A male factory worker is operating a cherry picker in a warehouse in this transport and logistics image

Industrial printers growth, trends and forecasts: What is driving the demand?

Barcode labelling volumes have increased significantly in recent years, especially as the market sees growing consumer dependence on, and preference for, ecommerce channels, and serialisation programs in pharmaceutical, automotive and food and beverage manufacturing sectors continue to expand.

Serialised products promote supply chain consistency and enhance overall visibility with the ability to track-and-trace using assigned serial numbers. At the same time, ecommerce volumes are higher than ever before.

Consumers today expect the perfect order with the fastest possible delivery 100% of the time, placing tremendous pressure on organisations in the industrial supply chain to ensure labelling accuracy and legibility while also efficiently managing escalating labelling volumes. Strategic technology investments will be essential to improving organisations’ overall workflow efficiencies and order fulfillment rates.

The need for unique (and accurate) product identification, and serialisation as a result of it, is greater than ever before because of elevated shipping and receiving volumes, driving a resurgence in investments in reliable industrial label printers for high-volume applications.

VDC Research, a leading authority on the global markets for automatic identification and data capture (AIDC) technologies, recently estimated that industrial label printer hardware vendors generated more than €670M/£570M in revenues in 2020 with the market expected to grow to €840M/£715M by 2025.

A substantial increase in barcoding volumes will drive investments in industrial printers, which are designed to support labeling applications in high-throughput environments. VDC’s research shows that demand is particularly strong among organisations in industrial/manufacturing and transportation/logistics verticals for this specific form factor.

What is driving investments in industrial label printers?

The top five key drivers contributing to rise in demand for industrial label printers are:

1.    Need for barcode labelling in the post-pandemic world is more pronounced

– The Covid-19 pandemic resulted in a surge of online demand for all types of products, even as global supply chains experienced massive disruptions. Businesses pivoted to online order fulfillment during the pandemic in 2020, increasing their reliance on industrial printers for applications like shipping and receiving, inventory and asset management, and picking and packing list requirements in the warehouse. Business is now as busy as, if not busier than, what has historically been associated with peak capacity at warehouses and fulfillment centres. This makes it essential for organisations to take stock of inventory, track product movement through the supply chain, and facilitate last-mile traceability.

Organisations participating in a recently-conducted VDC survey highlighted the following as the label types driving maximum labelling volumes across a variety of application environments:

  • Manufacturing – Finished Goods Labels (28%), Shipping Labels (28%), Item/Product Labels (12%)
  • Retail – Item/Product Labels (40%), Shipping Labels (16%), Picking Lists (12%), Tickets/Tags (12%)
  • Transportation and Logistics – Shipping Labels (56%), Picking Lists (16%), Item/Product Labels (8%)

A bar chart compiled from VDC research offers statistical analysis of the transport and logistics sector in relation to industrial printer investments

2.    Industrial label printers maintain their position as the solution-of-choice in the industrial supply chain

– High-volume applications in manufacturing and distribution rely extensively, and almost exclusively, on industrial printers with ruggedised metal bodies and long durability for their ability to create long-lasting and sturdy labels. VDC’s conversations with organisations having existing industrial printer deployments show that this class of printers demonstrates minimal risk of breakdown, superior print quality (regardless of how many labels are printed in one go or even tough ambient conditions), and strongest overall performance. Print performance considerations are paramount investment drivers, especially in rugged environments, as detailed below:

a.    Print quality – label quality is of paramount importance especially given the high cost of chargebacks and other fines due to inability to read barcode labels and related errors. With serialisation efforts and the adoption of data-rich barcodes (such as GS1 DataMatrix) and on-demand, variable information printing, the pressures on print quality are only increasing.
b.    Printer durability - given the harsh environments these printers are subjected to, it is extremely important for the printer body to be hard-wearing and be able to withstand the elements – particularly dust, dirt, grime, and rough handling.

3.    Industrial printer deployments and investments not restricted to rugged environments

– Retailers have seen their labelling processes undergo a significant change with omnichannel strategies revamping their operational and technology requirements. Parcel and pallet labelling, as well as direct-store-delivery (DSD), creation of micro-fulfillment centers, and buy online pickup in store (BOPIS) options will drive demand for industrial label printer hardware for businesses in this vertical. Labelling requirements and volumes within stockrooms are at higher levels than ever seen before, prompting businesses in this vertical to make strategic investments in industrial printing solutions—both within their stores as well as in warehouses.

4.    Compliance mandates necessitating adoption

– Organisations’ concerted efforts to improve their traceability initiatives and maintain compliance with constantly changing customer, government, and industry regulatory mandates, like in life sciences and food and beverage, will drive industrial label printer adoption and growth. Coupled with relevant software applications, such investments will help them automate the labelling process in order to minimise error incidence and regulatory violations.

5.    Price affordability opening up the market to a larger population

– Vendors have expanded their industrial printer product portfolio in recent release cycles to also offer mid-range options for organisations to choose, which opens up investment options for a larger segment of the population. That said, users understand the price premium associated with investment in this class of printers that are highly ruggedised and durable, designed to validate use for high-label-volume applications.

Industrial label printers are part of the bigger picture

No one piece of hardware is a complete solution in itself. Static data labels compound confusion and increase errors in today’s highly dynamic production/supply chain environments. The potential for mislabelling increases with reliance on static databases and/or label templates, especially as it becomes challenging to edit, manage, and update various versions, ultimately leading to labelling errors.

Labelling is now mission-critical to organisations’ overall supply chain management and traceability initiatives, which places greater emphasis on labelling automation with certified integration to sources of truth for data—such as various enterprise application systems.

Organisations are keen to address their gaps in visibility—from raw material sourcing through production and global distribution—and are taking significant steps to gain better insights into product movement through the supply chain. As traceability standards get more stringent across industries businesses are placing stronger demand for dynamic solutions that can be tightly integrated with disparate systems to promote collaboration and consistency across globally distributed locations.

With industrial printer adoption and deployment scaling new heights, VDC expects organisations to increasingly evaluate ways by which to ensure that their investments are scalable and can seamlessly integrate with backend systems of record. In addition, with the lifespan of industrial label printers often exceeding 6+ years, the need for strong lifecycle support – including remote management and monitoring tools – are critical requirements for product selection and investment.

Globalisation is transforming how organisations view technology investments. Businesses now require ruggedised stationary printer hardware that can withstand the rigours of industrial environments (across the globe), evaluating options along their relative ability to print thousands of labels per day in high-volume use cases. Consumers’ faster delivery expectations will also push the need for dynamic, high-volume label printing solution investments for asset tracking, inventory accuracy, and end-to-end visibility through the last mile.

Learn more about Brother’s industrial label printers portfolio.

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