“Digital also enables one-to-one; versioning and variable to be more attractive to consumers” - The Noel D'Cunha Sunday Column
There are many positives for EFI in 2022, says Jeff Jacobson, CEO and chairman, Electronics For Imaging (EFI). “With 50 installations worldwide, the Nozomi single-pass product line continued to stand out globally,” he says. In this interaction, Jacobson discusses progress in Fiery, its growth in textile, print’s digital transformation and how Covid accelerated that transformation even in the corrugated packaging space, as it moved everyday purchasing activity into the realm of eCommerce.
19 Mar 2023 | By PrintWeek Team
PrintWeek (PW): 2022 is behind us. What does your 2022 report card say?
Jeff Jacobson (JJ): EFI is currently evaluating our progress and activity through the year. We have not had our final exams quite yet so perhaps it is unfair to grade it. But when I speak about our activity and progress in 2022 soon – in town halls with our staff and in meetings with our investors – much of the discussion will be about our strengthened commitment and purpose as a print and packaging technology leader. We began 2022 with a realignment – including spinning off our MIS/ERP business – to fully focus on the analogue-to-digital transformation while creating new opportunities in industrial print.
PW: What are the positives?
JJ: There were many in 2022. Packaging, with our Nozomi single-pass product line continued to stand out globally. We are approaching 50 installations worldwide, including a new, more compact 1.4-metre wide Nozomi model.
Our Fiery business also launched a significant new partnership to develop Fiery digital front ends (DFEs) for Fujifilm Business Innovation’s Revoria digital presses in APAC and in most of Europe.
We also made two acquisitions last summer to grow in our digital leadership capabilities, with the Fiery business acquiring one of North America’s top direct-to-garment and direct-to-film digital workflow providers, CADlink, and our Reggiani business buying the world’s leading textile RIP developer, Inèdit.
Our leaders across EFI worked to handle tough supply chain challenges, setting the table for 2023 as the backlog caused by the supply chain issues flows through. Upgrades are in process at our plant in Spain where we make many of our display graphics and industrial printers. And, in Italy, where our EFI Reggiani textile operations are located, we broke ground on a new facility near Milan that will take energy efficiency to a new, higher level for printer manufacturing when it opens in 2023.
PW: The years 2020 to 2022 have been volatile. How has it been for you, expansion or status quo?
JJ: The past two years have been anything but status quo. Of course, the past two years have been different because of Covid, lockdowns, the war in Ukraine, supply chain issues, inflation at levels not seen in 40 years, and more, and we recognise the impact all of that has had on the industry. But that does not mean you can fail to innovate and make progress. You simply cannot effectively approach the digital printing market from a status quo mindset. In fact, in segments such as display graphics and packaging, demand has stayed strong.
There is so much opportunity ahead for print’s transformation to digital. And, in the corrugated packaging space, Covid accelerated that transformation as it moved everyday purchasing activity into the realm of eCommerce. Our customers using EFI Nozomi single-pass inkjet packaging presses continue to record double-digit percentage annual increases in output, on average, because of the rapid rate of change.
PW: If you go back two full years to the beginning of 2020, at that point, it was your first year as EFI’s CEO. What are the lessons learnt?
JJ: For me personally, there was a lot of investigating, learning and yes, change. I had enough knowledge about EFI considering that I had partnered with EFI in my roles prior to becoming CEO. The important thing for me was to take a deep dive in our markets, our opportunities and more. We learned that the best step forward involved establishing an even stronger focus on digital print. And to do that, we invested more resources to services and technology capabilities for our Fiery and inkjet products so that
our customers can take the full advantage of digital print’s promising opportunities.
PW: What does the concept of customer development mean to you? What is the coolest customer development case study you can share with us?
JJ: PrintWeek readers may know about Avantika Printers and the way it has evolved and thrived by staying on the leading edge. The company first adopted EFI Fiery DFEs in 2008 and since then has earned PrintWeek’s Best Digital Printer Award several times. Fiery has an excellent education, training and certification programme, and Avantika’s director Himanshu Pandey is a Fiery-certified expert who has established his company as leader in digital colour management. At first, that level of colour management expertise helped Avantika get ahead in the photobook market.
And, in 2022, Avantika took its level of expertise a step further to address packaging applications at its Greater Noida facility. The business is one of the first in the world to achieve Ghent PDF Output Suite 5.0 Conformance Certification using a new service EFI developed in collaboration with the Ghent Workgroup.
