Look back at…March 2023

March was haunted by the spectre of a new banking crisis. This started with the collapse of the Silicon Valley Bank in the US, which then prompted fears of instability in both the US and European banking systems. SVB specialised in lending money to tech firms and its collapse also had a knock-on effect on many small start-up firms. The UK branch of the bank also fell into difficulties, prompting the Bank of England to suspend trading in SVB UK, with HSBC stepping in to buy the British arm for just £1. 

However, the rot did not stopped there, with Credit Suisse forced to the brink of bankruptcy, leading to a £2.65 billion takeover by its rival UBS. Other banks, including Deutsche Bank, also experienced jitters but the situation appears to have stabilised as March gave way to April. The crisis has been partly blamed on higher interest rates with the US Federal Reserve now expected to pause interest rate rises. Unfortunately, the UK’s inflation level rose to 10.4 percent, leading to the bank of England raising its base rate to 4.25 percent. 

In response, the Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, unveiled a ‘back to work’ budget, so-called because it extended free childcare to encourage mothers to return to work and scrapped some pension limits, which otherwise encouraged high-earning professionals to retire early. The UK has experienced some labour shortages since Brexit forced many Europeans to return to the EU, exacerbated by the pandemic lockdowns, which led to many people reevaluating their work/ life balance. If only we had large numbers of people flocking to our shores looking for work…

In other news, the government has introduced an immigration bill which effectively denies any help to refugees, tearing up the UK’s obligations under the European convention on human rights and international human rights and refugee treaties and shredding the traditional British values of helping those in need.

Also in March, we had the spectacle of the former Prime Minister Boris Johnson argue that even though he attended parties in Downing Street after he had passed laws banning such events during the Covid lockdown, no one had told him that the parties were in fact parties. It’s hard to tell which is worse: that Johnson might genuinely think this is a reasonable defence; or that we entrusted Britain’s nuclear launch codes to a man who is too stupid to recognise when he’s at a party even when he’s photographed holding a glass of wine. Not surprisingly, a survey has found that more British voters now trust EU institutions over Westminster politicians. 

Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, has signalled growing concerns in Western countries over their relations with China. She pointed out that the Chinese Communist party was aiming for “systemic change of the international order with China at its centre” and cited the “grave human rights violations” in Xinjiang. But von der Leyen noted that European companies had considerable economic interests in China, concluding: “Our relations are not black or white – and our response cannot be either. This is why we need to focus on de-risking – not de-coupling.” Nonetheless, the US has already banned some hi-tech companies from investing in China, and the European Commission is considering imposing similar restrictions on European companies.

This geopolitical tussle directly affects many western companies involved in printing, from Heidelberg to Xaar, not to mention those Chinese companies that want to export to Europe. The sheer scale of the market in China, for both graphics and industrial printing, makes this a major issue for the inkjet community.

The backdrop to this is the war in Ukraine and the fear that this might trigger a separate conflict over Taiwan. So far the major beneficiary appears to be India, with governments from the US to China courting support from India and companies such as Apple exploring ways to shift production from China to India. 

March also saw Kyocera acquire the French inkjet company Nixka, which is essentially a continuation of Impika. Epson introduced new variants of its I3200 and S800 printheads, while Meteor Inkjet announced electronic drive systems for Ricoh’s TH6310F MEMs printhead. HP showed off its latest Indigo press, the 200K, which is designed for flexible packaging, and Mimaki entered the Direct to Film textile market with a new TxF150 wide format printer. Nano Dimension, which owns GIS, put in a bid for 3D vendor Stratasys.

PrintIQ has released version 46 of its cloud-based MIS.

PrintIQ released Version 46 of its eponymous cloud-based MIS with over 30 new features. This includes a new Sign Off App that allows iPhone or Android phone users to upload all information directly to a job bag, review, check and then sign off those jobs. There’s an IQ Link that allows users to collaborate with other PrintIQ customers to offer products not currently manufactured in-house. The system can also synchronise with the Infigo web to print system for live pricing and stock control plus product Push giving dynamic updates in Infigo store fronts.

