VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland says European printing industry must either increase efficiency and flexibility, increase value of products, or launch new applications and services in order to survive

ESPOO, Finland , June 22, 2011 (press release) – The growth of digital media and the resulting decline in print runs, together with rising raw material costs and increased pressure from Asian competitors have put European printers in a tight spot. A VTT study on the current state of the industry and its future challenges shows that these companies need urgent actions in order to remain competitive.

For a decade now, the graphic and printing industry has been shaken by a considerable structural upheaval. The growth of digital media has upset the operating environment of the printing industry, driving businesses to merge and to cut capacity.

The worldwide financial crisis that unfolded in 2008 hit European printers hard, and although the worst is now behind, the industry is not expected to recover its former volume. While digital media are chipping away the demand for traditional printed matter, raw material costs are also rising, and cost-effective Asian competitors are putting pressure on the market.

VTT studied the present situation of the European printing industry and explored means for future survival by interviewing more than 30 representatives at 18 European enterprises in the field. The study shows that in order to survive, the European printing industry must either increase production efficiency and flexibility, increase the value of printed products or launch new applications and services exploiting printing competence. These are the ways in which the industry can survive in a situation where print runs are shrinking but the range of printed products is expanding.

Production efficiency may mean, for example, that printing presses support a wider range of formats and products more flexibly than before. Hybrid printed products, combining digital and traditional printing, are a case in point. Efficiency can also be improved by moving production methods closer to the end user and using a printing press for processing the printing substrate, for example. .

Interactive media combining digital and printed media enables product and service applications, where the user experience is extended. Applications where mobile phones are used as an intermediate link between these two media are already on the market. Virtual reality proves to be a source of added value for printed products. In the future, we will see an independent, interactive printed product that does not need an intermediate device such as a mobile phone. The third future option for the printing industry involves using their equipment and expertise to serve the needs of other sectors, employing printing technology to create completely new products.

Sustainability is an issue the industry needs to take into focus both in product development but also in marketing. There are different, not necessarily fact-based opinions on the sustainability of printed media. In order to stay alive and prosper, the European printing industry must conform to the needs of consumers and corporate media users in terms of the sustainability and usability of its products.

The renewal requires the entire cluster to work together. Although the whole industry is challenged, proactivity is needed especially from the major enterprises, so that the change could be effected smoothly and throughout the sector. Based on the study now completed, VTT is setting up three research projects through which the competitiveness of the industry is enhanced in the future. These projects cover all three survival scenarios referred to above: efficiency, added value and new products. VTT is to form industrial consortia for each three individual projects. Companies throughout the print value chain are invited to join and to steer the research.

VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland is a leading multitechnological applied research organization in Northern Europe. VTT creates new technology and science-based innovations in co-operation with domestic and foreign partners. VTT’s turnover is EUR 290 million and its personnel totals 3,100.

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