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How tech has taken printing into new era

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Printing technology has made significant strides in recent years. Designed to provide consumers with a more convenient, efficient, and eco-friendly user experience, the print industry is buzzing with the latest innovations, writes Timothy Thomas, Consumer Channel Sales Manager at Epson SA.

Technology is constantly evolving to meet growing market needs and improving how people accomplish tasks – whether at home or in the office – and the print industry is no exception. From systems designed to help users save money on monthly overheads, to innovative ideas that contribute towards a greener planet, printing technology has made significant strides in recent years. Here are just four innovations that have recently made a major impact on the printing industry.

  1. Ink tank technology – The introduction of ink tank technology caused a shift in the industry that saw printing for small or home-based business become a great deal more cost-efficient and eco-friendly. This ultra-low-cost printing solution is designed to increase print capacity without compromising on quality, with a variety of ink tank options available on the market. Epson, a leading tech brand across the globe, was the first to introduce its EcoTank ITS printers to South Africa in 2014.

The Epson EcoTank range reduces printing costs by up to 90%, and comes with up to three years’ worth of ink included in each box – that’s the equivalent of up to 60 cartridges worth of ink. With the innovative ink tank systems, users can print as much as 14,000 pages in black and white and 11,200 pages in colour before needing to refill. Users welcomed the move, particularly small business owners relying on bulk-printing solutions.

  1. The rise of 3D printing – Once people mastered the art of two-dimensional printing on flat sheets of paper, the next logical step was of course to create a way to bring those prints to life. Using raw materials such as plastic, metal and glass, 3D printers turn digital files containing 3D data into three-dimension renderings using an innovative ‘layering’ process.

The technology was first introduced in the early 1990s and intended mainly for commercial use, but 3D printers are becoming a lot more affordable to the mainstream market. While their uses are virtually endless, with applications from spare car parts made on demand and architectural design, home furniture, jewellery and novelty items, they could one day even drive the democratisation of industry and their full potential remains to be seen.

  1. Kinder to the environment – Whatever the scale of digital innovation, there will always be a need for hard copy prints in a variety of environments – whether it’s official documents in the workplace or photographs of your favourite family memories at home. However, there are ways to lessen the impact that printing has on the environment without having to do away with it completely.

For instance, the toner found in laser printers uses tiny plastic particles that are heated up to melting point, a process consuming considerable energy, and limits the recyclability of printed material. Ink tank systems are not only a cost-effective solution, but also help conserve the environment by utilising inks that are easy to break down in the recycling process.

In addition, innovative papermaking systems like Epson’s ‘PaperLab’ (not currently available in SA) allow businesses and government offices to recycle waste paper without using water[, where it would ordinarily require about a cup of water to make just a single A4 sheet of paper. The waterless system also allows businesses to produce paper of various sizes, thicknesses, colours and even scents on-site, optimising the paper delivery and purchasing process.

  1. Wi-Fi capabilityPrinters that allow users to connect and print wirelessly are by no means a revelation, but this functionality is still one of the biggest conveniences to happen within the industry. Considering the ubiquity of smart phones and other devices, not to mention the growth in popularity of platforms like Instagram, having a quick and convenient way to print straight from your device makes a world of difference, especially for the busy, on-the-go consumer.

Users can easily connect all their devices to a wireless printer without the use of pesky wires that get in the way, with the added benefit of being able to print from the next room or lounging by the pool across the country. For those who prefer having all their documents, pictures and even event tickets stored on their smart phones in the palm of their hands, wireless printing is one of the greatest innovations to hit the market.

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IoT at starting gate

South Africa is already past the Internet of Things (IoT) hype cycle and well into the mainstream, writes MARK WALKER, associate vice president of Sub-Saharan Africa at International Data Corporation (IDC).

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Projects and pilots are already becoming a commercial reality, tying neatly into the 2017 IDC prediction that 2018 would be the year when the local market took IoT mainstream. Over the next 12-18 months, it is anticipated that IoT implementations will continue to rise in both scope and popularity. Already 23% are in full deployment with 39% in the pilot phase. The value of IoT has been systematically proven and yet its reputation remains tenuous – more than 5% of companies are reluctant to put their money where the trend is – thanks to the shifting sands of IoT perception and success rate.

There are several reasons behind why IoT implementations are failing. The biggest is that organisations don’t know where to start. They know that IoT is something they can harness today and that it can be used to shift outdated modalities and operations. They are aware of the benefits and the case studies. What they don’t know is how to apply this knowledge to their own journey so their IoT story isn’t one of overbearing complexity and rising costs.

Another stumbling block is perception. Yes, there is the futuristic potential with the talking fridge and intelligent desk, but this is not where the real value lies. Organisations are overlooking the challenges that can be solved by realistic IoT, the banal and the boring solutions that leverage systems to deliver on business priorities. IoT’s potential sits within its ability to get the best out of assets and production efficiencies, solving problems in automation, security, and environment.

