Reality Hits Print Finishing Manufacturers

Last week, the world’s largest manufacturer of print finishing equipment, Müller Martini, announced a major re-structuring plan for the firm. Over the last 10 years, Müller has seen its annual revenues of a billion euros slide to about a third of that today. Obviously, they had to confront a contracting finishing market. As part of the re-organization effort, up to 550 employees may lose their jobs.

Müller is not the only finishing manufacturer facing tough times. As the printing industry consolidates, there is a small flood of very recent vintage saddle-stitchers, folders, perfect binders, collators, diecutters, and other bindery machinery on the market as the result of closed shops. These can typically be acquired at close to fire-sale prices. This presents a difficult challenge when you’re trying to close a sale on new equipment and you’re up against a two-year-old system that’s less than half your price.

On the digital side of the coin, things are going well. I had a conversation last week with a digital print-on-demand specialist at a well-known post-press supplier who told me that they were closing orders at the rate of about $400K a week. This is an order intake rate that many manufacturers would die for.

So we arrive at two conclusions. One, most traditional offset finishing suppliers are facing a shrinking market which will almost certainly force them to downsize. Yes, there are the new markets (China, India, etc.). But they face very tough competition in these from local suppliers.

Two, the growth exists in supplying digital finishing solutions that address the unique needs of that segment. The real challenge is in what these traditional bindery systems manufacturers bring to the digital table. It’s not a “quick-study” project. Digital finishing varies in its methodology from offset. And…there are existing (and entrenched) suppliers who have been servicing the digital market for many years now.

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Don has worked in technical support, sales, engineering, and management during a career in both the commercial offset and digital finishing sectors. He is the North American representative for IBIS Bindery Systems, Ltd. of The United Kingdom.
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