There aren’t many print industry user group events where the roster of keynote speakers include a fashion wunderkind from Miami and costume designers from Cirque du Soleil.
But then there aren’t many user group events like EFI Connect, where getting on for 200 educational sessions and workshops, looking at best practice and knowledge sharing, are interspersed with keynote sessions from inspirational – albeit sometimes a little tangential – print fans who talk passionately about how print has impacted their businesses.And while 15-year-old Miami-based fashion designer Ariel Swedroe was definitely one of the star turns, as ever, the event also featured a number of significant product launches and enhancements (see our round-up below for more).
However, technology aside, last month’s Las Vegas event was significant for another reason; not only was it the 20th Connect, it was also the debut of EFI’s new chief executive Bill Muir, who opened proceedings on the eve of his hundredth day in charge and gave many of the circa 900 attendees their first insights into his vision for the business.
And never one to miss an opportunity, in an exclusive interview PrintWeek spoke to Muir in more detail about his ambitions for the business and how he plans to create a ‘one EFI’ culture that better serves its customers.
Darryl Danielli How’s your first Connect been?
Bill Muir It’s been great.
A little bit, but in a good way and invigorating too. Pretty fun.
And a great chance to meet so many customers in one go?
Yes, it’s wonderful and the best way to get a tonne of insights into what’s going with their businesses.
You mentioned in your keynote that the opening day of Connect was your 99th day, what have been your first impressions of the industry?
For someone like me, who’s kind of an industry outsider, [I’ve discovered] there’s a lot more innovation, dynamic activity, a lot of change, a lot of disruption. There’s a tonne of opportunity for us and our customers and the whole transformation, from a digital standpoint, is really exciting.
And the things that you mentioned that really excited you when you took on the role, has that changed or evolved now?
It’s essentially the same. I’ve talked a lot about the managerial courage I think the organisation has had and how it has ventured into new areas and incremental value chains that deliver real value to customers, that was exciting, and it continues to be exciting.
And is that the same for customers?
I think so. If you look what I was talking about a few days ago, where revenues are shifting towards value-add services, a lot of companies are pivoting towards that. Whether it’s how Joseph Popolo [chief executive of global experiential and event marketing specialist The Freeman Company who took part in the fireside chat with Muir] spoke about the pivot in his business, there are a lot of adjacent opportunities for people in the industry.
You mentioned earlier that as well as the massive companies like $3bn-turnover Freeman, smaller family or owner-managed businesses are just as critical to EFIs future, how do you plan to cater for those two ends of the market?
It’s a fairly lengthy continuum between smaller family businesses, [mid-sized businesses, where] a decent amount of consolidation is taking place in the industry and in some cases really large organisations that we also have the privilege of serving. So, our approach from a go-to-market standpoint, our approach in terms of how we set up our products has to be specific to each of those markets. How we engage with customers that are maybe $2m-$3m in scale has to be very different from those that are nearer $3bn in scale.
You mentioned earlier in the week that your ‘go-to market’ strategy has to change or evolve?
I think it has to continually evolve, simply because our customers continually evolve themselves.
That was mentioned in one of the sessions, the importance of ‘discovery’ in terms of trying to best understand a customer’s pain points rather just being just a supplier?
Absolutely, that’s key.
Is that part of the cultural shift you want to see in the business?
Yes. I keep referring to culture and customers and in a lot of ways those intersect, when I think about customers I think about customer obsession and about making that customer experience as valuable as possible, for me that starts in the discovery process and really understanding how do they create value for their customers, right, and what that means for us in terms of how we can support that.
And in terms of your discovery, if you like, what have you learned from talking to customers?
I think a lot of them are trying to innovate, trying to find new avenues of growth – new, complementary avenues of growth is probably the most significant area that all conversations keep coming back to.
And is that something you referred to earlier when you mentioned product portfolio gaps?
My comments there were very specific to certain areas of display graphics, where I think certain areas of our portfolio haven’t perhaps evolved as quickly as we need them to.
Can you be more specific: entry-, mid- or high-level?
Is that something you plan to work on yourselves or with partners?
No, I think it’s something we can develop ourselves.
But in terms of the EFI entry-level products in display graphics, they’re still the Rolls-Royce, the Bentleys of the market – we’re still talking hundreds of thousands of dollars, really?
