Heidelberg’s Digital Print Partner Will Be…

Jim Hamilton
Jan 24, 2011

In December I wrote about Heidelberg’s search for one or more digital print partners. Earlier in the year at IPEX it appeared that they would make some decisions before the end of 2010. It turns out that they were really saying that their decision would come within a year’s time, so their announcement will probably not come until March or April. In December, however, they did clarify that their focus was on a short-run color partner with a product in the 60 to 90 page per minute range capable of printing volumes of over 80,000 A4 color impressions per month. Canon, HP, Kodak, Konica Minolta, MGI, Ricoh, RISO, and Xerox all have products fitting this profile, but not all are a perfect fit given Heidelberg’s more recent statements in PrintWeek putting the price at €100,000 (approximately $136,000), narrowing the speed range to 80 to 90 ppm, and dismissing some of the possible candidates. Still, if this were a horse race here’s how we’d rank the potential winners, from most to least likely:

  • Konica Minolta’s highly visible presence at IPEX and recent introduction of its bizhub PRESS C6000, C7000, and C8000 indicate a strong interest in expanding its impact in the graphic arts market. A partnership with Heidelberg would help meet this goal and at the same time Konica Minolta’s products fit neatly into Heidelberg’s targeted requirements. Konica Minolta is definitely the favorite in the race.
  • Ricoh’s Pro C720 and C901 should be high on Heidelberg’s list and there may also be interest in other product areas covered by Ricoh (such as the InfoPrint 5000 production color inkjet models).
  • Xerox has a broad portfolio covering product segments above and below Heidelberg’s stated product requirements. That being said, Heidelberg and Xerox have had a contentious relationship going back to Xerox’s presence at Drupa 2000 when it showed its first technology demonstration of what would become the iGen3. This is a bit of an oil and water mix, but stranger things have happened.
  • HP’s Indigo 3550 and 5500 fall into the 60 to 90 ppm the speed range and could be considered but these products fall into the 1M to 10M color duty cycle category and are likely at a volume level that is higher than required by Heidelberg.
  • MGI’s Meteor DP60 is another contender that fits Heidelberg’s requirements. Other products in MGI’s portfolio, including its new JetVarnish, might be of interest to Heidelberg. A partnership between Heidelberg and MGI would also bring together two European companies with a common focus on print service providers.
  • Canon’s imagePRESS color product portfolio is a good fit, and its acquisition of Océ makes the combined Canon-Océ a very attractive potential partner for Heidelberg. A Heidelberg-Océ partnership (through Canon) would make sense on a number of levels (two companies with German roots, an opportunity to leverage Océ’s inkjet expertise, and potential closer ties to Canon) but the announcement in December of a Océ partnership with manroland makes a Canon-Heidelberg partnership less likely.
  • Kodak has a 70-ppm color product called the NexPress M700 that is based on Canon’s imagePRESS. Heidelberg could choose Kodak as a partner for this product, but it seems more likely that it would deal with Canon directly. The history of the NexPress joint venture does not count out a future Heidelberg-Kodak partnership, but given Heidelberg’s focus on a 301K to 999K product it does makes other potential partnerships more likely. If the focus moves to the 1M to 10M category, then higher end NexPress products could come into play.
  • RISO’s ComColor products, though they greatly exceed Heidelberg’s speed requirements, do not meet the coated paper and quality expectations of Heidelberg’s customer base.

Over time, we expect to see multiple Heidelberg partnership announcements. Certainly short-run digital color should not be the only area of partnership interest for Heidelberg. There are a lot of potential partnerships one could imagine in areas ranging from wide format to inkjet heads & systems to variable data software to workflow software and more. The announcement recently by Heidelberg USA of a distribution partnership with EFI-VUTek also indicates that Heidelberg’s partner strategy could look different depending on the geography.

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