In mid-May we attended Xeikon Café in Chicago, one the user groups that are proliferating around the industry. A mix of motivational speakers, printer panels and industry consultants produced a three-day event full of company updates, market intelligence and substantive advice for finding success in today’s evolving industry. It’s worth noting that this year marks the 25th anniversary of Xeikon’s first toner digital press, the DCP 1, launched at Ipex 1993. It’s hard to believe that digital printing is a quarter century old.
As usual at these events, the conversations and networking that take place outside the formal presentations are just as informative at the Power Points. Over lunches, dinners and drinks in the bar, the attendees I spoke to were mostly in an upbeat mood and told stories of success. One printer took a dive into graphic arts about 13 years ago, with little knowledge of the equipment he was buying or the business he was plunging into. He just wanted out of his corporate existence. Today’s he’s thriving with an all-digital shop that employs 17 staff.
Here are some other takeaways from the event.
• Xeikon reported positive performance. Benoit Chatelard, president and CEO of Flint Group Digital Solutions, reported that Xeikon’s strategy is now aligned with its parent company, Flint Group. That means a focus on graphic arts, labels, and packaging. Its financial performance is also healthy, with a worldwide label install base that grew 17% in 2017. Jetrion, the business Xeikon acquired from EFI, is now integrated into the company, and the first North American installation of the Xeikon PX3000 inkjet label press went to a print shop in Michigan.
• Future development for the company will focus on food-safe paper cups and containers, printed with dry toner; roll-to-sheet production of wall decoration and signage; label opportunities for food, beverage, pharma, health and beauty, wine and spirits, and the industrial durable and chemical markets. Xeikon has also established an inkjet competence centre, along with its EP competence centre where one key focus will be developing water-based ink for corrugated applications.
• On the state of the industry in general, two presentations both indicated that the industry overall has stabilized. Marco Boer, vice president at IT Strategies consulting group, said that although the volume of print pages will decline by 40% from 2007 to 2020, the industry experienced a stabilization last year that could turn into a slow growth period over the next few years. A deeper look at the numbers, though, reveals that marketing collateral was responsible for most of the industry decline, while transactional and direct mail applications have remained reasonably stable. Boar identified several trends that will hasten the shift to digital: a strong economy, labour shortages and shifting order patterns that put more control in the hands of buyers, and structural retail changes swinging to e-commerce that is less based on traditional catalogs. The good news, he said, is that millions of purchasers are being taught to buy print for its value not price.
Andy Paparozzi, chief economist at Idealliance in the US, echoed the optimism about the future of the industry, saying we are entering a period of sustained upturn. But he cautioned that the rising tide will not lift all boats, and the print shops that will benefit are those that embrace a commitment of providing real value to clients, accept constant change and productivity enhancements, adopt a planning culture, challenge assumptions, maintain urgency and execute effectively.