En route to the future
In 2002, the French company TagG Informatique signed up for no less than three IBM Infocolor 130 production lines. These Xeikon-powered digital presses were to be used for full personalization, in full colour, of catalogues. “A huge investment”, remembers Benoit Chatelard, at that time responsible for IBM’s printing division in Western Europe, “and a moment that marked my first personal encounter with Xeikon technology.”
Benoit Chatelard took the helm at Xeikon one year ago, after he was appointed President & CEO of Flint Group’s Digital Solutions as of May 8, 2017. The announcement of his move from Ricoh Europe to Flint and Xeikon during the Xeikon Café event came right after his predecessor Wim Maes had already surprised the audience – not so much by unveiling a brand new press for the label industry, but by this being a full-fledged inkjet press. It is now up to Chatelard to take the company, which had always been at the forefront in toner technology, towards its ‘technology-agnostic’ future.
“I had just started my working career at IBM, selling CAD/CAM automation solutions to automotive companies like Peugeot-Citroën”, says Chatelard (*1960) when asked what he was up to in 1988, the year that Xeikon was founded. His desire to go abroad soon got him travelling the globe: “After some years in France, I moved to Johannesburg to re-establish IBM in South Africa. Then I moved to Vienna, Austria, and became responsible for the Eastern Europe market. By 2001, I came back to France to run the printing division for the high volume market in Western Europe.” At that time, IBM had its own monochrome toner technology, but it wanted to move into colour as well. It was not in inkjet just yet, so the company decided to use the Xeikon colour technology as an OEM in the meantime, explains Chatelard: “And quite successfully, as we installed many of these Xeikon-powered machines, including the three systems at TagG Informatique in 2002. That company, by the way, is still using Xeikon presses today.”
The joint-venture between the IBM Printing Systems Division and Ricoh in 2007, forming Infoprint Solutions, brought Chatelard to Singapore – and then to London. After the full integration with Ricoh in 2011, he became responsible for software solutions before being appointed Vice President, Production Printing Business Group for Ricoh Europe. “Over the years, I have witnessed many small and big changes that have had an impact on the printing industry. Breaking the speed barrier of 100 meters per minute in monochrome toner printing is one. The arrival of high speed drop on demand inkjet in colour, another. The improved full colour quality in toner. The addition of a fifth colour. Heidelberg adding sheetfed toner to its portfolio. New applications, as we saw the accelerated move from transactional printing to direct mail and to graphic arts. I have had the chance to part of all of this.”
“My starting point at Xeikon in 2017 was to have a strategic review for the next 5 to 10 years. We needed to have a good look at all our segments on our roadmap. And it needed to be ready before Labelexpo 2017”, says Chatelard.
Of course he already knew Xeikon for pushing toner technology to its limits. And he had seen them announcing liquid toner in 2012: “I thought that was a very adventurous step, and possibly a very expensive one too, for the small company that Xeikon still was at that time. I admired them for picking their own fight and creating the possibility to differentiate them-selves from the rest of the industry. It could be a smart move – but the big question was: can they make it work in time?”
And so ‘Project Trillium’ was high on the list when Chatelard and his team started their roadmap review: “The segment of commercial print, where Trillium was aimed at, is extremely crowded. Now, we were getting beautiful printing results from the press – and we even already announced TagG Informatique as our beta-site – but there remained still years of work to be done and a lot of money needed to get the project where it needed to be. And the timeframe for it to be a successful game-changer in this market became ever smaller.” At the same time, the packaging market is showing huge opportunities, with potential for high value – and positions are still to be taken. “That’s why, in the end, we had to decide to stop Trillium and reallocate our resources to inkjet.”
Spending now half of all R&D efforts on inkjet, and building on the resources and experience that Flint still has in inkjet, Chatelard is convinced he will be able not to just catch up but to leapfrog competition: “Adding the EFI Jetrion inkjet systems to our portfolio provides us already with the largest installed base of inkjet presses in the label industry, representing one third of the total volume of inkjet printed labels. This enables us to learn our lessons quickly and further improve our offering in a lot less time than our competitors.”
Next big thing
For Xeikon, inkjet will not only be important in certain label segments, explains Chatelard as he looks to the future: “Corrugated packaging will be the next big thing. That is a fast growing market with only little digital printing being done yet. After that, we want to go into flexible packaging as well, but in that area there are still a couple of barriers that need to be taken care of.”
For the graphic arts segment, Xeikon will continue to focus on webfed toner-based presses, says Chatelard: “We are not planning any inkjet or sheetfed systems for this market. We want to use our existing and proven technology to the max for these applications, and we see there is still room for further enhancement. As a result, we actually already see this market is now growing again for us.”