The opening months of 2018 have been dominated by news of consolidation among kit manufacturers.
In January, Muller Martini agreed a deal to take over the perfect binding and book line business of Kolbus, further expanding its presence after it took on the service and parts business relating to Heidelberg’s saddle-stitching and adhesive binding products in 2014.
A few days later, it was confirmed that Fujifilm plans to buy Xerox and merge it with their Asia-Pacific joint venture, Fuji Xerox.
And then earlier this month it was revealed that Goss International’s printing press business and Manroland Web Systems are to combine, with the deal between the former arch rivals anticipated to be completed by the middle of 2018, subject to regulatory approval.
The deal does not include Goss International’s Contiweb business, which will now become an independent company under the ownership of Goss International’s owner American Industrial Partners.
Many observers feel that the consolidation trend is unsurprising. “It’s evidence of overcapacity in the supply chain. There’s an argument that there are too many suppliers that are making more and more productive machines,” says Heidelberg UK sales director Jim Todd.
“Web particularly has really suffered quite heavily with regards to magazine paginations and volumes dropping. The volume of new machines that they are selling is so low now that it’s not sustainable.”
Indeed, Koenig & Bauer and Komori are the only other major manufacturers still operating in the commercial web market, alongside a handful of smaller companies based in India and Asia.
Goss International chief executive Mohit Uberoi says his business is always on the lookout for “strategic options to strengthen the business in consolidating market environments”.
“This was the impetus for the discussions between the two companies and there is a great complementary fit between our competencies, products and services, as well as the regional market presence of the two companies,” he says.
Manroland Web Systems’ owner Possehl Group will hold a majority of the shares in the combined company.
“In a rapidly declining environment for analogue printing technologies, active consolidation in the alliance of two complementary companies with a long tradition and broad expertise is expected to enable benefit-oriented solutions, especially in the area of services,” says Manroland Web Systems chief corporate officer Daniel Raffler.
“The new company creates a powerful and sustainable player that sees itself as a long-term, reliable partner for its customers.”
Details regarding the future setup of the combined company, including the shape of its organisational structure and the company name, have not yet been disclosed. But Raffler says the respective product ranges will remain unchanged and customers of both companies will continue to be serviced as usual by their respective contacts.
“Objectives of the planned merger include the expansion of business with retrofits and upgrades and the systematic expansion of e-commerce activities as well as the development of solutions in the area of ‘Industry 4.0 – e.g. industrial maintenance,” he says.
“Also, the consistent further development of web printing technologies, the joint further development of activities in the packaging market as well as in automation and process digitalisation.”
Infotrends director Ralf Schlözer is unsurprised by the emphasis placed on service that is common among many of the recent industry mergers.
“The number of devices sold and needed in the field is decreasing because they have become more productive, and so fewer are needed.
“So the service network is becoming a much bigger overhead and this is something companies have to tackle, and in my view this is the main driver for consolidation. If the service network is spread too thinly it’s just too much overhead, so if you can service more machines by pooling them it becomes much more worthwhile.”
While Schlözer adds consolidation is not always good news for customers “as more suppliers means more choice and more leverage”, most observers also feel that one healthy, innovative company is preferable for customers to two or more that may be struggling.
“You want secure suppliers – companies losing money year-on-year is not good for any business or industry and it can’t go on. Mergers are ultimately essential,” says M Partners joint managing director Murray Lock, who finds it surprising that it has taken so long for manufacturer consolidation to ramp up.
“Printers adapt far quicker than the manufacturers, who believe they can outsell the market or think that next year is going to be better. Printers have merged, cut back and gone into different markets and manufacturers are just catching up.
“Companies who cut back a little each year are never going to address the real issues. They should look at their customers and see what the printers have done – they’ve had to bite the bullet for longer and been harder and tougher on themselves and the manufacturers have not been so businesslike.”
Consolidation among kit manufacturers has perhaps more frequently taken place in recent times in the form of acquisitions rather than mergers.
EFI, for example, has snapped up a raft of both hardware and software companies in the past few years while Barry-Wehmiller revealed last month that it has surpassed 100 acquisitions since 1987.
Collaboration has also been high on the agenda, with numerous manufacturers – often from different parts of the industry – working together on complementary projects and products to add something to their respective offerings while benefitting from the many advantages of partnership.
But are more true mergers among manufacturers likely in the near future? Schlözer believes so.
“In the next few months is probably too early, but I would imagine we will certainly see more consolidation. I think there is some likely in sheetfed and also in post-press where there are so many different processes,” he concludes.