Apr 11, 2017
Visiting drupa 2012 the new breed of B2-format digital presses for commercial printing seemed to outshine everything else. Despite all the ensuing hype, placements remained low and hopes for growth were dashed in the years that followed. At drupa 2016 B2 digital was already eclipsed in the headlines by other technologies, namely B1 digital, industry 4.0, and packaging/industrial print. It started to look like B2 digital would be a disappointment.
And so it comes as a bit of a surprise that B2 digital really delivered in 2016 – with a steep increase in placements, surpassing our forecast noticeably. According to our recently published 2013-2016 U.S. Production Printing Placements report, U.S. placements jumped from 25 units in 2015 to 80 in 2016. Western Europe did very well too as installations almost doubled according to our 2013-2016 W. European Production Printing Placements report. And all these numbers exclude packaging and label presses, which had a record year as well.
We might have been a bit too optimistic on the uptake of B2 digital in the early years. From our research into the use and prospects for B2 digital in 2014/2015 we knew that there was a high interest among printing companies and that some good business opportunities existed. However B2 digital presses have a long sales cycle, the infrastructure around the press has to be in place, and the kinks of the early presses had to be ironed out. As the devices get larger it seems that obstacles quadruple.
An interesting fact is that the growth in placements was realised without new models shipping in 2016. Of course HP moved to the Indigo 12000, improving on the Indigo 10000, and Fujifilm constantly introduces improvements and options for the JetPress 720s as well, but devices with essentially the same engine have been shipping for years. Admittedly Konica Minolta and Komori are just beginning to ship units in 2016.* Accordingly we expect the market in 2017 to liven up even more.
As pleased as we are to see the progress in B2 digital, the presses will not take over the digital print industry. These are expensive devices and not every site needs the productivity or enlarged format. Frequently footprint, infrastructure, and budget limit the opportunities. On the other hand continuous feed inkjet has the higher productivity and lower cost per image, which makes it attractive for a good range of applications. But even if digital B2 never outsells SRA3 colour devices, we do expect the uptake to grow steadily – and after all, print volumes done on B2 devices are considerable, making them a formidable market segment for digital print.
*Konica Minolta reports that the company built and installed three revenue-recognized KM-1 units in the U.S. prior to the end of 2016 and that they are preparing to place more in 2017.
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