustainability is now table stakes for all businesses. The days of printing centrally and shipping globally is not efficient and is certainly not good for the planet. Software automation now makes it possible for printers to connect to global audiences and other makers to limit the carbon footprint of last mile delivery. It also means that by participating in a global network, printers can level out the peaks and valleys that tend to be the bane of most B2C printers, allowing them to keep their full-time labor source intact year around, in the process avoiding many of the labor shortage issues that have arisen in the past five years.

This is why I’m so excited about GelatoConnect. With 15 years of software development experience with digital printing, the power of automation, collaboration, and aggregation is now available to makers around the world. Having GelatoConnect as a virtual engineering group, it also allows printers to limit their in-house engineers who are often hard to find in this labor market.


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