Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Future Of Reprographics

BY PAM MORTIMERCreated: May 1, 2012
Reprographics shops have noticed significant changes in the way they do business. How can they use technology and an improved business model to attract new customers and to better serve those already on board?

Reprographics shops have noticed significant changes in the way they do business. Technological improvements have assisted print service providers in improving productivity, increasing profitability, and reaching out to new clients.
“There have been many trends affecting the architectural, engineering, and construction industry and therefore the reprographics market,” says Alex Monino, strategic marketing manager at Designjet Business, HP. “I would specifically like to highlight two trends: There has been a decline in printing volumes at reprographics companies due to the construction industry slowdown; the decentralization of printing, which means that many customers, given the lower volumes, are now printing in-house; and the increased use of digital formats. “The other key trend is the use of color. There are studies that demonstrate that the use of color drives tremendous savings for construction projects, as it eliminates mistakes and improves efficiency. Color printing also enables the production of complex layouts like those generated by BIM software and red-lined plots created by collaborating teams.”
Monino adds: “From a technology point of view, the most relevant changes I have seen include an increase in the productivity of large-format color production printers. While we have seen small changes in the productivity of purely black-and-white workflows, technical color production printers based on inkjet technology have had significant improvements in terms of printing speed and workflow efficiency. Another technology trend is an increase in the sharing and distribution of large-format plans as the AEC community becomes increasingly mobile and globalized, leading to an uptick in the use of tools like plan rooms to distribute printing files.”
Bryan Batelli, product manager, Wide Format at Ricoh Americas Corp. believes that a great deal of the shift in the reprographics industry is focused on the change in workflow. “The devices are not just a copier or a printer or a scanner or even all three but they are now considered more of value-added components to the customer’s work flow,” says Batelli. “Customers want more and want the devices to work like all the multi-function products they have in their environment.”
“The downturn in the economy and specifically the construction sector has had significant impact on the industry,” says Andrew Vecci, director, business development, Wide Format Printing Systems division of Océ North America. “Coinciding with this, we have seen an accelerated trend from centralized to decentralized printing. Consequently, this increased need for prints at the point of use has spurred an increase in the requirement for reliable and easy-to-use wide-format systems that are designed for walk-up users rather than for a dedicated central operator. Essentially, this has driven a shift in demand from high-volume production machines to lower volume multifunction network devices.
“Also, as users have brought the printing, copying, and scanning functions closer to the point of need in their document workflow, they have recognized the value of adopting color into their output. This has meant increased demand for not only color scan-to-file requirements to better capture information for both collaborative and archival digital workflows, but also for color printing capability to enhance clarity of information and reduce mistakes.”

Shifting Customer Base

Many economic factors have caused many print service providers to look at other options when it comes to keeping their shops up and running. Like many PSPs, Paul Talbot, vice president of business development at PacBlue has noticed a significant change caused by the real estate crash. The shift has changed PacBlue’s focus from reprographics to other areas. Although PacBlue still has its eye on the real estate market, it has also begun to look elsewhere for its bread and butter.

“The reprographics side has really slowed down so we’ve looked at other areas,” states Talbot. “The retail area is a big area for us right now. That was pushed upon us because the reprographics industry just disappeared overnight. In 2008 the market started to disappear due to developments that went on hold. It wasn’t like a gradual decline. Within a month there was a 30 to 35 percent drop. Because there has been a slow down in the reprographics industry, it has forced us to concentrate on the other industries, large-format in particular.”
Vecci concurs that there have been shifts in customer bases for PSPs. “Océ has been on the forefront in developing new products and technologies to adapt to these changing needs and new customers. The shift to more and more low-volume, decentralized walk-up devices means we encounter many customers who are bringing in house these capabilities for the first time,” says Vecci.
“We have also seen dramatic growth in the adoption of color in technical document workflows—not only increased usage with existing customers but new customer groups that are able to capitalize on new technologies that expand their productivity and application coverage.”
Monino discusses the in-house trends and ways that PSPs might be able to enhance their business: “As a result of the trends mentioned before, many reprographics customers are fulfilling more of their printing needs in-house and in color,” says Monino. “One of the trends that we are seeing in repro houses is an increase in their facilities management business as a way to provide their customers with a more convenient service. The increase in the productivity and efficiency of color devices is also helping repro houses to serve the increased demand for color printing.”
PacBlue’s approach to the shifting customer base is multi-faceted. Talbot believes that one must seek out new markets but stresses that it is crucial to keep an eye on existing customers and markets. While the real estate industry has created a lull in some areas of the reprographics industry, there are still ways to stay in the game.
“We needed to stay on top of the customers that we’ve got and perhaps approach them in other areas that we haven’t been producing for them,” said Talbot. “At the same time you have to focus on getting out and into new markets. When the real estate end crashed, a lot of people put that aside and went out and concentrated on something else and basically forgot to look after their existing customers. You can’t afford to do that.”

Many are asking themselves what is in store for the reprographics industry. There is no true guide as to when the economy will turn in favor of PSPs, so many are asking themselves where to look for their future in business.
Monino states that future trends will include: “A continued shift from black-and-white to color, driven by the higher value of color documents; an increase in the facilities management business as a way for repro houses to maintain their customers and offer them a more convenient service as part of their printing needs; and repro houses acting more as AEC content managers, offering cloud services like plan-rooms rather than just printing services.”

Vecci states: “As users become more closely integrated with the output of their digital files, and with the increasing use of mobile technologies in the workplace, they are looking for new ways to interact with these systems—in how they store and access their digital assets, how they collaborate with other users around these documents, and ultimately how they submit files for output. Certainly, the ubiquity of mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones will leave its mark on how we work.”
Talbot adds: “As a print service provider, we do so much more than just print. On the service provider part we need to be on the cutting edge as to what’s available out there. We’re finding that more and more clients are coming to us—even with jobs that they know we can’t do in house—to take it on and manage the outsourcing. I think just being a printer isn’t going to work for you—you need to offer more—unless you’re going to be a trade printer. You have to be very consultative.”

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