Interview: EskoArtwork's Jef Stoffels in conversation with Output pt 1
What do you think?
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By James Matthews-Paul
9 July 2012
Jef Stoffels is the marketing director of EskoArtwork
Your technologies are present on several stands at drupa. Is partnership Esko's core strategy, and how does that relate to other developments at the show?
From the acquisition of Kongsberg some 15 years ago, Esko developed and pursued a strategy to be selective in graphic arts but really go for the packaging and sign and display industries. Consequently, we've been following the trends and pioneering a lot of pre-press and workflow functionality.
What we see now is that workflow is being integrated with the business systems of our customers, who are getting bigger: they're growing, becoming networked, going enterprise or with world-wide set-ups. On top of that, in graphic arts we are recognised as having mastered packaging data. There's such a shift in the output world, with the hardware vendors moving into digital: Landa, Indigo, all of them are looking at packaging now because commercial print and magazines aren't healthy business any more. And these presses need to be fed with good data for colour management and consistent workflows – and even more so as the runs get shorter.
Beyond that, we are now at a stage where we can take the process through from the brand owner to the shelf. Brand owners want to master that complete workflow themselves and take more control over the unpredictable process of packaging creation. They want their promotion on the shelves in two to three weeks, but can't because 32 different suppliers say it's going to be six weeks before they can deliver. They don't think that's good enough any more, so they want a system that controls the whole workflow, making it streamlined, faster and more consistent. Our strategy is really a vision of the end-to-end supply chain, and it's starting to pick up. It applies to the graphic arts industry mainly, but also to trade shops, designers, converters and finishers, and brand owners want control over that whole network.
What, if any, are the opportunities for digital print to increase beyond its low single-figure share of packaging output?
The packaging industry is mainly cost-driven, and will shift from one technology to another based on cost per unit and time to market. Even if this cookie can be packed better in a gravure rather than a flexo sleeve they'll probably pick flexo – that's about the pennies. If flexo or digital comes to market two weeks faster, maybe they'll go with that. Often, you'll see that digital is where the value-add is: super promotions, personalisation or test marketing, in these volumes in the packaging arena are relatively slow.
You also have to understand the volumes in this industry – for instance, if Mars bar wrappers are being printed, they start the roll and switch it off at the end of the week. That's volumes in kilometres of print, which can't be done cost effectively with digital. When costs for digital come down, that will boost the volumes on these presses. You can see that in labelling already. Xeikon and HP Indigo, plus a few newcomers, already have presses that are delivering the productivity and quality that's acceptable and processable for packaging and labels, but the volumes are still small because the current cost per unit is high.
What are the big areas of growth in terms of applications and products in graphic arts?
The whole sign and display, large-format industry has really kicked off over the last five years. There a whole sector that was, traditionally, hooked on screen-printing now going over to digital technologies – and digital finishing completes that workflow. These companies don't want to wait for clamshells or expensive die-cuts – they want to go digital.
We also mastered a set of technologies to create a workflow for these systems, having seen how little pre-press and workflow functionality there was. People were printing – or still are printing – from whatever sources with lousy PDFs, and it was a non-existent topic. Yet all these engines have become more and more productive, so the throughput needs to be improved. The materials you print on are very expensive, so you need to avoid waste by making sure that the files you prepare are correct and that you're filling up the substrate nicely. That's why we're aiming to create a solution that makes your pre-press department as professional as possible, your presses optimal production machines, and allows you to complete the job with our Kongsberg tables.
Continue reading this interview here.
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