Author Archive

  • Xerox under the hammer – Andy McCourt’s ReVerb

    Billionaire Xerox shareholder Carl Icahn reportedly described the industry as ‘a piece of sh*t.’

    The storm-tossed recent history of Xerox seems to have entered calmer waters for now, as the shareholder activists Carl Icahn and Darwin Deason have succeeded in getting what they wanted – a free market auction of the USD$7.16 billion market cap. company. This is below half of what Xerox was worth in September 2015, just prior to splitting off its Business Services division, now a separate company called Conduent.

    Andy McCourt, Print21.

    The concept of auctioning-off to the highest bidder such a large company as Xerox is somewhat foreign to usual business protocols. Companies, unless they are bankrupt and being liquidated, are normally acquired in a take-over bid that can be either friendly or unfriendly. It’s not unusual to see another higher offer or a gazumping of the initial offer by a third party but an out-and-out auction is normally reserved for distressed assets and companies that are in financial difficulties.

    But an out-and-out auction of a large company that is, apparently, not under financial stress is strange. It’s no secret that neither Icahn nor Deason want to run Xerox and that the board they have installed is only there to facilitate the auction and extract maximum value for the big shareholders, irrespective of the on-going success of the NYSE (XRX)-listed company.

    Can shareholders dictate how a company is run?

    The juicy part of Xerox has already been split off with the creation of Conduent (NYSE: CNDT), whose shares are up 19% year-to-date. Xerox’s are down 6%. So, this is looking more and more like a break-up; a raking over the remaining bones of a once iconic company, suffering the ignominy of being auctioned off to the highest bidder, rather than being run with vision, invested in (which Fujifilm promised) and able to come up with the same brilliant ideas that gave us the copier, ethernet, laser printer, GUI and mouse. Yes, they all came out of Xerox PARC research division, an incorporated Xerox company since 2002.

    That two activist shareholders in Icahn and Deason, with only around 15% of issued stock, can effectively take over and dictate what happens to a major publicly-listed company and decide to auction it off is unprecedented in company law. Respected US Management Study Guide says (caps theirs):

    “However, shareholder ownership does not imply control since the company law makes it clear that only a majority percentage of the shareholders can exercise control. The point here is that, to have effective say over the running of the company, a majority vote of the shareholders is necessary following the democratic norms of participation that govern companies.”

      Harvard Business Review goes further, having published:

    “Corporate reality, though, has proved stubbornly uncooperative. In legal terms, shareholders don’t own the corporation (they own securities that give them a less-than-well-defined claim on its earnings). In law and practice, they don’t have final say over most big corporate decisions (boards of directors do). And although many top managers pledge fealty to shareholders, their actions and their pay packages often bespeak other loyalties. This gap between rhetoric and reality—coupled with waves of corporate scandal and implosion—has led to repeated calls to give outside investors even more say.”

     The bloc – backgrounder

    ‘No stranger to accounting scandals himself’: billionaire investor Darwin Deason.

    Deason and Icahn present themselves as hard-done-by investors and maybe they are; but neither are angels of light. Deason repeatedly highlights the ‘accounting scandal’ in Fuji Xerox New Zealand and to a lesser extent Australia under the aegis of Neil Whittaker. He is no stranger to accounting scandals himself, having experienced accusations of back-dating share options in the company he ultimately sold to Xerox: Affiliated Computer Services. Over 60 ACS managers lost their jobs including the CEO Mark King. Known as ‘springloading,’ the back-dating of share options can make large sums of money for those in the game by choosing past low-price dates to acquire stock that then rises in value.

    Chairman Deason came out of it relatively unscathed through ‘not knowing’ but settled with the US Securities & Exchange Commission with neither side ‘confirming or denying’ culpability. Deason has often been associated with cyber-intelligence activities and even CIA involvement. Indeed, at the Southern Methodist University in Dallas, there is the “Darwin Deason Centre for Cyber-Security”  https://www.smu.edu/Lyle/Institutes/DeasonInstitute, so it’s safe to assume he is a very smart guy with powerful friends.

    There’re even some conspiracy-like stories about Deason and his CIA links: http://www.constantinereport.com/comair-crash-fenton-dawson-acs-cia-torture-scandal-corporate-looting-the-nsa-etc/

    Carl Icahn, on the other hand, is just an old-fashioned Wall Street wolf, making his approximately $20 billion fortune by stock plays, corporate raiding, shorting and anything else. The character Gordon Gekko (“Greed is good”) from the film Wall Street is said to be partially modelled on him: https://www.economist.com/node/9176383

    He made his first fortune in the 1980s with a hostile takeover of troubled airline TWA, borrowing money to take it private then stripping its assets to pocket around USD$469 million. Lately, he has been an economic advisor to US President Donald Trump.

    What about Fujifilm?

    So, the kind of businessmen now calling the shots at Xerox cannot be expected to enthusiastically come up with new technologies nor have an interest in our industry. Indeed, according a memo by ousted CEO Jeff Jacobson, Icahn and now-Xerox-board-member Jonathan Christodoro, described ‘the industry’ as follows: “The discussion centred around Icahn and Christodoro’s view that the industry ‘was a piece of sh*t’ and the Xerox business was not driving value,” Jacobson wrote.

    It’s all here in one of the best updates on the situation by Bloomberg’s Drake Bennett: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2018-05-24/how-not-to-negotiate-a-6-1-billion-deal

    There’s no denying the Fujifilm proposed takeover was very smart and beneficial to Fujifilm Holdings, I wrote about it in February: https://print21.com.au/stunningly-brilliant-deal-andy-mccourt-on-fujifilms-xerox-takeover/152084

    However, I would say that Fujifilm and the Fuji Xerox joint venture part of the Xerox structure is the dialysis machine that has kept Xerox’s kidneys functioning for the past two decades. Remove it and the patient will get very sick indeed – or die.

    Fujifilm makes most of the sellable tech that Xerox offers. It is in control of the largest market on Earth – Asia Pacific, having boosted its 50% jv share to 75% in 2001 when Xerox was on the verge of bankruptcy. It was Fujifilm’s money that saved the company. Forbes magazine sums it up here: https://www.forbes.com/2002/11/06/1106soapbox.html#1116b2c5486f

    If Deason and Icahn think that Xerox can prosper without Asia Pacific (especially China) and without Fujifilm, they must have rocks in their heads. Of course, they don’t – they know the score precisely and just want out of their holding positions for as much as possible. Maybe Fujifilm should have upped their offer but instead have opted for a legal challenge to the Icahn-Deason putsch. Maybe the poker game they are playing is to force Fujifilm’s hand because they know that no one in their right mind would buy Xerox without its major supplier and business partner locked in.

    Likely bidders

    Who would bid at an auction for Xerox?

    • Apollo Global Management – private equity buy-out firm closely linked to the Icahn-Deason bloc. Expect a colossal break-up if this happens.
    • HP – Did express interest early on in a call to Jeff Jacobson but was rebuffed. Slotting HP tech into Xerox to replace Fujifilm would have its appeal but what about the jv in Asia Pacific?
    • Konica Minolta – would love to own Xerox and its channels I am sure and, as the arch-combatant with Fujifilm from photographic days, would delight in removing them. But again -what about the 75/25 jv in Asia Pacific?
    • Canon – Bought Océ in 2010 and maybe this has not gone as well as hoped for. They could be nervous bidders.
    • Other private equity – such as Danaher Corporation who are an exception to the ‘breakup and loot’ model. They run companies successfully, including Esko, X-Rite, AVT, Leica Microsystems, Pantone and Videojet in our industry.

    Unless Fujifilm’s court action succeeds, Xerox is headed for auction. Let’s all hope that the ‘Going-going’ does not literally end in ‘Gone.’

    Update: In its latest filing this week with the New York State Supreme Court, Fujifilm has slammed the ‘self-serving’ settlement that saw the entire board ousted and replaced by Icahn-Deason friendly members. It also claims the termination of the deal is ‘in violation of a valid contract authorised unanimously by the [Xerox] board.’ 
    Word on the street is that Fujifilm Holdings will seek damages of up to $245 million if the deal is eventually stymied. This will get uglier.

  • FUJIFILM Australia

    2018 will be the year of robotics in print:

    The term ‘robotics’ conjours up various ideas of machines replacing humans for repetitive tasks. The automotive manufacturing industry has used industrial robots for many years, beginning with spot-welding robots at General Motors in 1961.The ensuing years saw the ‘arms’ become more versatile with increased movement and dexterity but it was the introduction of sensors, camera vision and integrated circuits that enabled industrial robots to really take off.

    By the 1980s, industrial robots were a multi-billion dollar industry, with over half of production going into the automotive manufacturing industry. With China’s car manufacturing increasing exponentially, companies such as Great Wall Motors were able to build new production lines that were robotic from scratch. One such line uses 27 ABB robots working collaboratively, with ABB IRB7600s placing panels exactly in the right position and then passing instructions to ABB IRB6640 welding robots for the spot-welding. In such an automated line, over 4,000 welds are made precisely on a car body in only 86 seconds.

    Paint robots are also used, removing humans from the toxic atmosphere of spray booths and reducing waste by precise metering of paint flow. While automotive is still the highest user of robots, other industries are adopting them, often in a human-machine collaborative environment.

    The medical industry is one such, with ‘Da Vinci’ robots being used by surgeons to perform minimally-invasive surgeries such as prostatectomies. Pipette robots are often seen in television reports of medical research, filling vials with liquids for testing of pharmaceuticals. Military use of robots and allied technologies such as drones are having a major impact on the way that conflicts are conducted.

    Manufacturing is a natural co-adopter of robotics along with automotive. Again, it is the robotisation of repetitive or dangerous tasks that have first attracted attention.

    The ABB robotic arm positions another sheet on the bed of an Inca Onset X3.

    Robotics in wide format

    Moving on to wide format production, robotics are at their best when automating repetitive functions. The reliability and accuracy of ‘robotised’ functions far exceed human error-prone manual handling. Nowhere is this more obvious than the loading and unloading of large sheets on the faster breed of flatbed UV printers, such as the Inca Onset X-series from Fujifilm. Handling boards and sheets can be unwieldy at up to 3.22 x 1.6 metres and, particularly for a long run of say 1,000 sheets. Sheets and boards can be damaged by inappropriate storage and handling. The OH&S implications for workers tasked with manually loading and off-loading them are also significant.

    Industrial robotic handling can also solve the problem of heavier, thicker sheet handling. Materials such as ACM, acrylics, wood, MDF and even door panels still have to be loaded and unloaded manually with basic flatbed automation geared to thin sheets, but robot-automation can handle the heavier materials.

    It is for these reasons that many of Fujifilm’s Inca Onset installations are with half or three-quarter automation; typically from Hostert or Inca, where sheets are automatically unloaded from the imaging bed and stacked on pallets. But now it can go a whole lot further. Partnering with ABB Robotics, Fujifilm and Inca are able to make high-production wide format an automated, safer and more cost-effective process, enabling previous press operators to focus on more enjoyable and higher-skill tasks.

    Mike Wilson, sales & marketing executive with ABB Robotics notes: “Look at the types of jobs that robots are taking over. Many of the roles that are being automated are arduous, repetitive and physically demanding. Is it sensible in this day and age for people to be deployed in such tasks, especially where training or apprenticeship programmes exist that could help them to be put to better use?”

    Inca Onset X3 in unattended production mode with ABB robot sheet positioning, take-off and stacking – at 900 square metres per hour.

    Robots create new jobs

    Some critics of robotic automation cite job losses as detrimental to its implementation. It’s more a case of job transfer as the evidence is that other jobs are created in managing the greater productivity. Where manual jobs are genuinely lost, re-training and courses are there to re-skill the employees into more future-proof enterprise. The transport industry is far bigger today that it was in the days of the stagecoach, and employs millions more people.

    For high-productivity flatbed board printing, the automation of loading (from short or long edge of sheet), registration and offloading & stacking can enable a single operator to be highly productive, having only to deliver palletised stacks of boards to the ‘on’ robot and take away printed pallets from the ‘off’ robot. The speed and media change-over benefits add to productivity – with attendant cost-savings. Ink refills might be necessary but with the high-capacity ink tanks of the X-series, these can be planned in to downtimes, or filled ‘on the fly’ during printing.

    One significant benefit of an Inca/ABB robotised flatbed line is that, if a proof sheet needs to be pulled from the print run, the robot can be instructed to deliver it to the operator rather than the delivery stack: “Here’s the proof you asked for Sir!” Similarily, the ABB robotic arm can place one, two, three or four sheets on the Inca Onset vacuum table from a single feed stack, to be printed and then delivered to a single pallet stack.

    ABB robots have outstanding position repeatability of ± 0.1mm, with excellent path accuracy, thereby permitting accurate and repeatable sheet loading on the vacuum table. Images are consistently printed in the same position on the substrate, making post-print finishing easier and more efficient. Unloading does not have to be solely to a stacked pallet – optional features include unloading to inspection tables, cutting tables or to stacks on a conveyor belt, enabling faster, automated finishing processes within established workflows. Taller stacks can be recessed for easier handling.

    Robots are often thought of as Star Wars C3PO or R2D2 types emulating human behaviour. In reality, the vast majority of the world’s robots used in manufacturing are ‘arm-types.’ The effectiveness of ABB’s robotic automation can best be appreciated by viewing this video:

     

    Of course, with any machinery operation, safety is a primary concern. ABB and Inca have ensured the highest levels of safety guarding that doesn’t get in the way of productivity. Measures include load and unload area light curtains, programmable laser scanning system, protective hand guarding and proximity sensors that halt printing should someone stray into the danger zone. ABB has also introduced the YuMi range collaborative or ‘buddy’ robots that are designed to work alongside humans and ensure their safety. Advanced ABB Ability programming means that complex tasks – even solving Rubik’s cube or making sushi – can be keyed into the instructions.

    It’s all in the MIS and workflow

    Without clear instructions, even human workers might stand idle and non-productive. It’s the same with robotic automation. Just as the automated car, medical and manufacturing production lines mentioned at the beginning require a constant stream of data to produce press-ready plates in the right order for each and every job; so an Inca Onset X3 with ABB robotics flourishes on a data-driven workflow. Job queuing for size, sheet type, print run and finishing is the nutrition that keeps robots well fed and happy. This is also available from Fujifilm via XMF, Caldera or ColorGate software.

    That and maybe a little oil!

  • Brilliant deal! Andy McCourt on the Xerox takeover


    Global Fujifilm HQ in Tokyo.

    The news that Fujifilm will take a controlling interest in Xerox Corp was not entirely unexpected but the mechanism of the deal certainly is. There were a lot of back-stories in play, not the least the unhappy large shareholders of Xerox stock listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

    The largest, Carl Icahn with 9.7% together with Darwin Deason, who sold his company Affiliated Computer Services to Xerox in 2010 for USD$6.4 billion and is the third largest stockholder, are about to get a handsome bonus each. The proposed deal includes a USD$2.5 billion special dividend to all shareholders. That equates to around USD$242,500,000 for Icahn Enterprises and about USD$150 million for Deason, who lives mostly on a fabulous 220-foot yacht in the Caribbean when he’s not in Dallas, TX.

    As recently as January 17 this year, Deason was quoted in the Wall Street Journal saying: “At a time when the [Xerox] board should be aggressively pursuing our shareholder rights to terminate the Fuji [sic] venture and liberate the company globally, to instead plot in secret in violation of the law to cook up a short-term band-aid is insufficient and unwise in the extreme and warrants shareholder action.” Phew!

    Carl Icahn (Image by cnbc.com)

    Sheer brilliance in the deal!

    Nevertheless, Icahn and Deason plus any other disaffected Xerox stockholders can hardly complain about their recent good fortunes – a big special bonus plus a rising Xerox stock price. Neither did they succeed in ousting Xerox CEO Jeff Jacobson and that may prove to be a very good thing. I have known Jacobson since his Kodak Polychrome Graphics days and he is a battle-hardened leader who knows this industry inside-out.

    This is the first part of the brilliance of the deal by Fujifilm Holdings – the disruptive shareholders should now be quieter and content with their massive paydays and are holding stock which, so far is on the rise despite Xerox’s reporting a loss in the last quarter of 2017. Not that Mr Icahn needs the extra millions; his nett worth is reported to be bigger than Xerox’s annual revenue of USD$17 billion.

    The second brilliant aspect of this deal is the way in which it is constructed. President Trump may have written the book called ‘The Art of the Deal’ but, providing the Xerox deal passes US securities scrutiny, Fujifilm Chairman Shigetaka Komori should perhaps consider writing ‘The Architecture of a Deal’ to add to his published workInnovating out of Crisis.

    The standout aspect of Fujifilm’s leveraged control plan for Xerox (it is not a ‘buy’ until approved by shareholders and the US securities people – which may take months, it is scheduled to complete in July-August); is that there will be no cash outflow from Fujifilm Holdings. How can this be?

    No money down

    The elegance of this deal is that Fuji Xerox will buy back its own 75% of shares owned by Fujifilm Holdings, for USD$6.1 billion. This money will be sourced from institutional borrowings. The other 25% is already owned by Xerox Inc. Thus Fuji Xerox becomes a 100% subsidiary of Xerox Inc. Maybe for one day anyway.

    What happens next is pure magic. Fujifilm Holdings will use its USD$6.1 billion from the sale of its stake in Fuji Xerox (Asia and ANZ) to acquire a 50.1% controlling interest in Xerox and gain seven board seats, with Mr Komori as Chairman. The remaining 49.9% of shareholders will hold stock that is currently appreciating in value. Because of the improved efficiencies in the ‘new’ Fuji Xerox, some analysts have estimated the extra value delivered to shareholders is around a 50%+ premium on current closing share price. This includes the special bonus and the appreciated stock.

    Furthermore, these shareholders will receive the one-off special dividend of about USD$9.80 per share; a total of $2.5 billion paid from the newly unified company and financed by Citigroup and Morgan Stanley. The $6.1 billion loaned by institutions to Fuji Xerox for its share buy-back is repaid by the ‘new’ merged Fuji Xerox. Simples!

    Fujifilm’s only real outlay, apart from a lot of time and creativity, in this leveraged buy-in is about USD$2.5 million in advisor fees to Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities and Morgan Stanley. It’s as close to a win-win-win situation as can be in today’s market conditions.

    Track record of successful acquisitions

    Another advantage that Fujifilm can point to is its track record of responsible acquisition in the USA. In 2006 it acquired the struggling Dimatix-Spectra inkjet division of Markem, which focussed mainly on product marking and encoding. Today Fujifilm Dimatix is the leading supplier of printhead technology for high quality graphic applications and its Samba printheads are to be found in Heidelberg, Landa and Inca machines. This was achieved by investment in R&D and Fujifilm’s belief that inkjet was the way forward in graphic arts.

    Printheads without ink are like razors without blade sales, so in 2005 Fujifilm also acquired two inkjet ink companies, Sericol in the UK/global for UV and screen inks and Avecia, a former ICI chemical subsidiary, for dye and pigmented aqueous inks, with manufacturing in Delaware, USA. It is thought that the Delaware plant, now Fujifilm Colorants, makes or has made OEM ink for the ‘big 3’ of Canon, HP and Epson. Because inkjet ink is the most valuable liquid on the planet, secrecy rules.

    All of these acquisitions by Fujifilm have proved very successful as it sought to diversify away from photochemical dependence in the digital era. Through a pre-existing agreement with Sericol, Fujifilm also inherited the global sales channel for Inca Onset flatbed UV presses – the world’s most productive.

    So, when Fujifilm buys or acquires businesses, it works out very well and there is no reason to expect the Xerox deal to be any different. It invests in R&D, it streamlines, albeit with regrettable job losses and it gets it right with innovative and creative management and strategies.

    As a side benefit, the much publicised accounting and HR scandals in New Zealand and Australia with attendant lawsuits both-ways, will no doubt disappear into the mists of time, eventually.

    A fresh start in a difficult market

    This is a fresh start for Xerox and a purgative for Fuji Xerox; it makes complete sense for all involved – shareholders, customers and the industry in general. There’s a tough road ahead and sadly there will be the loss of some 10,000 jobs in Asia-Pacific and no doubt in ANZ as the synergies of the two organisations fuse together – assuming no roadblocks emerge along the way.

    In 1996, I was privileged to visit Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Centre (PARC) in California and was astounded to discover that here, in what amounted to a corporately-funded university, were invented the PC, the GUI, Ethernet, the laser printer, PostScript PDL, the mouse and a host of other IT innovations that we now take for granted.

    Xerox failed to capitalise on any of these major innovations and others picked them up, so today we have Apple, Microsoft, Adobe and others. It’s a safe bet that Fujifilm will not let any future innovations of this kind slip through their fingers.

     

  • Rare film cameras still hold allure

    Ashley Heuchan with an old Leica.

    Camera collector Ashley Heuchan has seen many changes in photography over his 50 years in the business. “Digital and mobile phone cameras are great,” he says, “but there is a magic about film, processing and the incredibly engineered cameras that used them that is hard to describe.”

    “Photography changed the world from around 1850, in much the same way as the printing press did four hundred years earlier in 1450. By the 1880s, anyone could take a faithful photographic image on a relatively inexpensive camera, invented by George Eastman of Kodak fame where I began my career; and produce beautiful black and white prints. Ordinary people could finally record and share what they saw and it got better and better as the 1900s wore on.”

    The durability of film-using cameras has been compared to the resurgence of vinyl LP records, collectable wristwatches like Rolex and Omega and even old valve radios. Film is still manufactured in 35mm and 120 roll film sizes and even 4” x 5” cut sheet and 127 roll film are available new on eBay – with the processing services to go along with them.

    Some professional and art photographers refuse to move away from film cameras, especially those made by German maestros Leica. “The romance of film cameras is captured by the greats such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Rosenthal, Leibowitz, Ansel Adams, David Bailey, Litchfield, Helmut Newton, Karsh and the great war photographers like Robert Capa whose work graced the pages of Life magazine. There are dozens of others.”

    Heuchan’s rare camera collection, accumulated over 50 years, is being auctioned off in several tranches at www.collectablecameras4sale.com starting December 1st 2017. For a while they were on display in his Murray Street, Perth business but space became a problem and he retired from the business, so they went into storage for years. “Even now, as I go through hundreds of boxes, I am amazed at what I find,” he says.

    Lot 18, the Riken Steky ‘spy’ camera from the 1950s, uses 16mm motion picture film.

    Featured in the first collectablecameras4sale auction is, one of the very first Nikon cameras made post-war, as General MacArthur re-engineered the Japanese economy to a peacetime one. It still bears the engraved ‘Made in Occupied Japan’ on its baseplate. Only about 400 ever made it to market from this batch. Another is a production model of the very first 35mm single-lens reflex camera – made in Russia by Gomz and dubbed the ‘Sport.’

    There are numerous Leicas from 1930 up to the 1980s including two ‘M6’ 1987 ones that have never been unpacked – they are still in sealed boxes! There are a few Leica ‘M’ mount lenses that can still be used on the latest Leica digital cameras. “Leica made superlative lenses,” says Heuchan, “and have kept the M bayonet mount going so, you can fit a 60-year old Leica Summilux lens on a brand-new Leica M9 digital – and see the difference a great lens makes!”

    The auction includes other makes such as Zeiss, Voigtländer, Canon (also a Made in Occupied Japan model), Rolleiflex and a company called Riken who made a miniature ‘spy camera’ – later to be re-named Ricoh. A 1901 Century Grand wooden plate camera recalls the days when photographers put a dark cloth over their heads – something today’s iPhone users might also think about in bright sunlight!

    The first of several auctions of Heuchan’s vast collection starts on December 1st and ends on December 12th, the unpacking and grading of the next lot already underway for early 2018.

    1901 Century Grand wooden plate camera.

  • Inca Onset buy boosts Sydney trade printer

    Karl Sun outside his impressive new factory at South Granville, NSW

    Karl Sun, owner of Sydney Print Media, is an example of an entrepreneur who lets nothing stand in the way of his business’ growth path. If a problem needs a solution and one can not be found locally, he invents the answer. As his trade-only wide format sign and display business expanded, he found he needed die-cutting for boards up to 1600 x 2500mm in size. Finding nothing available commercially, he designed one himself and had it constructed in China.

    The result is the ‘Eagle Press Cut’ – a hydraulically-driven cutter using locally-made knife formes and 150 tonnes of downward pressure. The heavily-engineered die-cutter has been so successful, the Australian company is considering commercialising it to the global market. It was such determination as this that brought Karl Sun into contact with Fujifilm and the Inca Onset S40i digital flatbed UV printer.

    “We really needed to increase flatbed board production to cope with big orders in shorter time,” says Sun. “I looked around – at the top end there are not too many to choose from. We already had an Acuity flatbed UV – our first machine five years ago – and are very happy with it, so we know Fujifilm quite well. It was a chance conversation with our account manager Ashley Playford that caused us to look at an almost-new Inca Onset S40i that had become available out of Melbourne.”

    Sydney Print Media’s Inca S40i showing the Sick ¾ automation which takes printed sheets from the bed and stacks them on pallets

    As new installation

    Following tests and a site visit, Sun bought the lightly-used machine but Fujifilm treated it is as a ‘brand new’ installation, fitting new printheads, providing a support agreement and both technical and engineering training.

    As a trade-only printer, Sydney Print Media has to deal with very tight deadlines and razor-sharp pricing. “We needed to ensure that we meet client budgets and delivery expectations. We also needed capacity to take on a run of say, 1,000 corflute boards. Previously, this would have taken three days to produce; now with the Onset S40i we can do it all in one shift,” he smiles.

    A fleet of printers and finishing

    While Sydney Print Media’s S40i is capable of up to 560 sqm/hr for POP displays for POP, signs posters and banners, for quality reasons, Karl Sun is running ten-passes, 300 sqm/hr as standard production. “Our customers love the quality and productivity, many have commented on the improvement,” he says.

    Visiting Sydney Print Media on a thriving industrial estate in South Granville presented an initial surprise. The company had moved into a new two-level unit with ample room for the Inca Onset, the aforementioned Press Cut die cutter, an Acuity flatbed, a JHF 3.2 metre UV device which is the first in Australia, a 3.2 metre HP Latex 850 plus two 1.62 metre HP Latex 360s and two Mimaki machines plus a third one being unpacked and installed at the time of visiting. More finishing equipment including flatbed cutters, a laser router and welding machine are housed on the two floors.

    “Pride of our fleet” – Sun with the new Inca Onset S40i

    Colour right first time

    Karl Sun has an interesting approach to colour management. “I take care of all the profiling myself using X-Rite i1s or a Barbieri spectrophotometer,” he says. “That way my staff do not have to worry about colour, they can concentrate on production. There are so many media we use, on different machines with different inks and printheads so I centralise all of the profiling and the colour instructions are already there for the operators. Ninety per cent of the time, we get colour right first time.”

    This industrial-scale approach to sign, POP and display manufacturing has made Sydney Print Media a popular provider for the trade: “A lot of our work comes in by word-of-mouth recommendation,” says Sun. “Our growth rate is such that we are now looking for more account managers who can specialise in digital production sales.”

    “Without the Inca Onset S40i, we would not have been able to accept the long-run trade orders in time, but now we can and at very high quality with the outstanding colour vibrancy of the Uvijet inks and Fujifilm Dimatix pritheads.

    “It’s the pride of our fleet now,” concludes Karl Sun.

     

    Sydney Print Media’s Inca Onset S40i* at a glance

    Flatbed print area:               3220 x 1600mm, 25-vacuum zones

    Max media thickness:         50mm, with automatic substrate height detection

    Productivity:                         Up to 560 sq/m per hour

    Automation:                          ¾ automation with Sick unloader/pallet stacker

    Printheads:                           Fujifilm Dimatix Spectra, fixed 27 picolitre

    Cleaning system:                Automatic sensor warning when heads require cleaning

    Resolution:                           600 -1000 dpi

    Inkset:                                    Six – colour Fujifilm Uvijet Satin or High Gloss finish by adjusting UV level, Unique Micro-V dispersion formula

    UV Curing:                            Full-width dual UV array for highest speed,

    RIPs:                                       Caldera or ColorGate

    Media types:                         Foam PVC, PVC sheets, foam board, corrugated cardboard, display board/cardstock, compressed board, polystyrene, paper, synthetic paper, banner material, corrugated polypropylene and polycarbonate

    Applications:                        POP, Backlight signs, Exhibition graphics, signage

    Dimensions:                         11.2M (L) x 4.4M (W) x 2.2M (H)

    Weight:                                  6,500Kg approx.

    (* The Inca Onset S40i is now incorporated under the field-upgradeable Onset ‘X’ series branding of X1, X2 and X3, capable of up to 900 sqm/hr production)

     

  • Missing the old IPEX – Andy McCourt’s ReVerb

    Ipex 2014 in London was a good show, but sadly not patronized by many major exhibitors.

    In a perfect graphic arts world, about this time, around 1,000 Australians and Kiwis should be booking their tickets and accommodation to attend what was once the second-largest printing-related exhibition in the world – IPEX in the UK. 

    It’s not happening; the venerable event that spawned the famous (sometimes infamous) ‘ANZ BBQ’ has been reduced to what amounts to a finishing show, with none of the ‘majors’ of digital or offset print hardware there apart from Ryobi through their UK agent Apex who will also feature Konica Minolta digital equipment, Presstek and Xeikon.

    That means no Agfa, Canon, EFI, Epson, Fujifilm, Heidelberg, HP Indigo, Kodak, Komori, KBA, Landa, manroland, Ricoh, Screen, Xerox. Then there’s a host of wide-format manufacturers not listed as exhibitors: ATP, DGI, Durst, Mimaki, Mutoh, Roland, SwissQprint. Add to this, hundreds of other exhibitors usually on display at an Ipex.

    The Ipex website claims 133 exhibitors but when trade magazines (‘Media Zone’) trade associations and shared stands where a single exhibitor’s brands are listed several times; when these are taken out, it’s more like 82. Drupa had something like 1,600 and previous Ipexes up to 1,200.

    PR is no cover for facts

    No amount of padding and puffery can disguise the fact that this once proud and international graphic arts trade show, much loved by the ANZ market, is a pale shadow of its former self, despite the move back to its home of 30 years, the National Exhibition Centre near the centre of England – following the disastrous move to London for the 2014 event. On the plus side, Ipex 2017 is well represented for finishing equipment as Autobond, Duplo, Horizon, Morgana, Technau, Hunkeler through Friedheim Int., Plockmatic, Moll, Bauman-Wohlenberg, Bograma, Col-Tec, CP Bourg, D&K, Kolbus, Renz, Watkiss and others are listed as exhibiting, either on UK dealer stands or directly. If you’re looking for finishing kit, you will find most of it there.

    The timing is awful, three years after the last one in London, only one year after a drupa and opening as autumn blends into sleety winter on the last day of October for just 4 days instead of the balmy Springtime or Indian Summers of May and September 8-day Ipexes past. Traditional agreement had Ipex 2 years after each drupa but drupa’s fling with a three-year cycle, subsequently aborted, meant Ipex had to either go early or go later or risk clashing in the same year as a drupa.

    If Ipex 2014 at the Excel Centre, London was a smallish international event; Ipex 2017 at the NEC is looking like a smaller UK-domestic event. Looking back at the great Ipexes past such as 1993 where digital print was launched and we hosted the first ANZ event which was literally ‘beer and skittles,’ Ipex 98 that built on that strength; Ipex 2002 and 2006 that just grew and grew, Ipex 2010 where the biggest ANZ BBQ ever was held at the delightful Newbold Comyn Inn, Leamington Spa – the legacy is outstanding. It’s a crying shame what has befallen Ipex.

    But the cold hard fact is it costs a visitor from the ANZ region about $10,000 to attend a European show, so there must be a compelling, all-encompassing reason to do so. The ‘Print in Action’ conference is a good initiative, as is a tie-in with the London College of Fashion but they not enough to make up for lack of major exhibitors.

    Those were the days: ‘Lee Hernia’ at a previous Ipex ANZ BBQ.

    What happened?

    Ipex used to be 50% owned by an industry association known as the BFPMS, for British Federation of Printing Machinery Suppliers (now Picon). The other half was owned by Reed Exhibitions, who also handled the organization. In 1992, the BFPMS bought Reed’s 50% share out. Big trade shows tend to favour countries where there is significant manufacturing and, as Britain saw its press and prepress manufacturing base diminish (Crosfield, Monotype, Quantel, Hyphen, Itek Colour Graphics, Strachan Henshaw, Cobden Chadwick, Timsons, Crabtree, Baker Perkins etc); Ipex had to reach out to be more of an international showcase.

    Organisation for the event shifted to IIR Exhibitions, part of the global Informa Group from 2002 and in 2006, Picon sold Ipex to Informa – a highly accomplished exhibition and conference organizer with over 150 events in its portfolio. Despite the GFC and an erupting Icelandic volcano disrupting flights, Ipex 2010 was a huge success, with international attendance up 8% to a record 48% of the 50,000 visitors, with a healthy contingent from ANZ, many of who enjoyed the ANZ BBQ complete with band and court jester.

    Then the shock announcement was made that the 2014 show would move to London following the 2012 Olympics. The Docklands Excel Centre was to be the venue – essentially two big parallel sheds, as opposed to the NEC’s multi-hall ‘village’ design. It proved to be an unpopular decision with major exhibitors – still smarting from GFC cutbacks and now free to re-assess exhibition budgets, as the customary practice was to re-book for the next show at the end of the prior show. The Excel Centre was untested for a show such as Ipex and many exhibitors perceived higher costs associated with getting machinery in and out, housing staff, transport and so on, associated with London as the venue.