In addition to this, there is a lack of clarity around return on investment, uncertainty around the benefits, a lack of executive leadership, and concerns around security and the complexities of regulation.  Because IoT is an emerging technology there remains a limited awareness of the true extent of its value proposition and yet 66% of organisations are confident that this value exists.

This percentage poses both a problem and opportunity. On one hand, it showcases the local shift in thinking towards IoT as a technology worth investing into. On the other hand, many companies are seeing the competition invest and leaping blindly in the wrong direction. Stop. IoT is not the same for every business.

It is essential that every company makes its own case for IoT based on its needs and outcomes. Does agriculture have the same challenges as mining? Does one mining company have the same challenges as another? The answer is no. Organisations that want their IoT investment to succeed must reject the idea that they can pick up where another has left off. IoT must be relevant to the business outcome that it needs to achieve. While some use cases may apply to most industries based on specific circumstances, there are different realities and priorities that will demand a different approach and starting point.

Ask – what is the business problem right now and how can technology be leveraged to resolve it?

In the agriculture space, there is a need to improve crop yields and livestock management, improve farm productivity and implement environmental monitoring. In the construction and mining industry, safety and emergency response are a priority alongside workforce and production management. Education shifts the lens towards improving delivery and quality of education, access to advanced learning methods and reducing the costs of learning.  Smart cities want to improve traffic and efficiently deliver public services and healthcare is focusing on wellness, reducing hospital admissions and the security of assets and inventory management.

The technology and solutions selected must speak to these specific challenges.

If there are no insights used to create an IoT solution, it’s the equivalent of having the fastest Ferrari on Rivonia Road in peak traffic. It makes a fantastic noise, but it isn’t going to move any faster than the broken-down sedan in the next lane. Everyone will be impressed with the Ferrari, but the amount of power and the size of the investment mean nothing. It’s in the wrong place.

What differentiates the IoT successes is how a company leverages data to deliver meaningful value-added predictions and actions for personalised efficiencies, convenience, and improved industry processes. To move forward the organisation needs to focus on the business outcomes and not just the technology. They need to localise and adapt by applying context to the problem that’s being solved and explore innovation through partnerships and experimentation.

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ERP underpins food tracking

The food traceability market is expected to reach almost $20 billion by 2022 as increased consumer awareness, strict governance requirements, and advances in technology are resulting in growing standardisation of the segment, says STUART SCANLON, managing director of epic ERP

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Just like any data-driven environment, one of the biggest enablers of this is integrated enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions.

As the name suggests, traceability is the ability to track something through all stages of production, processing, and distribution. When it comes to the food industry, traceability must also enable stakeholders to identify the source of all food inputs that can include anything from raw materials, additives, ingredients, and packaging.

Considering the wealth of data that all these facets generate, it is hardly surprising that systems and processes need to be put in place to manage, analyse, and provide actionable insights. With traceability enabling corrective measures to be taken (think product recalls), having an efficient system is often the difference between life or death when it comes to public health risks.

Expansive solutions

Sceptics argue that traceability simply requires an extensive data warehouse to be done correctly, the reality is quite different. Yes, there are standard data records to be managed, but the real value lies in how all these components are tied together.

ERP provides the digital glue to enable this. With each stakeholder audience requiring different aspects of traceability (and compliance), it is essential for the producer, distributor, and every other organisation in the supply chain, to manage this effectively in a standardised manner.

With so many different companies involved in the food cycle, many using their own, proprietary systems, just consider the complexity of trying to manage traceability. Organisations must not only contend with local challenges, but global ones as well as the import and export of food are big business drivers.

So, even though traceability is vital to keep track of everything in this complex cycle, it is also imperative to monitor the ingredients and factories where items are produced. Having expansive solutions that must track the entire process from ‘cradle to grave’ is an imperative. Not only is this vital from a safety perspective, but from cost and reputational management aspects as well. Just think of the recent listeriosis issue in South Africa and the impact it has had on all parties in that supply chain.

Efficiency improvements

Thanks to the increasing digital transformation efforts by companies in the food industry, traceability becomes a more effective process. It is no longer a case of using on-premise solutions that can be compromised but having hosted ones that provide more effective fail-safes.

In a market segment that requires strict compliance and regulatory requirements to be met, cloud-based solutions can provide everyone in the supply chain with a more secure (and tamper-resistant) solution than many of the legacy approaches of old.

This is not to say ERP requires the one or the other. Instead, there needs to be a transition provided between the two scenarios that empowers those in the food supply chain to maximise the insights (and benefits) derived from traceability.

Now, more than ever, traceability is a business priority. Having the correct foundation through effective ERP is essential if a business can manage its growth and meet legislative requirements into the future.

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