How Industry 4.0 will change the business model of printers?

With each Industrial Revolution, new economic models are developed and then collapsed due to changes in the economic and technological environment, which exceed the capacity of the players to adapt. At the same time, these evolutions also lead to the emergence of new models that are more efficient, more flexible and agile, and less resource-consuming.

But first of all, what is a business model?  

According to Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur, a business model describes the principles by which an organization creates, delivers, and captures value.

And to help us understand and then grasp the impact of Industry 4.0 on the business model of printing companies, that is to say, the impact on the value they will capture, create and deliver to their customers, we will rely on their very famous model in particular for its simplicity and ease of implementation in the description and understanding of a business model: the strategic canvas of Osterwalder and Pigneur. 

They consider that a business model can be represented by 9 blocks that describe the economy of a company, the way it plans to make money. 

The nine blocks that compose it allows to clarify: 

  • (1) the company's value proposition through a description of its product and service offering  
  • (2) the categories, customer segments targeted by the company 
  • (3) the channels through which the company chooses to contact its customers
  • (4) the customer relationships that the company decides to establish between itself and its various customer segments
  • (5) the company's key activities
  • (6) the key resources describing the skills required to achieve the business model
  • (7) the key partners representing the network of cooperative agreements with other firms needed to effectively deliver and market value 
  • (8) the cost structure summarizing the monetary consequences of the means employed in the business model, and finally 
  • (9) the revenue streams describing how the firm will make money.

Customer Segments - Value propositions

Customer Segments

The "Customer Segments" block answers the questions: what type of business has the printing company chosen to focus on? Which markets are being pursued?

This block is important because it corresponds to the structure of the offer that the printer or manufacturing company is about to offer. It is the opportunity for a printer to make the choice to print to inform and communicate (such as books, magazines and periodicals, newspapers, but also cardboard, or administrative or commercial printed matter) to print logistics products (either labels or packaging) or to print to market, promote (flyers, leaflets, catalogues, posters, signage, but also transpromo, or printed on all fabrics, on plastic, glass, metal, wood and ceramics for example).

Industry 4.0 and mass personalization now invite printers to look elsewhere as well to other sectors to print on media other than paper such as plastics (polypro, PP, vinyl, stickers) but also intelligent products, products integrated with sensors, identifiable components and processors that convey information and knowledge to communicate the functional orientations of customers and transmit useful spin-offs to the manufacturing system. 

They are recommended to analyze the competitive forces at work in each of these sectors: the intensity of competition between competitors, the risk of new entrants into the sector under analysis, the power of suppliers and customers, and the risk of substitution between products/services available on the market.

Value proposition 

Remember that Industry 4.0 in itself does not represent any value. Rather, the solution approaches of Industry 4.0 open the door to new products, new product-related services, and improved production processes. With Industry 4.0, printing companies will be able, for examples, to provide their customers with the following value propositions:

  • (1) a shorter time-to-market for their new products,
  • (2) better responsiveness to their requests, 
  • (3) customized products at costs close to mass production,
  • (4) a more eco-responsible approach through more efficient use of natural resources and energy,
  • (5) etc.

The manufacturing or printing business leader is here invited to clarify its industrial strategy (ies) with the expected competitive advantage:

  • - Mass printing (a strategy with an expected competitive advantage: cost leadership)
  • - Print on Demand (a strategy with an expected competitive advantage: differentiation)
  • - Printing by the unit (a strategy with an expected competitive advantage: focusing)
  • - And/or mass customization (a strategy with an expected competitive advantage: both cost leadership and differentiation)
  • - ... without forgetting the services 

This value proposition is important because it will define how the printing company 4.0 will differentiate itself from its competitors to attract, retain and deepen relationships with its target customers. 

Channels – Customer Relationship

We are discovering that companies in the graphic arts must now adopt more and more to a platform economy. Web platforms, whether web-to-print platforms and other marketplaces have become one, if not the entry point for customer orders, whether for B2C or B2B markets.

Key activities – Key resources

Key activities 

The consequences of more personalization are an increasing complexity of the manufacturing processes and thus have an impact on the key activities of the smart printing houses of tomorrow. 

We note that the customer's move up the value chain encourages printing company 4.0, but also the other players in its new chain, to organize themselves to respond as quickly as possible to a demand for printing and personalized products.

Printers need to move away from the old static vision of their business and adopted and implement more dynamic, automated, interconnected and autonomous processes, thanks to technologies like cyber-physical systems, cloud computing, robots, artificial intelligence put forward with Industry 4.0.

Key resources

The question of the key resources that will enable the smart printing companies of tomorrow to implement print and finishing 4.0 processes and especially smart supply chain 4.0 is important and difficult: 

What strategically valuable capabilities must the printing industry acquire to respond to both the digital and industrial transformation of their environment, but above all to gain a competitive advantage and hope to survive in its market(s)? 

In other words, which are the key ones, that is to say, rare, valuable, non-substitutable and difficult to imitate, allowing these printing companies to undertake their transformation? 

In which technologies will they then imperatively have to invest to meet the new needs of their markets, differentiate themselves and reshape their value propositions in an increasingly connected world? 

But in order to be able to determine them, the printing companies wishing to tackle the opportunities provided with Industry 3.0 and then that of Industry 4.0, first of all, have to take into account new increasingly individualized requirements, but volatile customers, globalization with its advantages, but also its shortcomings (increased competition, increasingly low prices), good management of resources (low carbon footprint), and the significant impact of platforms web increasingly essential in the value chain and supply of printing companies.

These critical capabilities will thus either be identified among the stock of capabilities and skills that printing companies have already accumulated over the years and in new capabilities, very often linked to the changes in the current technological landscape 4.0, that they will have to acquire to meet the new challenges.

The benefits of Printing 4.0 will only become apparent with an intelligent combination of old and new capabilities. 

Printing 4.0 will realize that their ability to constantly reinvent competitive advantage will depend less on their internal than on their ability to look outward to networks of business partners looking for resources to assemble the right mix of skills that resonate with their own organizations, key products and process strategies.

Printing companies 4.0 will realize that their ability to constantly reinvent a competitive advantage will depend less on their internal capabilities than on their ability to look outwards, to networks of business partners, to looking for resources to assemble the right mix of skills that will resonate with their own organizations, key products and process strategies. 

We note that the application of industrial strategies such as unit printing or mass customization will require significant capabilities, in particular in the development of web-to-print solution spaces, user-friendly co-design solutions, capabilities directly related to how printing and other manufacturing companies interact or will interact with their customers in the future.

The smallest of them are invited to minimize the complexity and the impact generated by more personalization, to specialize, to focus on their key skills and to act within an ecosystem in which all players contribute through their specialization to creating value for the customer. The simple survival of some printing companies may even be based on their ability to cooperate with other market players.

It is indeed very likely that with automation, manual operations will decrease and that technology will take an increasingly important part in the realization of these operations, especially concerning monitoring and control tasks. Although some predict that much of the manual work could be replaced by machines. It is likely that hybrid scenarios will first take hold in most manufacturing companies.

To enable employees to cope with the new requirements, these companies will need to invest heavily in skills development and continuous learning.

Not only will IT knowledge be relevant, but as decentralized coordination and control functions become increasingly important at the operational level, self-guided action capabilities and self-organization will become more and more important. 

Thus, the competence and importance of talent management practices will be essential for these companies seeking to increase their productivity, efficiency and competitive advantage.

Key partners