Presses: A 2012 retrospective
Friday, 28 December 2012
2012 was always going to be a big year for the big names in press manufacturing. We were still reeling from the demise of Manroland and wondering what it would mean in a Drupa year to have one of the big three missing from the floor.
On top of that, would anybody be in a position to buy any of this sparkling new machinery on the show floor, when the economy was still wading through a slurry pit of a slowdown, which simply got deeper the closer you thought you were getting to the other side? No-one was lending any money.
And how would Kodak fare at the show, when the future of the company hung in the balance as it traded under bankruptcy protection?
While funding remained tight, printers were investing – and that, combined with restructuring meant that the likes of KBA did scrape together a pre-tax profit. But that renewed focus on costs meant expensive outlays such as exhibitions came under scrutiny to deliver.
Ultimately the balance in the industry hadn't shifted that much between the beginning and end of the year. In fact most of the big issues that kicked off the year were there to see it out: Kodak's chapter 11 saga, continued market consolidation, so it's a real testament to the resilience of the industry that there were genuine technological developments to marvel over, such as Benny Landa's amazing nanography, despite the relentless downward economic pressures.
As the break up and salvage operation at Manroland got underway in earnest it was new beginnings for Landa Corporation, announcing a brand new method of printing – nanography – would be on show at this year's Drupa exhibition. Kodak officially filed for chapter 11 protection for its failing business and Heidelberg too was struggling, announcing thousands of redundancies. Its presses continued to prove why it is the sheetfed king, with ESP Colour posting a record in productivity for its XL presses.
The new owners of Manroland's sheetfed and web divisions, Langley Holdings and Possehl Group, picked through their respective acquisitions, although it was too late to fill the Manroland sized hole at Drupa. Still Drupa announcements began flooding in in earnest, with Heidelberg and Oce among those detailing new launches. The show itself claimed to have already sold out its exhibition space. Meanwhile the ill-fated Alderson Group installed its fourth KBA Rapida...
KBA took advantage of the uncertainty around the break up of Manroland, launching a services business aimed at disaffected Manroland customers. It also revealed details of a digital press it would reveal at Drupa, as did MGI, which said it would show off a B2 inkjet machine.
Things were not so gung-ho back at Kodak, which revealed the parlous state of its financial footing that pushed it into bankruptcy protection, burning through cash to drive the likes of Prosper while sales across the group plummeted.
HP, also in for a rocky year, announced it would merge its commercial print and PC businesses, triggering longtime print champion and IPG vice president Vyomesh Joshi to leave.
Drupa loomed ever nearer, and so we had previews of a new press from Ryobi and Miyakoshi, and Durst, among others. We also had Chinese manufacturer Hans Gronhi buy up the then defunct Japanese brand Shinohara.
The Drupa month kicked off bidding farewell to Heidelberg UK chief George Clarke who had spent the last year at the company in a global role, but had spent more than a quarter of a century at the business. KBA also lost Mark Nixon after a "strategic fall-out".
And despite the anticipation of how Drupa 2012 would be remembered – would it be the "inkjet Drupa" that hadn't quite taken shape four years earlier? – the spectacular vision of Benny Landa's Nanography platform quite literally stole the show, with tickets for its demonstrations selling out across almost the entire duration of the show.
Of course there was plenty of other news, and actual sales, at the exhibition, including the world's largest commercial web, bought from none other than the Manroland web division although Goss had plenty to smile about on that front selling 11 web systems.
Polestar too was prowling the halls for web systems, looking to expand the business organically after deciding that growth through acquisition was unrealistic at that point but it would take a volte face on that view before the year was out.
All the key launches, sales, and other news was covered in the Drupa Show Daily newspaper, produced by PrintWeek and its sister titles, which fielded an international team of reporters to get the stories right from the show floor. All the daily content is available in the Drupa channel.
Just as one exhibition ended, the next took centre stage, but for all the wrong reasons. Ipex's biggest exhibitor in 2010, HP, announced it wouldn't even be at the 2014 show. Yet KBA was claiming exhibitions were a revenue generating exercise, saying Drupa sales would push its second half numbers.
Still there was plenty of activity sales-wise, with MPG Books confirming a huge £4m investment round.
August executed another crushing blow for Ipex, as Heidelberg announced it wouldn't be at the 2014 show, while HP's turnaround year (or what from the balance sheet would be described as 'dire') continued as it booked a £5.6bn loss in a single quarter.
And while manufacturers were citing Drupa as a post event sales boost, Xeikon blamed it for a pre-event slump.
A thankfully relatively quiet month for the manufacturers, although HP got deeper into the packaging and labels sectors with new press launches and EFI announced its first ceramic press launch since acquiring Cretaprint.
Some positive news for Kodak as DST announced it would install only the UK's second Prosper as part of a multimillion pound overhaul, while tradeprint.co.uk spent £3.5m with Heidelberg to help push its web-to-print business.
The month started well, as KBA posted an operating and pre-tax profit for its first nine months of the year and Kodak potentially gaining access to funding if it can just sell its patent book. There were installs aplenty with the likes of Roberts Mart spending £2.5m in new equipment while Manroland Web Systems and Oce said they would work together on digital newspaper production.
ESP Colour ended the year as it began, with another productivity record for its Heidelberg presses, and Kodak's Prosper line received a stamp of approval when Axel Springer said it intended to install 30 heads across its print battery and those of its contract partners.
KBA was also in the news, as it readied its first customers to receive its RotaJet inkjet machines, but is also to close its Trennfeld site where it manufactured printing units and structural components, centralising that work at its Wurzburg facility.
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