Paul Bromley, Global Sales Director for PrintIQ, commented: “IQ has always prided itself on its ongoing R&D program because we have a business solution that is so much more than just an MIS. IQ delivers workflow automation and business intelligence at the Core of everything we do. IQ’s slick looking user interface is helping companies navigate the current staffing shortage which means that new starters can be up to speed with IQ only days after joining which is a major asset to business owners struggling with skill shortages”

Optimum Signs in Lancashire is the first British company to order the new system. MD Matthew Austin said, “We have been in discussion with printIQ for several months now and always look to innovate within the company by using the best technology available.” He added: “We deal with some major brands, and we see this system as providing more visibility and communication for them as well as automating our workflow internally.”

eProductivity Software, which split from EFI, has continued EFI’s habit of buying up MIS providers with the acquisition of the British MIS developer Tharstern. This will help ePS expand further into the British market, as well as Australia and South Africa where Tharstern had a strong presence. Keith McMurtrie, CEO of Tharstern, commented: “ePS has the technology, solutions, and global reach to enable continued growth and success across the Tharstern customer base for years to come.”

GMG has worked with Sun Chemical to create a digital colour workflow system. This involves integrating the GMG ColorCard colour workflow into Sun Chemical’s SunDigiProof service. This will allow users to digitize and automate the production of precise digital colour matches based on digitally defined colours.

Marc Levine, director of Business Development at GMG, explained: “With GMG ColorCard, ink drawdowns are simplified requiring no special tools or expertise. We build our expertise into the software, using spectral prediction technology found in GMG OpenColor.” 

He added: “We also leverage the capability of today’s high-performance inkjet printing solutions, enabling users to create accurate, repeatable digital colour matches in under three minutes. That means no more time-consuming and resource-intensive manual processing, consistent substrate-to-substrate consistency, and faster, more accurate colour referencing across the board.”

GMG ColorCard now works together with Sun Chemical’s SunDigiProof service.

Fujifilm has introduced a new thermoforming inkset, the Uvijet HZ, for use with its Acuity Prime flatbed printers. These LED UV curable inks are suitable for applications such as deep-draw thermoforming, line bending and dome blowing.

Matthew Whiting, Product Manager at Fujifilm Wide Format Inkjet Systems, comments: “When thermoforming, you don’t want the ink to crack, become brittle or flake. Our Uvijet HZ inks are very flexible and maintain their high quality throughout the thermoforming process, resulting in an excellent finish.”

Ricoh has announced a new colour wide format plotter, the IP CW2200, which is aimed at the CAD and technical documents market, including the architecture, engineering, manufacturing, and construction sectors. This is essentially a print-only version of the existing multi-function IM CW2200, which has a built-in A0 document scanner. It uses Ricoh’s Gel-Jet piezo printheads and GelJet pigment-based inks. It can print an A0 document up to 1200 x 1200 dpi at 3.8 ppm in black and white which drops to 2.1 ppm for full colour.

Fiery has incorporated Viesus Cloud into its JobFlow print automation software. Viesus Cloud, is an image enhancement and upscaling tool for large format printing. It includes automatic colour correction, image sharpening, and noise reduction. Servi Pieters, Product Manager at Viesus, commented: “Our technology, which uses AI-supported upscaling technology, is designed to optimize and enlarge images for print, making it a natural fit for Fiery JobFlow display graphics users. We look forward to seeing the benefits this integration will bring to print service providers and their customers as more of them adopt the Viesus solution for use with the Fiery workflow they are already comfortable with.”

Solimar Systems, which develops modular workflow solutions, has expanded its strategic partnership with Konica Minolta, working now with both the UK as well as the US operation. This will give Konica Minolta users a single point of control, including production environment dashboards and alerts through Solimar’s SOLitrack suite for increased visibility, tracking and reporting.