Well if you look at the roll-to-roll business, some of those products are around a hundred thousand, maybe not Bentley, but more a nice Audi [laughs]!
But do you think there’s an opportunity in the real entry-level market, where people like Roland, Mimaki, Epson operate?
I’m not sure yet. We’ll see.
In terms of your ambitions for the business, what are they? You’re a $1bn business now after all.
You know, I’ve tried really, really hard not to define that in terms of a goal…
I get that, why give people a stick to beat you with…
Well, it’s not just that. I’m a big believer in folks wanting to be inspired and a financial number in and of itself is not really inspiring. Folks want to be part of something that really creates value, for me a financial metric in and of itself is not the most noble cause an organisation can pursue, so again its more about active changes to the culture.
Back to the culture then, the way the company grew historically, essentially through a lot of acquisitions, that must have created a melting pot of different cultures – is that something you want to consolidate and create, I suppose, ‘one EFI’?
I would like more of a one EFI culture, there is a lot of goodness in the disparity of the cultures we have, and a lot of innovations come out of those cultures, but for us to show up in a way that’s most meaningful for our customers we need a bit more of a seamless, frictionless integration.
Makes sense. And in terms of acquisitions, is that something that’s still on the table or…
It will always be on the table. We might be little more muted for a little while, compared to before, but it will always be on the table.
But are you looking in certain areas?
Well, I’m certainly not going to tell you [laughs].
Come on, just wait until tomorrow we’ve got this massive [laughs]…
Okay, okay. How would you describe your management style?
I would like to think of it as empowering, I would like to think of it for the most part as being consensus building. I would like to think of it as being an approach that sets aggressive expectations for the business, but that are not defined solely in financial terms, but in terms of how we show up for customers – basically to create an organisation and structures that empowers people to go off and achieve. But you’re probably asking the wrong person, you should ask the team that question.
Good point. But people are key to what you want to achieve?
Not to be trite about it, but absolutely, yes.
And I guess it’s the same for customers?
Absolutely, regardless of scale they’re all people businesses.
And I appreciate this sounds like a job interview question, but what do you think you’re going to bring to the business? With your background are you looking to turn it into a more corporate beast?
I’m not sure if I had been asked that question that I would have been successful [laughs]. I don’t know that I want to make it a corporate ‘beast’. I’ll come back to some of the things I talked about when I opened Connect on Tuesday. There’s been a great culture of innovation here, a phenomenal culture of innovation, that shows up in so many different areas in so many different ways. I’ve referenced a few times that we need to [continue to] love innovation but also execution. So, if you ask me what I would like to bring to the business, then I would like to keep that innovation engine alive and well at EFI and complement it with a more consistent, sustainable level of execution.
Do you get excited when you go around the R&D labs then? Are you turning into a bit of a print geek?
Absolutely, how could you not get excited when you go round and see some of the things we’re working on?
I didn’t know if you got more excited about the business potential…
Well yes, there’s that too, but the business potential starts with what we’re doing from an R&D standpoint. We can’t just create the business out of nowhere, right? It’s got to come from great products, whether they be software products, inkjet products or digital front-ends.
Final question. So, what do you think, in 10 or 20 years, you’re still a relatively young guy after all, good will look like when you hand the reins to your successor?
[Laughs] Well thank you for the compliment. Well I don’t know, 100 days in, how could you define that? People have asked me what success looks like a number of times internally, here’s two ways I describe that: From a culture perspective, when every single employee is highly, highly engaged and are telling family members and friends that they should really come and work at EFI as it’s a great place to work and it’s doing some really, really cool stuff. That’s one definition of success. The other, for me, is when the customer experience is absolutely unmatched. If we could do those two things then we will be really, really successful.
EFI new products and product updates
EFI now has Nozomi customers on four continents, chief financial officer Marc Olin said EFI had seen “a lot of creative applications” for the single-pass, 75m/min (linear) inkjet, which was originally conceived as a corrugated printer for boxes. Some customers, such as the UK’s Delta Group and Dublin-headquartered McGowans, are using Nozomi for corrugated displays, while one unnamed customer has a roll feeder and prints roll-to-roll. White ink has just been launched as an upgrade available to all users, along with a top feeder for thin and non-rigid substrates (meaning Nozomi could be used for products such as billboards). A new anilox coater is also available. José Luis Ramon, vice president of EFI’s industrial printing division, said: “With Nozomi we are the worldwide leader and have delivered more printers than the whole of the competition together in the last five years. We are ready to scale up and could produce ten units a quarter.”
