The 60th anniversary of Graphics Canada Expo, Canada’s largest printing industry tradeshow, was held May 11-13 at the International Centre in Mississauga, Ontario and was one of the highlights of 2023. The first in-person event in 4 years attracted over 7,000 attendees and 172 separate exhibitors.
Held every two years, Graphics Canada is an opportunity for commercial printers of all types to grow their businesses by discovering the latest industry trends, new equipment and services, networking with industry leaders, and taking advantage of numerous targeted educational opportunities. Areas covered traditionally include digital and wide-format printing, labels and packaging, specialty print, industrial and functional printing, print automation, multi-channel communications, 3D printing, personalization, finishing, sustainable printing, and much more. This is reflected by the many pavilions, special areas, features, association meetings, receptions and other functions collocated with Graphics Canada such as:
• Label & Package Printing Canada
• Smart Print Shop
• Automation Zone
• Workflow Automation & Software Turbo Talks
• Digital Packaging Conference
• Canadian Wide-Format Forum
• Show Floor Innovations Theatre
• CEO Fireside Chats
….and much more
As always, the show was also replete with educational opportunities, conferences and seminars covering just about every conceivable function of a printing operation. “We had an extremely successful Graphics Canada in 2023,” said Show Manager Dan Mustata. “Most of the exhibitors commented on what a great event it was and reported solid leads, quality visitors and highly interested prospects. The energy and enthusiasm were very evident after four exhausting years. But as always, we’re planning an even better event in 2025. Please stay tuned!”
Major printing trends for 2024
One of the association meetings that took place saw members of the Digital Imaging Association (DIA) enjoy a special Breakfast Meeting on Friday morning, May 12, 2023. Exciting innovation and personal collaboration were the themes that emerged as an expert panel of Dscoop members shared their insights, stories, struggles and solutions. Dscoop is the world’s largest and most collaborative digital print and design community in the world. Its 16,000-plus members from 38 countries around the globe are HP graphic arts print service providers and solution partners. After its meeting, the DIA talked to exhibitors and visitors alike, and followed up with an after-show survey asking what the current industry trends are, and what’s on the horizon. Responses included:
• The need for automation and integration of print-shop processes to maintain profitability.
• The rise of digital inkjet printing to accommodate shorter runs.
• The corporate adoption of sustainability initiatives.
• Combating cybersecurity breaches to keep sensitive data safe.
• The digitization of all print business assets and processes.
• The growth of textile printing, wide-format, and print embellishments.
• Difficulty in recruiting and retaining skilled talent.
• The foundational importance of e-commerce and web-to-print growth.
“We wanted to get a grassroots’ feel regarding what’s happening in the industry now, and what challenges lie ahead,” said DIA Association Manager Marg Macleod. “This aligns with our mission to keep our members and the industry up to date on the latest technology trends, equipment, and opportunities.” Not surprisingly, there was almost unanimous agreement among those surveyed that full automation of all key processes in a printing operation (prepress, production, billing, delivery, etc.) is becoming more and more essential to maintain current and future profitability. The eventual goal would be an unmanned, fully automated, end-to-end production environment.
Web Connect+: Unprecedented end-to-end automation
So, it wasn’t surprising that one of the highlights of Graphics Canada 2023 was the Web Connect+ booth 5222. One of the largest booths at the tradeshow illustrated an unmanned, end-to-end ‘workflow of the future’ production scenario in real time. Web Connect+ was a unique collaboration between Infigo, Significans Automation, Enfocus, Motionalysis, Ronik and Elitron Americas. Each day, via live demonstrations, attendees were guided through every step of the printing process – without any human intervention whatsoever! Company reps worked their magic from computer stations just outside the perimeter of the booth, as showgoers saw a robot scurrying about, gathering, and offloading printed pieces. From designing a personalized product, to pre-flighting, to digital printing and finishing, attendees witnessed an entirely seamless workflow in action and discovered its game-changing cost savings and efficiencies.
