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Let's colour the world again

Neil Felton, CEO, FESPA

We talk to Neil Felton, CEO of FESPA, about the opportunities and threats of this autumn's FESPA Global Print Expo and European Sign Expo and the state of the large format and screen printing industry.

A year ago at this time we were all regretting that the FESPA Global Print Expo did not take place as planned in March and will not take place in October either. Unfortunately Madrid was out of luck. Everyone was hoping to meet in March 2021 in Amsterdam, meanwhile the fair could not take place on that date either due to an epidemic. But will Amsterdam be luckier? How do you estimate the chances of the fair taking place in October?

You’re right, it has been a rollercoaster 18 months with lots of disappointments, but we’re finally feeling optimistic about being able to open our first live event. The Dutch government has recently announced that it will be relaxing restrictions sooner than expected. These changes will be implemented alongside the EU Digital COVID certificate which shows if someone has been vaccinated, tested negative for COVID, or recovered from an infection. It will enable more flexible travel in Europe and the reopening of events in The Netherlands. With these advancements, in addition to the increased rollout of vaccinations, reduced COVID-19 cases in The Netherlands and easing of lockdowns, events can take place with minimal restrictions in place. We’re therefore feeling confident that FESPA Global Print Expo and European Sign Expo 2021 will take place in October and we’re working hard to deliver a safe and successful event for exhibitors and visitors alike.

What is the mood in the industry: among exhibitors and potential fair visitors (many of whom are FESPA members). Last year, many claimed that the time of traditional, especially large trade fairs was over. Is that really the case? I think we are a bit fed up with sitting in front of monitors, nevertheless the danger is not over. What are your attendance estimates in terms of exhibitors and visitors.

Although online platforms help people to gather information about products, our research shows that visitors want to move on from virtual product launches and events and get close to the technology – to touch and try and to speak one-on-one with product and application experts. It’s fundamental to their research and buying process, and the appetite for investment is definitely there, despite the challenges of the pandemic. In addition, the key message we’re hearing from suppliers is that they’re keen to get back to meeting customers and prospects face-to-face and sharing their products and innovations in a real environment, which is so much more meaningful than the virtual alternatives.

After 18 months of living behind a screen, there’s a real pent-up energy and enthusiasm to just get moving again, to get back on track and to resume business as usual. Occupying six halls at the RAI exhibition centre, there are currently over 310 combined exhibitors confirmed for FESPA Global Print Expo and European Sign Expo 2021 and we’re looking to attract a strong, predominantly northern and central European visitor audience, dominated by senior decision-makers.

What will we see at this eagerly awaited post-covid fair. Have you made any changes to the program in terms of themes, planned thematic zones? Please briefly remind us of the most important points of the program. What events will accompany the fair?

As always, FESPA Global Print Expo and European Sign Expo will highlight the latest developments in screen and digital wide format print, textile print and signage, along with areas focused on more niche applications, printing and finishing equipment, software solutions, media and inks. This year we’re delighted that Printeriors, our printed décor feature, will return, highlighting bespoke interior décor applications ranging from soft furnishings, window treatments, accessories and wallcoverings, to name a few. Wrap Masters will also be speeding back into the halls, featuring training workshops, demonstrations and the action-packed European leg of the vehicle wrap competition. Competitors will participate in timed matches to wrap vehicles live at the event, showcasing the skill and precision that’s essential in this niche sector.

What sanitary restrictions will apply? What can visitors and exhibitors expect?

The health and safety of our exhibitors, visitors, contractors and staff is, of course, our number one priority. We’re working closely with the RAI exhibition centre to follow the latest guidelines provided by the Dutch government, the National Institute of Public Health and the Environment and the city’s Municipal Health Service. With their guidance, we’re aiming to deliver a COVID-secure event with enhanced cleaning measures, increased hand sanitising stations and improved signage to ease movement around the show. Current guidance from the Dutch government suggests that face masks and social distancing at events are no longer mandatory but we’re looking to introduce a “traffic light” system so individual attendees can indicate their preferences around personal contact. We hope this helps exhibitors and visitors to feel comfortable throughout the exhibition. Working with our registration partner, we’re also implementing the use of QR codes throughout the halls, enabling visitors and suppliers to exchange contact information, arrange meetings and access information through an improved FESPA event app.

