KBA is the latest of the major press manufacturers to form a partnership for the development of digital solutions; it expects to field plenty of inkjet questions from PrintEx visitors
Early March, KBA announced that it is partnering with the world’s biggest printing company, RR Donnelley of Chicago, in order to develop and bring new inkjet printing technology to market.
The agreement between KBA and RR Donnelley will see them develop, manufacture and sell piezoelectric-based digital inkjet printing machines for the commercial, newspaper, packaging and security sectors.
Through the partnership, KBA has licensed RR Donnelley’s existing Apollo digital technology to use in its own presses. The companies say the technology will debut at drupa 2012 in Düsseldorf next May.
KBA Australasia general manager, Dave Lewis, says he is excited about the announcement and expects to field plenty of questions about the announcement from interested printers at KBA’s PrintEx stand in Sydney next month.
“KBA has been known for its engineering prowess and the development of many innovative printing technologies since it was established in 1817,” says Lewis.
“RR Donnelley itself is no stranger to technological innovation having driven the CTP revolution in the early 1990s. Back then, it asked the then unknown Canadian company, Creo, to partner with it in developing CTP, which at the time didn’t exist, resulting in a technology which changed the industry.
“The KBA/RR Donnelley partnership is sure to be equally productive,” says Lewis.
Commenting on the arrangement, Helge Hansen, CEO of KBA says, “Seeking to expand the industry’s broadest product range, KBA has spent the last 18 months assessing both current and future digital printing technologies from around the world. In our analysis, it was clear that RR Donnelley was positioned to partner with us from a digital print technology, experience, and scale perspective.”
Thomas Quinlan, president and chief executive officer at RR Donnelley, says, “We look forward to having the combined R&D resources of nearly 1,000 engineers and imaging scientists bring forward the next generation of digital imaging technologies.
The inkjet announcement was followed later in March with the publication of KBA’s group financial statements for 2010, which recorded continuing improvement in sales and pre-tax profits, a proposal for dividends and a prediction for more growth in sales and earnings this year.
Helge Hansen, chief executive KBA, says, “Last year’s growth rates were high partly because they followed exceptionally poor prior-year figures, and are therefore unlikely to be repeated on this scale. For 2011 we are targeting a moderate increase in sales and earnings, with both divisions contributing their share.”
KBA reports that a brisker demand following a revival in the spring drove the group order intake up to €1,284.9m, a 45.4 per cent improvement on the crisis-shaken previous year. Orders for sheetfed offset presses jumped 33.8 per cent to €621.6m, while those for web and special presses rose 58.2 per cent to €663.3m. The group order backlog at the end of December was up 31.6 per cent at €440.8m. KBA attributes the growth rates to its broad product range, which addresses volume markets such as commercial, packaging and newspaper printing, and niche markets such as metal decorating, coding and security printing.
It adds that a double-digit jump in revenue, and the cost savings delivered by consolidation, enabled it to more than double its operating profit from €8.7m to €22.2m. Benefiting from firmer sales and the reduced cost base accruing from restructuring measures, the sheetfed division converted a €23.1m operating loss the previous year into an €8.2m profit. Provided global economic growth in 2011 is not seriously impaired by current developments, KBA is confident that the higher order backlog at the start of the year and initial brisk demand will enable it to maintain this upward trajectory in sales and profits.
KBA says it has weathered the economic crisis, media transitions and a cost-intensive realignment to a smaller market volume without drawing on external financing or injections of capital. It says it also has access to additional cash credit lines of more than €100m from banks.
For the first time, sales in Asia and the Pacific have overtaken Europe as the company’s export level hit an historic high of 88.5 per cent, while the proportion of group sales generated in Europe (excluding Germany) dropped to 28.5 per cent, well below the historic average of 50 per cent plus. Sales to Asia and the Pacific 29.4 per cent of the total and KBA says that brisk demand in China for sheetfed presses was a major contributing factor.
From rivals to partners in print
Klaus Schmidt, marketing director of KBA recently commented on the blurring lines between offset and digital print technologies. “The days when speculation was rife on how soon digital print would send offset out to grass are long gone,” he says. “Both printing processes have made enormous advances and their respective applications are no longer clearly delimited. Experienced offset printers routinely use digital printing systems for short or personalised runs, and some purebred digital printers have started investing in offset kit in order to retain key customers requiring longer runs or higher quality.
“While offset and digital each has process-related strengths and weaknesses, the race to deliver the most productive and cost-effective system has inspired design engineers in both camps.”
With the recent tie-up between KBA and RR Donnelley, it seems only a matter of time before the KBA print portfolio embraces sheetfed, gravure, flexo and inkjet.