‘New’ 700 is logical launch for Langley


This month, Manroland Sheetfed passed perhaps the last significant milestone in its reinvention post its 2012 insolvency and acquisition by Langley Holdings: it launched a new press. Quite how ‘new’ a press is debatable given that this is the latest incarnation of the Roland 700 series, which had its debut way back at Drupa 1990, but more on that later.

Manroland has clearly been denigrated by its competitors since its fall into administration. What’s to stop it going under again? Could it be relied upon as a long-term supplier? Would it still invest in R&D? These are the questions rivals’ sales reps could leave hanging as they did the rounds of Manroland press owners.

It was this last question that, until recently, remained unanswered and that Manroland Sheetfed chief executive Rafael Penuela flagged the importance of back in August when he said, “the last step to prove that we are a long-term partner is to prove that we are innovative”. The manufacturer will now feel this question has been unequivocally answered.

But has it? Based on what we know of  the Roland 700 Evolution – which is presently limited to the information in the launch press release as the manufacturer has refused to answer any questions on the press – Penuela’s description of it as “yet another milestone in the evolution of print technology” should perhaps be taken with a pinch of salt.

What we do know about the Evolution is that it replaces the 700 HiPrint HS and the 700 Direct Drive, thereby consolidating the 700 series down to two models: the Evolution and the standard HiPrint. This is in itself rather odd as the Direct Drive and the HS were developed to address opposite ends of the market, with the Direct Drive deliberately targeting sub-5,000 print runs and the 18,000sph HS being “specifically bred for high-volume, high-quality commercial print and packaging” (to quote the manufacturer).

Granted, the two devices had become increasingly similar in recent years, with the 2006- launched Direct Drive receiving a speed upgrade in 2011 to match the 2010-issued HS’s top-line 18,000sph speed (although perfecting models of both presses were limited to 16,000sph in straight mode and 13,200sph perfecting) and the HS receiving numerous optional extras designed to speed makeready (the modus operandi of the Direct Drive with its shaftless design and patented double-clutch system).

However, to consolidate these two devices into one suggests the Evolution is a jack-of-all-trades press, albeit one with a fancy new touchscreen control and numerous mechanical tweaks designed to reduce vibration and support the 18,000sph speed that both antecedent presses were also capable of.

It is not clear whether Direct Drive will be an option or standard on the new press, nor is it clear whether options like inline foiling, which are available on the 700 HiPrint, will also be available on the Evolution. For that matter, Manroland has said nothing on how much the press will cost in any sort of configuration, or on what configurations will be available (although it’s likely 12 units will be the maximum as was the case with the HS and the Direct Drive).

Manroland Sheetfed already has at least one customer for the Evolution in Austrian-firm Samson Druck (first to install and presumably the beta site for the press) and yet it’s hard to imagine where a first UK install might come from. Manroland Sheetfed has, after all, sold only one press in the UK since it was acquired by Langley and that was not to a printer but to a fashion house (David Nieper) that wanted to bring its catalogue production in-house.

Among UK printers, Manroland’s significance has dwindled to the point that – for many – it is no longer in the running when it comes to new press investments. “They weren’t a consideration for us. I had long since stopped viewing them as a serious contender for our business,” said Alan Padbury, managing director of Westdale Press, which installed the first of two new 10-colour XL 106s in April of this year. “Part of the problem is that even the big players like Heidelberg and KBA are running with very skinny support teams so it is hard to see why one would look at Manroland given its recent history.

“When I started in print 33 years ago it would have been Man Roland or Heidelberg, with Crabtree and Komori in the also-ran camp. How things change.”

How indeed, but while Manroland Sheetfed has been transformed from a company whose primary purpose was to sell presses, into one that, on appearance at least, is primarily focused on service and support for its existing install base, perhaps the most significant change has been on its balance sheet.

Of the three big German press manufacturer’s, Manroland looks to be on the soundest financial footing. It has been restructured by Langley to break even on just 100 press sales a year (worldwide) and on that basis, if it sells one press a year in the UK that’s probably a bonus (last week Manroland announced five 700 HiPrint press sales to a single printer in China).

In this context, one can start to imagine what the real significance of the Evolution might be: it’s just enough ‘innovation’ to answer the naysayers without costing the €100m-plus that developing a genuinely new ground-up B1 press would (and which would weigh heavily on Manroland’s new lean and margin-focused form). 

Penuela has already hinted that Manroland may not show any presses at Drupa 2016 and to be honest, why would it? Langley is not in the business of blowing money on unnecessary frivolities and one senses that may well be how he views exhibitions given that the whole point behind Manroland’s restructure was to make it no longer reliant on cyclical revenues – of which Drupa is the very definition.

Much more valuable than blowing a million on a smoke and mirrors show in Dusseldorf will be Langley’s acquisition of DruckChemie, an already profitable business with a non-cyclical revenue stream that fell into administration at holding company level due to the debt burden placed on it via that pre-financial crash private equity favourite: the leveraged buyout.

One can imagine how little Langley cares what Manroland’s rivals say about it, so long as the firm continues to deliver a positive contribution to the group’s bottom line. As one source put it: “Manufacturers get fixated on market share. Langley is after money. From a business perspective, he is running the best press operation in the UK.” 

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