Commentary: Latest Muller Martini, Kolbus News Is Sign of the Times
So, I was doing some weekend planning on Friday when an email arrived in my inbox with the simple subject line “WOW!” Who could resist opening such a message? To my great surprise (and later, shock), it was sent by a friend and bindery pro, and contained a link to a Web announcement by Muller Martini. The announcement was that Muller Martini was effectively taking over the perfect binding and bookline business of Kolbus.
Now, that’s a big deal. Muller Martini and Kolbus have been arch competitors for as long as I’ve been in the business. And Kolbus has been around for a few hundred years. Not many manufacturers have their own casting foundry, but Kolbus does. Both vendors have a sterling reputation for building high-quality, high-volume state-of-the-art binders and hard-cover book machinery. Both sell high-speed binders that can easily run multiple shifts for years on end. So, what does this mean? It means that there are (sadly) a few too many bindery vendors for the available market demand.
Over the years, such a well-known marquee as Heidelberg have essentially closed their finishing systems operations, and concentrated on their press side. Smaller specialty manufacturers will be affected as well. Many European shops that build a small number of units per year may find it tough to continue. Is there a bright side to this? Yes. Offset is not going away. There are lots of aging finishing machines out there that are begging to be replaced by more efficient and more productive systems. Digital finishing is doing fine. While the overall percentage that’s printed on digital equipment is still fairly small, this is where the growth in the industry is.
This is borne out by a steady flow of new digital finishing machinery. The vendors who have already carved out a piece of this market do not rest on their laurels. There will be lots of investment and innovation in digital finishing for many years to come. The entire print market is and has been undergoing a transformation for years now. Certain segments will continue to shrink and consolidate, while others grow. Bindery systems manufacturers will have to adapt and quickly identify new opportunities. Future market growth, and survival, belongs to the agile.