News Digest…February 2024

For the West, February primarily marked the second anniversary of the war in Ukraine, amplified by Donald Trump’s threat of not helping NATO allies. This means that European nations are having to increase their defence spending at a time of economic uncertainty, while also wondering just how flaky America is as an ally? 

China celebrated the start of the year of the Dragon though its economy has slowed with consumers still spooked after the pandemic and cautious about spending. China’s consumer price index fell 0.8 percent year on year, the fourth consecutive month of such falls. The country was hit by deflation last year which has led to prices decreasing across the board. Employment rates have fallen and there’s been a significant downturn in the property market. 

Meanwhile, the war in Gaza continues, with Hamas still holding some 100 or so Israelis hostage and the Israelis still bombing targets in Gaza, despite negotiations for a ceasefire continuing in the background. Amid the ongoing threat that this conflict might spread elsewhere in the Middle East, the Houthi rebel group in Yemen has continued to attack shipping in the Red Sea, pushing up freight costs just at the point when many nations were hoping to see inflation easing.

America’s unwavering support for Israel has damaged its credibility across the Muslim world, while Netanyahu’s refusal to heed Biden’s requests to ease the pace of the bombing has made the US look weak. 

The situation in Gaza has galvanised many voters in Western countries, forcing politicians to rethink their positions on the crisis. In the US, over 100,000 Democrats voted Uncommitted in the Michigan state primary, enough to suggest that Biden may have a problem in the presidential election. The plight of the Palestinians has also led to a confected row in the British Parliament over a vote calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.

This has been followed by incendiary comments from the former deputy Tory Party leader Lee Anderson accused the London Mayor Sadiq Khan of having fallen under the control of Islamists. This has prompted claims that the Tory party is itself Islamaphobic, with party leaders trying to weigh up if that would lead to more or less votes. I’ve written a longer summary of the overall geopolitical situation elsewhere under Notes from the Gallery.

HP demonstrated a new 108mm wide thermal inkjet print module.

In terms of printing, HP has commercially launched the 108mm thermal bulk printing solution for coding and marking, while Mark Andy has introduced a new digital label press, the Digital Pro Plus. Screen has worked with Sappi and Mercian labels to develop recyclable packaging for Whitaker’s Chocolates, while Kao Chimigraf has revealed a new deinking system for flexible packaging called thermo switch polymer. Quantica has partnered with ImageXpert to help users test its NovoJet printhead, and Bobst has released its financial figures for last year. I’ve also written about Fujifilm Dimatix’s Silicon MEMs approach to printheads, and I’ve covered the Indian commercial print show Pamex alongside an overview of the Indian market.

There’s been plenty of evidence in February that the geopolitical situation is having a direct effect on the fortunes of the printing industry.  Sun Chemical, for example, has announced freight surcharges as a result of the disruption caused to shipping in the Red Sea by the Houthi group. Its attacks on freight vessels have forced many to abandon the Suez Canal and take the longer and more expensive route around the Cape of Good Hope. According to Sun Chemical’s statement: “Vessels departing from China, India, and the rest of the Far East are being affected by safety measures, shipments delays, rotation of containers, as well as ports’ congestion, causing journey extensions of at least 20 days on the outward and 20 days on their return.” 

Fujifilm has announced that prices to its hardware products, consumables, and services are going up in the European market. The company blames this on increases in the costs of labour, freight, warehousing and energy, as well as the prices of its own suppliers going up. 

Taku Ueno, Senior Vice President of Fujifilm Graphic Communications in Europe comments: “Despite our best efforts to absorb the impact of these increases, we can no longer avoid raising the prices of many of our products and services. The prices will be increased by double digit percentages, the exact amount dependent on the product range, and be effective from 18th March 2024, with the news communicated directly to customers affected. At Fujifilm we remain committed to providing  high quality products and services and will continue to work to mitigate any further cost impacts.”

