Xeikon: Inkjet, EP Both Strong, Get Equal Focus

Bob Leahey
May 24, 2018

Xeikon, a big presence at Labelexpo and many other tradeshows, is also one of the rare vendors that in effect hosts its own tradeshows, namely the Xeikon “Cafés” that occur yearly in Belgium and the U.S. The latest Xeikon Café occurred last week near the company’s North American headquarters in Itasca, IL and hosted over 200 guess and 30 exhibiting partners. Xeikon, the main focus, showed all its printers at the company’s nearby demonstration center and hosted a big conference program, with presentations by Xeikon managers, customers, and industry analysts.

Quick Impressions:

  • Xeikon, an electrophotographic (EP) pioneer, now is equally focused on inkjet
  • Xeikon inkjet at first will be for labels, but soon it will be for finishing and, next, for corrugated
  • Xeikon’s EP core had strong growth in the last twelve months, especially in label and packaging
  • Flint, maker of analog print supplies and Xeikon’s owner, is a helpful and ambitious partner

Xeikon’s recent inkjet history is fairly well known. In early 2017 this EP printer vendor surprised the market by announcing its plan to offer its first production-level UV inkjet label printer, the PX3000 (“Panther”). Then in November 2017, Xeikon announced that it was taking over service and support duties from EFI for the EFI Jetrion installed base, over 200 UV inkjet label webs, mainly in North America and Europe. PX3000 is just now having its first placements, but, all things considered, 2017 and 2018 have been years when Xeikon, an EP stalwart, jump started an industrial inkjet printer business.

Xeikon Panther PX3000

Inkjet, though, was a wider topic at Xeikon Café than the Panther and Jetrion label webs. According to Xeikon, its manufacturing site in Belgium now includes an “inkjet competence center” with 20 engineering staff dedicated to that technology, about equal in terms investment and manpower to the company’s EP competence center. While the label application is part of that inkjet team’s development effort, digital embellishment and corrugated are as well. In digital embellishment, Xeikon’s “Fusion” technology is a jetting system for embellishing print in-line with spot varnish, tactile, or metallic effects on labels or other media printed by EP (or, conceivably, inkjet). First sighted at Labelexpo 2016, Xeikon says Fusion will be commercially available at the end of this year.

Xeikon Fusion Technology

 

About corrugated, a Xeikon printer is likely farther off, but systems for this other packaging and display application are now planned. At the Café, Xeikon’s managers said that the plan is for a post-print solution (post-print = corrugated board printing) using aqueous inkjet. On the chemistry choice, while for now Xeikon is a UV inkjet vendor, the company wants to offer aqueous inkjet technology as well, in part to obviate the concerns about migration and aroma that are attached to UV.

After corrugated, Xeikon says it will target flexible packaging, again with aqueous inkjet. In fairness, though, Xeikon has at least occasional printing of flexible packaging already, via its current EP webs. The most notable example is one of Xeikon’s biggest users, CS Labels (UK), which has offered “FP” print using Xeikon’s dry toner EP technology for at least two years; as noted at the Café, CS Labels has among other FP clients “Graze”, a top UK snack food company (Xeikon dry toners are extensively documented in terms of their safety for use in applications with indirect food contact).

Meanwhile, the Xeikon EP label web business in general has done well recently. At the Café, the company announced that its label and packaging installed base had grown 17% in 2017, to about 500 EP units; the Jetrion base of 200+, and any Panther inkjet webs are additional to that. CEO Benoit Chatelard noted that the growth in EP last year was spurred mainly by ‘green field’ companies, i.e., ones that are first-time digital web users, adding that such companies accounted for 60% of Xeikon’s 2017 label printer sales. He also claimed a gain in the commercial print side of Xeikon, with 80% growth in press sales for Q1 2018.

Flint

Xeikon’s owner since 2015, Flint Group, is a $2.9 billion manufacturer of inks, plates, and other supplies for offset, flexo, and other conventional printing. At the Café, Flint was evident as an exhibiting partner, but its wider support for Xeikon was also a focus of the Café. Flint has thousands of print service providers of worldwide as customers; both Xeikon and Flint managers emphasized that the two companies now market cooperatively. Flint, which years ago owned Jetrion and sold it to EFI, today is also a spur to inkjet at Xeikon. A clue to that is its appointment of Benoit Chatelard, formerly of Ricoh, as CEO of the Flint Digital Solutions, of which Xeikon is the core; prior to Flint, Chatelard was a senior manager for businesses at IBM and Ricoh where inkjet was the top technology, and he is a strong advocate for inkjet in high production applications. Of Xeikon, he said in a 2017 interview that he expects 50% of company revenues will come solely from inkjet by 2022. That said, now that both EP and inkjet have a wind behind them in industrial printing, being “technology agnostic” is a good strategy, and one that Xeikon has taken to heart.

 

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