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What next for high-volume print as manroland falls?

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By James Matthews-Paul
25 November 2011

Manroland's premises in Augsberg, Germany, where it has filed for insolvency

Despite its attempts to secure an investor over the last week, German sheetfed and web offset manufacturer manroland today filed for insolvency when talks fell through, hoping to restructure in order to rescue some elements of the business – including some of the 6,500 jobs now on the line.

Manroland's official statement points the finger at a few key market conditions. Its key markets have shrunk by 50 percent since 2008, it states, meaning that margins have been knocked and credit lines have shortened for those hoping to invest in new machinery for high-volume offset production. While its Chinese business remained 'brisk', this summer saw a particular decline in purchasing and core US and western European markets have simply not been buying.

It's not surprising that there aren't the many millions available at the moment for companies to plant in web offset or newspaper printers, especially with the printing industry as a whole unable to answer questions about where it will be in a few years' time. There's also the point that existing equipment fulfilling these functions had been engineered so well that it's still running admirably and doesn't need replacing, thereby impacting new installs.

One industry expert points out to me that while manroland's technology was always well-engineered, KBA beat it hands-down in large-format carton and poster production while Heidelberg dominated B1 and B2 and, generally, offered a better turnkey option with its workflow and other software. He also notes that it'll be interesting to see how competitors KBA and Goss react, and how their order books fare over the next few months before drupa – these are both companies that have, perhaps, focused more on providing service and upgrade paths than manroland has, and are therefore better placed to weather the storm.

The questions that should now be asked in this industry, though, are more complex. Are we likely to see any more massive investments in the high-volume print market, especially with the technological development in digital technologies and their wider adoption? And, more broadly, should we stop thinking of print as a mass medium and consider its potential as a niche communication method with different types of volume which take advantage of personalisation and other key value-adding processes?

British manroland owners should be aware that manroland GB is apparently 'okay and solvent' and considers that the brand is 'not dead by a long way'. But as we ponder these unanswerables and consider how our industry needs to rejig in order to adapt to life in the modern, lower-volume, more personalised printed world, one can't help but wonder what drupa 2012 will look like and which areas will actually see investment on the show floor – and, further, what manufacturers will have made it through to Ipex in 2013. My bet is that the major concentrations will be in consumables, service and support, and digital technologies.

We'll be tracking the trends, so watch this space – and don't forget to let us know what you think.
 

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Comments in chronological order (Total 1 comments)

Laurel Brunner
29 November 2011 11:17AM
This terrible news is all the more terrible because of its sad inevitability. Manroland, and Heidelberg too, have long been trapped behind walls of such height and impenetrability. Their limited efforts to reach out to alternative technologies have merely added to their isolation because they have not been part of a wider strategy. I guess it is hard to have a strategy or make a cultural change when the wolf is at the door.

These two companies cultures are unfortunately incompatible with markets and technologies that thrive on immediacy and Moore's Law. How can companies that make machines that last 50 years even begin to appreciate a digital mindset?

As I see it Manroland and Heidelberg's errors begin with the following: massive investments into amazing technologies that don't wear out particularly fast so there is a long and expensive wait for replacement markets; investments in marketing and sales without recognising the implications of overcapacity or up and coming digital marking technologies; failure to invest into a company-wide understanding of digital technologies, production models or markets.

Sadly both companies behave as if they are bigger than the market, and that they are too big to fail. In considering the collapse of traditional printing press manufacturers we do well to remember that the dynamism of invention is often at odds with its own legacy.
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