Look back at…November 2023

November turned out to be a real rollercoaster of a month with everything from AI to climate change in the news plus the usual mix of back stabbing and farce at Westminster, which has its own form of artificial intelligence.

The UK hosted an AI summit at the start of the month, ostensibly to see if governments could get some kind of control over the development of artificial intelligence software. However, the summit failed to address the issue that concerns most citizens – will AI-enabled automation put them out of work? Instead the summit looked much more like Rishi Sunak, who is still prime minister, presenting his credentials to Silicon Valley in the hope of a job after politics. After all, even Nick Clegg, formerly the leader of the Liberal Democrats and deputy prime minister, managed to get a job with the Facebook owner Meta.

Suella Braverman lost her job as Home Secretary when her hate-filled agenda proved too much even for Sunak. Yet Braverman claims to have a document signed by Sunak in which he agreed to follow most of her policies, which if true underscores both his poor political judgement and his lack of support within his own party. James Cleverly, who has yet to live up to his name, has been moved from Foreign to Home Secretary. And David Cameron, the man who brought us the all the fun of the Brexit referendum, is back as Foreign Secretary with a seat in the House of Lords, despite his role in the Greensil lobbying scandal.

Meanwhile, Covid, having already brought us heartbreak and loss on an epic scale, is now doing comedy in the form of the independent enquiry into the government’s handling of the pandemic. So far we have heard that the former prime minister Boris Johnson, despite his Eton education, was unable to grasp basic concepts around the spread of the virus and didn’t see it as a problem if lots of elderly people died; the former health secretary Matt Hancock has been universally described by multiple witnesses as untrustworthy; and all the scientists agreed that Rishi Sunak’s Eat out to help out scheme was responsible for a further wave of infections and subsequent deaths.

November ended just as the COP28 climate conference was starting in the UAE, which King Charles opened by pleading with the world leaders to pay more attention to the climate. But Charles is unable to see that he is himself part of the problem. The biggest single issue is that most people simply can’t afford the lifestyle changes that are necessary to protect the planet and the eco-systems that we all depend on. So the first step is to persuade the world’s ultra wealthy to share more equally some of the assets that they have hidden away. 

This Seiko RCH1536 printhead is an improved version of its existing RC1536 head.

Closer to home, November also saw Ricoh announce its latest single pass continuous feed printer, the Pro VC80000, while Kodak has sold its first Prosper 7000 press, which is said to be the fastest single pass inkjet currently available. Stratasys launched a new 3D FDM printer, the F3300, that’s aimed at higher volume parts manufacturing, while Seiko introduced a new printhead, the RCH1536, which promises more durability and uniformity. We also saw financial results from Kodak and Agfa.

Heidelberg has said that it is still on track, six months in to this current financial year though this mainly seems to be that actual sales are down but margins are up. Thus the sales in the first half of €1.092 billion were close to the €1.120 billion sales from last year H1, while the incoming orders for the first half were €1.184 billion, just below last year’s orders of €1.229 billion. However the EBITDA operating result for the first half was €101 million, up from last year’s €92 million. This is reflected in the EBITDA margin, up from 8.2 to 9.2 percent. All these figures have been adjusted for exchange rates. 

Heidelberg says that it has seen a slight improvement in sales in the EMEA region thanks to growth in the packaging segment, prompting CEO Dr. Ludwin Monz to comment: “Given the stable growth of packaging printing, we are continuously further expanding our portfolio in this sector.”

Heidelberg is still expecting sales for the full year to match the previous year’s figure of €2.435 billion, and expecting the same EBITDA margin of 7.2 percent.

Highcon published an end of year statement from its CEO, Shlomo Nimrodi, in which he pointed out that the overall demand for packaging has declined, citing high interest rates, rising energy prices, parts supply issues and global economic uncertainty. Despite this, he says that his customers have produced more jobs month on month and that their volumes are up by 30 percent on average. He attributes this mainly to a growth in short run fast turnaround work that favours digital solutions. This is down to a number of factors, from brands cutting inventories and trying to cut waste to be more sustainable through to the need for more differentiation as well as coping with shortages in skilled labour.

Toray’s Resolucia is a narrow web flexo plate for the label market.

