Look back at…April 2023

Traditionally, April fools jokes are supposed to end at midday on the 1st, but for this year we’ve had a whole month’s worth of foolishness, mostly courtesy of various political and business leaders. 

The OPEC+ group of oil producing countries demonstrated their sense of humour with a surprise cut in output, designed to push the price of oil up. This will make it harder for other countries to curb their inflation problems. It’s an added dilemma for central banks, caught between the need to increase interest rates to counter the inflation, but worried that high interest rates will stifle economic growth and may have contributed to the banking crisis in March.

Kristalina Georgieva, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, used a speech in Washington to predict that global growth would remain around three percent for the next five years, somewhat lower than the 3.8 percent average of the last 20 years. She noted: “With rising geopolitical tensions and still-high inflation, a robust recovery remains elusive.” The IMF believes that advanced economies such as the US and Europe will see a decline in their growth this year – and suggests that the UK will contract by 0.3 percent – while emerging economies such as India and China will see economic growth. 

Separately, several British companies, including the Cambridge-based chip designer Arm, have opted to switch their primary listing from London to New York, mainly because there is more capital available in the US to fund growth.

The British government is still attempting to negotiate access to the EU’s highly successful Horizon Europe research funding scheme. For now the government has established the Horizon Europe Guarantee fund, which has paid out £1 billion to UK-based researchers to enable them to participate in Horizon Europe projects while the government continues to prevaricate. At the same time, the newly formed Department for Science, Innovation and Technology – not the Department for Science and Technology as its own press release stated – has published details of a new Pioneer funding program for UK researchers, universities and businesses. The scientific community fears that this indicates that the government is not really serious about joining the Horizon Europe program. 

Sir Paul Nurse, the Nobel laureate and head of the Francis Crick Institute in London, told the Observer newspaper: “Everywhere where science and technology matter will be damaged if we don’t associate with Europe’s Horizon programme.” Closer to home, some UK-based ink companies, which I can’t name, have previously used Horizon Europe funding to develop inkjet inks with added functionality for industrial use.

Sign posted outside the Houses of Parliament, London, UK.

Dominic Raab, who is not normally noted for his sense of humour, was forced to resign as deputy prime minister and minister of justice following a report into allegations that he had bullied civil servants working for him. He then released a petulant diatribe, which did make him sound like a bully, claiming that the ‘woke’ civil service had undermined him. Still, good to know that the civil service are not all asleep on the job.

Richard Sharp was forced to resign his role as BBC chairman over his failure to disclose helping then prime minister Boris Johnson secure a guarantor for an £800,000 loan. Strangely, the actual money lender’s identity is still a mystery despite the enormous influence this would have given them over the leader of a major G7 economy.

New bank notes have been printed in the UK, to replace the portrait of Queen Elizabeth II with an image of King Charles III. However, these will not be in circulation until mid-2024 as software in cash machines, tills and other payment systems needs to be updated to recognise the new notes. In order to reduce the environmental impact, the new notes will only be introduced gradually, as the old notes wear, or as demand increases, which seems unlikely given the current cost of living crisis. 

Meanwhile, the British security printer De La Rue, which prints bank notes for many central banks worldwide, has issued a profit warning saying: “The demand for banknotes has been at the lowest levels for over 20 years, resulting in a low order book going into FY24.”

Agfa has completed the sale of its Offset Solutions division to the investment firm Aurelius Group, which has renamed the division as Eco3. Agfa will continue to provide certain consumables (including film) and services to its former division.

Pascal Juéry, President and CEO of the Agfa-Gevaert Group, stated: “The sale of our Offset Solutions division is an important step in our transformation journey. I want to thank all Offset Solutions employees for their professionalism, dedication and loyalty over the years and wish them all the best in the future. I am confident that with Aurelius, they will continue a track record of innovation and leadership.” He added: “In turn, this transaction will allow Agfa to focus on other growing market segments, which is crucial for our future success.”

Xaar has improved on its cleanrooms as part of its printhead manufacturing facilities.

Xaar has invested approximately £1.2 million in its printhead manufacturing facilities. This involves setting up a digital twin of its cleanroom to improve workflows and reduce waste, as well as installing smart meters to track energy usage. Xaar expects to reduce energy usage by up to 40 per cent, while gaining 18 per cent extra space for future developments by reorganising the space from four cleanroom-controlled areas to three, and separating off part of its footprint.  improvements made during the cleanroom shut down, has also seen the fitting of efficient LED lighting and new production machines.

