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And whether COVID-19 was accelerating the transition to “the Safe printing 4.0”?

17 May 2020

The COVID-19 health crisis has accelerated many trends while slowing down or even halting entire areas of activity for some companies. The printing works have not been spared.

It also questions many patterns, in particular those of Western economies that are overly dependent on the outside world, and encourages decision-makers to investigate ways to respond to the inadequacies, absences or shortcomings observed during this period of the pandemic.

It is therefore very likely that the crisis will highlight the “made in France” and thus the “print in France”, in particular for certain products, to the detriment of the “made in China” and then leads to forms of relocation of the production.

But this will only be possible if French companies continue or even accelerate their digital and industrial transformation started several years ago for some and more recently for others, through a closer integration of their value chain by taking advantage of the opportunities offered by web-to-print (or even the explosion of e-commerce during this pandemic period) but also the technological innovations put forward by Industry 4.0 and translated by the concepts of “Print 4.0”, “Finishing 4.0” or “Packaging 4.0” in our graphic industry companies.

These concepts do not boil down to the digitization of the printing companies of the past, or to its hyperautomated version to become “dark factories”, that is to say fully automated factories without human presence, as some claim, but to more intelligence in the networking of the printing presses and other peripherals, between these machines and the men who drive them, between these machines and the products they manufacture and finally between these machines and their environment. This “intelligence” in production must make it possible to retrieve, record, filter, process and optimize production-related information in order to make it accessible to the printers of tomorrow for more efficient decision-making. It is thus a question for these printing companies and other manufacturing companies to evaluate towards the concepts of “Smart Print Shop” or more generally “Smart Factory”, “smart factories” and then “smart printing companies”.

Appeared across the Rhine, and unveiled to the general public by the Association of German Manufacturers of Production Machines and Equipment (Verband Deutscher Maschinenund Anlagenbau, VDMA) at the Hanover Fair in 2011, this concept of Industry 4.0 has been taken up by many other European countries: “l’Industrie du futur” in France, the research programme “Catapult” in the UK, “Fabbrica Digitale” in Italy, “Made Different” in Belgium, “Produktion 2030” in Sweden, “Made in Denmark”, “Produtech” in Portugal, “Industria Conectada 4. 0” in Spain, “Production of the Future” in Austria, “Průmysl 4.0” in the Czech Republic, “Smart Industry SK” in Slovakia or “Smart Industry” in the Netherlands, but also worldwide with, for example, the Chinese initiative “Made in China 2025” which is directly inspired by the German initiative, symbolising the entry of the world industry into its fourth revolution. It is characterized in particular by the introduction of the Internet of Things and Services into the production chain, and thus into the graphic chain of printing plants.

Source: Overview of European initiatives for the digitalisation of industry (European Commission – Nov 2018)

Before talking about the fourth revolution, three other industrial revolutions have led to important paradigm shifts in the area of production for manufacturing companies in general and in the area of content reproduction for printing companies in particular. Thus, for these companies, the first revolution, Industry 1.0, marked by the use of steam and mechanical production, and the second revolution, Industry 2.0, driven by electricity, oil and, in the case of printing, the invention of offset, favoured mass production and mass printing for these reproduction companies at a time when demand was stable and products varied little (“any color as long as it is black!”). The third revolution, Industry 3.0, was characterized within the graphic industries by numerous technological advances, the introduction of desktop publishing (DTP), computer assisted production management (CAPM) and computer-to-plate (CTP) to name but a few, but these innovations, although they had a significant impact on the graphic industry, did not result in a change as radical as that caused at that time by the arrival of the Internet. The emergence of web platforms and online printing have led to different expectations and behaviours of customers and clients. In response, Industry 3.0 has begun to promote new manufacturing models, which translate into online printing and print on demand within printing plants.

Today, researchers and decision-makers from around the world are advocating a fourth industrial revolution to enter a new digital and connectivity era, Industry 4.0, and thus respond to new industrial challenges such as mass customization, i.e., to preserve the advantages of standardized production (especially in terms of cost) by combining the advantages of personalized production.

Source: DFKI 2011

In the era of Industry 3.0, printing companies drastically lowered their production costs by investing in web-to-print, introducing “just-in-time”, adopting lean concepts and customers did not hesitate to outsource their production to countries with lower wage costs.

In the age of Industry 4.0, we can then hope to see the emergence of printing companies 4.0, operating 24 hours a day, even more connected, more easily “relocatable” close to the end markets and less subject to the cost of labour, in particular through the use of connected, automated systems. They will also have to be “safer” to protect employees in the event of an epidemic or pandemic with the implementation of procedures for barrier gestures, also using new technologies if necessary. Under these conditions, printing and other small manufacturing companies will be able to become competitive again, including in countries with high labour costs, safer and closer to the end consumer.

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