    First Heidelberg, then HP, Canon, Kodak, Xerox and others announced they would not be at Ipex 2014 and, although never a certainty, Benny Landa’s Nanography extravaganza piloted at drupa2012, decided to keep its powder dry until 2016 – although Benny graciously did host a seminar together with EFI’s Guy Gecht that played to a packed house.

    The NEC in the heart of the UK, enabled visitors to stay cheaply in delightful nearby towns such as Stratford-on-Avon, Leamington, Warwick, Oxford or even hire a country manor house, as former trade publishers Paul and Ann Callaghan did at Ipex 1993, welcoming industry guests for rollicking good evenings of fine food and wassail. Some visitors even stayed in or near London and caught the train up, directly into the NEC station. Komori once hired Warwick Castle for a huge party.

    After the disappointment of Ipex 2014, Informa had a management clear-out and decided to shift the show back to the NEC – with only a three-year gap instead of four. Despite the move, the prospect of another full-blown trade show cost so soon has spooked exhibitors away…combined with another factor.

    Benny Landa addressing a packed house at Ipex 2014.

    Competition

    Seizing on home industry dissatisfaction with Ipex, a UK trade magazine publisher, Link Publishing, decided to start The Print Show – a UK domestic-focused event organized by people in the industry, for the industry. It is economical for exhibitors and – amazingly – is an annual event! The publishers run both commercial print and sign industry magazines and websites, so have been able to attract exhibitors from both field, much in the same way as the Visual Connections/GAMAA merger has helped PacPrint and Printex.

    The first show in 2015 was at the NEC and a smallish affair, but very well received by the UK industry. 2016 was bigger and the 2017 show was all booked when Ipex announced it was returning to the NEC – in the same month as The Print Show. Only the Brits can do squabbles like this.

    It was ridiculous to hold two print industry shows in the same month at the same place, so The Print Show 2017 moved to what is a quite attractive modern venue at the Telford International Centre on the opposite side of Birmingham to the NEC, 70km away and the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution in 1709, when construction of the world’s first cast-iron bridge commenced. (It still stands today – encouraging news for our own ‘Iron Bridge’ in Sydney)

    With an audacious and blatantly jingoistic motif of Britannia riding her beflagged chariot, flanked by a lion and a bulldog; the October 11-13 event bills itself as “The PrintShow Is Great Britain.” And they have succeeded where Ipex has failed.

    The Print Show has attracted more exhibitors including Canon, Epson, EFI, HP, KBA, Konica Minolta, manroland, Tharstern, Duplo, Riso, Mimaki, Oki, Xeikon and a host of others. Co-located is the SignLink show with a large area dedicated to this industry sector.

    Other competition that Ipex faces is from the fragmentation of specialist growth areas of printing into dedicated shows such as the hugely successful FESPA and Labelexpo series.

    Lessons to learn

    It’s sad to see what has happened to Ipex but all trade exhibitions – including our own PacPrint, PrintEx and Visual Impact – must constantly be on the lookout for changing trends, cultures and indicators. While Ipex no doubt has fallen victim to a perfect storm of GFC, slashed budgets, higher costs, Brexit annoying the European manufacturers, a declining print sector, online media and so on, there has also been a failing of organizers guilty of:

    • Believing the show brand is bigger than the brands exhibited. It’s not; people visit an A -Z of exhibitors, not an Ipex, drupa, Fespa etc
    • Poor consultation with exhibitors and visitors. Even where surveys were conducted, Ipex ignored the opinions and advice, or acted inappropriately on them.
    • Disengagement of an industry event with vested industry interests as represented by trade bodies, industry groups, companies, media and ‘greater good’ initiatives. Drupa succeeds because it is embedded in all of these.
    • Arrogance: one highly respected member of the Indian printing industry was moved to comment: “The recent history of the Ipex organizers at least from the Indian point of view, is a combination of denial and colonial arrogance.” He also stated that Ipex used to be ‘a wonderful event.’
    • Ignoring affordability: exhibitors are not a bottomless pit of funds – they have to pay for trade show attendance out of company profits, if any.

    and lastly…

    • Forgetting what it is all about. Ever since the Great Exhibition of 1852, trade shows have been just that – show-and-tell and that means exhibitors, no amount of galleries, workshops, conferences or seminars will surpass square meters of floorspace dedicated to technology, services, consumables and good advice – and they come from exhibitors – who will bring in the visitors.

    Maybe, after November, Ipex should re-group, re-plan, re-strategise and aim for a 2022 show, 2 years after drupa. It’s just show business after all.

  • Printing museum re-opens after make-over

    (l-r) The museum’s Peter Butterworth, George Gearside, Ralph Bennett and John Berry with the 1880s Wharfedale cylinder press, still operational.

    This is no static display of ancient machinery but a working, composing, printing replication of how a 1930s or 40s printshop would have operated.

    Regular courses have re-started following the make-over and the museum is open to all comers every Saturday from 9am to 3pm. The oldest piece of equipment is an 1867 UK-made Albion lever press, loaned by PMP’s Michael Hannan, that still prints today.

    Other gems include an 1880s Wharfedale stop cylinder letterpress, made beside the banks of the River Wharfe in Yorkshire, UK. Such was their popularity and durability, one was still in commercial use printing posters until 2007. The one at Penrith was used to print The Nepean Times newspaper. Two original Linotypes and an Intertype provide the typesetting, still clattering away after 100 years or more.

    The volunteer men who keep the machinery in working order are lucky to work in the ultimate ‘man-shed’ in the shadow of Penrith Panthers football stadium.

    The ‘Old Friends’ society tour was followed by a lunch and camaraderie, with Print21 proud to donate a small book from my own collection – the official 1955 catalogue of Australia’s first printing trade show held at Wynyard Concourse, Sydney. Member James Cryer was thrilled to discover a 2-page advertisement for his father and grandfather’s company inside! (see pic below)

    Congratulations to all involved in the Museum of Printing, Penrith – it’s well worth a visit on a Saturday morning, or enroll in one of the re-started courses.

    www.printingmuseum.org.au

    The energy-saving 1867 Albion lever press.

    James Cryer discovers his past in the 1955 catalogue of the Australasian Printing Exhibition.

    Guest speaker Dr Stephanus Peters with his favourite Heidelberg T-Platen

    The world-changing Linotype typesetting machine

    “Read all about it” – newsboy at the entrance of the Museum of Printing.

  • The Power of inkjet

    Andy McCourt at Fujifilm Speciality Ink Systems.

    Unlike solvent and most aqueous inkjet inks, UV curing inks that perform day-in, day-out are hard to replicate by third parties. This is because they contain a lot of ‘big science’ involving UV wavelength sensitivity, nano-particles, photo-initiators, dispersion technology and a marriage with diverse printheads that is hardly the same twice. Andy McCourt visits the world’s centre for inkjet UV, Fujifilm Speciality Ink Systems (FSIS) in Kent, UK; formerly Sericol.

    The name Sericol has loomed large in the world of screen process printing since 1951 when, having escaped his war-ravaged country, a Hungarian émigré, Alexander De Gelsey, established the venture following a Cambridge degree and two years in research with Kodak.

    De Gelsey’s drive and passion for colour in both photography and print, created a remarkable global brand that rose to dominate screen inks through R&D and sheer quality. 1968 saw the development of the first thin-film solvent screen inks that catapulted screen process into viable high production. This was followed in 1978 by the first UV curing screen ink and again in 1999 by the first digital UV ink, which Mike Battersby, marketing manager for wide format at Fujifilm Speciality Ink Systems (FSIS) – owners of Sericol since 2005 – admits was “a product looking for a market” at the time. Cambridge-based partner company, Inca Digital, soon solved that issue with the introduction of the world’s first flatbed UV presses.

    Following ownership by Burmah Oil and later BP, Sericol was acquired by Fujifilm one year before the passing of its founder Baron (he was an aristocrat) Alex De Gelsey. He would undoubtedly be proud to witness the modern, extensive plant at the place where he relocated it from London to Broadstairs, Kent in 1960. Indeed, many employees have clocked up well over thirty years service and recall the founder’s era.

    The world’s centre for inkjet UV, Fujifilm Speciality Ink Systems in Kent, UK.

    World’s largest digital UV ink plant

    Visiting the place that pumps out the lifeblood of a huge industry is a humbling experience and one that drives home the merits of using only the best designed and tested inks through expensive digital printheads. FSIS makes inks for the Inca Onset printers and for both its own Acuity flatbed UV printers (Uvijet), plus the related Canon-Océ Arizona devices. Additionally, there is further OEM manufacture, the names of which are kept a close secret. Add to this LED UV inks which FSIS pioneered; on-going manufacture of solvent screen and plastisol inks plus narrow-web label inks both for the screen & UV flexo print processes

    Dr Seán Slater is development manager at FSIS. With the constant changing of printhead technologies and myriad substrates needing to be printed, he admits it’s a challenging task. “We have around eighty basic ink ranges with 1,300 formulations – each printhead requires a different UV ink. Then applications can vary, such as our KV inks for thermoforming; they need to be stretchable and heat-resistant. On top of this is the increasing demand sector-by-sector. FSIS has received seven factory upgrades in the past six years alone, including a five million Euro (AUD $7.3M) refit in 2013, and we have plenty of scope to increase production further.”

    It can be no wonder that, as well as the award-winning Broadstairs UK manufacturing facility from where nearly 6,000 tonnes of ink a year is shipped to 86 countries, Fujifilm has another custom built R&D laboratory in Japan, employing 1,200 people. As a group, Fujifilm is spending AUD$8.8 million every day on R&D alone. Over 100 ink patents have been filed just in the past year.

    Because of the exponential growth in UV curable inks (15.7% per year from 2015-2020 according to an Allied Market Research report), FSIS is devoting the major part of its efforts in this area. “We believe UV technology will dominate inkjet because of lower cost, higher productivity and more applications,” said Dr Carole Noutary, FSIS digital inks development manager. “Our innovation made UV inkjet a reality, FSIS pioneered UV wide format inkjet technology.”

    Fujifilm MicroV breaks down the particles to less than 200nm.

    From micro to nano

    “Making conventional pigment ink and toner requires micron-sized particles,” explains Dr Slater. “Digital ink for inkjetting is at the nano-level. The chemistry at this level is challenging as pigments have a tendency to agglomerate – clump together – and settle due to gravitational effect in the pouch or container.” FSIS has a proprietary milling and dispersion technology called MicroV that breaks down the particles to less than 200nm, which is smaller than a human cell. Each nano-particle is then coated with a dispersion coating to prevent agglomeration. The particles actually repel rather than attract each other. Polymers, photo-initiators, oligomers and other liquids are added and precisely mixed to create the finished UV ink for optimum jetting, colour saturation, gamut and stability.”

    The result is ink matched to particular printheads, both Fujifilm’s own Dimatix range and others that enhance jetting reliability. It has a longer shelf life and exhibits an unrivalled vibrancy of colour. Seeing the process in action at Broadstairs is a marvel to behold but many of the techniques are IP-protected and, understandably, could not be photographed.

    “Packaging and shipping is equally important; average shelf life for UV inkjet inks is twelve months and storage temperature can affect this,” said Battersby. “We test our inks at forty degrees centigrade for four months and retain samples from batches in case later problems need to be investigated. As UV ink ages beyond shelf life or is improperly stored, viscosity could rise and jetting problems can happen. Although the white inks have been formulated to minimize settling, the very dense pigment will sink to the bottom of the pouch eventually. We always recommend agitation of white ink pouches before installing.”

    The QA testing that goes on at FSIS is astonishing. Inks are printed on numerous substrates through various printheads; abraded, stretched, stacked under pressure, measured for spectral response, scratch-tested for adhesion, cured with varying UV wavelengths and examined optically as droplets emerge from minute ink nozzles to check velocity and satellite formation. It all adds up to very high quality UV inks.

     

     

     

     

     

  • Warning on ACM Panels – McCourt’s ReVerb

    External cladding similar to that used on Grenfell Tower has been discovered on a four-storey accommodation block in Perth, WA.

    Since their invention in 1964 by Alcan (now 3A Composites), Aluminium Composite Panels have proved to be an excellent medium for screen print use in signage, display, POP and, more recently, digital inkjet decoration using flatbed UV printers. Correctly used and fabricated, ACM is yet another reason why wide format inkjet printing continues to outstrip most other areas of the graphic arts in growth and versatility.

    From the instant I saw the first news footage of the Grenfell Tower inferno here in the UK, I could see the building had been clad in ACM panels and wondered if they were the correct grade. In my mind was the 2014 Lacrosse Building fire in Melbourne, where a third party had wrongfully used the PE (Polyethylene) cored ACM product which resulted in an intense and rapidly spread fire that destroyed the building but, mercifully, no lives were lost.

    The Grenfell London high-rise fire so far has killed 79 people including children and babies. The rapid spread of the fire both up and down the building has focused attention on the ACM cladding used in a recent renovation. Subsequent investigation has revealed up to 600 residential tower blocks in the UK may have the same non-fire retardant cladding. Nine buildings have already begun removal of ACM cladding, with more to follow.

    Scotland Yard has commenced a criminal investigation to see if deliberate use of the cheaper, PE-cored ACM instead of the more expensive mineral-cored fire-resistant ACM, has occurred. If it proves to be so, it is not inconceivable that prison terms could eventuate for suppliers, installers and specifiers. If deliberate substitution of ACM material has occurred, the charges will be very serious indeed, some UK media even calling it mass murder.

    Why PE-core ACM spreads fire so fast

    On its own, ACM does not typically start a fire but if one does start (Grenfell ignited from an exploding fridge), the PE core can ignite, drip flaming globules down while accelerating upwards through the gap in the ACM sandwich. As it gets hotter and hotter, it sucks oxygen in and effectively becomes a blast-furnace, fuelling even hotter and more violent combustion at very high speed. The melting point of aluminium is around 660 celsius: the London Fire Brigade estimate that Grenfell peaked at well over 1,000C so you can imagine what happens to the thin aluminium facings – made from coil rolled aluminium in the same way offset plates are made.

    The result is a horrible, inhumane and completely avoidable holocaust of death, maiming and family tragedy. Contributing to this in an almost mind-boggling omittance, is that Grenfell Tower had no sprinkler system and neither do most of the other council-run low cost accommodation blocks in London.

    What to do in Australia and New Zealand

    Our industry importers of ACM suppliers are many and varied, from top-grade well documented ACM with appropriate warnings, to cheap Asian imports of questionable specification and testing. Used only for signage, POP and display and there is no problem whatever is used. It’s a great medium for excellent quality UV printing and fabrication.

    For architectural and construction use, PE-cored ACM must never be used but we know from the Lacrosse Building fire that it has. Who knows how many other buildings are potential blast-furnace infernos? A full UK-style inspection is needed and removal undertaken if PE core is found.

    If ACM suppliers see a large order for PE-cored ACM that is uncharacteristic, they must ensure it is for signage use alone. The mineral ‘wool’ cored ACM contains a hardened slurry of rock or slag and has a higher melting point than even the aluminium it joins. If it looks like the panels are going onto buildings, the more expensive fire-grade ACM must be supplied. Just as with our uranium, the supply chain must be monitored to end use.

    If an architect specifies fire-resistant grade ACM and a contractor substitutes cheaper non-fire grade, this should then be a criminal offence. Just as concrete is tested prior to a big pour, ACM architectural panels should be spot-checked and tested prior to and during installation.

    If you have already knowingly or unknowingly supplied or installed ACM panels for construction purposes that are not the fire-resistant kind, then for pity’s sake ‘fess up and notify the local authorities immediately.

    Grenfell was and is an ongoing unimaginable horror and tragedy. Let’s make sure it never, ever happens in Australia or New Zealand. It’s something our industry can do something about, so let’s do it.

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • Jet Technologies soars at PacPrint

    Sticky Labels’ Production Manager Grant Dennis (c) on a visit to Jet Technologies' stand at PacPrint, with Jet Tech’s Darryl Wilson (r) and Ruvan Weereratne.

    Jet Technologies has enjoyed a successful PacPrint, with more than 120 solid leads and the anticipated sales of up to three of Screen’s TruePress Jet L350UV digital label presses.

    Jack Malki, Jet Technologies.

    “It’s a great show overall for us,” said Jack Malki, director, celebrating after an exhibition that saw Jet Technologies and partner Screen experience heavy traffic on their joint stand.

    Melbourne printer Sticky Labels is one of two Victorian firms to install an L350UV in the past 3 months and, to quote Production Manager Grant Dennis when he visited the Screen/Jet Technologies stand at PacPrint: “It hasn’t missed a beat.”

    This is the Braeside company’s first full production digital label press although its sister company Label Concepts has been running wide format inkjet technology for a number of years to service fleet vehicle wraps and the occasional short run of labels on self adhesive stocks. It was purchased through Screen GP distributor Jet Technologies.

    The Directors of Sticky Labels, Justine McEwan and Mark McEwan, made the decision to purchase the Screen machine to support the company’s continued growth in the FMCG market.