The new Fiery FS350 Pro is EFI’s fastest-ever Fiery, while the Fiery ProServer Premium has twice the speed of the previous generation and is targeted at superwide printers. “Faster printers need faster Fierys, we think we’ve continued to distance ourselves from anyone else in the industry,” Olin said. The first printers using the FS350 Pro will ship soon.
Vice-president of Fiery marketing and sales John Henze said that new features included ‘smart white’ which allows users to save on white toner or ink “by applying white selectively rather than as a flood fill”. Late-stage colour replacement is also possible.
EFI is investing in “connectivity, automation and integration” with EFI’s own product portfolio and third parties such as Esko and Duplo.
The integration between Fiery and Duplo’s slitter-cutter-creaser devices, first announced last summer, has been extended to include Duplo’s DuSense DDC-810 spot UV coater with hints that further devices could follow.
The much-anticipated Unified Fiery Driven Print Room has also come to fruition. This allows users to drive multiple devices from a single Fiery environment.
EFI in the cloud
EFI IQ is a new cloud service that looks at data from across different devices to flag up predictive maintenance requests, re-ordering of consumables such as ink, and monitor performance.
EFI Reggiani will make the first installation of the new 1.8m-wide, 90m/min Bolt textile printer “soon”. Future plans include a wider width version for the home textiles market, and also the addition of different ink classes. Reggiani now has more than 900 installations of digital textile printers, and has sold its 1,000th printer. The business has added 60 new customers.
The Fiery front-end is also available for the Bolt textile printer, and DesignPro 4.0 includes textile and fashion tools.
Productivity Suite v7 is in the final stages of testing before being released to the market in Q2 2019.
Senior director for product management Nick Benkovich said that software enhancements such as packaging layout optimisation had vastly reduced the time taken to perform some tasks, citing the example of one user who reduced a four-hour task to just two minutes, and achieved ROI in seven weeks.
In the corrugated market, a customer using QuickQuote for estimates has cut the time taken from three minutes to 35 seconds.
Digital Storefront has become part of the MarketDirect e-commerce platform and is now known as MarketDirect Storefront. Benkovich said the MarketDirect platform allowed users to develop and deploy an e-commerce solution that provided their end-customer with the ability to then amend aspects such as pricing and products for themselves. A MarketDirect fulfilment platform that will be “completely embedded” with the e-commerce function is planned for late 2019.
Autocount and Printflow “now talk to each other” and Benkovich said this could be a useful solution for larger print and packaging multinationals using third-party ERP systems, such as SAP.
Estimating/planning tool iQuote is also slated for release later this year.
EFI vice-president of marketing for inkjet solutions Ken Hanulec said that EFI had sold 40 of the new Vutek 74-boards-per-hour H3 hybrid printer in the 15 weeks since the device launched, and had taken “a bunch of orders” for the faster 109bph H5 model with deliveries beginning at the end of February.
He said EFI had “some cool things in the works” for 2019, including alternative curing technologies, and would be leveraging the know-how of the team at Bradford-based ink maker Rialco, acquired in 2016, to develop new chemistry and formulations. A new ink warehouse has also been set up in Bradford to serve UK customers.
Hanulec also described EFI’s LED printers as “still working fine” and said Drupa 2020 would be the launchpad for a faster “next, next generation”.
Value-added options such as inline finishing are proving to be a hot topic among users of EFI’s wide- and super-wide printers. A new ‘roll and tape’ inline finishing option will be shown at Fespa and is set to be available in the second-half of 2019. “Customers say ‘holy cow’ that is extraordinary” when they see it, Hanulec reported.
In the growing soft signage arena, EFI has sold nearly 200 Reggiani FabriVu printers for that application since acquiring Reggiani in 2015.
EFI and Landa
At Connect EFI also announced that the combination of EFI’s specially-developed Fiery digital front-end and Landa’s S10 nanographic digital press had become the first products to receive FograCert Validation Printing System certification. The new certification tests print run stability rather than that of a single print. Henze said the validation meant that printing companies’ customers could have greater confidence in the print they buy “which ultimately helps create more opportunities for growth in high-volume digital printing”.