Year of the Dragon

China sets sights on global growth

At Drupa, Chinese manufacturers were hoping to establish closer collaborations

Printing and finishing equipment manufactured in China has historically been met with caution by many UK and European printers.

While many of the machines have been clearly modelled on kit from major European and Japanese manufacturers, they have not always been of the same quality.

However, it is felt that the quality of a lot of the kit has generally increased in recent years, and with Chinese machines also often available at significantly lower price points than equipment from the major manufacturers, this has made Chinese kit an increasingly attractive proposition to some printers in the UK market.

Indeed, a recent Printweek poll that asked, ‘Would you consider buying kit manufactured in China?’ saw nearly half of the 200 respondents (47%) answered either ‘Yes’ or ‘Possibly’.

Now that strict travel restrictions have been lifted post-Covid, 410 Chinese exhibitors made the long journey to Germany to present their wares at Drupa – the biggest global platform.

According to show organiser Messe Düsseldorf, Chinese exhibitors occupied more than 23,000sqm of space, an increase of around 25% on Drupa 2016. And while Germany was still the largest single nation at the show in terms of space, with 41,000 net square metres, China just beat Germany’s exhibitor total of 401.

The nation’s enthusiasm for Drupa didn’t end in the halls though. Many Chinese attendees used the opportunity of so many relevant parties being together in one place to hold and participate in events that were put on with the aim of forging collaboration between Chinese manufacturers and the rest of the world.

One such event was titled Printing Innovation Technology Cooperation Forum 2024, and ran with the theme ‘Road to China, Road to the World’.

The forum’s organiser, Keyin Media, said in its introduction that China had made significant advancements in printing technology since the previous Drupa in 2016, particularly in the areas of intelligent printing, inkjet printing, packaging printing, and post-press processing.

It said it decided to hold this event during Drupa to discuss the changing demands of the global printing market, promote global connections and cooperation in the printing industry, and share the latest technologies and development trends in China’s printing industry.

As well as featuring a raft of speakers from some of China’s major industry players, several European speakers were also present and stressed the need for Europe and China to collaborate for the greater good of the global print industry.

Jacek Kusmierczyk, chairman of Gutenberg Association, said: “It is extremely important that we talk to each other. I believe we are communicating to have more advantages for the future, […] delivering more business and delivering more profit.

“But on the other side of this is our youngsters, our kids – the future of our planet. We must both be responsible, and to do this we must communicate very well. Since I started travelling to China in 2003, I must underline that the communication process between our regions is to be developed. It’s not only to learn languages, [but also] to learn our cultures.”

He added that, together, both regions must invest “to avoid problems and to make it happen for the next generation, which will give us a peaceful and fruitful future”.

During her talk on the development trend of China’s print industry, Grace Liu, chair and secretary general of the label and special printing branch of the Printing Technology Association of China, shared figures on the overall size of China’s printing industry in 2022.

She said 103,000 printing enterprises and 2.43 million workers were responsible for an industrial output value of RMB 1,430bn (£154bn).

Liu also noted that “the construction of digital and intelligent printing continues to advance” and that digitial printing applications are becoming more popular, with major growth in the installation rate of high-speed inkjet printing equipment in China since 2015.

As with Western print markets, Liu said the Chinese industry was going through a green transformation, with energy saving and carbon reduction initiatives.

Finally, she presented information on the gross export value of China’s printing equipment and consumables in 2023, which showed that the total year-on-year growth rate was 2%.

As the forum progressed, it became clear to attendees that the Chinese print market faces many of the same challenges as Europe. Several of the speakers focused on areas including the need to attract more young talent into the industry, and the growth of AI.

One of the livelier presentations came from Yates Yao, president of Luster LightTech Group, which specialises in fibre optics, vision and imaging technologies.

He spoke about the transformative future and potential of AI, both on the future of inspection technologies and the wider world. He said he believed the changes AI would bring would happen “very quickly, within the next three to five years”.

“We have been investing heavily in the future, especially in AI and optics, and we work with leading universities and research institutes on this. OpenAI and ChatGPT have made people aware that AI is very important. It is going to very quickly drastically change many industries and help people do many things.”

He further told Printweek after the event: “We have been using AI for the inspection – for quality management it is very efficient. It will be like when the internet came in – but this revolution is much bigger than the internet. If you use AI right then you can be very, very productive.”