Still Rollin’ After All These Years

noelward

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Still Rollin’ After All These Years
Xeikon Café shows versatility in both packaging and graphic arts

By Noel Ward, Editor@Large

With the arrival of the new normal the big players in the world of digital print are wasting no time in communicating with existing customers and attracting new ones. I spent a couple days at Xeikon Café, which dedicated one day each to its target markets of graphic arts and packaging. The interesting part was the overlap among customers, with many there for both days, highlighting the range of applications Xeikon customers are running and the versatility of its big continuous-feed presses.

It used to be that depending on needs, customers would go to a print provider that did typical commercial printing or one that did packaging. This is certainly still the case but press owners I talked with told me the versatility of Xeikon’s continuous-feed toner and inkjet machines and the range of applications these presses can handle enables them to run a wider range of work than some others on the market. This was borne out in the demonstration center that had a full array of Xeikon’s current offerings varying only by which machines were staffed by which experts on the two days. The label and packing teams were poised at the presses and software stations one day, while the graphic arts people were there the next. Different needs and discussions for each. I tend to listen to conversations rather than ask questions (it’s a lot more interesting) and heard how print providers have progressed from one machine to another as volumes increased and customer demands changed. While most had a mix of digital and analog presses in their shops, the range of jobs being run on Xeikons was impressive. OK, I know this was a Xeikon event with a carefully curated selection of customers yet hearing about the mix of jobs and how print providers were using their presses was fascinating. These are entrepreneurs who are always looking for the best ways of moving the ball forward.

Front-end flexibility
I’m not a software guy but seems that the X-800 front-end that arrives with all Xeikon presses seems to offer flexibility not available from other vendors. For instance, users can customize the X-800 to fit their needs helping ensure images, logos, colors, variable content, and other branding will be the consistent across multiple applications and Xeikon devices with less labor required. Some commercial printers who said they were doing normal “graphic arts” jobs on Xeikon presses were also able to take on label and packaging jobs that add a line of revenue or increase the range of work they do for a customer. For example, the brochures that ran on a Xeikon press could be augmented by a set of food-safe labels, which could be run on the same press. It goes the other way, too. I spoke with customers who printed a lot of labels and stickers. The long runs still went on a flexo press while shorter (or customized) ones landed on a Xeikon. And when a customer needs sales and POP materials the same Xeikon (or a different one) and the X-800 front-end is called into action. The money goes to the same bottom line at the print shop. As one customer put it, it’s a way to get a bigger share of a customer’s wallet. Are some commercial shops that own Xeikons adding labels and packaging to their repertoire? It’s too soon to tell, but the technology makes it a possibility.

Flint & Xeikon
Something I’ve been wondering about is how Xeikon has been faring since its acquisition by Flint Ink a few years back. It seems to be doing well, but I still had to ask. As it turns out, the venture is “…a very pragmatic and collaborative alliance,” said Benoit Chatelard, CEO of Xeikon. This came about because the two companies recognize their differences and see working together as a mutual advantage. “Flint knows about the science and sales of ink, while we know about the sales and science of printing with digital presses,” Chatelard told me. “There is a synergy of Flint and Xeikon in which we both respect and benefit from each other’s expertise.” It probably helps that both are European companies—they think in similar ways.

Flint’s sales channel often provides an entrée for Xeikon because print providers buying inks from Flint have confidence in that company’s recommendations. Relationships grow from there. Chatelard cited a large customer working to expand its flexo and offset offerings to encompass more digital technology. “We are working to become a trusted advisor for color management and profiling on the technologies he chooses and give him an advantage in his markets. For us it is a matter of being agile and adaptive to the customer’s needs.”

Packaging Matters
In one Café meeting Xeikon customers asked what the company was doing with respect to sustainability in packaging. Good question! It’s important to note here that this was a U.S. edition of the Café series, so these questions were coming from American packaging printers. These guys were very likely reacting to questions from brand owners about how packaging choices could improve their brand’s environmental footprint. This may reflect an awareness that countless flexible packages and pouches—by many accounts the leading forms of modern packaging—cannot be recycled and thus wind up in landfills. The big brands don’t like this. For now, brand owners are merely asking but before long they may be selecting print providers based on the environmental characteristics of a package, be it recyclable or biodegradable.

Despite what some companies claim, the best toner printing is not only a matter of achieving “offset-like” color accuracy at the lowest cost per page. While this certainly matters, using toner is also about value beyond the cost per impression. Back in April I wrote about Xeikon’s new TITON toner which is food-safe without a liner. This means more packaging can be produced without the need for a laminate to prevent migration of the toner through the substrate. This is not just aesthetics or convenience. It makes possible more recycling of packaging because laminated substrates add cost and cannot be recycled. Closely related is the removal of ink from a substrate. Toner can be readily “de-inked” because it sits on top of a substrate, while inkjet inks penetrate the substrate making them nearly impossible to completely remove. Furthermore, inkjet inks cannot presently meet the food-safe standards of the U.S. FDA. While TITON won’t be available in the U.S. until 2023 Xeikon’s standard food-safe toner is available and de-inks well. Together, these developments show how Xeikon is thinking ahead, perhaps a bit outside the box, by differentiating itself in a very competitive market.

“There is huge opportunity in flexible packaging and pouches,” noted Chatelard. “Customers and brand owners need ways to make sure packages are recyclable and safe for food.” Recyclability (and use of food-safe toner such as TITON) reduces the cost of the packaging because it no longer needs to be laminated. The benefits flow to both the print providers and brand owners.

There was much more at Xeikon Café that I don’t have space to cover. Although short, it was devoid of sales pitches and stories and the printers who spoke to the small group were accessible for deeper dives into the details of their operations. This was an excellent event, low key, informative, and should be a model for the customer-oriented events of other vendors.
 

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