Offset, Digital Vendors Select Dance Partners –MichelsonMarch 2011
There's been a flurry of announcements recently regarding sales, distribution and pooled R&D resource agreements between several of the leading lithographic and digital press manufacturers. And, as the dance partners pair up, the mammoth Drupa 2012 exhibition in Germany will likely serve as the "dress-up ball" where these technology collaborations between traditional offset and digital press manufacturers culminate in a rousing crescendo of new developments.
Fulfilling its long-awaited promise to re-enter the digital printing space, one of the most anticipated couplings was revealed on Feb. 23 when Heidelberg and Ricoh announced a global agreement. (This deal also comes on the heels of a recent announcement that Heidelberg USA will now be selling and servicing EFI's VUTEk GS series superwide-format inkjet printers to commercial print shops.)
With initial rollout in the British and German markets, no timetable has yet been made public on when Heidelberg will begin selling Ricoh's PRO C901 Graphic Arts Edition digital press within the U.S. market. From my vantage point, the partnership should provide Ricoh a stronger foray into commercial printing beyond its strength in the enterprise market and, in turn, will give Heidelberg a digital press offering suited to small- and mid-size commercial printers entering the color digital printing market. In the near term, the two companies will showcase a hybrid workflow at the digi:media trade show in Germany next month by teaming a PRO C901 digital press producing very-short-run (including variable data) jobs with a Speedmaster SM 52 Anicolor sheetfed offset press outputting short-run static work. Longer term, the Ricoh partnership may also be one more step in Heidelberg's efforts to bolster its presence in the digital finishing equipment marketplace, where it has lagged some of its competitors. Stay tuned, though; Heidelberg likely has more moves in store from a sales, service and consumables standpoint to assist commercial print shops with their digital migrations.
To me, an even more intriguing agreement was the March 1 announcement that RR Donnelley—North America's largest printing concern, with 2010 global sales that surpassed $10 billion—has licensed its Apollo piezoelectric digital inkjet printing technology to web and sheetfed offset press manufacturer KBA, which will be integrated into digital press offerings that KBA plans to debut at Drupa. According to Tom Quinlan, RR Donnelley president and CEO, the coupling combines R&D resources totalling nearly 1,000 engineers and imaging scientists. The new press designs will be geared toward the packaging, commercial, securities and newspaper segments, and will reportedly also enable RR Donnelley to expand its capabilities into new print markets. No further details of this new cooperative agreement were available at press time.
And, let's not forget the Dec. 1, 2010, strategic alliance between Océ and manroland that enables manroland to sell Océ's continuous-feed color inkjet systems. Strong in the transactional printing arena, the partnership should help extend Océ's reach into the commercial and newspaper web offset printing sectors, where manroland excels. The two companies will be working together on future product developments, as well.
Other digital press manufacturers have also made decisive moves recently. Xerox unveiled its first entry into the production inkjet printing space at the recent Hunkeler Innovationdays. Leveraging its resin-based, solid ink formulation, the new waterless, continuous-feed, color inkjet system enables the use of low-cost, lightweight, untreated offset papers. And, on the cutsheet digital press front, Kodak and Konica Minolta have expanded their global distribution arrangement. Kodak will sell Konica Minolta's color and monochrome bizhub press models, and Konica Minolta will add Kodak's NexPress color digital press line to the monochrome Kodak Digimasters it was already selling.
Look for more announcements from all of the above mentioned companies—as well as other press manufacturers—in the coming months as their dance cards keep filling up.
Mark T. Michelson