The 2023 FESPA Australia conference concluded on Friday 3rd November having crammed an astonishing amount of high-quality local and global content into an action-packed day. There were take-aways galore for the attendees at Sydney’s Shangri-La function centre. Andy McCourt was there.

Fespa room duringJMsAddress11Sydney's Shangri-La function room where FESPA's 2023 Conference was held    


FESPA Conference 2023Global FESPA CEO Neil Felton flew in from the UK to support Nigel Davies and his team to present what must be the best industry conference Australia has seen in years. It was all about content, knowledge-sharing, relevance, and fearless diving into contentious issues – as expected Sustainability loomed large, but so did celebration of younger entrants and achievers into the industry, motivation for triumphing in adversity, actual profit-increasing methodologies and the inevitable cross-examining of Artificial Intelligence.

Fespa Nigel DaviesNigel DaviesSo many conferences do little more than offer spruiking opportunities to sponsoring organisations – sometimes this is a good thing when leading-edge technology is presented but it can easily become dry, boring and too commercial. Not so with this FESPA conference – sure there were sponsors, you can’t have an event without them – but the panel sessions and content was all pro-industry and pro-understanding the issues facing our industry.

There was far too much great content to condense into one article – you have to attend these events to get the full value from them – but here are some key take-aways.

Session-by-session highlights.

With MC Sam McCoool keeping everything on track, FESPA global CEO Neil Felton kicked off proceedings with his Opening Address – a summary of the latestFespa Neil FeltonNeil Felton Global Print Census. Keeping in mind that ‘print’ to FESPA means as performed in Signage, Display, Wrapping, Industrial marking and Screenprint – the numbers do not reflect SRA3 digital or commercial, digital/offset sheetfed or web; but they are still impressive, growing and finding new applications as shorter runs force technology overlaps.

Felton painted a portrait of FESPA as a 62-year old organisation founded originally for the Screen printing sector. The original ‘S’ in FESPA stood for Screen but today means ‘Specialty’ thus Federation of European Specialty Printers. Despite its European origins it has become a global amalgam of 37 associations reaching all corners of the globe. FESPA Australia has existed since 2019 when it changed its name from the SGIAA but has roots back into the 1950s as the SPAA (Screen Printers’ Association odf Australia). All profits are re-invested into training and other industry initiatives, with €7 million re-invested since 2015.

FESPA’s Print Census, polled from 1,700 businesses worldwide, revealed some impressive numbers:

  • 61% of respondents identifies as ‘Graphics’ businesses; 26% as ‘Signage.
  • 70% nominated Sustainability as their #1 concern, but many have maintained pricing levels while becoming more environmentally-capable.
  • 71% of respondents are ‘cautiously optimistic’ for future prosperity.
  • Digital Print is valued at €24.3 billion and growing at 6% p.a.
  • UV curable flatbed printing is the highest process growth sector at 27%
  • Custom printing, such as offered by Cimpress (Vista) and Printful is valued at €31 billion and has grown 1.2% over 7 years
  • Textile Digital print is valued at €2.7 billion but with the a high growth of 14.4% over past 7 years.
  • Vehicle wrapping represents the highest growth sector, being a €5.9 billion industry having grown by 26.1% over 7 years
  • Digital signage, as per LED billboards and screens, is a €24.8 billion sector, having grown 8% over 7 years, but with that growth slowing down lately.

Felton closed with an exhortation to visit FESPA Global Print Expo, Amsterdam in March 2024, noting that, at the 2023 event in Munich: “Everywhere I went I ran into Australians and Kiwis.”

Keynote Address

Fespa Arron WoodFollowing a short video addressing the scourge of homelessness, Keynoter Arron Wood AM took the stage. An accomplished business expert on sustainability and former Deputy Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Wood also addressed the importance of business owners looking after themselves and the mental health of employees. With us all being bombarded with awful news and atrocities every day, depression can become an issue in the workforce – with cost of living and mortgage pressures adding to the burden on society.

Also high on the stress barometer are natural disasters, with Wood citing the terrifying prediction that S.E. Australia will see a 70% increase in bushfires by 2050.

On the positive side, he praised sustainability issues such as Ball & Doggett’s ‘Ecoporium' sustainable packaging initiativeand its longest board converting site that recycles hard white, mixed and self-adhesive waste, plus plastics into renewed products for printing and packaging.

Also praised was Brookvale, Sydney Screen ink, coatings and paint manufacturer Colormaker Industries, who has recently won three Sustainability awards for use of solar energy and removal of VOC solvents from its products. Colormaker is on track to be CO2 and greenhouse gas ‘Nett Zero’ by the end of 2025.

Illustrating his point, Wood quoted Thomas A. Edison who, as long ago as 1931 said “I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait till oil and coal run out before we tackle that. I wish I had more years left!”  Sadly, Edison died that same year. Imagine the world we might be living in today had he remained to see his predictions fulfilled sooner.

In conclusion, before the panel discussions, Wood channelled political theorist Professor John Schaar, saying: “The future is not some place we are going, but one we are creating. The paths are not to be found but made. And the activity of making them changes both the maker and the destination.”


