This month I have attended three exhibitions. The first was in Milan – the Ipack-Ima, Pharmintech, and Print4All event from 3 to 6 May. The second trip was to the Paperex Exhibition in Greater Noida to talk about emerging from two years of the pandemic and the future of the print industry at its conference. We also moderated a panel of publishers, printers, and a papermaker to evaluate where we are after the trauma and where we are going. The third exhibition is the ongoing Printpack – where apart from our usual activity of learning about technology and meeting printers and suppliers, we are also producing the Show Daily that you are holding in your hands (or reading on your phone).
This morning and afternoon we met about ten manufacturers or supplier exhibitors at Printpack. We challenged them: “Is our optimism about the recovery of the print industry warranted or are we just giving a pep talk to the already converted who would like to believe it or hope that it is true, even if it isn’t?”
Why did we ask this? Because on the first day of the event although the exhibition was well attended, many of our visits in the first part of the day were to stands almost empty of visitors. We did observe a sea change in the equipment exhibited by the Indian manufacturers (a huge improvement in automation and a shift towards book production, paper bags, and packaging) but we could not spot any real action – sales happening or being announced. Ultimately, a few were announced in the late afternoon. Naturally, we assumed these were deals already done before the show and just announced on the first day for a bit of publicity.
On the second day, even before we reached the show phone calls came from people wanting to meet us – they had something important to share. In our first hour at the show, in the three meetings out of four, we learned that the Indian print industry is hot – that deals have been made in the past month and the most recent deal was signed this morning. That the current financial year seems to be similar to one of the better years before the pandemic, not only in the number of printing machines, but also in terms of complexity, automation, and value.
On one of our visits, we learned that approximately seven or eight multicolor offset press signings would take place this week till Monday. The person who shared this information did not say it would be only his company that would get all the orders but simply that these many orders were in play and likely to be closed in the next few days.
In one of our next visits this morning we learned that the situation is similar in the flexible packaging industry. There is serious interest and orders have already been placed for new blown and cast coated film lines, and gravure and flexo presses from leading global and Indian manufacturers. Then as we were leaving the exhibition we were told of orders being announced for carton converting equipment – die-cutters and folder gluers as well as a call from the leading packaging software supplier – all requesting coverage of sales that are ready to be announced with the customers ready to have their picture taken in the suppliers stand.
What is the reason for all this investment activity? Does it mean that only a few expensive technologies are selling? Or does it mean positive traction for the other 375 exhibitors (apart from the 50 biggies) at the show? The explanations or answers range from the idea that there is immense pent-up demand from two or three years of no investment to suggestions that if the big presses and converting equipment are selling, then it’s good for the die-makers, rule and rubbering suppliers, the ink, adhesive, and paper and labelstock suppliers.
Another answer that comes to mind is from our experience at the Paperex conference panel where the publishers and printers said that demand is not only higher than 2019 levels but that the print industry’s resilience is not only in its survival but also that it is a first indicator of the economic revival based on the immediate and unmet hunger for education and books. As one of the suppliers said to me, “If our big machines with automation are selling at this rate, it is a barometer for the entire industry – this looks like it’s going to be a hugely successful Printpack.”