The Japanese Plate manufacturer Toray has developed a new flexographic plate, the Resolucia, which is designed for label printing and should be available in January 2024. Toray has been a market leader in plates for letterpress printing, and has essentially applied the same technology developed for its letterpress Torelief plate to the flexo market in response to customers moving from letterpress to flexo printing. This means that existing customers will be able to use their Torelief plate making equipment. The new plate is said to offer a resolution of around 200 lines per inch. Toray specialises in water development for its plates and says that the new plate has a processing time of around 24 minutes, which is around 70 percent faster than the conventional solvent development technique, and more sustainable. 

Ink manufacturer Nazdar has signed an exclusive development and OEM supplier agreement  with M&R Printing to develop a specialist ink set for M&R’s new Quatro DtF printer. M&R is one of the largest US manufacturers of printing equipment for the apparel market. The two companies have already worked together for several years. M&R CEO Danny Sweem explained: “While these types of OEM supplier relationships are very rarely made public, we felt that our customers would benefit in knowing that M&R was combining our 38 years’ experience in the design and manufacture of high-performance printed apparel decorating equipment with Nazdar’s more than 100 years of experience in the development of specialty inks and coatings for textile, graphic and industrial applications.”

Esko has formed a technology partnership with the French company Packitoo in order to integrate Esko’s ArtiosCAD, Automation Engine and Share & Approve software into Packitoo’s HIPE web-to-pack solution, which is targeted at the folding carton and corrugated packaging markets. Combining these programs together should create comprehensive packaging configurator tool, as well as a complete CRM, project and task management all the way up to approval and automated pricing.

Thomas Othax, CEO of Packitoo, explained “Our goal is to digitize the packaging industry, from lead generation to production, so integrating Esko’s structural design and approval software was a real must for us.”

From left: Kris Binon, AM Business Development Manager, poses with the Meteor Inkjet team during Formnext 2023

Hybrid Software has picked up a grant from the Flemish Government towards an R&D project that will add further features to the company’s CloudFlow Maker software for the additive manufacturing market. These features will include a “from CAD to postprocess” software solution for binder and material jetting technologies that should lead to lower costs per part while increasing the quality, reliability, and repeatability of the process.

Kris Binon, Hybrid Business Unit Manager for AM, noted: “We have a solid business case, driven by true market need and delivered from our in-house expertise. We’re glad we’ve been able to adequately substantiate this claim to the government, as we believe this project is going to create tangible added value for AM machine operators. Our team has already begun setting up tests that will quantify some of the parameters to be applied in our software, in alignment with our goal of achieving positive effects on binder usage, print speed and energy efficiency.” 

Nick De Roeck, co-president of Hybrid Software, adds: “Some of the R&D efforts will also benefit our existing solutions. We’re particularly looking at applying AI to further enhance the development of new algorithms, for example for advanced dithering and ink management. Our co-development projects with the first selected binder and material jetting OEM’s will also be announced in the near future.”

Lincsolution, a south Korean company that makes a range of 3D printers, has signed a memorandum of understanding with Xaar to use Xaar’s Nitrox and Aquinox printheads for its latest binder jet 3D metal printers. These will mostly be used to produce moulds, jigs and parts for automotive use, as well as mass customisation of products. The two companies have already worked together for over three years. 

Dexter Yoon, R&D director at Lincsolution, commented: “After comparing all the printhead manufacturers, we chose to work with Xaar as their outstanding technological products and service support give real confidence to both developers and end-users.”

Xaar is to supply Lincsolution with its Nitrox and Aquinox printheads.

6K Additive, which is part of 6K Inc and produces materials and metal alloys for 3D printing, has signed a Memorandum Of Understanding with Metal Powder Works, which makes solid state metal powders. The MOU details a strategic partnership to produce pure copper, copper alloys, leading to strategically important powders such as copper/nickel, and bronze alloy powders for additive manufacturing. 

Frank Roberts, president of 6K Additive, commented: “The market for copper is eager for a scalable solution that can not only deliver high-quality material, but one that can bring simplicity to the supply chain with a very sustainable process.”

The demand for copper runs across a number of applications, including heat sinks, battery components, particularly for the rapidly growing EV market, and critical parts for the marine industry.

Roberts added: “The synergies between our two organizations ensure customers can source their material sustainably, reliably, and with the quality that meets their stringent specifications.”

Appointments

Oliver Dohn has joined Xsys as its new chief executive officer, replacing Dagmar Schmidt who has left after 25 years at the company to pursue other endeavors. Dohn  was most recently the CEO of Felss Group, which makes components for the mobility industry. He has previously worked at Oerlikon Drive Systems, Bombardier Transportation and General Motors. Schmidt will continue to be involved with the company in an advisory capacity at board level.

