Look back at…December 2022

December in Britain has been dominated by what is quaintly referred to as the ‘cost of living crisis’ but which is in reality the long overdue correction to two decades of political and economic mismanagement, committed by governments both left and right. 

This month has seen nurses, railway workers, immigration officers, civil servants, postal workers and even coffin makers, all take to the picket lines. Most of these are public sector workers and they’re not just asking for more pay for themselves, but also improvements to those public services. The NHS, for example, is in such a poor state that Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust advised anyone travelling to Cornwall for the holidays to bring their own first aid kit. This month’s prime minister Rishi Sunak has so far refused to talk with the unions as he attempts to lead a Conservative Party that clearly voted this summer in favour of prioritising the rich over the poor.  

We can blame this current cost of living issue on the very high inflation rate, itself mostly due to the squeeze on energy supplies that followed Russia’s attack on Ukraine and the subsequent sanctions. However, in my opinion the root cause of these economic problems date back some 20 years or so to the Blair government’s loosening of fiscal rules to help hide the cost of the pointless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which caused the economy to overheat. 

Consequently, the recession that started around 2007 hit Britain much harder than it should have done, and the coalition government’s clumsy austerity from 2010 onwards hollowed out public services. The pandemic and Brexit have deepened these problems, leaving many British households in a very precarious position. There has been an unprecedented rise in food banks this year to help those households survive, and this month we have seen heat banks pop up all over the country to help people deal with the very cold weather that Britain has experienced. 

Yet, Therese Coffey, who is currently the secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs, told a select committee early in December that it was not government policy to give free food to people in need. It is worth remembering that two months earlier Coffey was the deputy prime minister in Liz Truss’ administration, where the signature policy was to give free money to the super rich. 

Also in December, we learnt that the UK economy shrank by 0.3 percent between August and October, meaning that the UK is technically on course for a recession if this is repeated between November and January. At the same time, figures from Make UK and accountancy firm BDO also suggest that Britain’s manufacturing sector has shrunk by 4 percent this year, with a further 3.2 percent reduction likely to come next year. 

China has now abandoned its zero-Covid policy with the predictable result that the country has faced a wave of infections. Reports suggest that China’s test and trace system has broken down so that the Chinese government does not have a clear picture of just how bad the problem is. This is bound to lead to further factory shut downs and to have a knock-on effect on foreign supply chains. More worryingly, China has now opened its doors to international travel, leaving other countries scrambling to re-introduce covid travel restrictions to limit the risk of further outbreaks. It appears that the Chinese government has been forced into relaxing its restrictions having been caught unawares by mass protests earlier in the month.  

Meanwhile, Taiwan has extended its mandatory military service from four months to one year due to the threat of invasion from China. Anyone with any interest in China knows that this invasion is a matter of ‘when’ not ‘if’ but such an invasion would have huge implications for manufacturing industry in other countries around the world. This is partly because Taiwan has successfully developed a high-tech production capability including semi-conductors that are used in everything from computers to printing presses. But the bigger problem lies in the risk of sanctions against China that such an invasion might trigger. That would have a profound impact on raw materials, such as pigments for printing inks, not to mention components and products such as large format printers, many of which are manufactured in China. 

Xsys has announced further price rises, this time targeting its Nuyloflex range of flexographic plates.

And just in time to illustrate this, Xsys, which last month announced price increases for its Nyloprint letter press products, has followed up this month with further price rises for its Nyloflex flexo plate range of between six and nine percent. According to Xsys, the prices of essential raw materials like rubber, photopolymers, and films used in the production of plates have increased by more than 20% since the beginning of 2021, while transportation and energy costs are up by double-digit percentage points.

Friedrich von Rechteren, Global Commercial VP at Xsys, commented: “Our operations and procurement teams have turned around every stone to offset the input cost increases without jeopardizing our quality and service levels. Due to the success of these initiatives, the announced price increase reflects just a fraction of the input cost increases we are facing.”

Xaar, which last month introduced its aqueous Aquinox printhead, has now opened a state-of-the-art inkjet printing laboratory in Shenzhen, China. The new facility has the latest printhead test equipment and print process experimentation platforms and will allow Xaar to service customers in China, including support in areas such as sample printing, solution development, printhead nozzle status detection and waveform adjustments for new applications.

