Offset vendors seek inroads to digital

Jo Francis
Monday, November 11, 2013

Call it what you will, the strategic coming together of vendors in the hope of becoming more than the sum of their parts is the topic du jour in print.

Digital alliances
Digital alliances

Over the space of seven days, two major deals of this nature were announced this month. First, Landa and Komori formalised their existing alliance, which had seen Komori provide the press chassis for the prototype Landa presses shown to such excitement at Drupa last year.

Then, just a few days later, Heidelberg and Fujifilm announced that they were joining forces in inkjet printing, with a global collaboration to target growth opportunities in commercial and packaging markets. 

Heidelberg, of course, already has an existing alliance in the digital printing space, with Ricoh for dry toner products. This began in 2011 and Heidelberg has installed more than 300 of its Ricoh-engined Linoprint devices since. 

However, there is a potentially bigger part of the digital pie that Heidelberg is not currently addressing, and that is inkjet. Yes, it has the Heidelberg CSAT Linoprint L range for labels and packaging that is sold by Gallus, but there is no inkjet offering for its commercial heartland.

Given all the noise level about the massive growth potential for inkjet printing, not least the amount of decibels generated by a certain Benny Landa about the enormous market opportunity he perceives in commercial print, one might reasonably expect Heidelberg’s investors to be asking questions about why the world’s largest manufacturer of printing presses wasn’t busy in this expanding market.

One inkjet expert who wished to remain anonymous comments:  “Every vendor, especially offset press manufacturers, is seeking the solution to how to go to market with digital. They are afraid of their shrinking offset business, so have to find another way to survive.

“Although Heidelberg has made a contract with Ricoh for their electrophotographic model, they also have to find a way to much more volume.”

Back in 1999 Heidelberg described digital printing as “a $5bn market we would like to jump into”. Alongside the Fujifilm announcement it stated that it expected to achieve digital sales (including Ricoh) of equipment, ink and software of more than €200m within three years. 

There are no details yet about the specific products that will be developed, nor of how Fujifilm and Heidelberg will divvy up the sales channel, as this isn’t an alliance where one partner has an obviously better way in to a specific market. A good example is Kodak’s partnership with Timsons – whereby Kodak’s Prosper inkjet heads are used on Timsons’ digital book printing line – and its recently-announced deal with Bobst in the packaging market. 

For Fujifilm and Heidelberg, there is likely to be a fair amount of crossover and mutual clients.

But, of course, when it comes to large pieces of sheetfed printing kit Heidelberg has a market presence and reputation that will count for a lot among potential customers. And the deal might just see Heidelberg return to web printing if it takes on that aspect of Fujifilm’s portfolio. 

Adding Fuji’s wide-format print kit hasn’t been ruled out either. “With a partnership such as this, both companies are looking for further opportunities to leverage product and market advantages,” says Heidelberg.

There is no news yet about any specific models or formats, although Heidelberg has said that it has two or three planned roll-out areas, with further details to follow. 

Given the well-publicised fact that Landa’s B1 model has proved most popular among firms that have pre-ordered, it seems likely Heidelberg and Fujifilm would be keen to step into this space as well. Not least because of Heidelberg’s expertise in moving, and perfecting, B1 sheets.

Fujifilm’s existing B2 sheetfed inkjet press uses a Ryobi chassis, while its web press uses a Miyakoshi transport system. This could change in future. “For joint development projects, both Fujifilm and Heidelberg will be evaluating the requirements for future substrate handling systems,” says Heidelberg. 

As our graphic shows, many of the existing alliances are not mutually exclusive and the relationships between vendors involve some interesting intersections. 

 

Press polygamy

Now that Komori and Landa have tied the knot in such a formal fashion, what will this mean for Konica Minolta’s relationship with the Japanese press manufacturer? 

The B2-format KM-1 duplex press, which appears to be close to commercialisation and will be a highlight of Konica Minolta’s presence at Ipex in five months, uses a Komori chassis. And the Impremia IW20 520mm inkjet web, shown by Komori at Drupa uses Konica Minolta heads. 

“Circumstances are getting more complicated and chaotic. Now Komori has a deeper relationship with Landa while they keep working with Konica Minolta,” notes our inkjet expert. “We should watch carefully what happens next, as we expect other ‘marriages’ should continue.”

At Drupa Landa Digital Printing was in the happy position whereby pretty much everyone wanted to be its beau and join in the party. Partnerships with both Heidelberg and Manroland Sheetfed were announced at the time. 

And it appears that despite forging a much closer bond with Komori, the door still remains open to others. Landa chairman and founder Benny Landa says: “Access to Landa Nanographic Printing technology is granted in stages, subject to the licensee meeting certain requirements at each stage. Komori was first to meet those requirements and will be first to market with its own-branded products. Others will follow.

“We still expect Nanography to become a universal standard, but we are moving one step at a time, and that step starts with Komori.”

PrintWeek was unable to get an update from Manroland Sheetfed on its position, but Heidelberg, for its part, responded by describing Landa’s Nanographics printing system as “a very promising technology”.

“By building the relationship with Fujifilm and developing further competence in inkjet, Heidelberg is positioning itself to be an important part of the digital and inkjet future. Landa, Heidelberg and Fujifilm are all working to find the best, fastest, most economical ways to put tiny dots on paper, and cooperation is the quickest way to overcome hurdles.”

Now the race is on to see which partnership is going to be first past the post. 

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