What digital printing gets right - The Noel D'Cunha Sunday Column

Digital printing has been gaining momentum. At the recently concluded Pamex, Xerox and Konica Minolta (among others), showcased technologies plus print samples. Xerox India’s Shankaracharya Laskar and Konica Minolta’s Katsuhisa Asari discuss with Noel D'cunha how digital print is finding its mojo. Read on…

16 Apr 2023 | By Noel D'Cunha

Xerox India is looking to regain its digital mojo

Shankaracharya Laskar, sales director for technology and channels for Xerox India, in a conversation with Noel D’Cunha, discusses how Xerox is regaining its mojo with a new strategy

Noel D’Cunha (ND): What did you showcasing at Pamex?
Shankaracharya Laskar (SL): We had two broad objectives for Pamex, which is derived from our customers’ expectations right after Covid-19. We looked at customers and how they have evolved their businesses after Covid. We found that they have two key priorities.
One is how they can build newer revenue streams, which are profitable from their business perspective. And the second is how they can manage their costs. So, our entire focus around Pamex was on how we can deliver customer success around these two broad pillars.

One of the ways we are trying to do the new revenue stream is around CMYK Plus. We start from an entry production machine, where the customer can travel in the journey of getting into CMYK Plus, with an entry production engine, go probably to a mid-production, and then to a high-end production as their business grows. As you can see from the sampling, this is from a mid-production engine. The second pillar comes in when you are talking about reducing costs and increasing productivity. Software automation can do a lot of roles, which still needs to be exploited to maximise the impact.

ND: How?
We have a software suite called FreeFlow Core software. When you look at the entire suite of pre-press automation that a printer would typically expect to do, many of the tasks are now primarily manual. The way the industry is currently addressing it is in bits and pieces. We are on the journey to take this to the next level where we want to impact customers’ productivity adaptively.

ND: What is the percentage of people who are following this systematic and organised workflow?
Recently, we went to some of our customers. We mostly talked upstream, trying to find out their pre-press workflows, what they are currently doing, and how we can impact their system with our software. We believe that there is a very big scope to impact customers’ success around productivity.

ND: Is the offset industry adopting this system?
: Yes, but they do it in isolation and only for offset machines. They will do a portion of digital in some form, with the help of the software they invest in. The highlight of our software is that it talks about various technologies beyond digital. It can address a quick printer environment and an offset environment. We are trying to have a broad-based pan industry offering, starting with focusing on digital and impacting other platforms.

ND: What is the core service that Xerox provides to its customers?
The software is an interesting value addition to the company, but the core still remains the same. And the core is where we would want to really continue to impact and that is where the first pillar comes in- how we are helping customers differentiate themselves from CMYK Plus. For example, our entry-level production machine is capable of 11 colours. A customer can start with a CMYK. Then, in 13 or 14 minutes, the customer can switch over to fluorescent, start printing fluorescent as a second pass if required, or as a fresh design. If business requires you can flip again to the third option, which will have gold, silver, white, and clear.

ND: And what is a high-end printer?
The high-end printer is our flagship product, Xerox Iridesse Production Press. With 10 colours, it’s got the range which is probably expected of a commercial printer, as well as a strong photo segment customer. We are mainly focusing on the companies who are doing only CMYK but have not dabbled into CMYK+. Such companies have to opt for high-end machines. But now they can start with an entry production machine, build their business, and dabble a little bit across the 11 colours. We can also help them grow as we have a strong customer-focused programme globally called Genesis.
We found out that the success of CMYK Plus is not just in selling the technology, but it is also enabling the customers to market to their end customers.

ND: How has the response been for these machines?
We are in active discussions with many customers. It is the richness of the conversations that we are having with very focused customers, we will go a distance with these customers.

ND: When was CMYK Plus launched?
: The adaptive CMYK Plus was launched recently in India. It was our first full attempt in the market, as we also showcased it in the PrintPack last year. However, this is the first full exposition of that portfolio with the full breadth of applications and a million possibilities.

Konica Minolta provides better ROI with its machines
Katsuhisa Asari, managing director, Konica Minolta Business Solutions India, tells Noel D’Cunha that the printing industry will grow rapidly in the coming years
Noel D’Cunha (ND): How important is Pamex for you?
Katsuhisa Asari (KA):
Since we established this company in 2010, we have never missed out on the Pamex exhibition. And Mumbai is one of the places where people are curious to know more about printing technologies. This is after Covid. I think the market has just opened up, and many short-run digitals are booming. We have a wide range of products at Pamex that might interest people.

ND: You are enhancing the speed of AccurioLabel 400. Is speed a criterion for label production?
Speed is one aspect which can increase productivity; by achieving a much faster way of label printing. It is beneficial for somebody who is already doing the labelling, but also for someone who is in offset and looking for a short run, in a passive speed with a fixed colour.

So, the basic idea when we talk about the short-run on AccurioLabel 230 is, we can go 800 to 1,000 linear metre jobs. But in the case of AccurioLabel 400, we increased that speed from 1,500 to 2,000. Label converters get the job. They measure it in terms of linear metres.

ND: How does Konica Minolta position itself in the speed parameter as all the label printers in India  are looking for high speed?
There are certain categories where people also look at the way the investment versus the return that they can see in terms of the ROI. Our machines are not that expensive, but there are many applications of our machines using electrophotography.

ND: How is Konica Minolta looking to expand its machines’ applications?
: Minolta has the technology to print on different substrates. So, we have our own ink technology and user kits. Depending on the situation, we weigh in terms of probably how we can expand in making equipment. We already have the technology. So, it is slowly progressing into various segments leveraging what we are doing well. We try to upgrade some features in the existing model instead of making a new one. Over a period of time, yes, you may see more technologies coming from Konica Minolta.

ND: Where do you see the printing industry’s future in terms of technology and application? Which segment do you think is the growing segment? And how is Konica Minolta placed there?
We believe all the segments will grow. Today, when we actually look at our lineup of products at the show, we have the labels and all the products related to digital printing. Companies are also continuously investing to make better technology products. In the next 10 years, the printing industry will also grow in India. We really need to look at what kind of applications and what kind of printing technology we can provide in this growing market ahead of others. Our company already has R&D, so we are developing new innovative products.

ND: How is the flexible industry in Japan?
The people in Japan focus on a different segment, such as electrophotography. Flexible is also one market which is growing rapidly, and post-Covid, it has gained more traction. Companies like Konica Minolta already have technologies which can convert into a flexible substrate.

ND: What is happening with KM-1?
Good news is expected this year. Because there are a lot of opportunities, we are putting the KM-1 back in focus.  

ND: How was the post-Covid period for you, 2022?
Everybody probably was stuck in 2020 and 2021. So suddenly, people’s investments started in 2022. Even in terms of the market size, it is like 50% growth. That was some kind of special demand. Post-Covid, once the economy opened up, people saw that they could invest, and there was a sudden demand. So 2022 was probably the biggest in terms growth.

ND: Three months into 2023, how is the business looking up and how many machines has Konica Minolta sold?
In 2023, if I look at the opportunity part, I think the conversion to digital is going to accelerate, and the print demand is going to increase. From that, there are many opportunities not only for the existing customers to upgrade the machine but also there will be a lot of other new customers who may also invest.

ND: What are the plans for AccurioLabel 400? What is it that you are bringing into the market?
Accurate label printing is important. Besides being more productive, we have added more technologies to it. Besides printing, the capability to add white. Because white was one of the key requirements which were coming from the label converters, we have added technology to make the colour management strong. It also has an inline spectrophotometer. It also has an optional corona treatment unit to manage difficult substrates.