If it is not possible to organize the fair in the traditional form due to the worsening of the epidemic situation, do you envisage moving it in some form to the Internet? You have already organized several such events. Or are you planning a hybrid form straight away?

We’re seeing positive developments in the pandemic so we’re confident that the events will go ahead. However, if it’s not possible due to a change in the trajectory of the pandemic, we will of course look to continue to deliver initiatives like the FESPA Innovations and Trends (FIT) virtual event series and Coffee Break webinars to continue supporting business recovery and growth until such time as live events are feasible.

The epidemic is clearly abating, and we have already learned a little bit about how to function in this new situation. What shape is the large format and textile printing sector in today? In what direction will it develop? What challenges will it face?

For all of us in the world of wide format print, 2020 has been a year of unexpected twists and difficult decisions. The constantly changing conditions created by COVID-19 have challenged all of us in different ways. Many print service providers have seen the loss of traditional business however, there have also been positive examples of resilience during the pandemic. Many printers have had the ingenuity to flex their production capabilities and turn their skills to alternative applications. As a result, I think that continued diversification stands to be a priority and printers are exploring the new opportunities that exist within the industry.

It has also sharpened many entrepreneurs’ focus on process efficiency, automation, web ordering and sustainability for instance. We’ve covered these extensively through our FESPA Coffee Break webinars during lockdown, and we anticipate these topics being front of mind at the show this autumn.

I think the challenge lies in understanding the changing needs of customers and building business strategies that will allow printers to move forward, adapting to the “new normal”. The road ahead is rarely straight, even at the best of times but with the expertise and relationships that exist within our communities, I’m confident that the industry will continue to thrive in the future.

The slogan for this year's FESPA Global Print Expo is "Bringing Colour Back". Can you explain its meaning? Why is the colour green so important?

As our strapline – Bringing Colour Back – suggests, the focus of FESPA Global Print Expo and European Sign Expo 2021 in October is to bring the speciality print and sign-making communities back together after such an extraordinary 18 months and to restore confidence and optimism for the future. In recent years, a key trend driving significant change in the industry is sustainability. As consumers and brands demand more environmentally responsible prints, there’s an increasing pressure on print service providers, textile printers and garment producers to deliver. As a result, print and textile businesses are turning to suppliers, requiring more eco-friendly technologies, materials and enhanced automation to reduce waste.

As we look to the future, being “green” will be essential. That’s why we’re helping to facilitate the conversation between printers and suppliers, enabling them to make more environmentally sound decisions.

I look forward to welcoming the readers of Swiat Druku to FESPA Global Print Expo 2021 in October. See you in Amsterdam!

For more information, and to register to visit the event, go to: www.fespaglobalprintexpo.com. Use code FESH132 to save €30 on your entrance ticket.

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The doors to FESPA Global Print Expo and European Sign Expo 2021, Europe’s leading exhibitions for speciality print and signage, will open in just a few days (12 – 15 October 2021 at the RAI, Amsterdam, The Netherlands). For the first time since Spring 2019, FESPA is welcoming its communities of print service providers and sign makers back to a live event, with a focus on bringing colour back after 18 extraordinary months for these industries.

Elitron will be showcasing the following: Kombo SD+ 31.20: multi-function, digital cutting table with full range of cutting tools for all your digital finishing requirements; Kombo SDC+ 31.20: multi-function, flexible, digital conveyor cutting table with full range of cutting tools for both roll and rigid media and others Elitron Innovations for 2021.

Under the heading ‘New beginnings. New opportunities’, Agfa celebrates the gradual ‘reopening’ of the world and the occasion to present its updated range of inkjet printing solutions live to the European graphic industry at FESPA in Amsterdam (12-15 October).