Customers like Avantika that embrace digital and really open up to the possibilities that come with evolving technologies develop a reputation for excellence. And, when a print business can do that and become the best in its field, it creates a competitive advantage that can open the door to continued growth and innovation.
PW: The K in Dusseldorf and Labelexpo in India concluded on a high note. Three important exhibitions are lined up in 2023 and 2024, Labelexpo Europe in Brussels plus Interpack/Drupa in Dusseldorf. What should we expect from you at these shows?
JJ: When it comes to tradeshows, expect strong attendance. People were not fully satisfied with virtual events over the past few years, and they seem to be coming out to tradeshows as a result. I saw it myself in the crowds, and sales above forecast, we had with Printing United in the USA.
We were present in Greater Noida, showing important industrial textile solutions at India ITME. India and all of South Asia are very important for our EFI Reggiani industrial textile business, and textile – a market with relatively little digital print but tremendous growth opportunity – has become a key area of investment for us.
While the shows you mentioned are important for the industry, at EFI, there is also another significant event. Our Reggiani business is exhibiting at ITMA in Milan in June, and it will be EFI’s largest tradeshow of 2023. And then, of course, we are also looking forward to Drupa 2024. While I can’t disclose anything, Drupa has the potential to be a game-changer in terms of the digital technologies we will present to our customers, particularly in the display graphics and packaging spaces.
PW: Are paper, paperboard and label converters still managing business and manufacturing operations with industrial-age practices despite being a part of the knowledge age? Is there a knowledge gap in our industry? How do we bridge it? How do we convince Gen Z about the clout of ink on paper?
JJ: The industry will migrate even further into digital solutions as new people who are probably digital-first in their thinking come into the industry. There is a need, however, to make sure that those young people do in fact come into the industry. Many of them likely have outdated perceptions of printing and packaging and do not see how attractive it can be as career today. We cannot lose sight of how important it is to bring in fresh talent, and fresh thinking, to continue the industry’s digital transformation.
PW: Today, what are the industry standards for overall equipment efficiency (OEE)? What type of return on investment should we expect from an OEE programme?
JJ: That can be a complex discussion, and it can vary by the particular print application. Certainly the trend is to build automation into workflows and hardware in ways that drive up the OEE of digital equipment. Oftentimes, a customer will acquire a newer, more productive Vutek printer that can run multiple shifts with high usage, replacing two or three less-productive digital presses.
PW: Nozomi in the corrugated space is interesting...
JJ: EFI has the largest installed base – around 50 Nozomi presses worldwide – in the single-pass inkjet space for corrugated packaging.
One thing we have seen in that market is that our Nozomi presses can drive OEE for analogue and digital equipment. Customers that also do litho lamination or high-quality flexo can and do migrate a good amount of their work to digital with the Nozomi. The work they move to digital are often existing jobs that were maybe only slightly profitable with litho lamination. But, when our packaging customers do that, they end up freeing-up analogue capacity, creating the potential to grow by increasing OEE on both their digital and their analogue equipment. The relative speed and simplicity in getting jobs into and through production on a Nozomi press can make digital production ideal not just for short- and medium-run jobs, but also for versioned work, jobs that have exceptionally tight deadlines, and more.
PW: India is a price-sensitive market, yet the trends are forever changing. As a mass producer of products, how does one stay relevant, and what innovations in products can one offer for consumers to create trends or disrupt the marketplace?
JJ: Well, from a purely consumer sense, digital printing can help brands drive margin in price-sensitive areas. Digital also creates a path for smaller brands in the consumer packaged goods space to increase their presence and appeal with shelf-ready packaging that rivals their larger competitors’ offerings. Digital also enables one-to-one; versioning and variable to be more attractive to consumers.
PW: Do you see remanufacturing as a comparable option? One post-press equipment manufacturer has successfully repurposed binderies in the Indian market. What’s your view – advantages versus disadvantages?
JJ: EFI has a large portfolio that gives us the opportunity to meet customers where they are in terms of budget and productivity needs. This creates a relationship where customers can grow from entry-level production to very high-volume work. Remanufactured equipment can be part of that journey for some customers seeking to enter the production display graphics market. Over time, we find that remanufactured equipment can spark the type of growth and opportunity that leads a customer to adopt the automation and other enhancements built into our newest printers. I would view remanufacturing as an entrée for those who want to discover new oceans.