Paul Shepherd, Head of Engineering at Xaar said: “This project has major outcomes from a sustainability and manufacturing perspective, through enabling us to intelligently manage our production. Our flexible cleanroom and upgraded equipment and services, will save significantly on our energy consumption at Huntingdon, while continuing to ensure we provide the industrial inkjet printheads our growing global customer base demands.”

Actega, which develops speciality coatings, inks, sealants and compounds, is investing $5 million in its New Jersey facility, mostly to fund the transition to automated production processes as well as increasing production capacity and storage space. 

Lee Andrews, vice president of Actega’s Paper and Board Business, commented: “At Actega, we operate specialized facilities with dedicated teams for the different markets we serve in North America. This has allowed us to focus on product excellence, exceptional customer service and expert technical support. The New Jersey facility has become a hub for the paper and board business line in the region. The investment Actega is making in this site enables us to continue to meet our customer needs and deliver an even more specialized service that complies with the latest regulations for direct food contact barrier coatings. This is an ongoing commitment across Actega’s global operations and one that will allow our team here in New Jersey to remain competitive while strengthening our position as a leading coatings supplier to the North American print and packaging industry.”

The first completed duplex digital inkjet press leaves EMT’s new manufacturing facility.

EMT International, which develops finishing equipment and transport systems for the high speed, digital ink jet market, has expanded with a new 12,000 square-foot facility in Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA. The company, which owns label finishing specialists Rotocontrol, is anticipating increased demand for a new, duplex digital inkjet press. The new facility is roughly six miles from its 70,000 square-foot machining centre and assembly facility in Hobart.

Fujifilm has finally opted to offer its Revoria and ApeosPro C Series toner presses to the UK, some two years after launching these to other European markets. The company is hosting a customer event in London on 17 May to explain this further.

Installations

A1 Signs, based in Apeldoorn in the Netherlands, has become the first company worldwide to install a Fujifilm Acuity Prime L flatbed printer, which is the largest model in the range. The company was set up in 2012 and manufactures and installs creative signage, advertising and retail displays. Jan Carel Schepenaar, the Founder and Owner of A1 Signs, stated: “I hate limits and I like to print on the widest possible substrates. The Acuity Prime L, with its 3200mm x 2000mm flatbed, enables us to do this.”

Creation Reprographics, a repro house in Daventry, UK, is expanding into the wide web and sheetfed market. Up to now the company has specialised in prepress services for packaging and label printers but will now be working with Fujifilm Varnish Plates for offset printing applications.

Matt Francklow, Managing Director at Creation, explains: “In short, Fujifilm Varnish Plates bring the power, stability and versatility of flexo to offset printers. The approach brings a number of operational advantages, including the elimination of Stripping Blankets, which improves productivity. With quality at the forefront, the plates are ideal for open intermediate depths, with contour definition that impresses every time.”

From left: Steve Mulcahy, CEO, and Gary Walker, Finance Director, both of Contact Origniators, with Mike Ball, Esko Flexo sales manager.

Contact Originators, a repro house based in Manchester, UK, has invested in a third Esko CDI Crystal XPS imager and exposure solution as the company expands from corrugated to also cover the flexible packaging market. With UV main and back exposure, the XPS Crystal uses LEDs which require no warm-up time and emit even light to ensure consistent plate quality.

Steve Mulcahy, CEO of Contact Originators Group, said: “After a period of rebuilding and installing industry-leading and unique equipment, we are now in phase two of our growth strategy. After seeing an influx of new customers this year across all flexo print disciplines, including wide web flexibles, further investment makes complete commercial sense. This new CDI Crystal XPS represents the start of a new era at Contact. We always have one eye on the future and we are excited to be bringing best-in-class technologies and expertise to the flexibles and label arenas.”

Appointments

All change at the top of Fujifilm Dimatix with Martin Schoeppler retiring after 15 years as CEO though he remains a senior advisor to the company. He has been succeeded by Steve Billow, who took over Schoeppler’s role as President when he joined the company in 2022 and will now also be CEO. 

Martin Schoeppler, CEO and president of Fujifilm Dimatix, speaking at the Japan Inkjet Business Conference in 2020.

Billow commented: “During Martin’s nearly 20 years with the company, including a remarkable 15 years as CEO, Fujifilm Dimatix grew into one of the world’s foremost industrial printhead powerhouses. The collaborative spirit with which Martin led the company’s growth and customer success will continue.” He continued: “Out of the many business initiatives and new products created and introduced during Martin’s tenure as CEO, the introduction of the Dimatix Starfire SG print head family and Dimatix Samba MEMs-based printhead portfolio stand out and apart in reliability, quality, and productivity. These will remain key drivers of our continued success as we expand into additional industry segments such as packaging, commercial, textile, 3D print, and printed electronics markets.”