Jamie Walsh, Sales Manager for EMEA and APAC for Solimar Systems, commented: “We have a longstanding partnership with Konica Minolta in the United States, delivering robust, industrial workflow solutions to support the ongoing challenges faced by PSPs and in-house print environments. We will replicate this partnership in the UK, combining Solimar workflow solutions for existing and potential customers of the Accurio range of output devices, whether that be toner-based or inkjet cutsheet.”

Fujifilm Graphic Communications has signed a partnership agreement with Henkel Adhesive Technologies that will see it recommend Henkel’s solvent-free laminating adhesives for use with the Jet Press FP790 digital flexible packaging press, which should be commercially available later this year. The two companies have run a series of tests to ensure compatibility with the Jet Press FP790 ink as well as verify adhesion properties and lamination performance in post-press production.

Manuel Schrutt, head of Packaging for Fujifilm Graphic Communications EMEA, said: “With the challenging demands of the flexible packaging market, particularly the short turnaround times and regulatory requirements, we wanted customers of our Jet Press FP790 to be in the best possible position to maximise the production opportunities from day one.”

Pulse Roll label Products has introduced the PureTone DC range of dual cure flexo inks.

The British ink manufacturer Pulse Roll Label Products has introduced a new dual cure UV LED ink range, PureTone DC, where the initiators within the ink are activated when exposed to either traditional UV lamps or UV LED light. As such these inks can help printers phase out their existing mercury-based curing equipment. LED curing should lead to significant savings in power and will allow this ink to cure at lower temperatures for use with heat-sensitive thin films. The range includes CMYK+OGV for extended colour gamut printing and is fully compliant with food packaging regulations and guidelines.

Gary Seward, Managing Director of Pulse Roll Label Products, said: “At a time when our customers’ energy bills are soaring, solutions like PureTone DC that help cut costs with rapid, energy-efficient curing can make all the difference. As well as needing less energy to run, the UV LED lamps that cure this ink last many times longer than traditional UV equivalents, with output remaining consistent over the bulb’s lifespan. What’s more, disposal is also significantly less complex with UV LED bulbs.” He added: “We’ve even seen improved cure and adhesion over the existing ranges during extensive beta testing, so this really is the next generation of PureTone ink.”

Integration Technology, which specialises in UV LED curing solutions, is changing its name to IST InTech to reflect the fact that the company is part of the IST group. The group is also building a new LEDlab at the IST Metz head office in Nurtingen, which is a collaboration between IST InTech and IST Metz, with the aim of developing the next generation of high-performance UV LED systems.

Avery Dennison is working with the Carbon Trust to develop a bespoke carbon footprinting tool as part of its drive towards transparency and continuous improvement in environmental impact measurement and reporting on its label products. This tool generates reports that are in line with the reporting and verification methodology of GHG Protocol Product Standard, PAS2050 and ISO-14067.

Claudia Mariconda, Global Director Sustainability in Avery Dennison’s Materials Group, explained: “As a company, we’ve monitored and assessed the sustainability of our products for the past ten years, and this is another important step forward in our goal of providing the most accurate information to our customers.” She added: “By implementing the Carbon Trust footprinting tool, we facilitate further transparency and offer customers a more trustworthy assessment of our label products’ impacts.”

Additive manufacturing

Evolve Additive Solutions, which has developed a 3D printing system for ABS thermoplastic based on an electrophotographic process, has now introduced a way for potential customers to evaluate the business case of having their parts 3D-printed. The Production Assessment Program lets customers work with a team of engineering experts to analyze and validate the business case of their additive applications on Evolve’s SVP (Scaled Volume Production) platform. At the end of the process those customers receive their parts as well as a summary report with production validation data.

Joe Allison, CEO of Evolve, commented: “This is an exciting time in the growth of Evolve. This expansion will allow us to continue on our path to be the industry leader for higher volume of production thermoplastic applications within the additive manufacturing space.”

