Xeikon's Digital Printing Versatility and Leadership on Display at Xeikon Café
The Xeikon Café conference and exhibition is in its fourth successful year in Europe, and the smooth running of the second North American edition in Itasca, Ill., last week (May 15-17) was proof that the format also travels well.
The program featured talks, tabletops, and tours of the company’s U.S. innovation center in Itasca, where Xeikon displays the dry-toner, color electrophotographic printing systems it has been bringing to market since launching one of the very first such devices in 1993. These continuous-feed presses, together with a UV inkjet press introduced last year, make up an installed base of equipment that is about evenly divided between label and packaging and graphic arts applications.
Each business had its own educational track of technical briefings and market updates at Xeikon Café 2018, which saw a 30% increase in attendance over the event’s North American debut last October. On hand to enrich the learning experience were about 30 vendor partners showcasing solutions in consumables, prepress, postpress and finishing, ancillary equipment, and software.
Xeikon — established in 1988, and part of Flint Group’s Digital Solutions division since 2015 — takes particular pride in what it says is its leadership position in narrow-web label printing. Benoit Chatelard, the division’s president and CEO, said Xeikon is “consolidating” the position with a 17% increase in its worldwide installed base of label presses, which consists of about 500 machines. (The increase doesn’t include EFI Jetrion UV inkjet label presses, which became part of Xeikon’s market offering in a partnership agreement with EFI last year.)
Chatelard said growth also was strong on the graphic arts side, with an 80% increase in press sales for graphic arts applications in the first quarter of this year.
Among the opportunities the company is targeting are digitally printed, food-safe cups and containers; in-mold and heat transfer labels; and wall decoration and signage. There is “no limit,” according to Chatelard, on what can be accomplished with high-output, fully automated dry-toner presses backed by the software and service support that Xeikon provides.
Inkjet entered the picture with the launch of the Xeikon PX3000 “Panther” UV inkjet label press at Labelexpo Europe last year. The company has set up a “competence center” for inkjet technology at its headquarters in Antwerp, Belgium and will commit, said Chatelard, half of its R&D budget to devising inkjet solutions for labels, corrugated containers, and flexible packaging.
On the way from Xeikon are what Chatelard described as an entry-level package for label production that will include printing and converting; Xeikon Dashboard, a system for monitoring and improving press productivity; and a new generation of regulation-compliant toner for food packaging. (The U.S. Food and Drug Administration currently designates Xeikon dry toners as acceptable for use on both the contact and non-contact sides of food packaging under specified conditions.)
David Wilkins, Xeikon’s vice president of marketing and sales for the U.S. and Canada, shifted the focus to customers with success stories about companies making profitable use of Xeikon toner and inkjet equipment. Most notable was the experience of Grandville Printing, a Grand Rapids, Mich., commercial printing business that is in the process of installing the first Xeikon PX3000 inkjet label presses in North America.
The three PX3000 systems Grandville is bringing in will help it keep up with assignments like the one that requires it to produce 6 million unique price promotion labels in 36 hours, spanning 250 SKUs and scheduled for weekly delivery to the same number of retail outlets.
At the heart of the solution Xeikon designed for the task is a “RIP farm” of Xeikon X800 digital front ends that make all of the necessary data available for printing in less than 30 hours. This is a feat of processing that none of the other press vendors competing for Grandville’s business could match, according to Wilkins.
Other customers are preferring Xeikon dry-toner printing to liquid EP systems for quality, productivity, and economy, said Wilkins, adding that high-volume inkjet producers recognize the process as a cost-effective complement to inkjet for short runs.
Filip Weymans, vice president of marketing for all of Xeikon’s business segments, said that Labelexpo Americas 2018 (Rosemont, Ill., Sept. 25-27) will be a venue where the company intends to make “a major move” for attention among label solution suppliers.
To be presented there for the first time is the Xeikon CX500, a 20˝, 98-fpm dry-toner platform that the company is billing as the most productive digital label press on the market. Also on exhibit at Labelexpo will be the Xeikon PX3000 inkjet press; the aforementioned entry-level package; version 6.0 of the X800 workflow; and the first demonstration of PantherCure UV ink for the PX3000.
The rest of the Xeikon Café menu was served up in sessions led by a roster of consultants, customers, and others with intimate knowledge of the markets that Xeikon serves. The most relatable presentations for the audience were a pair of panel discussions moderated by Barb Pellow (Pellow and Partners LLC): one composed of print service providers offering models for success with digital printing; and one in which print buyers explained what it takes to earn the privilege of doing business with them.
