Market Watch

Sheetfed Litho Under Threat from Digital, According to Pira Report


Sheetfed Litho Under Threat from Digital, According to Pira Report

The global market for sheetfed litho printing will fall from $155.7 billion in 2006 to $142.7 billion in 2014, a drop of some 8.5 percent, according to a new study, “The Future of Sheetfed Printing in a Digital Age” by Pira International. The study quantifies current and future global demand for sheetfed offset printing from 2006 to 2014, together with market figures for new equipment and ink. It also identifies the current and key emerging technologies and market drivers that will define its future.

According to the study, sheetfed print sales amounted to almost $146 billion in 2009. It peaked around 2006 in value terms at some $155.7 billion. While there will be a drop in printed area from 2008-2011, there will be growth to 2013 when volumes will peak. There will be a gradual decline in value over the next five years, with a sharp drop seen from 2007-2009, particularly in more developed markets.

According to the report, sheetfed litho printing has enjoyed major technological developments, becoming significantly more efficient since the introduction of viable digital competition. Digital workflows allow significant automation to improve make-ready with a modern press capable of being set up in 8 to 15 minutes with low waste. Closed-loop color control means quality can be assured against a standard specification, such as ISO12647-2 and GRACoL, making it easier for buyers to broaden their potential source of supply.

Press suppliers are looking to make the press format more efficient with multi-unit perfectors greatly boosting press productivity.

Major suppliers are looking toward larger format machines, increasing the maximum sheet size for books, posters, signage and packaging with quick set up and low waste. Another development is environmental performance improvements for the manufacture and operation of equipment.

Integrated control systems for new presses are being developed that link into the complete workflow system of a modern print factory, simplifying the process and providing the opportunity for further automation.

Current press developments include automation of side-lay control, new ink supply incorporating anilox technology such as Heidelberg’s Anicolor, automatic plate loading, cylinder and ink train washing and fount solution control.

As well as high-tech approaches, there are new suppliers emerging from low-cost regions, in particular China and India. They offer low-cost, low-spec presses with few electronic controls that are easier to maintain and have readily available spare parts.

Sheetfed is not alone; it is competing with web offset and digital methods, both electrographic and inkjet, which are developing rapidly. While the market for onpress plate imaging has largely stalled, there may be an opportunity for another round of significant performance improvement through the adoption of a reimageable plate or cylinder, Pira reported.

Technology demonstrates using switchable polymers and magnetographic surfaces show the potential, with start-ups such as NovaWrite looking at new methods.

An alternative could involve inkjet imaging; if successful, make-ready time and waste could fall significantly, improving the competitive position of offset.

According to Pira, environmental pressures on the sheetfed litho print supply chain will continue to increase. Print companies will have to provide independently audited quantitative measurements to determine their impact, probably based on a carbon footprint measure that will allow customers to make more informed choices.

“The Future of Sheetfed Printing in a Digital Age” is available for £3,500 from Pira International. Pira provides information on the packaging, printing and paper industry supply chains.

For more info contact Pira International, Stephen Hill, e-mail: