by Patricia Ames
A frequently stated fact in the imaging industry is that while office print volumes are either declining or steady, depending on how optimistic the research, opportunities still abound in the specialty and production print space — including label printing. But not just any label printer will be able to keep up with the specific demand. According to Konica Minolta, the demand for high-mix, low-volume label print jobs is increasing, and print companies of all sizes that rely on analog label printers are struggling to keep up with the pace. Now, not only do they have to deal with shorter lead times, they also have to deal with the same amount of prep work for each job , like exchanging print plates. At the same time, wasteful yet necessary processes, like trial printing, are corrosive to the bottom line.
What some would call a challenge, Konica Minolta calls an opportunity. The company believes these factors point to an opening in the production label space ─ and their actions are speaking louder than their words.
In spring 2016, Konica Minolta increased its stakes in France’s leading decoration printing equipment manufacturer, MGI Digital Graphic Technology (MGI). Konica Minolta, which already purchased 10 percent of MGI back in 2014, upped their position to 40.5 percent. In a release announcing the additional purchase, Konica Minolta said that the deal would “accelerate its initiatives for application development in the special printing systems including package printing and 3D component printing” and “give the company a solid and strong presence within the digital package printing market and drive expansion in the growth field of production printing.”
During a press conference at Print 17, Kevin Kern, senior vice president of business intelligence services and product planning at Konica Minolta, said that the graphic communications industry is “entering an exciting era with new trends” and noted that its relationship with MGI will be a vital one in succeeding in the space.
Indeed, Konica Minolta is positioning for a large slice of what is estimated to be an $83 billion pie, and one particular slice the company would love to devour is the global production label market. Between their own bizhub PRESS C71cf and MGI’s JETvarnish 3D Web, plus the four inkjet and two toner digital label presses sold by the recently acquired Muratec, Konica Minolta has a strong portfolio of devices that can help the company do battle in the war for market share.
Konica Minolta bizhub C71cf
With its digital label printer, the bizhub C71cf, Konica Minolta believes it has the answer for SMB label and seal print companies. The device cuts out prep time, which makes lead times less of a factor, and provides consistent output throughout the run to reduce waste. With top speeds of 18.9 meters per minute, the company says the device best suits small- and medium-volume print runs. The device uses Konica Minolta’s FDA-approved HDe dry toner technology, which makes it particularly handy for event-related food and beverage products, like those from your local farms, wineries and breweries. Konica Minolta highlights the device’s precise outline processing feature, which reduces blurring and streaking, and its ability to output small characters and fine lines clearly. Other noteworthy features include support for barcode and variable data printing.
JETvarnish 3D Web
MGI’s JETvarnish 3D Web offers many of the same benefits as the bizhub C71cf, but targets larger operations that require more sophistication. The device can reach speeds of 42 meters per minute and can output 2D and 3D embossed spot coating over flexographic or digital web-fed printed output without the need for dies, screens or costly tooling. The device leverages MGI’s AIS SmartScanner, which uses artificial intelligence, to automatically create varnish and hot foil registration. According to MGI, AIS can eliminate 80 percent of operator setup time and help businesses complete more jobs in less time, plus reduce labor and waste costs. Included with the device is MGI’s Spot Varnish Editor, so users can edit job enhancements on the fly; an integrated production cost calculator to predict job costs, so businesses can give reliable estimates; and a web-based interface for managing and changing machine settings.
The device utilizes a combination of three in-line curing and drying systems — LED for freezing varnish and 3D relief, infrared lamps for spreading varnish evenly over 2D jobs, and a UV lamp for curing and fully polymerizing varnish. There is also a full rotary flexo UV station that varnishes or primes media and enables UV varnish and hot foil finishing on a wide range of substrates, even if they’re not coated.
Konica Minolta’s approach to the production space, and specifically labels, is staging up to be a full-on assault. At its 2016 dealer meeting, following the MGI deal, production print was a huge focus, with the enormous MGI JV 3DW literally taking center stage (see above). The addition of that and the rest of MGI’s lineup of devices, which were a focal area for Konica Minolta throughout 2016, were invaluable in helping the company get that bigger slice of the pie — add to that the purchase of Muratec this past August and Konica Minolta’s portfolio and position became even stronger. Taking on Muratec’s line of label printers, the Precision Label Series, broadens their portfolio, enhances their value proposition and makes it easier to woo customers — giving Konica Minolta a full range of tools to win over the market.