Xeikon is aiming to be one of the major players in digital printing of corrugated board, even though it has yet to introduce a product.
“We have launched the corrugated project,” says CEO Benoit Chatelard. “It will be about a post print machine using water based inks. We are focusing on single-pass production. Water based will mean food safe inks and the running costs will need water based to manage the costs of industrial production.”
The company has established an inkjet competence centre at its head quarters in Lier staffed by a team of 20 engineers. It was also funding PhD projects at Ghent University and can call on the expertise and technology that parent Flint Group has. This results in around 35 people aiming to create the best water based inkjet press in the market” according to Chatelard. “If we can get it right with quality for efficient affordable running, the market will open up for this kind of machine. We are confident we can bring value to the market.”
Corrugated packaging is currently split between a limited number of high volume producers where printing can take place as the corrugated board is produced. This is where HP is aiming its T1100 series machines. And there are far more companies that add print post production of the sheets of board. This is the sector where HP pitches its C500 and Barberan and EFI Nozomi are aiming. Others, Inca Digital Printing among them, have projects under development. Bobst delivered beta machines, but is rethinking its approach.
It is potentially a vast market, where first movers will not necessarily sweep all before them. Chatelard is thinking in terms of a three-year development cycle, perhaps with something to see at Drupa. “We want corrugated to be the same success story as labels has been for Xeikon,” he says.
Reviewing his brief tenure of under a year, he says that labels business, excluding Jetrion which was acquired from EFI, grew 17% year on year, 50% from existing customer, 50% from new. Further growth can be expected as the company’s own PX3000 inkjet label press starts to ship commercially.
A first order for three machines from Michigan printer Grandvillehas been signed. The machines will be used to produce more than 6 million price labels a week for delivery to a network of retailers in less than 36 hours. Data is processed through a cluster of Xeikon X800 front ends, a key factor in winning the deal.
Further inkjet presses are under development using the inkjet competence centre. This has hit the ground running, redeploying staff and technology from the cancelled Trillium project. Analytical tools and microscopes are the same regardless of the project and experience in suspending pigments in an oil based carrier for Trillium is not too far from creating an inkjet ink.
But inkjet is consuming only half the development resource, 50% is deployed towards electrophotographic projects. The line up of label press, completed by the CX500, is being joined by success in wall coverings, books, security print – in short value added applications to move away from low value transactional documents.
The same CX500 print engine, currently rated at 30m/min has the scope to run faster causing Chatelard to muse about a 45m/min machine for around a third of the price of a 150m/min inkjet press without questions over substrates, consistency and quality. “Most of our installed base is currently running between 10-20m/min, so a move to 30m/min will already be a 50% volume increase,” he says.
As a project this would have a shorter time frame than a ground up corrugated development. But along with inkjet for labels, a push into other packaging sectors such as carton and flexible packaging, the intention to attack another part of the packaging universe, underlines how, little more than nine months into the job, Chatelard is running as fast as ever.
The support of Flint has been crucial. Xeikon has taken on a new marketing director for the US and as in Europe created dedicated commercial and packaging sales teams. It has revamped the Lier showroom where seven lines are in operation; invested in the US where there are now four machines working with two in Japan and another in Malaysia “a fleet of 14 machines to test applications for our customers”. If the sales increase across the board as they have done in labels, the investment will be easily justified. And the progress report to date has earned a few gold stars for the businesss.