Sign & Digital UK impresses at the NEC

The 2023 edition of Sign & Digital UK (SDUK) has been warmly received, as in-person trade shows continue to prove their worth in the post-pandemic business environment.

The event took place from Tuesday to Thursday this week (21-23 March) in Hall 2 of Birmingham’s NEC.

While it had a slightly smaller footprint than its 2022 return last year, the show’s first outing since March 2019 due to Covid-19, SDUK organisers told Printweek that there were “over 100 companies and brands” exhibiting, which was up on last year.

Visitor numbers had not yet been published at the time of writing, but last year’s show attracted almost 4,000 in total.

Roland DG and Premier, Hexis UK (previously Hexis UK), Vivid Laminating Technologies and SwissQprint were just a few of the big names that exhibited. While few companies launched products in May, possibly waiting for the Fespa Global Print Expo (Munich) in May, many showed recently unveiled machines.

Mimaki’s exclusive distributor for the UK and Ireland, Hybrid Services, for example, was demonstrating the recently unveiled TxF150-75 direct-to-film (DTF) inkjet printer on its stand.

Others were highlighting new partnerships, including Josero, which was demonstrating the Fujifilm Acuity Prime – it has recently began supplying the range to customers in the UK.

PrintIQ was demonstrating Version 46 of its cloud-based MIS, which includes over 30 new features or updates, and UK marketing manager David McGuiness said Version 47 would be coming out “very quick on the heels of that”, in around the next two months, and will add a focus on carbon efficiency.

“A lot of people have got Version 46 already, and others are deciding if they need the new features or not – it’s one of those steady progressions. But once you understand what the system does, those things only make it better.”

SwissQprint managing director Erskine Steward said that the event was a worthwhile one for the company.

“It’s been good for us. We’ve had a lot of our customers come, which is great, and we’ve had some very good leads. It’s a nice environment for us to come to because there are still businesses out there who don’t know who SwissQprint is, who can come and experience what we’re doing and see the machines, so it’s fantastic.”

Morgana Systems marketing manager Wendy Baker said the company had received a very positive reaction to the ColorCut SC6000 ‘on-demand’ digital sheet cutter, with interest from “a real mixture of companies from small commercial printers through to schools”.

She added the company brought more kit to the show than it had last year, and had seen a lot of interest, as “people are looking for a bit of diversity” in their product offerings.

Brendan Perring is the general manager of the IPIA. He stated that although the trade association typically picks up between 5-10 new members at the show, this is not the primary reason for having a stand.

“We have about 20 members exhibiting at the show and we go round and make sure that we talk to every member, and we do video case studies and testimonials on them that we promote back out on social media and in articles afterwards. So it’s really like we’re trying to make sure that we’re supporting and promoting our members’ interests, as almost a sort of satellite sales office.”

He noted that there was a lot of interest from printers in the wide-format flatbed marketplace, driven by growth in 8x4ft. [2.44×1.22m] rigid graphic applications, as well as automation, with several of the show’s exhibitors showing different ways in automating processes, by way of offerings like carbon reduction or workflow management.

Hexis UK Wrap Battle and The Sign Studio featured show features. These included live demonstrations and practical workshops led by Paul Hughes, an experienced signmaker.

International Sign Association UK hosted the SDUK Explains Lounge and a brand new feature, Sign Surgery. Both events attracted a large audience, with some presentations at Explains Lounge standing room only.

One of the sessions will be held on Wednesday. Printweek The event was a showcase for women in graphics and signage.

Hosted by Izabella Ivanovici, director at INV Recruitment, and Sarah Winterbottom, group sales director at Soyang Josero, it featured an all-male panel, “as it is important to work together”.

Focusing on the current picture of women in the sector, Colin Sinclair McDermott, founder of The Online Print Coach, said “there are definitely more women moving into production but at the moment it’s still very much the creative side, graphic design and marketing” where they are working.

The session also covered young people entering the sector. Lee Garnett (continual improvement manager at MacroArt) said that the company had launched a new Early Careers Ambassadors program, in which two of its female employees and one of their male staff are involved.

The business also engages with schools. This has encouraged 81 of the 250 students it engaged to sign up at MacroArt’s open day on 29/04. It stated that 64% are female sign-ups.

“That really highlights an important fact that the interest is out there, but [the industry] is not doing enough at this level to get the right minds into us at this stage,” Garnett said.

“We’re already seeing a skills gap appear in the industry, I think that within five to 10 years we could start to see a bit of a problem. [During the pandemic] a lot of people went off into different areas and sectors of work and haven’t come back.”

He advised printers that “all it takes is a phone call to a local school” and they will assist in engaging businesses with their students.

Sign & Digital UK event director Jenny Matthew told Printweek at the show: “It’s been just as good as last year, if not better. Numerous exhibitors are selling kits and different types to exhibitors. There are many great conversations and business is happening.

“We’ve got a lot of new [exhibitors]This is what the visitor audience wanted. [from our research]. I’ve spoken to quite a few visitors over the last few days, and they’ve really enjoyed it. They want to see familiar faces, and they are happy to visit the companies that they know, but they also want new things. They’re looking for inspiration and something a bit different and I think we’ve delivered.”

She added rebookings were going “fantastically well”, with a major manufacturer not exhibiting this year having flown in and now looking to book “a good-sized stand” next year.

Faversham House, SDUK organizer, is working towards net zero and looking to calculate its carbon footprint with a view of then reducing its carbon footprint next.

Matthew stated, “We’re already trying to reduce it where we are able.”

“All visitor, exhibitor and organiser registrations included questions about how people traveled here. We can then calculate the carbon used to get there by using the postcode and the mode of transport. The venue can give us information about energy consumption so we can see how much energy was used during the build-up and break down. It’s clear that there is a lot happening behind the scenes.

The NEC will host 2024 from 27 February through 29 February.