Heidelberg has released its Q3 figures to the end of December 2023, showing a slow down in incoming orders particularly in North America and Europe. Heidelberg says this is mainly due to the overall economic climate with some customers also waiting for interest rates to fall and others waiting to see announcements from Drupa. This in turn means that Heidelberg needs to show a good return at this year’s Drupa. Nonetheless, Heidelberg is still expecting sales for the full financial year 2023/2024 to match the previous year’s figure.

Fujifilm has revealed that the British company Eco Flexibles has become the first company outside of Japan to install one of its FP790 single pass inkjet presses for flexible packaging. The company is already a Fujifilm customer, having used the Flenex FW plates for some years.

David Smith, General Manager at Eco Flexibles, stated: “Our mission is to make recyclable mono-polymer and paper packaging more accessible for brand owners, and with this multi-million pound investment, we’re providing our customers with digital press technology with all the benefits that attract – very short run and variable data printing, fast turnaround and outstanding graphic performance that more than rivals traditional analogue print techniques. We are setting a new benchmark in quality and sustainability.”

It’s worth noting that Kanaoka in Japan has been running the Miyakoshi version of this press for some years now. 

SwissQprint has fitted solar panels to the roof of its main production hall in Kriessern, Switzerland

SwissQprint has fitted solar panels to the roof of its main production hall, located in the Schützenwiese business park, in Kriessern, Switzerland. Altogether the 1276 photovoltaic panels should produce around 613,000 kWh of electricity a year, which is roughly half of the demand for the entire business park, of which SwissQprint is one of the largest companies. The buildings in the business park, which was built back in 2013/14, are heated and cooled by groundwater. The solar panels will drive the electric pumps used in the building’s heat exchange system, as well as powering eight new charging stations for electric vehicles.

Reto Eicher, co-owner of swissQprint and the project coordinator, commented: “The solar project brings us a big step forward in terms of sustainability and self-sufficiency.”

Agfa has picked up an €11 million grant from the EU’s Innovation Fund for its GIGA-Scales project produce Zirfon membranes, which can be used in the production of green hydrogen. Agfa is also working with Vito, which develops new technologies to improve sustainability, with the aim of improving gas separator membranes for hydrogen production.

Heidelberg has signed a significant partnership with the DB Bahnbau Gruppe, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of the German railways company, Deutsche Bahn. DB Bahnbau is responsible for construction services related to railway infrastructure. It also specializes in recycling and alternative energy systems. The new arrangement will help Heidelberg’s Amperfied subsidiary with the logistics needed to install the infrastructure for its electric charging stations. This includes the planning, civil engineering, installation and connection of the charging facilities to the power grid at a national level throughout Germany. 

Koenig and Bauer has signed a strategic partnership with Mitsubishi Electric.

Koenig and Bauer has signed a strategic partnership with Mitsubishi Electric to produce Quality Control Systems for use in producing Electrode Foils, which are used in manufacturing battery cells. The idea is to integrate Mitsubishi Electric’s contact image sensors with Koenig and Bauer’s illumination units and embedded frame grabbers in order to create various modules that can achieve perfect imaging conditions for electrode foil surfaces to improve production efficiency. This will be used for electric vehicles as well as consumer electronics and power grids. 

Koenig and Bauer has also taken over its Spanish dealer, Koenig and Bauer Lauvic, which is now a 100 percent subsidiary of the group. The previous owners and managing directors José Antonio Díaz and Juan Díaz are to remain involved with the company as advisers. Sascha Fischer, who has held various managerial roles in Koenig and Bauer’s Sheetfed division, has been appointed as new managing director.

HP has agreed to sponsor the Spanish football club Real Madrid, becoming the first brand to appear on the sleeve of the club’s strip. HP Chief Marketing and Corporate Affairs Officer Antonio Lucio, commented: “We are honored to partner with Real Madrid and see many exciting opportunities to harness the power of HP’s technology and brand to create amazing new experiences for fans while empowering the communities we share.” That’s going to be awkward when Real Madrid play against Barcelona, where HP has its main European headquarters. 

Notable installations

Label Tec Scotland, which is based in North Lanarkshire, has installed a Konica Minolta AccurioLabel 400 digital label press. The company was the first in the UK to install the older AccurioLabel 230 back in 2019. Both devices use dry toner. 