Graham Tweedale, COO at Xaar, said; “We are delighted to establish our Inkjet Printing Lab and provide an enhanced development platform for all our customers and partners in China.”

Xaar has opened a new facility in Shanghai to serve its Chinese customers.

RMGT has announced plans to add a third manufacturing building at its main headquarters site in Fuchu City, Hiroshima in Japan. This will be used for new assembly tools, including large cranes needed for the heavy lifting associated with press manufacture. Locating the new factory next to the current first and second plants will help optimise the total production system for efficient productivity.

Mark Stribley, joint managing director of UK RMGT dealer, MPL, said: “The current factory is working very effectively, and we are certainly still able to add new orders from UK printers to the ever-growing list of RMGT users, but the directors in Japan are looking to the future and are seeing further growth potential. Particularly busy areas of the world currently include China, India and North America, but the UK and Europe, as well as some Asian countries, are all seeing growth for RMGT’s ultra-reliable press products.”

RMGT already has two manufacturing buildings at its headquarters site in Fuchu City, Hiroshima in Japan

Sealed Air Corporation, referred to by its NYSE tag as SEE, has invested $8M in Highcon as a strategic collaboration. SEE mainly develops protective packaging solutions. This investment is in the form of convertible debt and 15% warrants to be converted by the 5th anniversary of the Effective Date at a price of 3.1 NIS per share with additional warrants to be granted against possible future purchases up to $20 million of Highcon’s products and services over a period of 3 years.

This money will be used to develop new product offerings, expansion into new segments and enabling manufacturing efficiencies by leveraging Highcon technology. As part of this development, SEE is to install a Highcon Beam 2C system to accelerate the testing of new designs and products, as well as the manufacturing and delivery of corrugated products to the company’s customers. SEE’s interest in Highcon is mainly around its digital paperboard converting capabilities and its knowhow around laser cutting of paperboard.

Shlomo Nimrodi, Highcon’s CEO, explained: “SEE is taking Highcon’s technology to places that were beyond the way that we typically defined our market opportunity.  Growing that opportunity, entering new application spaces, and working together with a world class partner is very exciting.” 

He added: “It’s particularly gratifying to see how SEE reacted to the talent and passions of the Highcon team, and their recognition of the strategic value of our technology.  I’m confident that it’s just the beginning as we prove our value to SEE to enable further expansion of our relationship.  I’m proud of what we’ve built so far at Highcon, and with this strategic partnership, we can move farther and faster. We are certainly expecting that this collaboration will have positive impact on the company’s existing business.”

The SIX Swiss Exchange has approved Bobst’s request to delist its registered shares following the successful bid to purchase the shares by JBF Finance, which represents the Bobst family’s interests. From next month, the Bobst Group shares will be tradable via a Swiss over-the-counter (OTC) trading platform.

Kama has developed a new CPX 106 positioning system for B1-sized flat-bed finishing machines, mainly targeted at embossing and hot foil finishing. It’s said to significantly reduce the makeready time needed to correctly position the cliché dies by up to 90 percent. The key to this is the CPX software that calculates the target position (rotated, mirrored) and takes into account the thermal expansion of the embossing plate and clichés. There’s no need for measuring or cutting out or for subsequent corrections on the hot plate and virtually no waste. Instead the clichés can be mounted directly on the target position on the plate by camera-based alignment on the screen.

Kama can supply customised adaptors to use its solution with different makes of B1 machines, including Bobst, Gietz or Heidelberg/MK. Bernd Sauter, managing director of Kama, explained: “After the successful introduction of our positioning system for half format and 70 installations worldwide, we received several requests from customers for a solution for larger formats. This gave us the impetus to make the CPX 106 ready for series production.”

Kama’s new CPX 106 can be used to position dies for B1 finishing systems.

He added: “Wherever register-precise embossing and hot foil finishing is required, printing companies can benefit from the CPX: in the finishing of greeting cards, labels, vouchers and tickets as well as in the packaging market for high quality folding cartons for brand manufacturers from food to technology or cosmetics.”

