Look back at…May 2023

The UK started May off with a burst of sunshine and the optimism surrounding the crowning of a new king but this has ended with a hard dose of reality and yet another government scandal looming.

For many people the highlight of the month will have been the coronation of Charles III, which demonstrated that Britain is still really good at costume dramas even though the start of his reign was marked by heavy rain. Where Elizabeth promised to serve her subjects right till the end, Charles has instead suggested that we citizens should pledge an oath of allegiance to him, though none of us voted for him. 

It turns out that Britain’s world-famous values of democracy and the right to free speech only goes so far with the arrest of several people who dared to suggest that a meaningless ceremony likely to cost well over £100 million in order to crown a man worth £1.8bn might not be the best use of public money in a cost of living crisis. 

Then again the quaint daftness of these proceedings – replete with ceremonial orb, bracelets of sincerity and wisdom, and a princess riding behind a gilded carriage in a cocked hat, bearing the title “gold stick in waiting” – is perhaps a fitting reflection of modern Britain, with its inept police who arrested innocent bystanders at the coronation and a government that has given up on the illusion that it has any idea how to deal with the current economic crisis and has fallen back on blaming migrants with ever-harsher and illegal laws.

At the same time, the online safety bill is currently progressing through the House of Lords in its mission to wreck any semblance of online security for everyone in Britain. This is ostensibly designed to help the police catch more criminals but will also leave Britons exposed to more fraud. It will likely prevent end to end encryption for messaging, prompting WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook – not exactly well known for championing online privacy – to threaten to pull out of the UK. So, perhaps not all bad.

Early in the month, the Bank of England raised its base rate another quarter percentage point to 4.5 percent, further squeezing both consumer spending and business borrowing. Most economists expect a further rate rise in June. The UK inflation rate, which had been hovering around 10.1 percent, fell back in May to 8.7 percent, mostly due to falls in the price of oil and a corresponding drop in the price of energy. However, the UK is suffering from very high food price inflation combined with shortages of many essentials such as eggs. May also saw the US Federal Reserve raise its benchmark interest rate by a quarter-point to a range of 5 to 5.25 percent while the European Central Bank also raised its key interest rate by a quarter-point to 3.25 percent.

The World Health Organisation announced that it no longer considers Covid-19 to be a global health emergency. At its peak, it accounted for around 100,000 deaths per week in the UK and it’s still killing roughly 3,500 per week. Professor Andrew Lee of Sheffield University noted: “We now have a new human coronavirus that will continue to blight human populations into the future.” Professor Benjamin Neuman of Texas A&M University pointed out: “While there has been profound progress, this decision reflects the political reality of Covid more clearly than the medical situation.”

Britain’s Covid Wall memorial, opposite the Houses of Parliament.

Meanwhile, the government, having set up an official enquiry into the way that Britain handled the Covid pandemic, is now taking that enquiry to court in a desperate effort to avoid handing over the unredacted WhatsApp messages and diaries from the prime minister at the time, Boris Johnson. This has prompted speculation that Rishi Sunak, who was chancellor at the time in question, is trying to hide his part in the pandemic response. Johnson says he expects all the relevant documents to be turned over in full to the enquiry. This has allowed Johnson, possibly for the first time in his life, to claim the moral high ground, which is a new and strange experience for the rest of us. 

The UK government is to invest up to £1 billion in the next decade in a belated effort to catch up in the silicon chip business. Sadly, the proposals mostly seem to be about building on Britain’s existing research and design capability but with little thought for any actual manufacturing. The government’s fundamental problem remains how to convince companies interested in having a European chip manufacturing plant to build it in the UK rather than the EU. 

This follows an agreement at May’s G7 meeting in Hiroshima for Britain and Japan to collaborate on semiconductors. That agreement included a joint investment of up to £2 million for UK Research and Innovation to work with the Japan Science and Technology Agency on early stage semiconductor research next year.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, a number manufacturers have posted their financial reports for the first three months of this year. Kodak’s Q1 figures showed a fall in revenues, from $290 million in 2022 to $278 million for this year though Kodak says that foreign currency exchange accounted for $10 million of that. However, gross profit rose from $33 million to $50 million, while the net income according to Generally Accepted Accounting Practices, was a profit of $33 million, a significant improvement on the $3 million loss from Q1 2022 and the Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortisation was $9 million versus a loss of $7 million.

Jim Continenza, Executive Chairman and CEO of Eastman Kodak.

Jim Continenza, Kodak’s Executive Chairman and CEO, commented: “These improvements didn’t just happen. They are the result of a wide range of actions we have taken over the last four years to put us on a path to sustainable growth and profitability. We are continuing to invest in four long-term growth initiatives in our Advanced Materials and Chemicals group, and we are starting to see contributions from that business. We have invested in a significant infrastructure upgrade, including expanded implementation of Salesforce and SAP, that has made us materially better in terms of efficiency.”

