“Strategic Alliance” . . . The New World of Digital Print

I’m not sure if anyone has really noticed but there is a whole lot of change taking place in the world of High Volume Digital Printing.  I’m not talking about from a technology standpoint, I’m talking about all the changes and positioning going on with the Vendors themselves.

With all the upheaval in the economy over the last couple of years, most of these changes haven’t really been given a whole lot of attention.  Yes, there have been some press releases, and of course more than a few industry analysts have provided their opinions on how the latest move will impact the market. But when Konica Minolta, whose is known more for mid-volume copiers than high-end continuous form printers, signed an agreement with Screen USA to directly market the TruePress Jet520 series of continuous-feed printers, (http://bit.ly/hTeT0o) it was clear that it was time to untangle the web of agreements and alliances.  Time to really look at all the players in the mix of an already highly competitive High Volume Digital and Ink Jet Continuous Form space.

Trying to figure out all the “Agreements”, “Strategic Alliance’s”, and “Partnerships”; is like playing a game of “Where’s Waldo”.  With numerous companies jumping into the game, let’s take a look at the some of the Key Vendors, in no particular order. See if you can follow the bouncing ball:

 OCE

Oce’s myriad partnerships and strategic alliances began with in 2005 when they acquired Imagistics from Pitney Bowes. A few years down the road, (2007) Oce announced the first the Jet Stream 2200 system, at the time it was the worlds fastest and more productive inkjet press. In 2008 Oce also entered into a “basic partnership” for technology & sales with Konica Minolta. Almost one year to the day later, (Nov 2009) Canon announces it will purchase OCE.  In December of 2010 OCE and offset manufacturer Manroland announce “Global Strategic Alliance”. Will Oce (a Canon Company), who is recognized as leader in the Continuous Form market, remain a viable player in the production printing space? Time will tell how it all plays out.

 InfoPrint Solutions

InfoPrint Solutions is the result of a “strategic agreement” between IBM and Ricoh. The agreement (June 07’) provided a 3 yr. migration from IBM to a fully owned subsidiary of Ricoh.  Also in 2007,  InfoPrint Solution, (aka Ricoh) and Dainippon Screen Manufacturing Co., Ltd. (Screen), enter into an “agreement” whereby InfoPrint would sell the Screen Truepress Jet520 continuous feed digital color inkjet systems. In 2008 – Ricoh acquired IKON;  the same company that also sells Canon and Konica Minolta digital production units. Finally, earlier this year Ricoh and Heidelberg announced a “global strategic cooperation”.  The global strategic cooperation, which includes Ricoh services and support, starts this month. With all of these manufactures and sales organization combined, will they be a powerhouse player or will it ultimately end in an ugly sales turf war with the customer caught in the middle? 

Kodak

In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s Kodak had a “strategic alliance” with Heidelberg for High Volume products. They also brought the first VersaMark to market in 2000 but have struggled to gain a solid foothold in the market. In February of this year Kodak entered into a Global Distribution Agreement” with Konica Minolta.  Under the agreement, Kodak will sell the Konica Minolta bizhub PRESS C6000, C7000, and C8000. Konica Minolta will continue to sell the KODAK DIGIMASTER Digital Production Systems and will also add the KODAK NEXPRESS Digital Production Color Presses to its portfolio. In addition Kodak will continue to offer its Versamark VL and Prosper systems with the flexible Drop-On-Demand (DOD) inkjet platform. Let’s not forget the Prosper S20 Imprinting System that integrates with existing offset presses. Can Kodak finally make an impact in the Digital Printing arena after all of its struggles? Stay tuned!    

Pitney Bowes

Yes, the same Pitney Bowes that was referenced earlier, who got out of the digital printing business is back once again. In September of 2009, they entered into an already crowded market by announcing it is launching a new production color printing system for high-volume transactional mailers. The new offering, called the Pitney Bowes® IntelliJet™ Printing System, featuring the HP® T300 Color Inkjet engine, is the result of a “strategic alliance” with HP. Can Pitney strategy help them survive as mail volume drops? A Challenge indeed! 

Hewlett Packard – HP

Known most for their robust office laser printer line and more recently with the popular Indigo Digital Presses, HP has stormed on to the scene with their own Color Inkjet presses. HP is making its mark with the ultra-wide web T400. Targeted at very high volume shops, the T400 has the widest web width available at 42”. They also offer presses with the more traditional 20.5”  web for lower volumes with the T200, T300, & T350. With this product line, the agreement with Pitney Bowes, and its recent expansion of its 25 year “strategic alliance” with Canon for multifunction products, HP is positioned  to compete more effectively against competitors such as Xerox and Ricoh(aka, InfoPrint, IKON, Screen, Heidelberg) Will HP change the market the way they changed office printing? Just a thought! 

Xerox

Ah Xerox. Love em or hate em, they have forever transformed printing as we know it. From the first 9200 duplicator, the DocuTech, to the outstanding image quality of the Nuvera monochrome printing has always been the key to their success. That all changed with the iGen. The universal press as some called it. Flexible as it is the iGen just can’t compete as higher volumes. Enter Xerox into the fray of Continuous Form printer. Starting with a short lived OEM agreement with DelPhax, then Hitachi, then finally with their own products with “Flash Fusing” in both B&W and Full Color presses. Xerox toner technology was back on top with their # 1 world ranking for placements of Continuous Form printers in 2009. But the industry is rapidly moving towards inkjet technology as an alternative to toner. Earlier this year Xerox unveiled its version of inkjet technology with “Water-less” inkjet. Will this, along with the 2009 acquisition of ACS, allow Xerox to reinvent itself or are they a little too late to the party? We shall see.

These are just a few of the players currently in this market space. As this market continues to expand, look for many iterations of these types of “strategic alliances” in the future.  Will inkjet technology change the way we print? Will offset pages continue to transfer to digital? Will iPad become the new paper? Time and probably a “Strategic Agreement” will tell.

 

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Categories: Technology

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