PW: The F&B packaging market in India is expected to grow from USD 33.2-billion in 2020 at a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 9.3% until 2026. We did a basic calculation that the consumption of packaged foods in India rose by 200% during the previous ten years, from 4.3-kg to 8.6-kg per person per year. Additionally, the beverage industry accounts for around 23% of all PET applications in packaging. The point is, consumption patterns are high in India. How does one manage a circular economy under such circumstances?
JJ: If growth projections you have stated for India continue, there is going to be even more emphasis on sustainability – with fibre-based packaging from renewable and recyclable sources as the key application. The circular economy is part of the future economy, andit reflects how digital, direct-to-board corrugated packaging printing on EFI Nozomi presses creates real advantages. Nozomi presses consume 35% less energy than flexo, and Fogra has certified Nozomi technology to be the most energy efficient digital corrugated production solution its class. There are virtually no VOCs in our LED inks for Nozomi presses, they are GreenGuard Gold certified, as well as certified for OCC repulpability and recyclability.
PW: How do you address greenwashing as part of your sustainability / circular economy communications?
JJ: We are careful about our research in claims because we want our customers to make smart, informed decisions when they evaluate printing solutions. In the packaging space, for example, we took careful steps working with Western Michigan University in the United States achieve OCC certification standard for recyclability.
Similarly, we have put the time and effort in to really scrutinise where our LED technologies compare in terms of reduced energy usage, and Fogra has done great work analysing our LED technology across our signage and packaging portfolios to detail the energy savings LED curing generates. Fogra found that the energy savings using our LED inkjet display graphics printers is as high as 82% when compared with other digital printing methods.
PW: The Government of India has set a vision of a USD 5-trillion economy. In your view, what are the opportunities for the print and packaging industry - and your organisation - in India?
JJ: Growth along that trajectory will mean rising standards of living in India, and with that, increases in the types of marketing activities that demand high-quality, colourful imaging. Over the past year or so we have been excited to see more activity from our partners in India who sell EFI’s wide-format printers in the display graphics space.
PW: As and when the present USD 3.1-trillion economy grows to a USD 5-trillion economy, the Indian printing industry, particularly the packaging industry, will see substantial growth. One number says, the packaging consumption in India has increased 200% in the past decade, rising from 4.3-kg per person per annum (pppa) to 8.6-kg pppa as in FY20. How prepared are you to support the print and packaging factories in India?
JJ: In the print industry, you will see EFI work with our customers in India the ways we have for decades in terms of collaborating and fostering improved productivity, higher quality and efficiency. We strive to always advance digital print in everything we create. Much of that has been through state-of-the-art workflows created in our Fiery product line – and many of our innovations from the Fiery business are solutions developed at our facility in Bengaluru.
I expect the future will see increased interest and need for digital and automation in packaging to keep up with growth. India’s packaging industry will want and need to incorporate more digital printing, and not just focus producing more work on existing, legacy analogue production lines. Sustainable, automated, efficient and high-quality digital production platforms are part of the overall evolution needed to meet any predicted surge in packaging demand.
PW: In India, too many business owners talk about their machines and investments. Few focus on soft power. For example, culture, team-building, delegating, housekeeping, plus how to get optimum conversion costs and be much more efficient. Your view?
JJ: I do think the focus on machines and investments become more balanced with regard to the total technology ecosystem. All of us at EFI certainly share in the joy and appreciation customers have when, for example, they can become competitive, entering promising markets by installing some of our solutions.
That said, I certainly can and do appreciate the importance of team-building, culture, and delegating; they are essential to EFI’s own success.
My career has been in printing technology, but for some of that time I was in HR where I had a hands-on role in team-building, recruitment, diversity initiatives and more. I appreciate how important all of that is to running a successful organisation.
EFI’s India Development Centre (IDC) in Bengaluru – which is currently EFI’s largest global facility – exemplifies what we can do in terms of teambuilding and culture. The leader of the IDC, Samir Gulve, and his team have made it a highly innovative and focused operation. The strength of the IDC is clear when you look at many of the innovations it produces in our Fiery digital front end and digital workflow products, and in our IQ suite of cloud solutions.
PW: One take away from your autobiography (if you write one) ...
JJ: I have lived two lives which are very much intertwined.
I am who I am because of the foundation my parents built to mould me in my early years; and my wife and two children have made me the person I am today. My career was enabled by the sacrifices made by my wife and children. From a career standpoint, each day I tried to commit myself to our customers and team members. A career is a marathon of daily sprints. I tried to run hard each and every day.