Nov 24, 2015
On Friday the 20th of November the news broke that the Flint Group has bought Xeikon from previous venture capital owner Bencis, almost two and half years after they bought the digital print and platesetter business from Punch International.
Xeikon will continue to operate in its existing lines of business and will now become a new division known as Flint Group Digital Printing Solutions. Even in terms of personnel, continuity is sought, with Xeikon CEO Wim Maes staying as president of the division. The deal needs the approval of European competition authorities, which is expected by end of 2015 as there should not be any concerns about the transaction.
In some ways the acquisition marks a U-turn for Flint after it sold its nascent Jetrion inkjet division to EFI in 2006. EFI paid around $40 million as its first investment in inkjet printing, in the process starting a new line of business, while digital activities pretty much stopped at Flint. Now Flint Group feels it is ready to throw their hat again into the digital arena, possibly seeing the success the Jetrion business is having today. A bigger driver is likely the changed ownership that Flint Group itself is now experiencing. Since 2014 Flint has been essentially an equity capital owned business, owned by Goldman Sachs Merchant Banking Division in partnership with Koch Equity Development. Prior to that, Flint had grown by acquisition and merger into a leading position in litho and packaging inks. To this day, Flint continues to acquire other ink businesses to consolidate its position.
The Xeikon activities are a good complement to the activities of Flint. Flint is focussing on printing ink for analogue presses, including blankets and press chemicals, as well as flexo plates. So far , Flint Group has had two divisions: one for packaging and one named “print media” – essentially focussing on heatset offset web applications. There is a small overlap in the flexo business however: Xeikon produces Thermoflexx platesetters for exposing flexo plates, including those from Flint.
The core appeal of Xeikon, however, is its digital press business, on which Xeikon was founded in the late 1980s and which brought out its first digital color press in 1993, the same year in which Indigo launched its own color press. Today Xeikon builds webfed dry toner presses both for document printing and packaging print. While shares in document printing are low because of stiff competition from a range of vendors, Xeikon’s label and packaging press business has grown quickly in recent years; today it accounts for over 50% of Xeikon’s revenues and has made it the second largest supplier in the market after HP Indigo .
In the short term there will be no changes to the Xeikon operations, and even for drupa Flint Group and Xeikon will focus on their lines of business in separate booths. In the mid and long term Xeikon can certainly benefit from Flint’s greater financial resources and the global distribution network. While Flint Group is only selling direct in a couple of major countries, Xeikon’s new parent has many offices and sales and support locations around the world. While it will take time to scale up knowledge about Xeikon among the wider Flint Group operations, Xeikon and the new Flint digital division can expect to ultimately benefit from being a part of a much larger company.
In the long term the financial resources and Flint’s aim to establish itself in digital print will be of great benefit to Xeikon as well. At drupa 2012 Xeikon had a technology demo for liquid toner printing and announced it was working on a press under the Trillium name. While the company has gone quiet in the meantime and the initially announced shipment to a French customer, that has not happened yet; however, there are now three Trillium printing lines in operation at Xeikon’s Lier facility, partially producing commercial work.; and the full launch will be at drupa 2016. We frequently see that new product introductions are delayed and ironing out the last wrinkles is the most difficult and time consuming part in launching a new product. Increasing the resources in the final stretch of product launch certainly would help.
Flint will certainly want to grow the digital side of their business, as opposed to a financial investor mainly concerned about a return of operations. As Antoine Fady, CEO of Flint, says: “This acquisition represents an excellent opportunity for Flint Group, propelling the organisation further into the digital solutions market, where we will continue to deliver on our long term strategy of driving growth through product innovation, focus on developing markets and portfolio expansion.” In contrast to analogue printing, in digital printing hardware and consumables are closely linked, especially for toner devices. The acquisition is opening the door for Flint now to grow in both areas. Additionally, digital print remains on a growth path and digital packaging print even more so. The labels market is moving rapidly towards digital production and flexible and folding carton are just starting to take off. It is entirely possible that more acquisitions will follow to strengthen Flint’s position in digital print.
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