Here’s how the unique solution worked
To begin, attendees created a personalized print product using UK-based Infigo’s flagship web-to-print platform. The highly sophisticated technology allows users to create 100% customized e-commerce storefronts, even if they have no web design experience. With drag-and-drop functionality, users could either personalize a pre-defined template or create a custom design from a blank canvas. Next, the job was processed by Significans Automation, a solutions integrator that helps to customize every aspect of a printer’s or converter’s workflow. The company provides printing and packaging print companies with an advanced level of customization, communication, deployment, and functionality. Leveraging its combined 100 years of expertise, Significans was able to tie all upstream and downstream systems from its booth partners together – resulting in a unique, seamless, and integrated workflow.
Next, with Significans workflow specialists configuring the software from Enfocus to drive the overall workflow, customize it, and make any changes necessary to make that workflow totally seamless, the job was then sent to Enfocus for pre-flight checks. From there, the job was forwarded to imposition and planning software (provided by Esko).
Another key partner, U.S.-based Motionalysis, provided live tracking and shop-floor analytics of the printing and finishing equipment. Motionalysis is a software and services company that specializes in digital manufacturing, with a focus on optimizing digital XY cutting in a print shop. With regular, automated collection of data, printers can achieve greater visibility into their entire production processes in real time and are better able to understand and evaluate it.
Ronik’s flagship RAY X Flatbed Printer produced high-quality, full-colour prints of the attendee’s original design. Ronik’s RAY X Series of printers can accommodate both rigid and flexible substrates, with its LED-curable inks offering excellent adhesion. Their printers include a built-in unloader and offer print-on-demand capabilities 24/7, with minimal maintenance required. RAY X print speeds can reach 50+ boards per hour, depending on the model.
“We are seeing a new age of print, enabled by digitization, and driven by an increasingly connected society,” said Rimpy Bhullar, Marketing Manager at Ronik. “We couldn’t wait to showcase our latest print-on-demand solutions at Graphics Canada. However, we see them as part of an entire integrated, end-to-end workflow solution that was as thrilling for us, as it was for tradeshow attendees. Our collaboration with Significans Automation and our other Web Connect+ partners was a first for us, a first for the tradeshow, and a first for the printing industry in Canada.”
Finally, the prints arrived at the Elitron Kombo SDC+ digital cutting table, where attendees saw the final product created—all without any manual intervention. The Italy-based manufacturer, with a North American office in Atlanta, Georgia, specializes in producing robotic cutting solutions for the sign, display, and packaging industries, with advanced material handling solutions. The prints arrived at the Elitron cutter – via a Ranger Interlogistics autonomous mobile robot (AMR). Created by U.S.-based automation company GreyOrange, these AMRs can navigate through a production environment quickly and independently. To make the process even smoother, Ronik’s parent company, Garry Machine Manufacturing Inc., developed a specialized drop plate that sat on top of the autonomous system, making it a more “universal solution” for carrying various types of print media.
Summary of comments from industry leaders
The DIA asked some exhibitors at Graphics Canada what’s currently happening in their specific areas of expertise, and what trends they see on the horizon. Their replies covered the easing of the paper supply-chain chaos, the growth of digital print and e-commerce, print embellishments, wide format, smart packaging, textile printing, new substrates, increased personalization in direct mail, the importance of sustainability, the fast recovery of major offset press manufacturers after the pandemic, and many more. But overall, automation and integration topped the list of essential priorities. We thank these industry leaders for their time and their comments, as well as the Digital Imaging Association for sharing the survey results with Graphics Canada.