Paul Dunne, Managing Director at Label Tec

Paul Dunne, Managing Director at Label Tec commented, “During a visit to Label Expo last year we noticed how many of the digital technologies on the market have changed very little over the last five years. The AccurioLabel 400 offers something different, printing incredibly high resolution at speeds matching traditional flexographic presses. It also produces an opaque white that can match anything on the market today. What is more there is no need to pre-coat the wide range of substrates we are able to print on.”

MPH Ltd, a repro house based in Essex, England, has added a second Esko CDI flexo plate imaging unit. Ian Runacres, director at MPH, explained: “Following our recent investment in a brand new Vianord Engineering flexographic plate processor, the integration of this second Esko CDI imager into our production is a testament to our ongoing efforts to enhance our processes and deliver unparalleled results to our clients.”

The Big Ink Tank, a wide format printer based in Coventry, UK, installed a VeloBlade Nexus 2516 digital cutting table in January 2024. The company works with a number of high-profile clients including Peugeot and the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Ty Power, who founded the Big Ink Tank, said. “We are really benefitting from the speed of the machine; we no longer have to change the tools as they are automatic. The quality of the cutting is also excellent, while the fact that the vacuum keeps the cuts so clean results in a huge time saving. We are still learning about new processes that we can then launch into the market.”

Appointments

The Polar Group, which makes guillotines and cutting solutions, has appointed Oliver Becker as head of Sales and Service. Most recently, he was Head of Professional Printing Germany at Konica Minolta Business Solution in Germany. He holds a degree in mechanical engineering.

Steven Steenhaut, Director of Marketing for Hybrid Software Group

Hybrid Software Group has hired Steven Steenhaut as Director of Marketing to coordinate group marketing activities across the company’s six business units. He was most recently Marketing and E-Commerce Manager at Igepa Belux but has spent most of his career at Nuance, a software company dealing in speech recognition, AI, PDF and OCR software. He holds a Master’s degree in Applied Economics from the University of Ghent and an MBA from the Management School of Antwerp. 

Mike Rottenborn, Hybrid Software Group CEO, commented: “Hybrid Software Group has undergone considerable growth during the past few years. We are comprised of six business units whose technologies complement each other, but we must act as one company to our customers.”

Konica Minolta has appointed Mark Bladon as Major Accounts Sales Specialist for industrial print. He commented: “I am a printer by trade, so having confidence in the product I sell to print businesses is extremely important to me. Konica Minolta has a strong reputation for delivering innovative and reliable equipment that do their jobs effortlessly. The company offers commercial print companies a truly impressive portfolio whether they are looking for creative embellishment techniques, high-quality short-run label production, or high-volume digital inkjet print runs.”

Soyang Europe, which supplies wide format printers and substrates, has taken on Charlie Lightbown as Sales Administrator, where he will be dealing with internal sales and customer service. Mark Mashiter, Managing Director of Soyang Europe, said. “Charlie joins us from a customer-facing role and is well equipped at building excellent client relations.”

Hybrid Services, Mimaki’s UK distributor, has employed Rob Kaziewicz as Assistant Technical Manager to strengthen its technical services team. He has over 30 years experience in wide format, and was one of the founders of a former Mimaki reseller GPT in 2008.

The Ghent Workgroup’s specification subcommittee is looking for experts in textile printing and 3D printing to help establish new quality standards. The GWG has an excellent track record when it comes to specifications for commercial and packaging printing so expanding into these areas seems like an obvious move. Anyone interested should check with gwg.org. 

February also saw Julian Assange’s appeal against extradition to the US finally reach the high court. It’s difficult to see what grounds Assange could be prosecuted on and he certainly hasn’t broken any laws in the UK, where it is not yet a crime for journalists to embarrass the government. But then a review of Britain’s extradition arrangements with the US is long overdue. There is no reciprocal requirement for the US authorities to send American citizens to face British justice, and at the same time the former American president, Donald Trump, has routinely called into question the quality of American justice.


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