Heidelberg-Fujifilm: Upshots for Digital in Packaging & Beyond

Heidelberger Druckmaschinen AG (Heidelberg) and Fujifilm Corporation announced last week that Heidelberg and Fujifilm’s Global Graphics Systems subsidiary have established a strategic partnership in the area of inkjet printing. For observers of digital printing for packaging, the news could be important because of the market role of each company: Heidelberg is one of the world’s top suppliers of offset presses for folding carton printing, as well as key workflow tools; Fujifilm is a major supplier of both offset and inkjet technology, and has leading role in CTP, workflow software and other pre-press technology. The partnership could result in Heidelberg’s marketing of an existing Fujifilm inkjet system for packaging or, longer term, the development of other printing presses based on Fujifilm technology.

A few notes about each company, relative to digital print for packaging:

  • Heidelberg’s commitment to digital printing for packaging is young but established, at least in terms of label printing. In 2011 Heidelberg purchased CSAT, the German maker of inkjet and laser label printing systems. Since then, Heidelberg has upgraded the former CSAT iTS600, a UV inkjet press using Xaar heads, and re-badged it as the Linoprint L, displacing the earlier Linoprint Driveline B. Heidelberg also put the marketing of Linoprint L and one or more other Linoprint models in the hands of Gallus, a major maker of narrow web flexo presses that is 30% owned by Heidelberg. Meanwhile, Heidelberg has developed a packaging version of its influential Prinect workflow software, and that could be very attractive for packaging.
  • Fujifilm has its own products for packaging and labels, including an inkjet press for folding cartons. The company introduced the B2-sized sheet fed system called Jet Press F for folding carton printing at drupa in 2012. Leveraging Fujifilm’s Jet Press 720, the Jet Press F is based on the piezo heads of Fujifilm Dimatix and uses “water-based UV” inkjet inks. Although Fujifilm is still a relative newcomer to digital folding carton printing, the company has a strong brand among both label and packaging converters through its other products, such a UV flexo inks, direct laser engraving for flexo plates, packaging pre-press tools (“RealPro”) and a full range of offset solutions.

Heidelberg and Its Digital Partners

One digital partner that Heidelberg is much less likely to work with in the future is Landa. (See the InfoTrends blog entitled “Landa and Komori Strengthen Sheet-Fed Technology Partnership”) In May 2012, Heidelberg announced that it had established a global strategic partnership to collaborate with Landa on the development of presses based on Landa’s trademarked “Nanography,” the inkjet offset technology that Landa unveiled at drupa in March 2012. At about the time that Heidelberg and Landa announced their partnership in 2012, Landa also announced a strategic partnership with Manroland and Japan’s Komori both makers of conventional presses. On November 1, Landa and Komori announced that the companies are strengthening their relationship as follows: (1) the two companies have extended their alliance through a formal licensing agreement; (2) Landa has ordered production units of the Komori sheet-fed platform for use as transport in the Landa S10FC for folding carton printing; (3) in the future, Landa will use Komori technology for all of its sheet-fed Nanographic printers. Landa also stated that it would not be choosing any other sheet-fed partners, which by implication eliminates Heidelberg as a potential Landa partner.

In a visit with InfoTrends at the recent Label Expo, Landa mentioned that the B1 format S10FC for folding carton printing will be their first press to launch, with beta units scheduled for late 2014. This will position Landa, Fuji Film, Heidelberg, and additional vendors as competitors in the folding carton category.

On Fujifilm’s side, in addition to its many products for conventional printing and its Jet Press F, an important consideration is Fujifilm Dimatix’ piezo inkjet heads. Dimatix essentially makes Fujifilm Global Graphics Systems a member of an exclusive group, namely, inkjet press manufacturers that also own print head manufacturing. Others in this group are Epson, HP, Kodak, Konica Minolta, and Xerox; Landa is not in the group because it uses Kyocera print heads and is unlikely ever to build its own. That distinction—having integrated manufacturing, right back to the print heads—will be more important over time, as inkjet technology suppliers compete more and more on price, of which print heads are an important part.

Companies Jockeying for Position

What Heidelberg-Fujifilm and all its possible sub-stories are really about is the jockeying for position that is going on right now, for the future of really big inkjet systems for production printing of packaging and likely other uses. Regarding Heidelberg, it has been testing out possible partners to help it enter the digital arena for many years, both in terms of products that can be re-badged and ones that could lead to truly new products. Heidelberg made such a move first with Kodak for NexPress (the electrophotographic color printer, now wholly a Kodak product), then with Ricoh for color electrophotographic devices, later Landa for inkjet from the time of drupa, and now Fujifilm. Then there is the case of Komori, the other maker of conventional presses cited earlier, which has two significant inkjet partners: Landa, as cited above, and Konica Minolta, the maker of the KM-1, the sheet fed B2 press based on Konica Minolta piezo inkjet heads and a Komori sheet-fed transport.

Meanwhile, the future that these companies and others are jockeying for will likely include some big inkjet presses that mostly were not seen at drupa 2012 and that are only just beginning in the packaging market. One will be the single pass, wide format printing of corrugated board for both display graphics and for shelf ready packaging; a current example is the BIJB 1260 from Barbaran, a 1.26 meter single pass inkjet press based on an unnamed piezo technology, for printing corrugated.

Digital printing on that scale—much bigger even than B1 format—is possible because piezo inkjet heads can be stitched to create line print heads with huge dimensions (such as 2 meters in length), for use in many applications, not just packaging. That said, single pass, production level inkjet printing for packaging is a natural target, because packaging is the printing world’s only market that is both mostly untapped by digital and still growing in absolute terms, in part because packaging is not subject to print volume loss from digital replacement. Lots of packaging images are big—think cereal boxes and shelf ready corrugated cartons—and really need digital presses to be big to work with them. Epson, Fujifilm, Heidelberg, HP, Kodak, Komori, Konica Minolta, Landa, all mentioned in the above, are all either in the race for this end of the packaging market or soon will be, along with others.

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