Heidelberg’s wide-format and wider evolution

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Aug 12, 2011

This week Heidelberg extended its deal to sell EFI Vutek wide-format digital presses to Canada, having begun the alliance in the USA in January.

Under the deal Heidelberg is responsible for sales, distribution, installation, training and support of EFI Vutek’s GS2000, GS 3200 and GS5000r machines. Heidelberg will distribute inks, parts, consumables, accessories and upgrades for the printers.

In EFI’s press release about the Canadian deal it is interesting that the inks will be sold under Heidelberg’s own Saphira brand rather than EFI Vutek’s brand, which fits with the German offset giant’s strategy of increasing its revenues from supplies and services.

Heidelberg extended its product portfolio into larger format litho machines at the last Drupa with the XL145 and XL162 presses and it could be argued that as such having digital large-format complements these products for short run production. It may not be as simple as the format of the machines though. Those large-format Speedmasters were initially focused on packaging production, and latterly adopted in commercial print and book printing, none of which have a requirement for the capabilities of the current Vutek GS series. There are markets and applications though where the alliance may make sense. If Heidelberg is hoping to increase the range of applications for its VLF presses to include posters and point-of-sale, then the Vuteks are a natural complement and an additional reason to reach out to printers in that sector. For EFI Vutek access to packaging printers running large-format sheetfed devices via Heidelberg will provide input for developing digital presses for their needs and a channel to reach them.

There is no doubt that commercial printers without VLF offset see wide-format printing as a lucrative additional service that they can offer to clients to provide a one-stop-shop for all their printed collateral.

One of the major strengths quoted for this one-stop-shop approach via a printer is the ability to use a common workflow to ensure colour integrity regardless of printing process and substrate used. From that point of view Heidelberg’s strategy of using its Prinect Color Toolbox colour management software to help ensure wide-format output matches offset and any other digital output makes perfect sense, especially the ability to produce to a well defined colour appearance specification which in the case of the US and Canada is G7.

Vendors too are increasingly moving to a one-stop-shop approach; there is a trend for the established suppliers to commercial printers to extend their offerings to include wide-format too, of which Heidelberg is just the latest. Established pre-press players Agfa and Fujifilm both have their own wide-format inkjet offerings and HP is active across all spheres of digital production including wide-format.

The sales and distribution deal with EFI Vutek is only one of several recent developments in Heidelberg’s strategy. It announced a return to small format cut-sheet digital print via a deal to sell Ricoh’s C901 PRO machine earlier this year and more recently acquired digital packaging print specialist CSAT, which bolsters its Linoprint division in that sector (see my colleague Bob Leahey’s blog Heidelberg Buys CSAT, a Top Digital Print Tech Supplier to Pharma for more details on the CSAT acquisition and Heidelberg’s packaging strategy).

It is not only in printing systems where the firm is taking this approach. In software it is taking a fluid and hybrid approach. Witness its recent acquisition of MIS specialist CERM and its partnership with a so-far unnamed partner to develop a web-to-print module for Prinect.

Heidelberg announced six partners for web-to-print at Ipex: Bitstream, BrandMaker, EFI, MS-Visucom, Neo7even and RedTie. At next month’s Graph Expo it will unveil a Prinect branded web-to-print product. It has confirmed one of these partners has developed the solution, which will be sold exclusively via Heidelberg, but will not say which until the show. – CERM will continue to offer its specialist software for the narrow web label and packaging market while Heidelberg is developing Prinect Business Manager, an MIS module for Prinect aimed at its commercial print customer base using CERM’s technology.

While selling its own-branded Prinect web-to print and MIS products it will continue to develop and support third-party integrations.

Previously the firm has opted largely to sell products that it develops and manufactures itself, or as joint ventures, rather than third-party products. Following the financial crisis and its accentuation of the structural shift in the printing industry the firm is embracing a more fluid and flexible approach to the products and services it sells.

It is clear that where selling a third-party product offers the best compromise it will take that approach and where it is important and affordable to own and develop the core technology itself it will take that route.

As the largest supplier in its sector Heidelberg is a bellwether of the offset and sheetfed offset sector in particular. The issues that it faces and its strategies to address them highlight the bigger picture. InfoTrends recently produced an analysis of the whole sector that provides more depth into the underlying challenges of offset manufacturers and their responses clients of InfoTrends On Demand Printing & Publishing consulting service can access an analysis called “Offset Press Manufacturers Embracing Digital Print: The State of the Offset Press Market and Outlook for the Offset-Digital Alliances”. Non-clients can purchase the same document in the InfoTrends report store.

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