Inkjet print holds the key, says Xerox

Xerox was a leader in digital print, but its influence started to wane as high-speed continuous-feed colour emerged. Acquiring Impika will change that. Words Barney Cox

11 Apr 2013 | By PrintWeek India

High-speed continuous-feed colour inkjet has emerged as the most significant digital print market in the past few years. Yet having been a leader in the development of digital print, Xerox was notable for its absence. That changed last week with the company’s acquisition of French inkjet developer Impika.

“Xerox did the right thing by acquiring Impika,” says Jeff Hayes, chief executive of digital imaging consultancy InfoTrends. “Xerox has a hole related to production inkjet print. It has been lapped and risked being shut out from this market given the limitations of solid ink technology.”
Behind these strong words are the hard facts. IT Strategies, another research firm, says the continuous-feed inkjet printer market was worth nearly $900m (£592.75m) at the end of 2012, having growing from nothing in less than five years. InfoTrends estimates that more than 90bn pages were printed on high-volume continuous-feed colour digital presses in 2012 and that is set to exceed 500bn pages in 2017. It’s the fastest growing sector of digital print.
Xerox excluded itself from this growth. While other vendors went down the route of aqueous inkjet, it went out on a limb unsuccessfully with two alternative technologies. First, the toner-based 490/980, and then the “waterless” inkjet CiPress. The 490/980 was dropped, while the CiPress is having limited success.
Xerox’s reasons for eschewing the aqueous inkjet technology that everyone else had adopted were technological and environmental. In justifying itself, Xerox talked up the inkjet paradox: inkjet printheads’ tiny nozzles need runny inks to work, so to get enough colour on the paper plenty of liquid is required, which in turn can lead to cockling, bleeding, washed-out colour and the need to dry that water; and it does have a point. 
However, other vendors have handled those factors. Xerox, on the other hand, based its marketing on another potential pitfall of aqueous inkjet – its de-inkability. By taking sides with the association of de-inkers Ingede, Xerox found itself arguing against every other vendor, bar Xeikon. While being green is a laudable aim, the de-inking argument isn’t black and white, and the market has not been swayed. By trying to take the high ground, Xerox lost out on market share, with only a small number of units installed globally to the tens and hundreds of its rivals. 
De-inking trade body Ingede sees an upside to Xerox’s move. “We do not see this as losing an ally,” says the organisation’s Axel Fischer. “Xerox will continue marketing its solid ink ... and will look into ways to make aqueous inkjet more compatible with the paper loop.”
Xerox itself acknowledges that its previous approach was unsuccessful. “Clients have said that if we had the technology they would buy aqueous inkjet from us,” says vice-president and inkjet general manager Dustin Graupman.
In 2011, Xerox Europe started selling Impika. Meanwhile Fuji-Xerox, the Asia-Pacific joint venture, of which Xerox owns 25%, launched the 2800 Inkjet Color Continuous Feed Printing System.
Last month, at the Hunkeler Innovationdays 2013, Xerox remained committed to waterless technology, but a fortnight later came the about-turn. The roots lay with Jeff Jacobson’s arrival as president of Xerox’s Global Graphic Communications last year; soon after discussions with Impika began.
“It has been clear for a number of years that the next big technology in our industry is production inkjet,” says Jacobson. “It’s where our customers need to be, so we need to be there too.
“No one can discount the importance that inkjet will have in next two decades, and we have to be as strong in inkjet as we are in Xerography. Acquiring Impika is the first step.”
Now the focus is rolling out the Impika product portfolio via Xerox’s global sales channel. According to Graupman, the applications that the Impika iPrint range of presses will enable include transactional, newspaper, direct mail, catalogues, commercial print, offset replacement and books. As for the CiPress, it will continue in markets for lightweight stocks and low-cost paper.
There is more to the Impika acquisition than continuous-feed; it offers technology platforms in B2 and imprinting. “We need to be in the B2 market,” says Jacobson. “B2 was in our plan as part of the acquisition.”
That future may come quickly now that Impika has Xerox backing. It has B2 concepts that never reached the market. “We have a plan in B2, but I can’t share,” says Impika chief executive Paul Moravi.
Impika addresses imprinting, (digital printing components that fit onto existing print and finishing kit) which is emerging as the best-of-both worlds of analogue and digital, with its iEngine. “I see a tremendous opportunity in imprinting, though it’s not been in our portfolio to date,” says Graupman. “Impika has had success with marketing. People actively sought it out. The potential is huge.”
Buying Impika plugs the hole in Xerox’s portfolio and adds technologies to address two emerging markets. And that goes a long way to help Jacobson meet his goal “to earn the right that customers will want to do 100% of their business with Xerox”.  

Comment Andy Tribute

The news that Xerox is acquiring French inkjet supplier Impika should not come as a surprise, particularly to those people who closely watch this industry. Xerox has been selling the Impika presses through a number of its European operations for some time. Although Xerox is a player in the high-speed inkjet market with its waterless inkjet (phase-change ink) CiPress presses, it has largely missed out on the areas of rapid growth in the market that have allowed HP, Ricoh Infoprint, Kodak, Océ and Screen to establish strong positions using the dominant aqueous inkjet technology. In my mind, the only issue that stood in the way of Xerox acquiring Impika was whether it would extend its relationship with Fujifilm to sell the Fuji Xerox 2800 Inkjet Color Continuous Feed Printing System. Acquiring Impika was a sound move as it means Xerox owns its inkjet technology rather than licensing Fuji Xerox and, in reality, Miyakoshi technology.
Xerox had until this move missed the high-speed inkjet wave that really started at Drupa 2008. At that time, the firm was betting its continuous feed future on the colour toner technology that it introduced with the Xerox 490/980 press. That failed to succeed in the market and is no longer sold. The CiPress, first previewed at Ipex 2010, has been late coming on to the market, has limitations as to what it can do, and has only recently started to be installed. It also presents quality issues for certain markets and has failed as yet to challenge the aqueous inkjet presses from the rival companies mentioned above.
Impika is technologically one of the most impressive companies in the market, with a level of expertise and experience in the inkjet area that is a match for any of its competitors. What it has lacked in the past has been a good distribution and marketing partner. Becoming a part of Xerox could be ideal for the company to increase sales of its iPrint presses and iEngine imprinting systems. I just hope that Xerox leaves the firm to develop those products without trying to impose a heavy hand on it. Impika’s team are inkjet experts. Putting the iPress range alongside the CiPress provides a very strong product portfolio and should allow Xerox to become one of the major suppliers in the market.
I would also say I am delighted to see Xerox investing in the production colour space. Most of its recent investments have been in the services industry and I was concerned that the company was moving its emphasis into the business services area and away from print production. I believe that we may be seeing the influence of Jeff Jacobson, president of Xerox Global Graphic Communications, who joined the company last year. Finally, Xerox has a senior executive who understands this market, unlike those who ran graphic communications in Xerox before him, and who appears to be able to influence the future direction of the company.
Andy Tribute, prior to his retirement last year, was chief executive of Attributes Associates, a consultancy for the printing industry specialising in technology evaluation, marketing strategies and due diligence, with 40 years’ experience.