The Internet and its associated technologies were to make paper obsolete and do away with printing plants. Let's face it, the Internet has not been a blessing for the Printing Industry.
But today, it would be better, according to Michael Porter (2001), not to speak any more of “Internet industry”, “e-business strategies” or of “new economy” and see Internet technology for what it really is: “an enabling technology - a set of powerful tools that can be used, rightly or wrongly, in almost any industry and as part of almost any strategy.” And this is the case with the graphics industries, the Internet and its associated technologies have entered fully. We are just now starting to analyse their impact on this industry.
The key question today for printers is no longer whether or not to deploy Internet technology within their companies, they no longer have a choice if they want to remain competitive, but how to deploy it (Porter, 2001).
“The Internet in itself is rarely a competitive advantage," says Michael Porter (2001), “but it offers these companies far better opportunities to establish distinctive strategic positioning than information and communication technologies have done in the past.”
The Internet, especially with web-to-print, has propelled the graphic chain into a new dimension by making it possible to transmit information, data and content anywhere, anytime, and thus to print, personalise, and also to bind anywhere, anytime, to customers, clients and/or business partners.
However, limiting the impact of the Internet to the arrival of web-to-print within companies in the graphic industries would be reductive, as the Internet and more broadly the digital technologies have prompted printing companies to reconfigure their value chain at the time of Industry 3.0 and today invite or even force them to think about transforming and accelerating their supply chain with the advent of the Internet of Things and Services at the origin of Industry 4.0.
The basic tool for understanding the influence of the Internet and more specifically the impact of yesterday's and today's industrial revolutions on companies in the graphic industries is the value chain developed by Michael Porter (1985). It represents the company as a chain of primary and support activities allowing to transform and in the case of graphic industries companies, to print products and sell them in order to generate a margin, a profit for the company.
Figure 1 gives you an illustration of a printing company value chain. Of course, in the real world, printing value chains can be much more complex and different for each printing company. They depend on the culture, strategy, and markets in which the company is positioned.
Figure 1 - Value chain of a printing company (From Porter, M. E. (1985). Competitive Advantage: Creating and Sustaining Superior Performance. New York: Free Press.)
In the era of Industry 3.0, the Internet is mainly impacting printing companies on how to sell their printed output with the emergence of web-to-print, or web-to-pack platforms for packaging.
With these systems, customers can order any printed product 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, without having to leave their office or pick up the phone.
These web-to-print systems have had the effect of moving some of the physical activities online such as specifying the product to be printed and drawing up quotes, but mainly to provoke a radically different approach whether in B2C or B2B. The use of the Internet automates order entry and saves time for both customers and the company.
In the era of Industry 4.0, that of the Internet of Things (IoT), it will mainly be the production activities (printing and finishing) but also and above all logistics and more broadly the supply chain with cyber-physical systems (SCP) that will be disrupted.
Computers, automation and even robotisation with automatic plate make-ready already existed in printing plants in the era of Industry 3.0, but the possibilities offered in particular by the Internet of Things are revolutionising their use.
Industry 4.0 with the implementation of Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS) in industrial production, i.e. networks of microcomputers, sensors and actuators integrated in materials, printing presses, finishing devices or printed products connected along the value chain, will promote in these printing and finishing shops a self-regulated production, more precise and agile planning. By making print shops much more flexible at all levels, it will be possible to take advantage of the ability to print by the unit or in very small quantities.