As Heidelberg announces its intention to partner with Ricoh in a digital printing company, Andy Tribute sees that Heidelberg has learned a lesson from its latest foray into digital. He examines the characteristics of the press, its place in the press room, and Heidelberg’s new relationship with Ricoh.
[Special commentary on the news that Heidelberg and Ricoh announce global strategic cooperation]
When Bernhard Schreier, Chairman and CEO of Heidelberg Druckmaschinen AG told IPEX last year that Heidelberg would return to the digital printing market through an alliance with a partner organization, I had some trepidation about what kind of deal it would be, or even whether such a deal on Heidelberg terms was possible. I know that myself, as well as many other members of the analyst community, were somewhat skeptical about the possibility of such a deal with a suitable partner, and also whether Heidelberg really understood the digital market they were anticipating. to reinstate.
Mr. Shiro Kondo (left), CEO of Ricoh and Mr. Bernhard Schreier (right), CEO of Heidelberg
Remember when Heidelberg was in the digital market. It was then that they partnered with Kodak to develop the Nexpress. Heidelberg brought in its knowledge of offset printing and heavy engineering and produced the Nexpress 2100 which used Kodak’s imaging and toner technology in a printing platform developed and designed by Heidelberg. While the Nexpress was an excellent imaging engine, it was significantly over-designed with a manufacturing cost close to the expected retail price. The product also did not meet the needs of the market as it could not connect to in-line finishing systems or run more than one substrate at a time. It was not suitable for the traditional Heidelberg customer because it was too expensive and with too long a duty cycle. It was actually a typical product focused on engineering rather than the market. Since the product was taken over by Kodak, most of the original Nexpress problems have been rectified through reengineering, and it is now a highly competitive product line.
So I was delighted to see that Heidelberg’s return to digital printing is via a market-driven approach. The company has researched the commercial printing market extensively and looked at all different segments of the market to determine the area where it is most likely to be successful in delivering a suitable package to the large global user base. of Heidelberg. In this, it does not compete in âprofessionalâ or âhigh volumeâ digital markets, nor does it envision competing in the highly competitive office market. Heidelberg’s target market is the âValueâ segment of the market. This is the area where digital presses would have a speed of 60 to 90 A4 / Letter pages per minute with a monthly target volume of between 80,000 and 300,000 pages / month or more and with a price of 100,000 â¬. This market therefore does not include the HP Indigo presses, the Xerox iGen4 and 800/1000 presses, the Canon ImagePress 7010, and the Kodak Nexpress and Xeikon presses.
Heidelberg’s requirements to enter this market are that the press meet the specification for the Value segment, but also be of a quality equivalent to that available in the four-color and digital âPerformanceâ offset printing segment. The other unique selling point of the Heidelberg digital printing offering is that although the press may be sold separately, it is ideally configured as a set with the Heidelberg Speedmaster 52 Anicolor short run offset press. Both presses would be driven by the same color management system to give comparable color output. Heidelberg analyzed the short-run color market and found that the true digital printing economy shows a crossover point between digital and Anicolor at around 200-300 pages. They find that when the digital and Anicolor presses are driven from the same Prinect workflow system, the true economy of each job can be verified before printing, allowing the print shop to choose the best system for the job. job.
Now this may all sound great, but how will it actually work. Well I think this is the perfect fit for the small to medium sized printer entering the digital realm and it is actually something that I have been suggesting for many years. However, a key factor is quality and can digital and offset presses deliver the same quality of work. With a few exceptions, such as working with certain specialty substrates, they can. The work I saw produced on the Heidelberg digital press at an analyst meeting at the end of December 2010 was exceptional and I could not easily tell the difference from offset printing. What was also important was that I couldn’t tell the difference between the output of the Heidelberg digital press and the same output produced by an HP Indigo customer on one of the later HP Indigo presses. This is the press that set the standard for digital print quality, costing three to four times the cost of the Heidelberg press while having a lower page-per-minute yield.
Ricoh Pro C901 Graphic Arts Edition
I think Heidelberg in choosing Ricoh as a partner to re-enter the digital printing industry was a very smart and excellent decision. The Ricoh C901 Graphic Arts Edition is a great press that really challenges established players in the market in terms of speed and quality. While Ricoh has an excellent distribution channel in the corporate and office markets for sheet-fed and continuous-feed printers and presses, it has a limited presence in commercial printing. This is a great opportunity for Heidelberg to use its global distribution as a leading supplier to the commercial printing industry to truly establish itself as a key digital player. Heidelberg will also enter the market slowly as its expertise and offerings develop. It does not target the specialized sophisticated direct mail personalization markets by leaving them to other vendors, but it will undoubtedly offer software that allows its customers to manage the personalization of outputs. Initially, it will partner with Ricoh for the service while developing its expertise in key markets. It will, however, adopt the usual digital printing practice of billing per click prints and supply Saphira toner for presses.
The agreement with Ricoh, however, should not be considered solely for the initial offer. Heidelberg and Ricoh see this as a long-term partnership agreement where Heidelberg will work with Ricoh on the development of future presses to expand the product line, possibly incorporating Heidelberg’s expertise in paper handling and color control. . We must also look to the future to think about what can happen. Ricoh is a key player through Ricoh Infoprint in the high speed continuous feed market. This currently uses Screen Truepress Jet520 engines, but it is to be expected that Ricoh, through its Hitachi Printing Systems division, will develop its own inkjet print engines. I could envision that such engines could be sold through Heidelberg in the graphic arts markets for publishing applications. We also have to look at what Heidelberg could do for Ricoh. Heidelberg is a leading supplier of finishing systems for commercial printing, but does nothing at this stage for digital printing finishing. I could see that if Heidelberg enters continuous feed inkjet printing with Ricoh, it could become a key supplier of finishing systems for this market.
While the big news is that Heidelberg is making a big step to reestablish itself in the commercial digital printing market, it should be remembered that the company is already operating in the continuous-feed inkjet market through its Linoprint division. . This provides specialized systems for packaging applications using UV curable inks. There are plans to expand the Linoprint product line to eventually expand into other areas, which would expand Heidelberg’s role in digital printing.
Overall, I’m happy to say that I was delighted to see Heidelberg’s role change from being an engineering-focused company to a market-driven company. I like the strategy they are adopting and I think the partnership with Ricoh offers them great opportunities for the future. I think this shows that offset and digital printing work together, and that offset has a major role to play in the future of the industry.