Inkjet: From zero to hero, an interview with Mark Hanley, I.T.Strategies

Mark Hanley

Mark Hanley

Mark Hanley is delivering the keynote at InPrint 2016. We talked to him ahead of the show about his background, his vision and opinion on the future of inkjet in this sector. As IT Strategies has been around since the beginning of the introduction of inkjet into the production arena and seen the potential, from zero to hero seemed an appropriate title.

Mark tell us a bit about your background and how you got involved with industrial print?

We started IT Strategies 24 years ago in Boston, with an office in Japan, with a specific focus on the industrial non-office digital markets beyond office and consumer as we believed back then that markets for high volume Inkjet print and industrial sectors from packaging through to ceramics and many others had a major future in transforming print value. We have been confirmed in our belief by the growth of the markets rrom a few hundred million dollars back then to over $15B now in vendor revenues for systems and consumables. That has in turn created today an enduser market for digitally-printed industrial products of over $60 Billion

Tell us more about IT Strategies? What is it that IT Strategies do?

We are a vendor consultant in both developing digital print technology and markets for it. We gather large amounts of data and create a lot of analysis. But we are a custom consultant with no publishing function. In the end we think our value is in enabling a select group of leading technology vendors design and project their future growth markets through a model of ruthlessly honest analysis in a confidential framework.

What do you see as the future growth areas for industrial inkjet (both in terms of manufacturing sectors and locations)?

There are now more than 10 different production digital print markets which we can call commercial (print resold through providers and converters) beyond the office and consumer markets. The largest now include wide format graphics, textile, ceramics and transactional print. For the future packaging is easily the largest and highest value target for Inkjet, although in technical terms this is very hard. There is also a very large product marking opportunity whose main barrier to development is the complex supply chain. I could add a few sub-sectors in decorative printing and patterning, all of which are open to inkjet, but each of which may, from experience,  require an approach not necessarily always via the mainstream analogue market participants of today.

The latest report with InPrint Show is focused on décor, what do you see as the key findings of this report?

That’s tough to answer in couple of sentences as it was quite a rich set of responses, but I would underline for one thing the fact that there is not an obvious model of adoption such as you find it in commercial print or apparel printing. Decorative markets are sometimes rather stuck in their old ways of doing things, and print is not the only answer to demand for decorative products by the way. I think this is a segment which rewards what I call a parallel market development by real upstarts who sometimes by-pass old channels and go straight to users. But even though that starts from a low base, it is in some ways the more exciting kind of activity. I also think that decorative markets have a habit of splitting into consumer and commercial markets, and that consumer seems to offer more opportunity in a slackish economy than commercial, but that makes the available pool of business a little smaller.

What are the main hurdles inkjet has to overcome to increase in its use across industrial print?

If high offset-standard graphics are required (as in Packaging) then inkjet has a way to go to be able to print at high coverage at high speed economically - could easily be 3-5 years of work here. There are some basic technical issues unresolved as well as some business model issues. If you talk about decorative, textiles or marking sectors the technology is less of an issue than the channel and supply chain issues which are complex enough to strain the resources of all but the largest companies.  I come back however to another problem when I look at the real long-term value opportunity in the massive packaging markets. Apart from technical issues already mentioned, digital print when it works has the potential to improve communications so well to consumer goods buyers that it could force change by adding greater flexibility (on actual parts of the infrastructure in place) to get products to consumers more quickly. If that is the case the digital side of the market needs to get the message over to the brand owners now without delay and not rely on converters and printers to do it. The printers and converters are under enormous pressure from the brand owners’ buyers just to reduce costs. The message on digital however has to go to people in the brand owners whose horizons are much wider than those of the buyers, and who see that investment equals more produce sold more efficiently. No awareness, no market.

What will you be presenting at InPrint 2016?

I will talk about the whole range of markets beyond office and consumer for digital print and I will bring out the differences in requirements each has of the available technology while also projecting their development forward. If I manage to bring out the complexity of each of the opportunities emerging out there I will do a good job. You can go to the big trade shows and you could come away thinking there is this big wave of technology which is just somehow going to cause big markets to happen. In reality some things will not happen so easily, and the only ones which do are the result of hard detailed investment in knowledge and know-how of massively differentiated markets. My advice will be to pick and choose what are real opportunities, but then to become seriously expert and not to stretch resources beyond what is realistic for your company.. This is not to be conservative, it is to discover the narrow path to success.

Mark Hanley will present at InPrint 2016 on Wednesday 16th November - to check out the full programme