Provider panelist Perry Klein, vice president, new business development for the Mittera Group, described the Des Moines, Iowa, company as an umbrella organization that has grown by acquisition — including the recent transaction with EarthColor — into a $250 million, full-service enterprise that employs 1,100 people. Its digital capabilities include four Xeikon engines that it uses to produce custom magazine covers, inserts, marketing materials, Web-to-print promotions, and commercial work.
Much of this output is intended for quick response, said Klein, who credited online retailing with stimulating demand for print in two ways. Web marketers, he explained, need print to drive traffic to their sites; they’ve also learned the value of letting promotional materials ride along with purchased items in boxes shipped to consumers.
Bruce Beery is digital production manager at Grandville Printing, already noted as the premier installation site in North America for Xeikon’s PX3000 inkjet press. He said Grandville is using the devices along with other Xeikon equipment in support of Nexgen, a system it developed to produce variably printed, ready-to-hang shelf tags for supermarket aisles.
Nexgen prints the tags in a sort order that corresponds to the store’s planogram, the scheme that specifies where and how items are placed on shelves. Providing precut, boxed price tags in this way cuts in-store shelving labor by up to 50%, according to Beery, who said that Nexgen supports 20 retail chains in 10 states with weekly deliveries of shelf tags and signage to 1,000 locations.
Established in 2009, Lake Graphics Label and Sign Co. Inc. of Cleveland, Ohio, is an all-digital trade shop that aspires to be, as founder and president Mark Tangry told the Xeikon Café audience, “the printer’s printer, the invisible man in the background.” The 10-person establishment has a pair of Xeikon presses with which it produces a wide variety of labels that account for about half of its business; the rest is mostly wide-format output.
Tangry, who has had a long career in the industry on both the print service provider and the supplier sides, said his aim as the owner of an all-digital business is to be cost competitive in longer runs of labels without venturing into the high quantities of analog production. Instead, Lake Graphics partners with high-volume producers to let them share in the advantages of digital label printing. “When customers see what we can do,” they buy from us,” Tangry said.
The print buyers panel made clear that the degree of difficulty printers face in connecting with decision-makers has everything to do with the types of businesses the buyers are working for.
The toughest to crack are Fortune 500 enterprises like State Farm Insurance Companies, represented by panelist Jeff Dickerson. A State Farm procurement specialist for 20 years, Dickerson is part of a team that buys millions of dollars worth of graphic products of all kinds. Most of it comes from 20 primary vendors that State Farm has been doing business with for 25 years; the insurer also has in-plant printing facilities.
With these resources at its disposal, said Dickerson, State Farm is “not looking for new vendors at this point.” If and when openings do occur, applicants can expect a rigorous qualification process that might take as long as a year and a half if sensitive data is involved. The management of security risk is a major criterion in all of State Farm’s procurement decisions, Dickerson noted.
More encouraging was James O’Brien, who told printers in the audience that if they are first-class providers or have a specialty, “we seek you out.”
“We” is GO2 Partners, a Des Plaines, Ill., print products distributor and marketing services provider of which O’Brien is president and an owner. An $80 million business employing 160 people who also have ownership stakes, GO2 Partners buys printing and other services from a list of about 100 suppliers. It sells what it buys to clients for which it designs and manages business communications programs.
O’Brien told the audience he had come to Xeikon Café to make the company more visible to Xeikon’s printer customers, including producers of labels and packaging. In evaluating potential suppliers, he said, print distributors like GO2 Partners seek long-term relationships, value, and loyalty, not the lowest bids. They want, in other words, the same kinds of partnerships with their suppliers that they have with their own clients.
Eileen Mullen recalled that when she joined the Boathouse Group marketing agency in 2002, about 70% percent of what she bought was print — a share that has dropped to about 25% today. Nevertheless, she said, “the swing for print is coming back” as clients learn to appreciate its role in the multichannel campaigns that the Boathouse Group plans and executes.
Mullen is in charge of production and creative resources at the Waltham, Mass., agency, which caters to the financial services, health care, education, tech and biotech, and professional services sectors. High on her list of recommendations for print service providers wishing to work with agencies is focusing on customer education, which she defined as “an activity that teaches someone how to get more value out of your product or service.”
Presenting case studies of successful campaigns and sharing technology updates are good ways for printers to impress agencies like the Boathouse Group, Mullen said.