Industrial printing is always a side story at specialized trade shows like the beverage industry’s ‘drinktech’. Home to vendors of filling systems and other automation equipment for brewers and makers of soft drinks and other products, the 2013 version will take place September 16 to 20 in Munich. And though most of the printing will be coding and labeling related, there will be at least one full color printer, the KHS Innoprint. Already the subject of advance publicity, Innoprint prints on PET bottles directly in CMYK colors, using UV inkjet. The Innoprint is not the first system to do such printing—Tonejet and INX have offered direct color printing of metal cans since 2009—but if Innoprint performs as claimed, it will be the fastest direct digital color printer of beverage containers, and the first to come from a major maker of industrial automation systems for the drinks industry. The speed of Innoprint is important because it means that digital printing of labels as an integrated part of a production-speed bottling system will become possible.
With a quiet roar, the namesake of a product we are all familiar with is taking a leap into the digital age. Formica Group, global manufacturer of the ubiquitous—and trademarked—Formica, is taking a bold step and now offers custom versions of its decorative architectural laminates to meet the needs of individual customers and designers called Formica Envision™. Your restaurant’s bar counter, or your living room wall panels could thus soon feature your theme, or whatever other image or pattern that you want. Naturally, digital printing is behind the change; Formica Group will not comment on its technology, except to confirm that it some species of inkjet. Read more »
In 2012 Xeikon announced that it had acquired a research company active in liquid toner electrophotography. Its intellectual property provided the foundation upon which Xeikon is developing a liquid toner based printer. The technology was presented publicly for the first time at drupa 2012 with a single station unit shown behind glass printing at 60 meters per minute as a technology demonstration, but without showing or handing out print samples.
Cross-section view of Xeikon Trillium print towers
Though interesting, this technology demonstration did not fully convey the potential of the technology. Now Xeikon has made public some more details on the technology and its planned first product implementation, which show how the company intends to challenge inkjet technologies at higher volumes.
According to Xeikon, Trillium is targeted at high quality print applications, similar to the current 8000 Series dry toner printers, but designed for higher print volumes and with an improved cost structure that will challenge not only inkjet, but also provide an improved break-even point versus offset. In short, Trillium is an extension of the Xeikon product portfolio of document printers. The company plans to position the technology for demanding high coverage colour applications that inkjet cannot reach from a quality or cost perspective.
This year’s Doxnet conference and exhibition, held from June 17th to 19th in Baden Baden, Germany, was remarkable for two reasons: strong attendance and a focus on Enterprise Content Management (ECM). Doxnet (www.doxnet.eu) is a not-for-profit association for document experts and companies active in document management – usually for mission critical documents and traditionally with a focus on print output. The geographic focus is on German speaking countries and for obvious reasons the majority of members come from Germany with smaller shares from Austria and Switzerland. The event had 613 attendees pre-registered from a total of 218 companies, setting a new record attendance. The exhibition hall had strong representation from manufacturers of inserting equipment, but less so for printing system manufacturers, with only Canon/Océ, Pitney Bowes, and Ricoh exhibiting. There was also a strong showing in the area of electronic document solutions from software to service providers for electronic alternatives to printed statements.
Over the past couple of days here at FESPA 2013 we’ve had a great opportunity to get a glimpse at the future of industrial printing. Many times Tim and I were approached by customers and vendors alike the industrial printing topic is top of mind. However producers as well as vendors define industrial printing in ways that center on applications their products produce. Some consider packaging, laminates, textiles, and others ceramic tiles as industrial applications. But let me offer another perspective, an industrial application is one where a transition from short run custom printing for pilot projects, or prototypes is converted to a manufacturing process that integrates management, workflow, and an integrated digital printing solution that is used for full production runs. Read more »
Yesterday we went through some of the highlights from the first day of the FESPA event at the Excel Center here in London. Over the past couple of days we’ve gotten a flurry of other announcements and other new printer information that we’ll be adding to our new Ultimate Guide to Wide Format. Some of the major announcements are highlighted quickly below:
This month consumers in Europe are beginning to see Coca Cola bottles on retail shelves labeled in a new way. Each bottle has the brand’s familiar swoosh graphic and red and white colors, but with iconic brand name reduced or cut out entirely. Instead, the words “Coca Cola” on the bottle have been mostly replaced by one of 150 most popular first names in the country where the drink is sold. HP Indigo WS6600s are printing all the names, essentially a giant exercise in versioning—over 800 million labels will be used between now and the end of Q3. Special kiosks will be on tour in the region so consumers can personalize their own Coca-Cola bottles. Coca Cola is also enlisting social media, first by encouraging Facebook users to create a virtual personalized Coke can to share with someone, and then look for their own names on bottles in stores. The deal is historic, not just because it’s for Coca Cola, but because it likely is, in effect, the biggest color digital label print job ever.