Koenig and Bauer reported a rise in its revenues of 17.9 percent for the first quarter of this year, up from €238.4 million in 2022 to €281 million for Q1 2023. The company is still expecting to achieve revenues of €1.3 billion for the full year in 2023. However, the Earnings Before Interest and Taxes still showed a loss of €3.2 million, though this was an improvement by €5.3 million. The company says that price rises have nearly offset the increase in the cost of materials, in personnel and energy costs. In addition, the figures show growth in all segments, particularly the Digital and Webfed business.

The Agfa-Gevaert Group also reported its results for the first quarter of 2023, showing revenues up 7.2 percent over the same period last year from €252 million to €270 million. There has been very modest growth in the Healthcare and Radiology divisions with the bulk of the growth in the Digital Print and Chemicals business, up from €79 million to €97 million. However, although gross profit grew from €78 million to €87 million, and adjusted EBITDA rose from €7 million to €13 million, the net result for this quarter was a €66 million loss, down from a loss of €7 million in Q1 2022. Nonetheless the Group expects a recovery in profitability in the full year 2023 versus 2022.

Hybrid Software Group PLC has released its unaudited figures for the three months ended 31 March 2023, which shows that revenue for the period was €13.96 million, up from the same quarter last year of €12.45 million. The EBITDA for the period was €3.25 million, or 23% of revenue, slightly up from the previous years €2.74 million or 22% of revenue.

CEO Mike Rottenborn commented: “Group EBITDA was up in Q1 mainly due to increased revenue. In the Printhead Solutions segment, higher input costs resulting from sourcing difficulties and higher component prices in 2022 did weigh on overall margin contribution, which will continue for some time throughout 2023. However, we anticipate higher revenues from the Enterprise Software segment to offset this. Although business conditions remain challenging, we have a tight control on costs to insure profitable growth now and in the future.”

Bobst has acquired 70 percent of the equity of Dücker Robotics.

Bobst has acquired 70 percent of the equity of Dücker Robotics, which develops robotic solutions for loading and palletizing in the corrugated board sector. This fits with Bobst’s vision of the entire packaging production line being connected and automated and is yet further evidence of the growing use of robotics in handling printing substrates. The current management team of Dücker Robotics will remain in place.

Jean-Pascal Bobst, CEO of Bobst Group, explained: “In an era where converters are facing higher demands than ever due to the booming global demand and specifically in e-commerce market, while simultaneously facing challenges in shortages of manpower, automation has never been more important for our clients. Dücker Robotics has 20 years of proven leadership in the development of robotic systems for the most sophisticated converting machines, and we are very excited to see what we can achieve together.”

HP has announced a new approach to its software offerings in the shape of the new HP PrintOS Software Suite, which is split into four modules called Power Packs covering press monitoring and productivity management tools, applications for consistent quality across jobs, presses and sites, unique personalization and customization creativity modules, and digital site automation flow from submission to shipping. The PrintOS Suite is a cloud-based operating system, with the new Power Packs available on a subscription basis from July 1st, 2023.

Kodak has expanded the use of its Prinergy Access Software as a Service offering, which is now available worldwide. It allows printers to streamline the file upload and approval process, complete with annotating, preflighting and reviewing those files. It includes colour management, file management, backup, trapping, and routing software. It works with any digital press regardless of manufacturer and will also connect with other workflows as well as Kodak’s own Prinergy. 

Jim Barnes, Kodak’s Chief IT Implementation Officer, explained: “We are very pleased that Prinergy Access is now available around the globe. It enables commercial printers of all sizes to easily benefit from our unmatched prepress and print automation and customer collaboration tools.” He added: “Printers can use Prinergy Access immediately without complex implementation, and without having to invest in the acquisition and maintenance of additional hardware or IT infrastructure.”

Kodak’s Prinergy Access SaaS is now available worldwide.

Inkcups has announced a new direct to shape benchtop printer, the Helix One, for printing to cylindrical objects. Essentially, it’s a scaled down version of the company’s larger Helix range of direct to shape printers. It will print to both straight walled and tapered cylindrical objects such as plastic bottles, stainless tumblers, powder-coated drinkware. It prints CMYK + white and there’s an optional jettable varnish/ primer.

Fujifilm Speciality Ink Systems has replaced the solvent cleaning it used in its ink manufacturing plant in Broadstairs, UK, with a new approach developed by Terrafend using Ambimization technology. This combines chemical and mechanical engineering. The Ambimization water-based fluids are non-flammable, non-carcinogenic and non-toxic. They work at ambient temperatures and can be used repeatedly before reaching end of life, thus reducing workplace risk, energy consumption, and VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds).