Billow was previously president at the 3D printing company Desktop Metal and before that he was vice president and chief technology officer  at EFI Inkjet Solutions for 8 years and also chief technology officer at Jetrion. Prior to that he worked in Kodak R&D for 20 years. 

Schoeppler noted: “Steve has already stood out as a leader at Fujifilm Dimatix with his rich industry experience and technology background, as well as being a former printhead customer.” He added: “The company will continue to excel under Steve’s leadership and I wish him the very best in his expanded role.”

Actega has promoted Andrei Sotkeviciene, who was previously managing director of Actega in Brazil, to president for Actega North America. He joined the Altana group in 2014 and held a number of management roles, including CFO and later MD of the Brazilian division. He played a major role in combining the acquired businesses of Overlake and Premiata into Actega Brazil.

Meanwhile, Carlos Mateluna has succeeded him as Managing Director of Actega Brazil, having previously been managing director of Actega Terra Chile. He has spent his whole career at Actega, having joined in 2008.

Thorsten Kröller, president of Actega, commented: “At Actega, we highly value investing in our team and take pride in promoting from within, so we are delighted to appoint Andrei and Carlos to these important roles.”

Carlos Mateluna, managing director of Actega Brazil.

Avery Dennison has promoted Steve Flannery to senior vice president and general manager EMENA of the newly formed Materials Group. He replaces Hassan H. Rmaile, who was promoted to president, Materials Group worldwide. Flannery, who has been with the company for 22 years, commented: “Over the past two decades at Avery Dennison, I’ve worked cross-divisionally and this role presents a fantastic opportunity to leverage those insights and learnings. I look forward to working with customers and industry partners, and moving towards a more sustainable and connected future together.”

The Materials Group has been formed by bringing together the Label and Graphics Materials and the Industrial and Healthcare Materials units, which now includes Label and Packaging Materials, Graphic Solutions, Reflective Solutions, Hanita, Performance Polymers, Avery Dennison Medical and Performance Tapes.

Spencer Green has left Canon UK to join Fujifilm UK as head of sales for POD. He commented: “The role at Fujifilm seemed like the ideal career move for me as I was looking to join a company that was pushing boundaries. I wanted the challenge of growing something from the very beginning. I like to take risks and do things differently, and this role, combined with my experience, gives me the control and flexibility to do just that. My core strength lies in bringing the best out of people and integrating all aspects that are necessary for business growth, as seamlessly as possible.”

Hybrid Software has created an internal startup unit within its Ghent office to develop and advance the company’s software solutions for the 3D & additive manufacturing sector. The unit is headed up by Kris Binon, the former director of Flam3D, the Benelux Additive Manufacturing Association.

Nick De Roeck, CTO and co-president of Hybrid Software, explained: “Hybrid sees 3D and additive manufacturing as a significant growth opportunity. Our recent acquisition of iC3D and the purchase of the Quadraxis IP gives us key technologies to further develop our business in this market.”

He added: “Inkjet 3D printing is one of the most flexible additive manufacturing technologies. Its ability to create radical new products is helping to drive 3D printing adoption in the traditional manufacturing space. The company’s expertise in industrial inkjet systems is already extensive. We bring a huge amount of value to manufacturers whom we help to harness the power of inkjet for additive manufacturing applications without the distraction of having to design electronics and software solutions in-house. In view of the growth potential of this market we felt it was time to consolidate the many skills that are distributed across the company to expand our offering.”

eXtinction Rebellion protest outside the Department of Transport.

The UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office has fined TikTok £12.7 million for a number of breaches of data protection law, particularly around children’s data. The ICO estimated that the social media company allowed up to 1.4 million UK children under 13 to use its platform in 2020, despite TikTok’s own rules not allowing children that age to create an account. Of course, anyone who has children, or might themselves have been a child at some stage, will know that children under 13 routinely use smartphones and social media.

Finally, the British health service is working with the American software firm Palantir, which was originally set up to develop spy software, prompting limited concerns about handing over access to the health data of every single person in the UK to a foreign company. Meanwhile, America’s intelligence community has discovered the answer to the question – what could possibly go wrong with handing over access to sensitive information to junior IT staff – having suffered the worst leak of classified documents so far this century.


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