The early bird can secure the first-mover advantage


With Drupa now just three months away from opening its doors – assuming it’s not subject to coronavirus-related postponement or cancellation – it’s safe to assume that many of the major manufacturers are gearing up to premiere new machines and technology imminently.

Leading from the front: Flexpress boss Steve Wenlock with the firm’s Duplo DuSense Digifoil
Leading from the front: Flexpress boss Steve Wenlock with the firm’s Duplo DuSense Digifoil

And while the Düsseldorf show will likely mark the first public outing for a lot of this year’s new launches, the likelihood is that beta testing is already happening for many of them behind closed doors .

With beta sites being revealed, and UK and world first sales being agreed over the coming months, we will no doubt soon start to hear more about the companies that are leading the way with the latest technology, and their reasons for doing so.

But not every business is willing to get involved; 47% of respondents to a recent Printweek poll that asked, ‘Would you feel comfortable being the first user of a brand-new machine?’ replied ‘No, we prefer new tech to be proven before we invest’.

10% said they would but have never done it before, while the remaining 43% said they would because it gives them a first-mover advantage.

For those that have installed new tech ahead of the competition, the attraction of being first out of the blocks outweighs the potential risks associated with either being a beta tester or first buyer of a machine.

Glasgow-headquartered Bell & Bain was the first European book printer to take a Ricoh Pro VC60000 in 2017 and beta tested the Muller Martini SigmaLine in the noughties.

Chairman Stephen Docherty says the advantages of being a beta tester include knowing the product “a little bit better than most”.

“It’s good to have somebody to solve all your problems for you, and you get to know the machine inside out, sometimes better than the manufacturer itself, which is a real plus for us.”

He adds: “And when you’ve been first hand with fixing it you then understand how it works, and for that I feel that we’re better placed when producing work.”

Route 1 Print has also been in the headlines for its early adoption of new technology, the South Yorkshire-based business recently taking on the UK’s first Landa S10P Nanographic perfecting printing press as well as a B1 format MGI Jetvarnish 3D Evo 75 embellishment press from Konica Minolta, the first of its kind in the UK with iFoil L hot-foiling capabilities.

“We have great relationships with all of our machine manufacturers but this is often enhanced when we get a machine that is the first of its kind,” says head of Route 1 Print Mark Young.

“For the Landa S10P, we regularly speak with the Landa team and work with them to ensure we are getting the best out of the press. We have had some members of their team on site since August 2019, working with us through the entire process, from getting it transferred from an articulated lorry, to setting it up within our production workflow.

“I’ve said it before but the team at Landa have been like an extension of our own. This is because they want to see the success of the first press installed in the UK as much as we do.

“As for the MGI, it is early days, but many of our team members are in touch with their team. From production development to training and marketing, everyone is working together for a successful launch. So overall, the experience of having the latest technology is one of support.”

Young says there is also “a level of excitement” that comes with installing the first of any new equipment.

“It does add value to the business too. People see that we are investing in the market and how these new machines can give us new offerings, especially in the case of the MGI.”

When it comes to testing a new machine, whether it is the first of its kind or not, Young says it is put through “a rigorous testing programme”.

“We want to see all of the machine’s capabilities, from the jobs we know will be difficult to produce to some of our more commercial work.

“Not only do we need to know that this machine will work within our workflow, we want to understand what it can achieve and if there are any limitations to each machine.”

Other recent early investments have seen Elle Media Group purchase the world’s first 2020 Drupa-specification Speedmaster XL 106 from Heidelberg, Precision Printing take on the UK’s first Scodix Ultra 101 digital enhancement press, and McGowans Print install the world’s second EFI Nozomi C18000 corrugated printing line.

Leicester-based trade printer Flexpress has been the subject of a number of UK firsts over the last few years, most recently with the installation of a Duplo DuSense Digifoil semi-automatic digital foiling machine.