First Panel Session - Sustainability in practice Fespa Sustainability Panel 1

The first panel session, moderated by Nigel Davies was: “Achieving Sustainable Priorities from a Business Perspective” and featured the trio of Zaidee Jackson (Ball & Doggett), Pranil Chandra (Next Printing) and Pamela Mannell (T1 Print).

Ball & Dogget's Jackson enlightened the audience with an accurate definition of what is Scope 1,2 and 3 in terms of achieving zero emissions.

Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions within a company’s corporate footprint are broken down into Scopes 1, 2 and 3:

  • Scope 1 - Direct emissions from the company’s operations
  • Scope 2 - Indirect energy emissions
  • Scope 3 - Other indirect emissions

Fespa ZaideeJackson BDZaidee Jackson In a lively discussion that didn’t shy away from the dangers of Greenwashing and the various roadblocks on the path to Nett Zero; Next Printing’s Pranil Chandra illustrated a situation when an important client wanted a breakdown of his company’s sustainability credentials step-by-step. “We found it very difficult to achieve and it highlighted the need for us to know ourselves.” He added that the jeopardy was in potential loss of the client.

Founder and owner of Marrickville, Sydney screen and digital garment house TI Print, described gaining the various certifications for being sustainable as “Daunting and expensive.” She made a valid point, having experience the vagaries of FSC, PEFC and ISO categories, the certification process appears to be way too much ‘top-down’ with little consultation with industry at the coalface. Fespa PamelaMannell T1PrintPamela Mannell

It didn’t help when soft plastics recycler REDcycle, On 27 February 2023, was declared insolvent and a liquidator was appointed. It was subsequently discovered that soft plastic packaging carefully deposited for recycling by consumers, was merely being stored in 16 warehouses around the country. The recommencement of soft plastic recycling is still awaited following the big supermarkets taking some of the responsibility, but it could take until 2025 before the backlog has been cleared.

Fespa PranilChandraPranil Chandra


It appears that here is still much work to be done on sustainability and recycling certification programs but individual companies, such as Ball & Doggett, Next Printing and Colormakers, are taking the bull by the horns and accomplishing their own favourable results.



Second Panel session – “Leadership in action” Fespa Leadership Panel 2

The second panel session, Moderated by Sam McCool, featured a power trio of Australian signage and outdoor CEOs in Adam Parnell, (Easy Signs), Matt Aitken (IVE Group) and Keith Ferrel (Cactus Imaging).

Divided into 4 areas where leadership needs to be finely honed, they were:

  • Culture and People
  • Technology
  • Resilience
  • Future trends and Opportunities

Fespa AdamParnell pan2Adam Parnell Adam Parnell of Easy Signs outlined the company’s policy of developing people and giving them room to advance, such as the company’s recent move into the USA market and the promotion of Sydney Operations Manager Steph Talty to start up and run the company’s new operations in the USA, based at Allentown, PA. “It’s going very well,” he told Wide Format Online, “Steph has done a great job and now has her Green Card. Such personnel development is a hallmark of working at Easy Signs and it has to be so, says Parnell as a customer-centric business operating 24/7, staff need to see job fulfillment and enjoyment. With a pathway to advancement in Australia’s fastest growing Signage company.

Industry legend Keith Ferrel, speaking on Technology Aid that ‘Anyone can find new products and install them but we say ‘where is this Fespa KeithFerrel pan2Keith Ferrel technology going in the future? Who are at the forefront of innovation and where are they headed? In doing so, Ferrel is an avid attendee at international trade shows and noted that he once spotted a piece of equipment that he believed could change his company – and the market; and it did just that. “Automation and efficiency is the key,” he noted. 

IVE Group CEO Matt Aitken, coming soon after the announcement of a stunning set of results for his ASX-listed company (Revenue up 27.5%, EDITA up 23.1% for fiscal 2023), noted that resilience on all fronts is an essential quality of good leadership. IVE Group has increased its footprint in large format signage, POS and display since buying STI Lillyfield Printing in 2014 and adding Active Displays and AFI Branding in 2021. Aitken noted that the average tenure of staff at IVE Group is 9 years – a testimony to its HR retention policies and resilience of both staff Fespa MattAitken pan2Matt Aitkenmembers and the company leadership.

IVE is on track to surpass AUD$1 billion in revenues in the 2024 financial year and recently acquired a packaging company, JacPak of Melbourne, to bolster its move into folding carton production as the company expands its services and diversifies from offset web and sheetfed for publications, catalogues and marketing collaterals, into areas of higher growth such as signage, display, POS and folding cartons.

Panel 3 session – Youth engagement and development Fespa FutureLeaders Panel 3

Panel session three was moderated by Troy Cavanagh of ImageBox and Bianca Martin of IVE but crossed to the UK where two young FESPA executives, FESPA UK Managing Director Suzi Ward and Creative Coordinator Jay Burfield contributed some incisive observations, one being from Suzi Ward that “Industry perceptions need to change -there are no easy pathways to a career in signage because it is not sufficiently understood.” The same can apply here in the ANZ region.