    “The biggest attraction with the Screen machine for us was the speed and quality that the press can run at 50 metres-per-minute,” says Grant Dennis, adding: “The guys at Jet Tech were fantastic; they opened their doors for us to test, trial and run whatever jobs we wanted. We had too make sure that the L350UV was the right fit for Sticky Labels and we certainly had specific requirements that had to be met on a number of stocks, which were achieved. These included colour matching, usability, ink cost, quality and of course speed. From a production sense, the ability to run multi SKU’s, eliminating wash-ups, plate making, ink mixing etc. and anything with multiple spots, multiple images, vignettes, with both short and long runs – this is a very important advantage.”

    While Sticky Labels is using the L350UV to service new and existing short-run work, Dennis notes that a substantial amount of existing work will migrate from flexo to digital once a new Prati Digifast One digital finishing line arrives. With setup times as low as eight minutes, the Digifast will complete the digital label capability with matched unwinding, rotary die-cutting, lamination, slitting and rewinding.

    However, flexo is still important for longer runs and Director Justine McEwan says: “Sticky Labels is on its largest capital investment venture, which will also include allowing for the funding of a major new Flexo machine in the ensuing months.  Coupled with the purchase of the Screen Truepress Jet L350UV and Prati finishing machine, this puts Sticky Labels on the map as a major FMCG label supplier with state-of-the-art technology, complemented by our phenomenal customer service and pricing.”

    Grant Dennis praises Jet Technologies’ and Screen’s support, saying: “It’s been fantastic and very comforting knowing that the highest level of support from both Screen and Jet Tech is just a phone call away, Screen have a dedicated Melbourne tech who drops in every couple of days just to see how things are going, to date I haven’t had any issues so I haven’t had a call out as such. Jet Technologies’ support has always been great; Darry Wilson has been in regular contact, if not by phone then popping down to Melbourne for a day or two just to make sure we are happy.”

    He continues: “Existing and new clients love being supplied with an actual printed proof off the machine and we can step up 5, 10, 50 different SKUs; run them out on the one web send them to the client prior to the production run so they know exactly what they will be receiving. They all love the quality especially what you can achieve with the white ink going down on clear substrate, running a full block of white down to .05% dot on the same image.”

    Screen GP Australia Peter Scott adds: “Our dealer Jet Technologies has really done a great job in understanding Sticky Labels’ every need and addressing them professionally and quickly; consulting with us both here and in Japan for the best possible outcome for the customer. It’s been a collaborative process and a real honour to be a part of Sticky Label’s growth and adding of new services with the Truepress Jet L350UV.”

    Screen’s L350UV is an all-inkjet, 350mm narrow web digital label press that uses both LED and conventional UV curing to ensure completely dry results on reels of labels, ready for finishing offline or, if required, inline via its JetConverter 350 system. Running at up to 50 mpm with high uptime, sequential differing label jobs can be produced without interruption to re-set the press, mount plates and make-ready. Data is streamed to the press via Screen’s Equios front-end provided the printed stock remains the same, with change-overs to different self-adhesive stocks fast and easy.

    As Mark McEwan concluded, “Whilst this is our first purchase of digital equipment for Sticky Labels, our expectation is that a subsequent purchase will be required to manage our growth.”

  • PacPrint Day 3: Morgana continues to evolve

    (l-r) Print & Pack’s CEO Carsten Wendler with Mike Hoffman of Morgana Systems UK and the well-deserved Technology Hot Pick award.

    The Morgana Digifold series has become almost the de facto standard for folding creasing and even perforating digitally printed sheets. Now, the 4th generation version is here from Print&Pack and earns a Technology Hot Pick for sheer automation and usefulness.

    Folding and creasing digitally printed sheets is an art in itself in order to avoid toner cracking and unsightly white flakey spines. Morgana carved out a fine reputation for solving this problem with the original DigiFold device, which became like a familiar pair of favourite slippers in the majority of copy and digital print shops.

    The Digifold was never a product looking for a market, the problem was there and Morgana solved it efficiently. Now, the 4th Generation Digifold Pro 385 from Print&Pack is set to continue this fine tradition.

    Upgrades include enhanced automation of set-up including setting of all feeder functions and fold roller settings. This is achieved on a new SmartScreen tough-panel control that stores up to 50 job programmes. A new, deeper pile feeder has been added, capable of paper piles up to 450mm deep. Shorter runs are made faster by a SmartStop table drop.

    There is a new top-feed vacuum feeding drum  that automatically changes between paper types and thicknesses and upgraded DynaCrease blade and matrix, guaranteed for the life of the machine.

    Sheets up to 0.4mm thick can be folded or creased without cracking at up to 6,000 sph. Maximum sheet size is 385 x 700mm and, as expected, inline perforation is standard with cross-perf optional.

    Used DigiFolds are always in demand because they last; the new 385 Pro 4G makes folding, creasing and perforating even more automated and deserves a Technology Hot Pick.

     

  • PacPrint Day 2: Graph-Pak’s Autobond TH 76 laminates for professionals

    (l-) Phil Baird from Autobond UK is delighted to share the Print21 Hot Pick Award with Graph-Pack’s Tom Ralph for the Autobond 76 TPH.

    High-integrity engineering stands out in a product in the way the castings, assembly and components are put together. Durability stands out by the number of legacy machines still in the market, being refurbished and finding new homes for many more years of productive use. The UK’s Autobond is one such company, with thermal laminators that can last for many years in punishing environments.

    Distributor of Autobond, Tom Ralph’s Graph-Pak, has garnered a loyal following for these strongly-engineered laminators and at PacPrint earned a Hot Pick for the 76 TPH, a highly capable laminator suited to both offset and digital throughput up to B1 (portrait).

    It’s not a lightweight ‘toy’ – it’s built to last near Derby UK by engineers proud enough to put their names on the boiler plate. Media width is up to 760mm which means B1s are possible and at 60 metres per hour it can deliver 8,000 sheets an hour fed by a Heidelberg Speedmaster air suction feed head.

    The ‘P’ model on show at PacPrint perfects, so both sides are laminated in one pass. The water-heated chromed laminating roller is precisely adjustable up to 120 degrees C, with a nip pressure of up to 6 metres tonnes for strong bonds.

    Aimed at mid to long runs; it’s a laminating workhorse that is easy to operate, dependable and fully supported by Ralph’s local Graph-Pak. 115 to 650gsm capability means total versatility for 95% of media encountered, especially for packaging and premium brochures whether digital or offset.

    British engineering at its best and fantastically supported by Graph-Pak, this is the thermal laminator that won a Hot Pick at PacPrint.

    Phil Baird from Autobond UK is delighted to share the Print21 Hot Pick Award with Graph-Pack’s Tom Ralph for the Autobond 76 TPH.

     

  • PacPrint Day 2: Hot textile from Mutoh’s new DTT printer

    Mutoh Australia’s Elizabeth Cerbelli, Scott Donkin and MD Yasuo Maeda receive the Hot Pick from Print21 editor Andy McCourt

    Direct-to-Textile printing at PacPrint was a hot topic and what better way to celebrate it than a Hot Pick for Mutoh’s new machine.

    Sublimation textile printing onto and intermediary transfer paper is a great way to produce vibrant, durable textile prints but does involve that extra step and cost of reverse-printing the graphics and heat-pressing them into the fabric. Mutoh is successful in this process but has released for the first time a direct-to-textile printer that was producing stunning results at PacPrint.

    Dubbed the ValueJet 1938TX, it takes textile rolls up to 75” (1910mm) wide and features a dual staggered printhead array that can be configured as either as double CMYK or CMYK+ Green, Orange and Blue and extra Black for eye-popping colours. Variable droplets from 3.3 to 45.3pl ensure smooth graphics and fine detail at up to 1440dpi.

    Transport and tension are all-important for textile printing and Mutoh’s motorized unwind/rewind system with sensor control delivers perfect fabric tension. A variety of polyester, cottons, rayons, silks and some stretch fabrics with high polyester content can be printed for short run on-demand and local digital production of garments, upholstery, fashion, swimwear, interior deco fabrics, home textiles, flags, soft signs and so on. For garments, simple heat calendaring post-printing is needed but no pre-treatment is necessary.

    Never one to blindly accept claimed specification, sales manager Scott Donkin did his own test runs of the show machine. “The VJ1938TX is rated at up to 40 square metres per hour. I measured this very machine at 41 square metres per hour,” he says delightedly.

    Mutoh Australia managing director Yasuo Maeda graciously accepted the Print21 Hot Pick for this important new addition to his company’s product range.