“A couple of things I am taking back from the tradeshow and trends I see in the next year include the use of data and integrated production systems (MIS, prepress, press, finishing) that produce higher levels of automation and production efficiency. Plus, the use of robotics and autonomous technologies that reduce the amount of repetitive and physically taxing aspects of print production, mainly material handling.” – Richard Kouwenhoven, President & CEO, Hemlock Printers
“The big thing that I see in the printing industry right now is automation. Many factors impacting the industry make automation key to success now more than ever. First, there is a clear shift to shorter runs, and more personalized and customized print products. So, printers will need to handle a larger number of unique, smaller orders rather than larger standardized orders. Automation will allow them to handle this volume. Second, printing is an extremely competitive business and customers are expecting their orders faster than ever before, even though printing input costs have increased significantly. To compete, printers will need automation to deliver products faster and lower their manufacturing costs. Finally, on top of the labour shortages we are seeing nationally, the print industry has fewer skilled workers entering the industry than are leaving. Automation will allow print businesses to do certain processes when it’s hard to find employees to do them.” – Brian Meshkati, Vice President, Sinalite
“I think that for the last 6-12 months, the big trends defining our industry have been supply-chain challenges, automation technologies and employee acquisition. All are unique and interesting challenges affecting the efficient and cost-effective manufacturing of printed products in extremely short timelines. Steady supplies provide stability and good cadence to manufacturing. Automation is almost a requirement to eliminate costly, repetitive manual tasks across all business processes. The acquisition of good employees is vital to sustain business growth. The next big thing in the printing and graphic arts industry is likely an “older” thing that’s gotten much, much better, and faster. That is, stronger adoption of inkjet printing systems supported by automation on both the front end and finishing areas to replace traditional litho, or augment high-volume digital print currently produced on other devices.” – Erwin Driever, VP of Technology at Cober Solutions
“I think more printers are realizing that they must do a better job of making their companies attractive to the next generation of workers. Working conditions, commitment to social issues, opportunities for advancement and pay levels are very important to these young people. Still, many companies don’t do a very good job. In general, printers have not done a great job of competing for talent with other industries. We’ve watched the average age of the print workforce creep up each year and have not done enough to bring younger people aboard. I think some companies will fail as a result. – Ken Freek, Executive Director of Outreach and Partner Relations, Canadian Printing Industries Scholarship Trust Fund
“In regard to what commercial and packaging printers are seeking in their investments, we specifically see the following.
• Digitalization and Automation: The industry has been increasingly adopting digitalization and automation to improve efficiency and reduce costs. This includes automated press controls, and advanced management information systems (MIS) for streamlined production processes.
• Digital Workflow Integration: The integration of digital workflows from prepress to finishing stages is likely to gain momentum. This includes the adoption of cloud-based collaboration tools, digital job-tracking systems, and seamless integration with customer relationship management (CRM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems.
• Environmental Sustainability: Sustainability has become a significant focus in the printing industry. Printers are implementing eco-friendly practices by adopting efficient waste management systems and utilizing energy-saving technologies to minimize their environmental footprint.
• Customization and Personalization: With the rising demand for personalized and unique printed products, sheetfed offset printers are leveraging advancements in variable-data printing (VDP) and digital printing technologies to offer more tailored solutions. This trend enables businesses to create targeted marketing materials and packaging designs.
• Improved Print Quality and Special Effects: Offset printing continues to offer superior print quality, and advancements in technology have further enhanced this aspect. High-definition screens, improved colour management systems, and specialty coatings are being used to create visually appealing and eye-catching printed materials.
• Diversification into Packaging: Sheetfed offset printers are expanding their services into the packaging sector due to its growing demand.
Looking ahead to 2024 and 2025, some potential trends we anticipate include:
• Increased Focus on Automation and Artificial Intelligence: The integration of automation and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies is expected to continue advancing in the industry. AI-powered systems can optimize workflows, automate colour management, reduce setup times, and boost productivity.
• Hybrid Printing: A combination of offset and digital printing technologies is likely to become more prevalent. Hybrid solutions allow printers to benefit from the flexibility and personalization of digital printing, while still utilizing the high-quality and cost-effectiveness of offset printing for larger runs.
• Sustainable Practices and Materials: The emphasis on sustainability will likely intensify, wit increased use of environmentally friendly materials (i.e., reduction of plastic packaging and increase in folding carton packaging to replace historical dominant plastic trends). Additionally, printers may adopt more energy-efficient equipment and explore carbon-neutral production methods.