Suzie Thorogood has been appointed Chief Financial Officer of Konica Minolta UK

Konica Minolta, which celebrates its 150th anniversary this year, has appointed Suzie Thorogood as Chief Financial Officer of its UK Business Solutions group. She previously worked for the healthcare firm Cantel UK as its finance director for UK and France. 

Rob Ferris, CEO of Konica Minolta Business Solutions UK, commented: “We purposely looked for someone with the right energy, who shares our specific values in leadership and the importance of identifying and developing high performance talent. In addition, someone who has excelled in leading a national operating company, whilst understanding the needs of the broader European and Global business.”

EyeC, which makes quality control systems, has promoted Markus Fietkau from deputy to sales director. He previously worked with a German printing company before moving into pharmaceutical logistics and then in 2017 joined EyeC as global account manager. Meanwhile, the previous sales director, Ralph Beier, has been promoted to business development director.

Dr Ansgar Kaupp, managing director of EyeC, commented:”Together with Ralph Beier in the position of business development director, we now have two experienced executives with a strong entrepreneurial track record who have already been able to profitably establish numerous national and international sales strategies in the market thanks to their valuable expertise and passion for sales. This is the best basis for making a valuable contribution to the continued success of EyeC.”

SAi, which develops wide format RIP and design software, has promoted Eyal Friedman from VP of product management to senior vice president and managing director of International Sales, replacing Sarit Tichon who is retiring.

Don Feagan, Chairman of SAi’s Board of Directors, said, “We wish Sarit all the best in her new direction, and we congratulate Eyal on his important and significant promotion. Eyal is ideally suited to manage SAi’s international business and is greatly respected by equipment manufacturers, resellers and customers alike for his deep technical knowledge and understanding of the market.”

Miraclon has appointed Neil Little as sales manager for the UK, Ireland and Nordics. He has previously worked at Esko, Coveris, Sessions of York, multi-site reprographics provider York Reprographic, and inline print inspection companies AVT & EyeC. Stephen McCartney, Miraclon’s regional commercial director for Europe, noted: “Neil is a great addition to the Miraclon commercial team. His extensive experience in the print and packaging industries has equipped him with valuable knowledge and strong relationships across both the narrow and wide web packaging markets in the UK, Ireland and Nordics. Neil is therefore well positioned to offer premium support to our customers and prospects in these regions and I’m confident he will prove to be a valuable addition to the team.”

InkTec Europe has hired Gary Walker as senior business development specialist to develop consumable sales. He has over 24 years experience in the printing industry. Joey Kim Managing Director of InkTec Europe, commented: “We are delighted to have Gary join the team, as he will be bringing his extensive knowledge and experience of the sector. Alongside being focused on consumable sales, he will be using his connections to also expand our dealer/ distributor network both in the UK and across Europe.”

Renia Gkountiou of Aston University has been named Female Innovator for 2023.

Meanwhile, Renia Gkountiou, who has been working at Aston University’s Advanced Prototyping Facility in Birmingham in the UK as an engineer and technician, has been named Female Innovator for 2023 for her role helping small to medium size businesses use and develop additive manufacturing. She noted that she had worked on a number of different 3D printing projects: “These projects have involved the creation of novel product designs, prototypes and the development of materials in close collaboration with other departments at Aston University. The resulting designs and components not only exhibit improved efficiency but also cost-effectiveness, and an eco-friendly approach when contrasted with traditional manufacturing methods.”

Last year Aston University became the second UK university to have an engineering department awarded Athena Swan Gold which recognises a commitment to advancing the careers of women and promoting gender equality.

Finally, its worth noting that in Ukraine roughly 10,000 civilians have been killed since the Russian attack in February 2022, mostly through artillery and missile strikes, according to the UN, which notes that there are likely to be many more deaths that have yet to be verified.

In Gaza, the Hamas-led health ministry says around 14,000 civilians have been killed since October 7th 2023, including around 5000 children. This figure is unverified though the UN has confirmed that 108 of its staff have been killed in Gaza. The International Federation of Journalists reports that so far 60 Palestinian journalists and media workers have been killed, as well as four Israeli and three Lebanese journalists. For context, 88 journalists worldwide have died in the course of their work this year.


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