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Noel Ward

Real World Digital

By Noel Ward

About Noel

Noel Ward is Managing Director of Brimstone Hill Associates, which specializes in marketing communications in the printing industry, including video production. He can be reached at 603-672-3635 or via email at noel@brimstonehill.com. His website is brimstonehill.com, and he has a YouTube channel.
 

Learning How Digital Press Vendors Think

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Seeing the equipment and software on the show floor are only part of the value of shows like Graph Expo. At least for analysts and members of the press, a big part is learning how companies are approaching the market and how they think about their products and services.

Xeikon finds its niche
In Xeikon’s usual low-key, classy style, small groups of analysts joined Xeikon Americas President Mike Ring in a hotel suite on a high floor of the Hyatt McCormick Place Hotel where he talked about the company and its place in the market.

Xeikon is far smaller than its rivals and is content with its position in the market, Ring explained. He noted that despite the economy, both the company’s equipment sales and revenue have been up over the past year.

“If we can be in the top three in a niche market that’s just fine,” stated Ring. “There’s a lot of business out there.”

The market he sees holding rich potential for digital printing is labels and folding cartons. Run lengths in this segment are changing, with more versioning and even customization required, making digital presses the only effective solution.

Xeikon’s top-of-the-line presses for labels are the 3300 and 3500 models, which are seeing success both in the United States and Europe. Some customers are like Odyssey Printing in Tulsa, OK, which uses a 3500 for labels and a Xeikon 5000 press for folding cartons.

“On the last 10 deals we’ve gone into against our biggest competitor, we’ve won nine of them,” reported Ring. “That tells me we have the technology customers need.”

According to Ring, that technology is the result of a substantial ongoing investment in R&D and a focus on delivering quality first, then adding productivity while lowering operating cost. “The upcoming challenge,” he continued, “is to compete with the next generation of inkjet in both packaging and publishing.”

The company’s 5000plus, 6000 and 8000 presses are the latest generation of the technology introduced back in 1993. Like all Xeikon engines, these models are continuous feed and offer compelling inline finishing capabilities, as well as being able to handle high monthly page volumes.

“There is room in book publishing for high-speed toner presses, especially for high coverage applications where inkjet is at a disadvantage,” asserted Ring. “One of the major textbook publisher did half a billion digital pages last year. This year it will be over a billion. There are textbooks and other publishing applications where toner and higher quality are still the best answer, and that’s another niche that’s a fit for Xeikon.”

The company has also shifted its branding. Owned by Punch Graphics, a consortium that controls prepress and plate supplier BasysPrint as well as Xeikon, is backing off from its Punch branding—which is all but unknown in North America—and making Xeikon the lead brand. This removes any possible blurring of brands and puts Xeikon out there to stand on its own—which it has really been doing all along in the states.

More speed from HP
Inkjet continues to be a key focus at HP, so I talked with Aurellio Margucci and Scott Schiller, the company’s frontmen for production inkjet. Most of the news the company shares about its inkjet installations tends to be in the publishing segment, but Schiller said books actually comprise 60 percent of the applications running on the company’s T-series inkjet systems. The remaining 40 percent is direct mail and some transactional printing.

I was interested in the mail apps, so I pointed out that most service bureau owners I talk with still remain uncertain about making the leap to inkjet. Toner guys for years, they worry about unknown costs, new technology and the challenges of spraying water on paper. Schiller agreed that is true, but said many such printers are coming to see that the inkjet process is not as difficult as they think and they are beginning to see it as the best migration path to color.

I’ve suggested the same thing to many printers because inkjet machines are perfectly content to spray only black ink on a page—or squirt colors as needed. That can let a print provider use an inkjet box to do existing monochrome work and add colors as required. The click-charge-free pricing for most inkjet presses further eases the transition process while keeping costs under control. Meanwhile, ink on paper does not have to be a show-stopper.

Of course, one of the key advantages of inkjet presses is speed. Machines that can devour a five-mile-long roll of paper in an hour or so make some compelling arguments for productivity, and speed remains a big part of HP’s inkjet strategy. But in terms of pure speed, it’s not a matter of how fast the machines can go.

“It’s more about how fast they need to go,” pointed out Margucci. “We know what the machines and the technology are capable of doing, but we look at what the market really requires and try to meet those needs.”

Some of those efforts have focused on the T200 system rolled out last year at Ipex in Birmingham, England. It has been humming along at 400 feet-per-minute in black-and-white but 200 fpm in color. Soon, the arched duplex-in-a-box machine can be upgraded to run color at 400 fpm, albeit at a lower color density than the standard model.

Viewed side by side, the difference is apparent, but for the kinds of jobs this machine is meant for—general direct mail and transactional printing—the quality should be adequate for many applications. The extra gear is an option and a field upgrade that also extends to Pitney Bowes’ IntelliJet 20 version of the machine.

Still, it makes me wonder what HP and all the others have planned for Drupa 2012. There’s more to come from this show, in the meantime. Next up is the Xerox waterless inkjet.
 

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