10 February 2020 Digital Printing Technologies

Konica Minolta plays the listening game

Konica Minolta has strengthened its position in the UK as supplier of industrial strength, digital print technology over the last 12 months and it is introducing technology to keep that momentum rolling.

Jon Pritchard is very much focused on the future for that’s where the opportunity for Konica Minolta’s industrial print products lies. It is a future for inkjet, for digital enhancement, for digitally printed packaging. There is less of a past, both for Konica Minolta, in what it calls industrial printing, and for Pritchard's involvement. In this instance the past is little more than 12 months deep, since it was only last year that KM’s effort in industrial print was reorganised.

The division covers applications for the KM-1 B2 inkjet press (and no doubt future versions of the technology); the MGI digital embellishment portfolio, including its ground-breaking AlphaJet; and label printing.

The latter is the most successful sector to date. “We have definitely been successful in some areas, and in others we still have work to do,” he says. “Overall it has been a successful few months for us compared to where Konica Minolta had been in industrial print previously, when we didn’t have much engagement with the customer.”

There are a number of label presses across the UK, including the upcoming first UK installation of the latest AccurioLabel 230 at Superfast Labels. This is the fastest and most productive machine from Konica Minolta to date, using electrophotographic technology to carve out a slightly different niche to the UV inkjet digital presses that have proliferated in recent years.

It has also been a breakthrough year for other parts of the portfolio that Pritchard heads. The first KM-1 has been installed and is in successful operation at Colourfast in Brentwood. This is an inkjet press using UV inks to print on a broad range of substrates, as well as paper. That installation has sparked greater interest from other potential customers than any previous Konica Minolta product. “We have exposure to customers we never had before,” says Pritchard. But there is more to do. “We have products and services that stand out above our competitors yet people do not know about us. In the last year we have been increasing brand awareness but we still have to improve: that’s the biggest challenge.”

That will be helped by the imminent arrival of the C14000, a 140ppm four colour toner press. This was launched at the US PrintUnited show last year and is being shown to strong prospects at Konica Minolta’s European headquarters in Laggenlagen, near Hanover. It will be a key product for the company’s presence at Drupa. It takes on the flagship products from Canon, Ricoh, Xerox and even HP with a competitive cost of ownership and duty cycle of 2.5 million pages.

But it is not part of the industrial printing portfolio.

However, it will enable KM to stand toe to toe with the likes of Ricoh, Canon and Xerox. Thanks to the IQ 501 dynamic quality and colour management device, which is currently a technology and an approach to colour control that is unique to KM, the company has an extra ace up its sleeve. It remains almost a secret except to those that have experienced the consistency it delivers to a digital press. That kind of performance will increase perception of the company among higher volume commercial printers, which will open opportunities for the inkjet press, says Pritchard.

“It will help us open up those customers that have a requirement for larger volumes at a price point that’s more appealing than a high end inkjet press. It will be a bridge to the more productive inkjet press. We can go to customers with both the C14000 and the KM-1. We can have the conversations,” he explains.

And he points out that the KM-1 in 2020 is not the same machine as the KM-1 shown at Drupa in 2016. There have been strides forwards in terms of quality and colour consistency and through the experience of more than 75 installations around the world, and underlined by certification to Fogra 53. His message is that this is a press ready for the main stage.

The machine at Colourfast remains the only one to date in the UK (Komori also has one UK example of the iS29, its version of the same machine), though Pritchard says other projects are advanced. “Colourfast is putting out good volume, including some interesting high end projects, using the unique capabilities of the press as well as producing high end financial documents through it,” he adds. “There are, however, certain markets that are more successful with new technology than the UK has been.

“We need to find printers that are looking to the future because the KM-1 can print stuff that nobody else can.”

For those that are prepared to look to the future, the MGI AlphaJet, that also falls under the industrial printing remit, is utterly unique in terms of what is understood by printing. This is a concept for a press that prints and finishes digitally in a single process, sometimes pausing for more than one layer of ink to be applied to a sheet as it travels around a track using magnetic levitation. AlphaJet combines aqueous inkjet heads from Memjet to print four-colour graphics with KM’s UV inkjet heads for spot varnish effects, combining these with foils, raised textures and more. Initially the AlphaJet will be positioned for high end ultra short run packaging, the sort that French perfume companies like.

It is a completely different way of thinking about a printing press and will have an appeal limited to the larger packaging groups, or the very brave. If this proves a niche product, there are signs that messages about digital embellishment are getting through to the general market.

At recent conferences about marketing and branding for luxury goods, there has been a noticeable debate underway about how embellishment by brands and designers can be deployed, says Pritchard. “This is a big change from three years ago. There is now a definite pull from designers. It’s about traceability and engagement and about the feedback they are getting from their customers.”

Consequently, there is increasing interest in the MGI embellishment portfolio, reelfed for labels and for B2 and B1 sheets with JetVarnish 3D models. And with the MGI One coming this year, KM will be able to offer enhancement to smaller digital printers. “Our product will be twice the speed and will offer a greater range of varnish effects than other machines on the market,” he says. The timing could be ideal.

The first of the JetVarnish 3D machines was installed at Solopress this year and as planned, has sparked interest among commercial printers. “Everyone likes the effects that are possible. The challenge that they have is the need to invest in the future when there is so much uncertainty in the market.”

The company is tackling this by using its existing installations to offer a trade printing service so that prospects can run projects with their customers and gain first hand experience of the quality and appeal of value added print. This works too with KM-1.

“We have been working on new pricing proposals for the MGI to make it easier for all levels of business to adopt this technology and make it more accessible. There is value to be had out there and if we can help people, that’s what we will do. And if it helps, we are prepared to take on a bit of that risk,” says Pritchard.

The greatest impact that the industrial printing division has had is with label printing. KM first entered roll fed label printing with the C71f, followed by the AccurioLabel 160, the 180 and now the AL230. “Nothing compares on price”, says Pritchard, “nor on quality at this price point.”

The company’s roots in office equipment, where resilience is essential and products are designed for ease of servicing, has stood it in good stead with the move into more industrial label print applications. The digital press has to be as resilient as the flexo press it sits alongside.

The first machine, introduced only five years ago, enabled Konica Minolta to make a breakthrough into the label market, sometimes as a first digital press to run alongside flexo presses. And as demand for digital label printing has grown, companies have moved up with the more productive presses. The approach is starting to make an impact with some of the largest label print businesses. “We are now getting to the larger label companies because we can print on substrates that inkjet presses cannot.

“Twelve months ago we would not have been having those conversations.”

In another 12 months’ time, Pritchard intends Konica Minolta to have made a similar impact across a broader segment of the printing industry. The C14000 is not his area of responsibility, but inkjet and embellishment are. Both are areas that future minded printers should be examining, he argues. And he says more and more of them are listening.

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The AccurioLabel 230, launched at Labelexpo last year, is is due to have its first UK installation at Superfast Labels in Sittingbourne. It is the fastest and most productive machine from Konica Minolta to date, using electrophotographic technology to carve out a slightly different niche to the UV inkjet digital presses that have proliferated in recent years.

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The MGI AlphaJet is utterly unique in terms of what is understood by printing. The concept for the press involves printing and finishing digitally in a single process, sometimes pausing for more than one layer of ink to be applied to a sheet as it travels around a track using magnetic levitation.

Explore more...

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