In the office machine industry, it's natural that much of the premium equipment on the market is built around the use of paper. I'm often asked where the industry is headed and what I forecast for the future. The digital age is paving the way for a paperless world, but is that the reality? Switching from paper to digital will be great for easing environmental pressures, and I'm all for that, however the humble A4 isn't ready to become obsolete just yet.
The last decade has seen the paper industry stabilise after several years of revenue decline preceding this period. Whilst the industry is feeling the pressure of the growth of digital media, the market is buoyed by the increasing demand for paper by developing countries. Growth in paper pulp output, and paper consumption is primarily coming from BRICS nations: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
The three largest production regions for pulp, paper and paperboard are North America, Europe and Asia. In first place is Asia, with North and South East Asia producing close to 30% of the world's paper output. China is the heavyweight within the Asian region, placing second only to the United States in total paper production by country. Europe is the second-largest producing region and accounts for 21.4%, with North America accounting for 19.6% (IbisWorld, 2016).
Paper Board Production Forecast
Source: Hawkins Wright, 2015
Globalisation and the encouragement of world trade has created an unprecedented era of development for many of the world's nations. Developing countries are entering their own phase of industrialisation, following a similar trajectory to the advanced nations before them. Whilst the technology lag is fast disappearing,paper products will still be in high demand. High production countries like Vietnam, Laos and Mexico represent a growing market for paper products used in packaging.
That's not all...
You would think that the story would be different in advanced economies. As more of our information is recorded in electronic format, surely the demand for paper will subside? Interestingly, this is simply not the case. Industry research has found that 35% of businesses have reduced the number of photocopies, and 44% have moved towards digital mail. However, when it comes to important business documents such as invoices, 77% of companies still opt to print them (American Forest and Paper Association report). The role of paper shredders in destruction of sensitive information is just as important as ever.
We live in an era where digital storage capacity in cloud based applications is near unlimited. So why is paper still so prevalent? Are we resisting change, or is there something special about touching and seeing the information in front of you, in a way that digital cannot replicate?
Workplace of the Future
Future technology: more than just robots
Pioneers of the business world, such as Tesla's Elon Musk and Alibaba's Jack Ma, are famous for leveraging technology to revolutionise their industry. While paper won't be making a wholesale exit any time soon, there are rapid developments in workplace technology that you should be aware of.
I still remember the old overhead projectors from primary school. The ones that used transparent slides that the teacher could draw on. These were made obsolete by modern projectors that would display whatever was on your computer screen. Today we have the modern equivalent of the projector: interactive LED touch screens that literally allow the presenter interact with the display using touch.Technology is improving the way we communicate our information in the office or classroom.
In 2015 Epson released details of the "PaperLab", a paper recycling machine that will revolutionise waste management in the workplace. The machine works by pulverising into individual fibers in a process known as "befibrating". Traditionally, paper shredders have been used to recycle used paper and to destroy classified information. The Paperlab is even more secure than the best government shredders, turning a document into a brand new, clean sheet. Not only does this have obvious application in recycling, it allows businesses to process secure documents on-site.
The only materials required for this process are a small amount of water and a binding agent. That's it. Epson plan to release the Paperlab sometime in 2018, creating an industry estimated to be worth $4 billion annually.