Duplo UK marketing manager Zunaid Rahman says: “Being the first like Flexpress allows them to steal a march on the competition, where they can offer a service that no one else can give – or using a process that makes their production much more efficient.”

He notes, though, that the consequence of being a first user is that the customer will also be the first to run into issues during a live production environment, that could prove detrimental to deadlines and workflow.

“The worst thing that can happen is if they cannot complete a job due to issues with the new machine. It is a reason why we take our time at the testing stage. We try to ascertain the many issues that can occur on the print floor, and which teams are best to tackle the issues moving forward.

“We are very careful to make sure the machines are fully ready to be delivered to the customer, this means that the relationship between the customer and our engineers and sales teams needs to be exceptional.”

Mark Stephenson, digital printing and press systems product manager at Fujifilm Graphic Systems EMEA, says that companies buying the world first of a new machine get the associated glamour and ability to show their customers that they are not scared of a challenge.

On beta testing, he warns that the worst thing a beta customer can do is to build up a load of work ready to run when the machine comes in “because it may not be hitting the ground running from day one”.

On the other hand, though, he says that neither party learns if the machine doesn’t have enough work going through it.

“The customer is upset because they’re not printing very much, and the vendor isn’t getting the experience from that beta that they wanted.”

Hanan Yosefi, vice-president and general manager of EFI’s inkjet roll-to-roll division, says open and close relations are the main considering factors when the manufacturer looks for a beta tester.

“We also look for a company that wants to be at the forefront of technology and is open to new technologies – while giving honest and valuable feedback.

“For the beta testers, we usually look for companies that think outside-of-the-box and that has the ability to communicate with the manufacturer regarding their ideas and desires to improve the machine.

“We work very closely with the beta testers with open and direct communication – sometimes even on a daily basis. We would then send our engineering team to the site a few times a month to work out the kinks and optimise the machine.”

Yosefi adds EFI sees “a clear phenomenon of companies following suit once that first install has been made”.

“We believe it is either due to gaining market confidence or fear of missing out on opportunities. If an early adopter has a successful experience with a groundbreaking technology, the other will have a higher trust in that new technology and therefore purchase/implement that technology for themselves.”

Being the first to take on or trial a brand-new piece of kit has its challenges, then, but those brave enough to take the plunge can reap many benefits.


READER REACTION

What are your experiences of being first with new tech?

David Webster, managing director, The Label Makers

Beta tested the Durst Tau 330 RSC digital inkjet label press

“We’ve been the first with many pieces of equipment, not just with Durst but also ABG. There is a risk that it’s not going to work but generally you find that the machinery manufacturers work extra hard if you’re the beta test site to make sure that it does work, as they don’t want adverse publicity. There is also usually some price advantage to doing it, which is very helpful. After successful launch of it you’re then one of the market leaders, so it helps you to move forward in the marketplace with what is the up-to-date latest technology.”

Jacky Sidebottom-Every, joint managing director, Glossop Cartons

Commissioned the world’s first Highcon Euclid and beta tested the Highcon Beam

“As an early adopter it gets a jump on your competitors, you get to understand the new technology a lot quicker than other people and you’re able to exploit it to your own markets and your clients. As a beta tester you get the opportunity to mould the machine for the industry, which is really exciting. Sometimes they are a little bit rough and they need polishing, but that’s the whole point of beta testing. It’s a partnership [with the manufacturer] and you go forward as a partnership, working to make the machine much better.”

Simon Smith, managing director, CS Labels

Installed the UK’s first Xeikon PX3000 digital inkjet label press

“We were one of the first companies in the UK to adopt laser, we’ve adopted the Xeikon Panther, and we were the first company to take on Xeikon’s CX500. We don’t want to be somebody that follows, we want to be leading the industry in terms of the technology and the profile that we have. That comes with its own risk in that you have to take it on warts and all and learn about what its strengths and weaknesses are to look at how it fits into our overall profile of what we can offer our customers.”

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