Appointments:

Michel Hunkeler, will hand over his role of CEO of Hunkeler AG to Daniel Erni, currently the Global Sales Manager and a member of the Executive Board of Hunkeler, effective from 1 January 2023. Daniel Erni joined Hunkeler in 2016, having previously held positions as managing director and sales manager in several other companies. 

Daniel Erni has been promoted to CEO of Hunkeler AG.

He will continue to report directly to Michel Hunkeler, who will remain as a delegate of the board of directors and will focus on the company’s strategic direction and support various stakeholders around the Hunkeler Group. Stefan Hunkeler will continue as Chairman of the Board of Directors and the rest of the executive management team will also remain in place.

Gallus has promoted Dario Urbinati from Chief Sales & Service Officer to Chief Executive Officer. He takes over from Dr. Frank Schaum, who will now head Heidelberg’s Print Segment.

Urbinati first joined Gallus in 2007, where he served nine years with the company, finishing up as Managing Director for Southeast Asia. From there he joined Omet China as its narrow/mid web Managing Director, before becoming Chief Sales and Marketing Officer for Actega Metal Print and then rejoining Gallus. 

Dr. Ludwin Monz, Heidelberg’s CEO, comments: “Dario has been responsible for refocusing the business against a very clear vision for the future of labels. This has meant resetting the business in important areas by increasing customer service and support, boosting sales and marketing activities and much more.

Dario Urbinati has been promoted to CEO of Gallus.

In the US, GEW has promoted Vini Munzberg, who joined the company in 2016, to Sales Manager for Latin America where she will be responsible for all sales across the region, including Mexico. She will travel extensively and will have the support of an established network of GEW distributors throughout Central and South America.

Munzberg has a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration with a minor in International Business from Southern New Hampshire University. She was recently named to SNHU’s Honor Roll, in recognition of learners who excel at the University.
Robert Rae, Managing Director of Sales at GEW, comments: “It is a pleasure to be able to give Vini this opportunity. She is well known to our Latin America customers, having spent five years in the GEW Inc. office selling spare parts and supporting customers and distributors with quotation requests. However, it became obvious Vini could do more and she thoroughly deserves this promotion to Sales Manager.”

Meteor Inkjet has appointed Namrata Sharma as the company’s Sales Associate in India. She has worked in the digital printing industry in India since 2004 and is based in Gurugram, Haryana.

Jonathan Wilson, Meteor’s VP of Business Development, comments: “As a British company operating globally, we are committed to offering expert local sales and support.  We are excited to work with Namrata and expect customers to see great things from this affiliation.”

Sadly, Ricoh has lost two members of staff in the UK this month. Chas Moloney, Marketing Director of Ricoh UK & Ireland and EMEA Director of Strategic Campaigns and Customer Engagement, passed away at the start of December after a short illness.

Phil Keoghan, CEO of Ricoh UK & Ireland, commented: “Chas will be remembered fondly, not only for his outstanding leadership, deep knowledge and passion for our business, but also for his incredible warmth, humour and loyalty. Chas always supported and promoted inclusion across Ricoh, and was particularly proud of his role as an executive sponsor for the LGBTQ+ community. He had the ability to talk to anyone, putting them instantly at ease thanks to his charm and personality. Outside of work, he was a loving father, husband, popular member of his community and a passionate supporter of Gloucester Rugby and West Ham United FC.” 

And just before Christmas Dave Varty, head of business development EMEA for Ricoh Europe, died suddenly. I first met Dave over 20 years ago when he worked for Agfa and we travelled together to Agfa’s headquarters in Mortsel, Belgium. He had a deep knowledge of the inkjet world, and particularly industrial and 3D printing, as well as the patience to explain how things worked. As David Gray, Inkjet technology key account manager for Ricoh Europe, noted: “Our industry and community has lost a great character, and I have lost a great friend and colleague. Rest in peace Dave.”

Finally, spare a thought for Elon Musk, who used to be one of the smartest and richest people around, and continues to prove that it is actually possible for someone to have too much money. So far he appears to have spent $44 billion making Twitter an even more toxic platform than it already was, neatly demonstrating the need for more government oversight of social media. 


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