Emily Cassius, Head of Business Development at Terrafend, adds: “This cleaning technology has huge potential to help leading brands – like Fujifilm – to operate more efficiently while reducing risk, waste and carbon footprints. We are pleased to have helped them boost their sustainability credentials and look forward to a continued partnership.”

Heidelberg has delivered the 50th unit of its CutStar Generation 4 sheeter, which comes with a greater level of automation than previous versions. Heidelberg says that users can save up to 50 percent on makeready times when it is integrated into the Prinect workflow. It can cope with thin materials including films from 40 μm and paper from 30 gsm. 

Heidelberg says that commercial printers are increasingly using sheeters because of the associated cost benefits of buying paper in rolls. However, the company also says that two thirds of the systems that have been supplied so far are being used to print labels and packaging inserts.


Dan Purjes, who is the majority owner of SAi, which develops wide format RIP software, is stepping down as chairman but will continue to participate in strategic initiatives concerning the company’s future. This has prompted a number of other changes within SAi’s management team. Thus the CEO, Don Feagan, will also take on the role of chairman. 

From left: Mikki Webb, President and Chief Operating Officer, and Lloyd Cundiff, Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, both of SAi.

Meanwhile, Mikki Webb has been promoted from senior vice president to President and Chief Operating Officer. She has over 25 years management experience and joined SAi in 2018, helping to grow the software subscription program, reduce customer attrition and improve efficiencies within the company’s payment processing systems.

At the same time, Lloyd Cundiff has been promoted to Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer for SAi. He joined the company in 2010 and helped build out the SAi Cloud platform as well as developing numerous on-line and desktop applications.

Feagan commented: “Today’s announcement reflects the importance SAi places on succession planning to ensure we have individuals of the highest caliber and with the proven career experience in senior positions – both for the future success of SAi and our ability to continue to meet the changing needs of our customers.”

Apex International has promoted Ruud van Cuijk to be its new Chief Executive Officer. He has worked at the company for ten years and holds a master’s degree in international business from Tilburg University, and a master’s degree in finance & control from TIAS Business School. Ken Ralton, Chairman of Apex International, commented: “Over the last decade, Ruud has continuously proven he is a man of diligence, strategy, integrity, and action. We are confident he will lead Apex International into our next level of success, while keeping our customers’ goals and needs top of mind through every decision.” 

He takes over from Marian Waterschoot, who held the role of CEO for the last 22 years and oversaw a significant growth of the company. She will take up a new role as Director of the growing Apex Embossing division.

Screen Europe has expanded Juan Cano’s role, making him Marketing Director alongside his existing job as Business Development Director for Flexible Packaging. He commented: “I am honoured to take on the additional role of Marketing Director at a time when Screen is not only showing strong growth in its core markets but is also breaking into new ones, like packaging.”

Tracy Dineen has joined Durst as Business Development Manager covering southern England. She has over 20 years experience in print, having worked previously for EFI and HP and most recently for Soyang Europe.

She commented: “This is my dream job. Durst has a great sense of its own identity and brand values akin to my own. As a privately-owned company, Durst can self-determine and remain focused on its position in the industry. As a market leader with engineering excellence and customer satisfaction at its heart, it’s focus on ‘pixel to output’ has real meaning for its customers. I could not be prouder to joint this great company.”

Tracy Dineen has joined Durst as Business Development Manager.

Berger Textiles is expanding its operation in North America with a number of new appointments. Ralph Terramagra has joined as Sales Director for North America, reporting to CEO Alessandro Lanfranconi. The company has also taken on Andrew Downs and Joseph Terramagra as new Business Development Managers for the Mid-West and West Coast respectively. In addition, Berger Textiles has upgraded its warehousing facilities in Las Vegas (Nevada) and Louisville (Kentucky) to optimise service for customers nationwide.

Ralph Terramagra commented: “Joining Berger Textiles is a unique personal opportunity to be part of building and growing a great textile brand in North America. Berger is a company with a long heritage and strong reputation for quality and choice in Europe, and there’s definitely a strong appetite among North American customers for high-performance textile materials backed by expert technical support for soft signage, garment printing and interiors. With strong global management and an experienced sales team, we’re out to make Berger the ‘go-to’ textiles partner for North American printers, sign-makers, installers and designers.”

Finally, Mars Inc is running a trial to switch from flexible film to paper for the packaging of its iconic Mars chocolate bars. In the spirit of acknowledging that we can all do our bit to limit damage to the environment, I’m happy to offer my services to Mars and any other chocolate manufacturers to test the effect of this packaging change on the taste of their confectionery, completely free of charge.



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