3 Themes That Drove the 22nd EFI Connect Event

Narrowing in on wide format with all of them

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02/01/2022

Eric Zimmerman

 

I had the privilege of attending the 22nd Annual EFI Connect conference in Las Vegas from January 17-21, 2022. With over 130 breakout sessions presenting the latest tips and trends across all the industry segments supported by EFI, there was no shortage of information to collect.

 

Funneling that information down to what is essential to wide format print…now that's a different story. Fortunately, EFI had three overarching themes that drove discussion throughout the conference: Innovation, Global Trends, and Analog to Digital. Let’s take a look at how the EFI Connect conference relayed important information on these three categories as it relates to wide format.

 

The Need for Innovation in Wide Format Print

Upfront and on display at EFI Connect were two product innovations from EFI that set the standard for throughput, versatility, and image quality in the sign and display graphics market. Conference visitors could compare the capabilities of the EFI Pro 30h hybrid and EFI Pro 32r+ roll-to-roll live and in-person. 

 

Whether looking for a roll-to-roll workhorse or a versatile hybrid device, attendees had the opportunity to speak to product experts while watching print production of various wide-format applications. Both 126 in (3.2 m) LED devices possess maximum print speeds in the 2,500 ft2/hr (241 m2/hr) to 2,750 ft2/hr (256 m2/hr) range; have white and clear ink capabilities; and come with a built-in Fiery digital front end. This level of innovation and application versatility allows EFI to offer its customers an unmatched level of growth and scalability.

 

 

From ¾ automation, pallet to pallet, or robotic integration (to name a few), EFI also showed a full lineup of automation options designed to help their customer's' inevitable journey into Industry 4.0. Nesting software like Fiery Prep-it is just one example of how PSPs can streamline workflow and cut waste by utilizing media much more efficiently than previous nesting options.

 

  

Global Trends on Everyone’s Mind

I was honored to moderate a discussion on navigating through recovery with a great panel of wide format end users. This session seemed to set the tone for the rest of the event. Almost every discussion I had eventually came around to the effects of global trends on the wide format industry. Labor shortages, supply chain disruption, and the slow recovery of specific market segments were top-of-mind. While these issues are daunting, some solutions discussed promoted my faith in the wide-format industry's resilience.

 

The event graphics segment of the industry has come to almost a complete standstill. With many COVID-19 restrictions still in place and concerns with a rise in variant cases, 2022 (while slowly opening back up) will be a year of continued caution.

 

Fortunately for PSPs in the soft signage for event graphics, other verticals can help fill the gap with printed textile signage (e.g., custom sports apparel, home, commercial décor, and SEG/backlit applications in retail space). Likewise, with an ability to print on nearly anything, an end user with UV printing capabilities can combat delays in the materials supply chain by efficiently utilizing a similar substrate currently in stock.

   

The Importance of Analog to Digital

On the hardware side of things, most printed sign production has been done digitally for quite some time. However, the web-to-print and workflow side of things still has a lot of room for growth. For example, two out of the three panelists in my session did not have any digital carting system set up for online shopping. The third panelist did have an online system in place and gave some sage advice that enlightened us all. Like the other panelists, he stated that most of his workflow is custom and for clients with complex needs where a web-to-print system would be of little use. Rather than turning down the generic jobs, though, he set up a cart system for standard items.

 

The sage advice? Ensure the system is fully integrated and automated to not pull any personnel off of the custom, hands-on work with their primary clientele. The result, he stated, was that the web-to-print offerings consist of about 10% of his revenue and he didn’t have to staff it with new employees.      

 

 

Keypoint Intelligence Opinion

The last 18-24 months have been unprecedented, to say the least, and we are not out of the woods yet. It is safe to say that expecting an eventual return to pre-pandemic business operations is just wishful thinking. Customer buying patterns have shifted, turnaround times are shorter than ever before, and the need to produce more with less has never been more prevalent.

 

The wide format industry is resilient, though. Fortunately, manufacturers like EFI have taken the task at hand to develop hardware and software to help PSPs address the needs of today, navigate the recovery process, as well as guide them into the future of Industry 4.0 and beyond.  

 

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