drupa gets serious!

We know the back story; the pandemic forced the abandoning of drupa in 2020 and then again in 2021, so it has been a long time since the global print and converting industries gathered in Dusseldorf. But we are now back to some form of normality, with people prepared to travel again, engage with peers and see what is happening in the world of print!

Conscious of an eight year ‘break’, the Drupa Committee has set itself the task of getting in front of industry, giving valuable content and discussion points around the world, with the aim of keeping key stakeholders and industry trade associations up to speed with what will be happening at drupa in May and June.

“We are getting excited about the event, that is for sure!” opens Dr Andreas Pleßke, Chairman of the Drupa Committee. “We have been travelling a great deal these last few months, all over the world as a Committee to spread the word on what we have planned for drupa 2024. A series of World Tour events have been taking place, with a keen focus on collaboration in some of the developing and growing regions – we wanted to listen to industry associations in Asia, India and South America, to name but a few, and show that we are keen to discuss with them what the future of print could look like and why drupa is an important platform for their members.”

Pleßke himself has visited a dozen cities in Asia and South America, with other Committee members hitting similar numbers of visits – around 30 individual events have now taken place.

Importance of Packaging

When we visited the last drupa in 2016, some people in the media coined it the ‘digital Drupa’ – we went a little deeper than that, and called it the ‘digital packaging drupa’. I wanted to know what the organisers feel about the importance of attracting converters of both folding carton and also corrugated board.

“drupa has come a long way since its launch event in 1951,” explains Pleßke. “The meaning of drupa is print and paper – DRUck and PApier – but things have moved on massively and there is no doubt in our minds that print on packaging is where we are heading. The statistics on commercial and newspaper print are well known; growth of the importance of all forms of packaging is where we keep a keen focus. During the World Tour, we were careful to choose cities and regions where packaging printing is booming. For example, Asia is the fastest growing region for packaging printing without doubt. South America is also a diverse and interesting region, ripe for growth. Take Mexico, for example, where packaging printing is booming due to the ongoing repatriation and near-shoring of packaging production as American brand owners look to step away from reliance on China.

“During our World Tour, we examined some of the legislations and industry drivers that printers and converters need to be aware of. For example, what is happening with the drive for re-use; shorter run lengths; faster speed to market; and of course, sustainability, where brands are looking to work out what is the best substrate for particular jobs. Here also is a challenge though – sustainability means slightly different things in different regions and through the ‘Touchpoint Sustainability’ at Drupa, printers and converters can learn all about the intricate details.”

People, People, People

As an industry, we hear about it all the time; the apparent lack of skilled labour, an ageing workforce and an apparent black hole when it comes to the next generation of operator!

“How do we make our industry sexy and appealing as an employer?” asks Pleßke. “We know the issues; the next generation needs to be motivated and the appeal of our industry is not that high on people’s agenda. But this is where we have opportunities to show visitors to drupa that there are a multitude of systems and solutions that will help automation in the modern factory – and that they are available now. These systems help us as printers to reduce waste, which is of course critical when we talk about shorter orders. They also help make life a little easier for the operators, allowing them to focus on running the machinery, rather than constantly loading materials and changing plates! Automation is certainly a hot topic and we know that many of the exhibitors will be showcasing plenty of novel products.”

Power of the brand

With a growing population and in many regions, the significant emergence of a financially stable middle class, brand owners see great opportunity as particularly the younger generations help drive growth in FMCG.

“Brand owners have a very important and powerful role to play and it is important that as print and packaging providers that we understand the dynamics,” says Pleßke. “The market value of brands around the world continue to grow, with regional brands seeing solid growth; but they are all aware of the importance of their environmental messaging and of course packaging plays a huge role here. The younger generations are well educated and have firm views on recyclability and sustainability, so the brand owners need to be guided by our industry on what is best for them when it comes to print and packaging. It is important that we all understand the regulations, as this helps drive the whole sustainability dialogue.”

Future Orientation

It could be easy to say that digital is the future. Of course, digital is part of the future, but what we all need to understand is that to be in a good place in 2030, we need to start implementing plans NOW.

“Digitalization is used frequently these days, but we don’t just mean digital printing,” says Pleßke. “Digital Printing will be an extremely important driver on how we manufacture; but what we need to really understand is how we can harness digital print for the shorter runs to allow the space and efficiency of analog machines to come to the fore where they are best suited – medium to long runs. Digitalization is an enabler for sustainability in our industry as well, which is really important in discussions. We also need to think about digital communication channels, which of course include workflows internally, but also within the larger supply chain, both upstream to our customers and downstream with our suppliers.”

Pleßke concludes, “drupa is more than just an exhibition. It is a place to network, a place to learn, a place to reconnect and a place to see the equipment and solutions that will help change the direction of the print and packaging industries. Will it be the same as in 2016 in terms of visitor numbers? Only time will tell! All halls are booked and the work we are doing to position drupa as THE essential event for the sector in 2024 will help ensure that our industry maintains its flagship event.”

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