Learn to do Something That Can Kill You

by Noel Ward, Editor @ Large

Unlike many industry events there was no sense of déjà vu when coming to the third edition of Xeikon’s Café in North America. Every one of these events has been an improvement from the one before and the level of value keeps increasing. Why anyone who has or is considering a Xeikon digital press or ThermoflexX plate maker would not be at this event is mystifying. It’s one of the poster children for how vendor-sponsored events should be run.

Partner Power
Part of this is because Xeikon is aligned with some 34 companies—its Aura Partners—many of which not only had tables and an abundance of expertise in an area set aside as the Partner Fair, but also played a role in some of the presentations. These, by the way, were not pitches from the podium but engaging panels and open discussions with attendees about common business issues such as sales, marketing, variable data printing, color management, and more. In some, the word Xeikon was never mentioned. In others, such as some user panels, speakers acknowledged using a mix of digital presses while noting the advantages of each and how Xeikon’s machines played a role in their respective environments.

Xeikon in the Zone
One of the concepts some presenters pointed out was a notion originally posited a few tears back by InfoTrends— the zone of disruption. This notion claimed the space between cut-sheet toner and continuous-feed high-speed inkjet left a gap in the market. This gap, claimed InfoTrends, would be filled by cut-sheet inkjet presses. This came to be true, to some extent, but Xeikon claims that the 20-inch print width, speed, and low operating cost of its dry-toner machines make it a strong player in the zone of disruption. When you do the math, this is largely true and is augmented by the quality of dry toner printing that has none of the drying and substrate issues associated with many inkjet presses. This claim will no doubt raise the hackles of companies busily promoting inkjet as printing nirvana, but Xeikon does have a point, and there were plenty of Xeikon customers on hand at the Café to share their experiences.

Not Your Ordinary Conference
These tales played out in two tracks, one for graphic arts and one for labels and packaging. The latter is the fastest growing segment of printing—and a focus of Xeikon’s efforts in the market. The company’s PX2000 and PX3000 UV inkjet models and the food-safe nature of its dry toner is making Xeikon’s technology a compelling fit for label and packaging printers. The breakout sessions for this segment of its customer base were well attended.

As I wandered between the tracks, hearing from print providers was always interesting because it spanned shops that ran such diverse applications as posters, book covers, wall coverings, beer labels, and security-intensive packaging for pharmaceuticals. Nearly all the shops represented were run by people with financial commitments to their operations and were looking to the future. They were not—as one often finds at printing conferences—people looking for the exit, how to cash out and play more golf. These were all people looking to grow based on the success they already had and were looking for ways to do and be more for their customers. This was not your ordinary conference.

Learn to do Something That Can Kill You
This core message in the keynote by Peter Muir set the tone for the event. Mr. Muir excels describing things he has done and putting them into a useful business context. This time he talked about the learning curve of felling trees that happened to be in the place where he wanted to put his new house. Being a hands-on kind of guy, Mr. Muir bought a big chain saw, studied up on the art of cutting trees and not having them fall on something important, like his cabin or his truck. He then turned the entire process into lessons about how to take risks in business and the value of “learning to do something that can kill you.” This has, he said, a remarkable way of focusing one’s thinking on what is really important—like understanding the needs of your chosen market and how you can deliver products and services that your competitors are neglecting. Having any type of digital press is unlikely to kill you, but not planning how to make the best use of one can kill your business. So study up, plan and execute your plan with the intent to do it right—and win.

Hire a geek
We also heard from Paul Reilly from New Directions Partners who provided an encouraging view of the print market and how adding value to your services makes your business stronger and fosters growth. Mr. Reilly noted how this is a great time to be in the business of print, and the opportunities are out there for anyone with some imagination. One point I thought was especially important was the value of “hiring a geek,” a digitally savvy person who could help you take full advantage of many internet-related technologies to grow your business. Doing so helps ensure you can sustain any innovation you bring forth, and hopefully make it difficult for competitors to replicate. Many print providers don’t do this, and it can gradually make their businesses irrelevant.

Mr. Muir’s and Mr. Reilly’s themes were reiterated by speakers and panelists in both the graphic arts and labels/packaging tracks. What struck me was the abundance of vision and market potential shared by all presenters. These are print veterans who are embracing the potential digital technology offers and realize that the benefits outweigh the risks.

There were also opportunities to visit Xeikon’s customer center and see the various machines running a mix of applications. Especially interesting was the color management available through the X-800 front end, which seems to get better every year. The value of this continuous improvement is not lost on Xeikon owners, especially those in labels and packaging who also run flexographic presses. Some owners I talked with have both digital and analog machines and need the colors to match, regardless of the device being used. They say the X-800 front end makes this possible so jobs can be run on whatever device has the best availability. That streamlines workflow and puts money on the bottom line.

I’ve been to the European version of this event three or four times, and enjoy that it’s held at Xeikon’s factory in Lier, Belgium (plus, the Belgian version has some really amazing beer!). Three year’s back, at the first U.S. version of the Café I felt the US event lacked some of the punch of the one in Lier, but no more. This conference has gotten better each year and I can’t wait until the fourth one rolls around next May.


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