The local panel consisted of Ambrin Naaz Begum (Managing Partner M-Power software), Stella Lim (Marketing Manager, Hexis Australia) and Thomas Anderson (Executive Development and Sustainabiity Manager, Starleaton). All three were finalists in the 2023 Future Leaders program.

Fespa Pan3 AmbrinNaazBegumAmbrin Naaz Begum    Fespa Pan3 StellaLimStella Lim  Fespa TroyCavanaghTroy Cavanagh

A recurring theme was that there is clearly insufficient information to attract young people into the industry but once inside the right organisations, the development  and broad scope of skills training available is fulfilling and enjoyable. This tends to suggest that the profile of our industry – perception as Suzi Ward said – needs to change and be developed itself. This would apply at multi-levels, especially allocation of Government recognition and funding, as was recently demonstrated in the training classifications issue.

Recovering against the odds

Fespa JasonMcCartneyJason McCartney - "There's always someone worse off than you"The name Jason McCartney is well known in AFL circles, but this session was not about hero worship of a sporting star. McCartney was horrifically burned in the Bali Bombings of 2002. This inspirational session brought to the FESPA audience a real-life tale of tragedy followed by persistence, guts and heart plus support from family and friends, medical teams and his inner self.

In October 2022, terrorist bombs went off at the Sari Club in Bali’s Kuta. McCartney and his friends were drinking in a pub opposite, which also caught the brunt of the blast. Although he had severe burns to more than 50% of his body, he initially helped with getting the survivors to safety. Medically evacuated to Australia, his burns turned out to be severe and he was put into an induced coma and very nearly died. His road to recovery was driven by his fitness, sheer guts, an expert medical team and most importantly his fiancé and immediate family.

McCartney returned to playing AFL just nine months after the bombing, having married his fiancé 63 days after it. His first re-appearance for North Melbourne saw him appear still wearing protective gloves, a long-sleeve guernsey and bandages. He even managed one goal and a behind – and made the pass that enabled the Kangas to win the game by 3 points. He was FESPAJason 2022McCartney in 2022chaired off, but the burns and recovery period had taken its toll and he announced his retirement from playing, going on to coach other teams, write a book and is now GM/Head of Football at GWS Giants.

It is indeed a tale of courage ‘against all odds’ and an inspiration to anyone feeling that life has dealt them a cruel hand. It’s not what life deals you – it’s how you deal with it. Jason McCartney is living proof of that and it was a privilege to have him address the FESPA Conference.

Panel session 4 – Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligenceThe much-debated issue of where AI is taking us was debated in this session as ‘AI- Friend or Foe?’

Moderated by Nigel Davies, panellists included Dr Errol Brandt, a 25-year IT veteran and founder of Knowledge Orchestrator, a startup that leverages AI to collect, curate and share corporate knowledge within the manufacturing sector. Alongside Bandt was Alex McClung of Traversal Labs who shared his knowledge of robotics and machine learning as applied to manufacturing, logistics and mining.

The general consensus appeared to be that, while AI is useful and here to stay; it needs policing and administering. AI, as a machine learning process, is beingFespa AI friendorFoe pan4AI - 'Machine learning on steroids' or a more sinister threat to humanity? allowed to ‘get things wrong’ as it adds to its databases, corrects misinformation and re-programs itself to progressively get better at what it is supposed to do.

As Brandt described it: “AI is like machine learning pumped up on steroids.”

The theory is that it will one day be near-perfect and may alleviate many of the tasks currently performed by humans. This may be so but, since humans have had, say, 6,000 years of progressive learning, in looking at the world today – can we really say that we have learned anything of importance at all, apart from a recurring desire to destroy each other and the planet? Sure, science and medicine have advanced societies, but both are now being kept busy dealing with the fallout of their own creation.

Maybe AI will arrive at the same point – where it thinks it knows everything but is capable of making some really stupid and destructive decisions.

Final session – how software can enable peak performance

Fespa Frederick Durst wrapupThe final session of the excellent FESPA 2023 conference was presented by Durst’s Business Development and software guru Frederick Von Ehrenstein. Under the title: “How software empowers transformation to peak performance” -

Von Ehrenstein presented some compelling examples of how analysing workflows and applying software applications can actuallyoptimise processes,  reduce the time it takes to run jobs, reduce ink costs and wastage and improve bottom-line profitability.

One example compared a 2022 process over the analyzed, automated and improved 2023 process in a print shop, and found:

Fespa Frederick Durst getmoredoneSave hours and labour with process improvements    Fespa Frederick Durst reduceinkuseSave ink usage with process improvements

  • The number of files treated rose from 24,000 to 31,500
  • The time spent treating files dropped from 1,200 hours to 300 hours
  • The number of employees involved in processing the higher number of filed dropped from 2, to 0.5.

This is a serious improvement in productive efficiency.

Ink usage was also compared in this way, ’22 – ‘23 where:

  • Square metres printed rose from 80.600 to 109,000
  • 100 litres of ink was saved, allowing for higher sqm printed
  • Ink used per sqm dropped from 9.2 ml/sqm to 8.3 ml/sqm

Thus the FESPA 2023 Conference came to a close – you had to be there to absorb all of the information. Don’t miss the next one!

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