• Continued Growth in Packaging: The packaging sector is expected to continue experiencing growth, driven by e-commerce, changing consumer preferences, and the need for innovative packaging designs. Sheetfed offset printers may further specialize in packaging applications and invest in equipment and technologies tailored to this market segment.” – Sean Springett, CEO & Managing Director for Manroland USA and Canada
“The biggest change over the last 24 months has been the velocity of transformation from offset to digital. As the printing industry is holding out, trying to grab onto the last of the large static volume, it’s clear that the print industry (supply chain channel) is not equipped to handle the demands of brands or modern businesses. Printing for the lowest dollar per unit cost is not sustainable, nor is it agile. That was explained by brands at Graphics Canada. The print industry and print service providers in Canada have quickly jumped into action investing in critical digital infrastructure, allowing all forms of digital print to be on-demand – from general commercial print, folding carton, flexible packaging, labels, and corrugated. This allows the consumer and the brand to achieve common goals regarding on-demand, customizable, versioned, quick-turn, and sustainable choices that remove a great deal of waste. – Paul McCarthy, Regional Manager North Central U.S. & Country Manager Canada, for HP
“Packaging has emerged as one of the fastest growing segments within the pulp & paper industry, including the need for new environmentally friendly food packaging materials. The three main factors driving this demand are government legislation around plastic-bans, consumer choice for sustainable options, and retail brands shifting requirements within sustainable sourcing policies. This has led companies like Asia Pulp & Paper to introduce new sustainable food packaging solution, such as APP’s Foopak, a plastic free, recyclable, and compostable paperboard designed to replace PE (plastic) coating for the food service industry.” – Ian Lifshitz, Vice President of Sustainability and Stakeholder Relations at Asia Pulp & Paper
“The labour shortage, from entry-level to skilled press operators, will be problematic. The people shortage will also drive consolidation, new technology and shop closures. As consultants, we show our clients our clients how to become as efficient as possible, invest in new technology, maintain a healthy balance sheet, provide omnichannel communications, embrace digital transformation, deploy marketing strategies for sales growth, maximize e-commerce & fulfillment, and improve overall workflow. Other trends and issues I see on the horizon include inflation regarding wages, corporate leadership development, changing sales structures, succession planning, mergers & acquisitions, and exit strategies.” – Gord Griffiths, President & CEO, Connecting for Results
“Direct mail is now only one of the many channels that a marketer can choose. With the cost of digital engagement increasing, having a physical piece of marketing media in the home of the target audience is becoming a more attractive option. One major trend is the need for secure data handling. We are investing in that, and it’s a major focus of our offerings. No one should be taking risks with the personal information of their clients and prospects. Finally, having options to discuss around the greenhouse gas emissions of direct mail is attractive to clients who have ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) goals to contribute to.” – Brenda Edwards, Solutions Consultant, AIIM
“Graphics Canada 2023 exemplified the importance of all printers to adopt comprehensive end-to-end workflow solutions that manage output in a cost-effective and timely manner for today’s demanding consumer. It also showcased how the printed page, combined with eye-catching embellishment and integration of augmented reality, can extend its relevance into the digital realm.” – Norm Bussolaro, Strategic Advisor, Ricoh Digital Services
“What I see in the next 6-12 months is that a much wider variety of sustainable substrates will arrive in the market and be available, more than any time before. I also envision a related push by machine manufacturers in terms of upgrades to their machines to be able to process those materials successfully. I think there is also going to be a lot more digitalizing of workflows to enhance the customer experience and make things more streamlined. This has already taken place in commercial printing and labels but has not been so available in flexible packaging.” – Phil St-Cyr, President & CEO, Rootree
“In terms of the label industry, there is a trend towards digital printing given more and more companies have multiple SKUs (versions of artwork), as well as a desire to hold less inventory due to increasing cost of working capital. In terms of the next big thing, I’m keeping my eyes on digital embellishment (raised varnish and cold foil, all done using UV inkjet technology), as I think that is the way of the future. Brands need a way of differentiating themselves on the shelf, and digital embellishment accomplishes this in a cost-effective manner. This technology has not been widely adopted but is something I have on my radar, as I think it will become more and more prevalent in the years to come!” – Deanne Sinclair, Owner, Cambridge Label
“The major trend we are seeing is the adoption of automation within finishing workflows. One of the main areas includes finishing solutions integrating with the print production device to produce a specific bar code to be read, that automatically pulls the correct finishing file which is then read by a camera without operator input. This applies to our lines of slitter, cutter, creasers from Duplo, and our flatbed cutting solutions from Intec and Valiani.” – Stephen Longmire, National Sales Manager, Sydney Stone
For more information, or if you’re interested in becoming an exhibitor at Graphics Canada 2025, please contact Show Manager Dan Mustata at email@example.com or call him at (416) 385-2030.