InfoTrends recently published the United States and Western European digital production placements numbers and market shares. As every observer of the world economy would have guessed the latest numbers are less than stellar. 2012 was not as bad as when the financial crisis of 2008/2009 hit the markets, but most segments declined with only a few product segments showing growth.
Overall installation numbers for digital production printing devices in the U.S. and Western Europe declined by 6.6% to 114,792 units in 2012. This is less of a reason for concern however, as we expected a decline in entry level devices which have a large share of the overall installations – in line with the declining number of small print establishments like copy shops, quick printers and CRDs (More details can be found in our establishment sizing reports for U.S. and Western Europe). After all, low-end devices produce little print volume anyway. We had already observed that with the production digital copy/print market maturing there is a shift towards higher volume devices, competing more and more for higher run lengths. To some extent that shift continued in 2012, although some high-end segments declined as well. For example the heavy production colour segment (1M to 10M duty cycle range) declined by 20%. A drop in this segment was not unexpected due to the drupa impact and for reasons within the product portfolio, but it was amplified by the difficult economic situation as well. Read more »
Last August, Lexmark announced that it would be exiting the inkjet business and was looking for a buyer. The printer maker planned to close its Philippines factory and cut 1,700 jobs worldwide, or 13% of its staff, to focus on high-end business printers, document software and services. At the time, many wondered who would want to buy their inkjet segment given market conditions and forecast predictions. As the chart shows below, inkjet is declining and Lexmark’s portion has grown considerably smaller. It turns out the company, Funai that has been manufacturing inkjet printers for Lexmark since 1997 was interested and will acquire the patents and the Philippine ink manufacturing facility. The deal announced on April 2, 2013 includes Funai Electric Company Ltd. (www.funaiworld.com) acquiring more than 1,500 of the OEM’s inkjet patents for $100 million and is expected to close during the first half of 2013. With US$26 billion/2,461 (JPY 100M) in annual sales, Funai has operations all over the world including North America, Europe, Japan, and Asia as well as other markets. The U.S. is their principal market with over half of the company’s sales.
Chart: 2012 U.S and Western Europe Serial Inkjet Populations by OEM
Three major business segments are the main focus for Funai: Audio Visual, Information Equipment (printers), and Other. The company’s Information Equipment segment represents about 12% of their sales. Funai has relationships with mass merchandisers and OEMs including Lexmark. OEM business accounts for about a third of Funai’s business. Funai depends on Chinese production for its products because it makes them more cost competitive which is important for their mass merchandiser customers. Over 80% of their products are made through consignment production in China. Funai had plans to commercialize printers developed in-house and last year announced that it had launched a laser beam printer business. This acquisition of inkjet technology speeds this process along for Funai which now has the capabilities to develop, manufacture, and sell inkjet hardware as well as inkjet supplies. In addition, Funai will become the manufacturer of Lexmark’s aftermarket inkjet supplies.
Funai Electric is a company that is known for a unique business model in that it MILKS markets to the end. The company has a history of investing in technology when it’s already proven and then building economies of scale in the production process. Beginning with sewing machines, the company moved on to transistor radios, then VHS. Only recently did they pick up LCD and this year they took over the entertainment section of Philips for their branded audio and accessories. Some wonder what this says about the inkjet market today? It’s certainly past its heyday but will we see Funai entering as a new inkjet brand – if we look at their previous pattern, then yes.
Our initial thought about this transaction is that it is good for Lexmark to have found a buyer for their inkjet business given what we know about inkjet. It will be interesting to see what Funai does with it. Since the serial inkjet market for consumers is in decline but business inkjet is growing, Funai may face challenges with that since what they know is centered around low-cost consumer electronics and relationships with consumer retailers. Funai has made it clear that they wanted to do more in this area and now they have more control over this process since they own the patents and facility. In the past few fiscal cycles, Funai did state in financial documents that orders for printers had been dropping so this deal may help them breathe new life into this area but may also present some risks for them in this very competitive and established market. Funai is not a known brand in the market and the question is whether they will be able to sell its inkjet printers to a wide range of customers under their own brand or even uncover new niches for inkjet? Our guess is that products developed based on this newly acquired intellectual property which may include new printers with new engines will be well suited for emerging markets versus established markets such as the U.S. and Europe even though the U.S. is a dominant market for Funai.