Will litho be around in 10 years' time? Is digital print muscling in on litho's territory? Can these two rival technologies really work together? Ever since digital print emerged as a viable alternative to litho, people have been asking these questions.
But, while the technology is moving forward at an ever-increasing rate, there are as yet no definitive answers to the debate.
A report from research consultancy Pira International entitled ‘The Future of Sheetfed in a Digital Age' attempts to shed light on the issue. The report says that while litho's foreseeable future is safe, the market is set to shrink, with other technologies taking significant slices of the sheetfed pie.
In number terms, this equates to the global market for sheetfed litho contracting by 8.5% before 2014. The market's value will consequently fall from $155.7 billion in 2006 to $142.7 billion in 2014.
According to Pira, the market is worth $146 billion in 2009, of which Indian print's share is projected at $14.1 billion. The report notes that, while the value of the market will fall, the number of A4 printed pages will only contract by 2% to just under seven trillion. India produces 150 million digital pages of which a majority is in the black and white segment.
Contrast this to usage in offset. Indian printers use 10 million tonnes of paper and board each year which includes domestic and imported paper. According to Indian paper manufacturers, this paper consumption is expected to double by 2015. Most industry analysts we spoke to predict that segments such as packaging will witness strong growth.
For example, in the industrialised nations the value will fluctuate around the $40 billion mark from now until 2014, thanks to the changes within the population and demographic.
Today, press suppliers continue to explore ways to improve press efficiency and productivity through larger formats and perfector machines.
The argument is, that by increasing sheet sizes, the printing of books, posters and packaging becomes more efficient.
The Pira snapshot of sheetfed's future goes on to cite technological advancements such as digital workflows, closed-loop colour control and automatic plate loading as key drivers in the market.
The often heard cliché is, sheetfed can benefit from digital integration thanks to the high level of automation on modern presses, which provides increased flexibility of format, makeready and changeover.
Today, makeready on a modern press is possible in 10 minutes with low waste levels. This can be significantly quicker on some presses, thanks to digital workflow integration and colour management tools. Currently, India's digital printing industry is growing at a rate of 25.8% every three years. However, as mentioned earlier, the base (in volume terms) is small.
Benefits for litho
Offset maintains a healthy lead in India. In the past three years, 325 new printing plants have been established. This number is expected to double by 2012.
Then there's the CTP bandwagon. Since January 2009, there have been around 75 violet, 30 thermal, 14 refurbished and six CTCP's installed in India. In addition, there's 300+ installations of TechNova's CTPoli systems.
And above all, India is still in the formation stage. India has 74% of the offset printers with just single and two-colour machines in operation. Today, 75% of the ink business volume comes from the C-segment in the pricing range of Rs 525 per four-colour set - where quality is unheard of or not affordable.
Growth of newspapers
There has been a lot of speculation and discussion on the ways in which digital printing can be used for newspaper production. Digital publishing has still not evolved to cope with the long runs that newspapers require.
Consider the statistics: in 2007, there were 64,998 registered newspapers in India, the vast majority of which are printed on web-offset machines consuming an estimated 1.8 million tonnes of newsprint.
This figure is already rising as a result of improving literacy rates and socio-economic development.
PrintWeek India believes digital will impact the litho sector and its penetration will be "felt strongest in the small-format markets". Going forward though, the advances in finishing equipment for digital presses will catalyse stronger productivity. We identify the printing of direct mail and books as particular benefactors.
In today's market, print buyers often require both litho and digital print and it will be those commercial printers equipped with the right technology for the job and skilled in operating both the methods that will have the competitive advantage in the near future.
For the time being, digital and sheetfed litho look set to hold mutually-beneficial, complementary roles that can cater for different applications and varying run lengths.
Pira's report looks to 2014 and while digital will continue to advance, it is clear that manufacturers in the litho sheetfed sector such as Heidelberg, KBA, Mitsubishi, Ryobi and Manroland, among others, will not just sit back. The race is far from over.
STATISTICS AT A GLANCE
- According to a 2009 report from FICCI and PWC, print media grew by 8.7% in 2008, over the previous year – Rs 162bn ($3.48bn) from Rs 149bn ($3.2bn).
- According to the same report, print media would grow from Rs 162bn or $3.48bn (2008) to Rs 213bn or $4.58bn in 2013.
- India produces 150 million pages of digital pages of which a majority is in the black and white segment.
Indian offset printers use 10 million tons of paper and board each year, which includes domestic and imported paper.
- The sheetfed litho market’s value will consequently fall from $155.7 bn in 2006 to $142.7bn in 2014. According to Pira, the market is worth $146bn in 2009, of which the Indian print’s share is projected at $14.1bn.
- India’s digital printing industry is growing at a rate of 25.8% every three years.
In India, in the past three years, 325 new offset printing plants have been established. This number is expected to double by 2012.
- Since January 2009, there have been 75 violet platesetters and 30 thermal platesetters installed in India. In addition, there are 14 refurbished and six CTCP platesetters plus 300+ installations of TechNova’s CTPoli systems.
- Nearly four out of every five four-colour print jobs are of run lengths less than 5,000, according to Strategies for Management Commercial print 2010.
- There are more than 2.5 lakh printing presses in India. 75% of these are single and two-colour presses. 75% of the ink business is in the price range of Rs 525 per four-colour set.