Stratasys has signed a deal with Ricoh USA to provide it with on-demand 3D printed anatomic models for clinical use. This will form part of Stratasys’ Patient-Specific 3D Solutions and also includes software from Axial 3D. The idea is that customers can upload medical files to a secure cloud-based service where Axial3D’s artificial intelligence-powered software automatically converts medical scans into 3D printable files. The files are then printed on Stratasys 3D printers at Ricoh’s ISO 13485 certified facility, with the models shipped directly to the care facility.

Stratasys has signed a deal with Ricoh USA to provide it with on-demand 3D printed anatomic models for clinical use.

Ben Klein, general manager of Patient-Specific Solutions for Stratasys, explained: “With the advancement in imaging techniques and 3D-printing technology, we are seeing an increased demand for personalized solutions.” He added: “We offer a simplified and scalable, comprehensive solution that increases access to patient-specific 3D-printed models in a fraction of time to help deliver highly personalized treatment and care.”

Appointments

Chris Scully, who has been Koenig and Bauer’s UK sales director for 18 years, has now been promoted to the role of Managing Director and will continue as sales director. Ralf Sammeck, Koenig and Bauer board member, commented: “We feel that now is the right time to complete the process of merging responsibility for sales and operations in line with other regional subsidiaries where it has proved successful and very effective.” He added: “We are convinced that with Chris Scully and Stephanie Thomson (Finance Director), and Peter Banks (Service Director), we have a successful management team at the helm of Koenig and Bauer UK that will react with speed and agility to customer requests and thus make a decisive contribution to our continued success.”

Chris Scully has been promoted to managing and sales director of Koenig and Bauer UK.

Heidelberg has hired Florian Pitzinger to head its Global Corporate Communications. He most recently worked at tire manufacturer Michelin and before that at technology company Robert Bosch GmbH. Dr Ludwin Monz, CEO of Heidelberg, commented: “I am very pleased to welcome Florian Pitzinger to the team of Heidelberg. With our products and services, such as the well-known printing presses, we stand for integrated solutions – we will now also offer these in communications. Together, we will drive integrated communications that will make our strategy even more visible internationally and continue to support the internal cultural transformation within the company.”

Mark Wilson has joined GIS as engineering director responsible for R&D projects, process and team management. He has spent the last 22 years working for Cambridge Consultants, starting as engineer and technical lead and rising to become head of engineering groups, wireless and digital services. 

Megnajet, which develops fluid management systems and was acquired by Xaar in 2022, is doubling its production facility in Kettering, UK, to expand its manufacturing output. The company has also made a number of internal promotions. Thus Adam Eaton has been promoted from design and process manager to Engineering Manager, while Andy Jinks, who was the interim Site Manager has now been given the job full time.

Pees in a pod: from left – Michael Oetjen, Christian Blaise, Cindy Van Luyck, Charlotte Holbrouck, Anabel De Vetter, Boris Van Calenbergh.

The Belgian distributor Four Pees, which specialises in workflow automation, has made a number of new appointments recently. Thus Anabel De Vetter has become its Chief Revenue Officer, while Cindy Van Luyck joins as Head of Marketing, and Boris Van Calenbergh takes on the role of Head of Finance and Administration. Michael Oetjen joins as Senior Implementation Consultant to increase the overall focus on tech implementation and process optimization at Four Pees customer sites. In addition, Christian Blaise takes on a new role as Head of Customer Success, while Charlotte Holbrouck is promoted to Channel Sales Manager to boost the Reseller channel.

CEO Tom Peire stated: “The future is looking bright for the omnichannel world, and Four Pees is ready to meet its challenges head-on. We can’t wait to continue supporting our customers with hassle-free Connected Automation in the coming year. It is time for everyone to feel the good flow.”

Meanwhile, the UK has now banned government ministers from using TikTok, citing fears over how much data the app can hoover up. It remains to be seen if this is only about a Chinese company or a wider issue with social media apps.

Elsewhere, a number of tech leaders, including the Twitter owner Elon Musk, have called for a pause in the development of artificial intelligence citing a profound risk to humanity. It’s not clear if this is about AI in general or more to do with its use in social media apps…


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