    Eye-popping colour printed live on the Mutoh VJ1938TX

     

     

  • PacPrint Day 1: Neopost’s Duplo DDC810 – UV coating for all

    (l-r) Print21 editor Andy McCourt presents the Hot Pick to Duplo’s Asia/Oceania sales & marketing manager Toshiyuki Kimotsuki; Neopost’s Jimmy Nguyen and Raj Dang, and Yusuke Hattori from Duplo’s International Marketing Division,

    We knew it was coming but the surprise was Duplo’s all new DDC 810 B3 spot UV coater had a room all of its own complete with 3 Japanese Duplo executives in attendance. Away from envious competitor eyes, prospective customers were treated to demonstrations of accurate spot UV ‘sensory’ raised coating in the SRA3/B3(long) format for eye-popping value adding to offset and digital prints, normally associated with much more pricey hardware.

    Neopost’s DDC 810 spot UV coater is deserving of a Hot Pick because it fits a market sector that is SME-focused and for who a digital spot-UV coater would normally be out of reach. Raj Dang, Neopost sales director, indicated the DDC810 would be well under $300,000, considerably below rival UV coaters.

    It’s compact and therefore will fit easily into most SRA3 print shops. Maximum sheet size is 364x740mm, so ‘long’ digital sizes can be accommodated; or B2 offset sheets cut in half. It all runs from a Windows PC with an intuitive GUI.

    Sweet spot volumes are between one and 750 copies – more than enough for today’s market. Registration within +or – 0.2mm is achieved by using cameras and register marks. Maximum stock weight is around 450gsm.

    The Duplo DDC810 uses single-pass inkjet technology at 600dpi and lays down a textured or high-gloss spot coat that makes it ideal for short-run folding cartons, POS and prestige brochure jobs.

    Feeding is by air-suction at just over 1,000 sph based on SRA3 size. HP Indigo and offset prints can be embellished directly while any images laminated with corona-treated PP films can be spot coated. Duplo intends to introduce different effects such a mirror gloss and metallic fluids in the future.

    In a world where value-adding to print can mean making a decent profit, The Duplo DDC810 makes complete sense and is a worthy HotPick at PacPrint 2017.

    A sample of an SRA3 embellished sheet from the Duplo DDC810

     

     

  • Battle of digital processes looms at PacPrint – Andy McCourt’s ReVerb

    “Inkjet has jumped off of the desktop and onto production floors”

    Canon’ new Colorado UVgel wide format machine – will it achieve as great a state as Arizona and ‘kill Latex?’

    The unending search for a digital printing process that is both ‘better than the rest’ and locks in customers to a unique ink/toner supply chain continues.

    Andy McCourt, editor Print 21 magazine

    It’s not new. Ever heard of Collotype, Heliotype, Serigraphy, Photogravure or Woodburytype? They were all popular methods of print reproduction around the time Offset started to emerge in the early 1900s. Entrepreneurs, universities, scientists and chancers were frantically searching for a new patentable printing process to make their fortunes. Even novelist Mark Twain dabbled with his investment in the Paige Composition Machine – it sent him bankrupt. One did endure: in 1907 Samuel Simon was granted a patent in the UK for a process using silk fabric as the ‘mesh’ to squeegee ink through a stencil.

    Fast forward to PacPrint 2017 and it’s quite apparent that battle lines are being drawn between digital processes in all formats: cut-sheet, web and wide format.

    Let’s look at a recent one.

    Inkjet vs toner

    Electrostatically-charged toner imaging, the basis of Chester Carlson’s 1937 patent, is under attack. Vendors are even attacking their own markets by offering both. Take Canon for example.

    In an extraordinarily bold campaign in the USA; Canon’s inkjet division is making direct production cost (in USD$) comparisons on jobs printed inkjet versus toner, with startling claims such as (based on 10,000 units each):

    • A variable data postcard mailer job: Toner $167, Inkjet $18 (not a typo)
    • A die-cut promotional item: Toner $1,000, Inkjet $147
    • A bound children’s book: Toner $2,300, Inkjet $589

    Don’t believe me? Here’s the link: http://bit.ly/2oC0t0q

    Naturally, the capital cost of a continuous-feed inkjet machine running at 1,818ppm, capable of such massive savings is several times higher than a 60ppm -100ppm toner machine but Canon is in both markets so should know its TCO costs well.

    When we look at the entry into inkjet production printers by others such as Konica Minolta, Xerox, Ricoh, Xeikon and HP – all of who also have strong footprint in laser/toner; it’s a fair assumption that dry toner at least (HP Indigo is liquid toner), is possibly a twilight process.

    Trespassing in toner territory – Epson’s new 100ppm WF C20590 inkjet

    Accelerating this is Epson’s entry into the 100ppm office and pay-for-print sector with the laser-free Workforce Enterprise WF C-20590 (pictured, above), an A4/A3 colour machine that uses PrecisionCore inkjet lineheads. 100ppm is the sweet spot for the bulk of corporate documents and walk-up pay-for-print operations.

    No longer a curio but a reality – Konica Minolta’s Accurio Jet KM-1

    Konica Minolta will premiere its KM-1 B2 4-up inkjet press at PacPrint; again no lasers and no electrostatic dry toner. Others are also offering production cut-sheet inkjet, such as Xerox’s Brenva and Canon’s Océ Varioprint i300.

    It’s too early for Landa Nanography to be shown in Australia but, with beta sites already going in, this will be the next contestant in the battle of digital processes and it too is inkjet-based at the image formation stage.

    Yes, inkjet has jumped off of the desktop and onto production floors and it’s happening before our very eyes – laser/toner kingpins disrupting their own markets with inkjet alternatives!

    Wide format process stoush

    With the higher growth rate in wide format in the signage, display, out-of-home and POP markets, it’s little wonder that innovators are working on alternative processes. It’s virtually all inkjet in this market but – to paraphrase the memorable Castrol ad: ‘oils ain’t oils’ – inkjet ain’t inkjet. So what is it?

    • Aqueous
    • Solvent/eco-solvent
    • UV cured
    • Latex
    • Dye sublimation
    • UVgel

    What was that last one? UVgel? This is the newest inkjet process and it’s billed by Canon as a ‘Latex Killer’ – a direct shot across the bows of the phenomenally successful HP Latex. Estimates are that there over 1,000 HP Latex machines have been delivered in Australia and over 35,000 worldwide since its introduction in 2008.

    Canon will premiere UVgel at PacPrint in the form of a 64” wide format roll-to-roll machine called the Colorado 1640. UVgel is a Canon invention developed at the Océ Venlo operation where the ‘ink pearls’ CrystalPoint technology was developed, as used in the ColorWave printer. The gel liquefies with heating before jetting onto the substrate, where it re-solidifies on contact, is ‘pinned’ with a blast of LED-UV and finally cured with more UV before emerging dry and ready to finish.

    The attraction for Canon is that they own the ink tech and therefore all UVgel must be bought through them – same as all (almost) Latex ink comes from HP. The scourge of solvent, aqueous and UV ink machine manufacturers, is 3rd party after-market ink going through their printheads, thereby missing out on the real ‘gravy’ of on-going profits from the sale of the hardware.

    Bread and butter signage

    So is UVgel a ‘Latex Killer?’ Time will tell and at PacPrint, customers will have the opportunity to inspect output from both processes. Even though it uses piezo printheads, UVgel droplet size is a large 10 picolitres but the precise droplet placement, claimed with no ‘dot gain’ (borrowed from offset but really droplet spread), may lessen its impact. The Colorado itself is a nifty 40-159 sqm/hour machine – faster than Latex but the machine does cost around twice the price.

    The 64” or 1620mm wide format printer market is a bread-and-butter size for most signage and display shops and it is also highly competitive. Solvent printers using low-odour ‘eco’ or ‘mild’ type inks are still very popular and none more so than OKI’s (formerly Seiko) ColorPainter. Why? Because it is fast, reliable and a low investment cost. It also prints onto bog-standard vinyls for outdoor use that will last up to 3 years without lamination. OKI’s ink gamut received a boost when it introduces ‘SX’ inks and added an optional gray as a seventh colour.

    Solvent’s melody lingers on – even Epson still believes in it with the SureColor S80600

    Epson too has 64” solvent models including the SureColor S80600 running Ultrachrome GS3 eco-solvent inks. This 9-colour inkset can be topped off with optional white or metallic and the results are so good that some users are printing photo and fine art prints with them. Roland DG, Mutoh, Mimaki – they too have 64” eco-solvent machines with advanced features and speed. Mimaki even offers latex ink models with white ink but sales have been sluggish.

    By the way, there is no latex-rubber in latex inks as the name implies. They use polymers in dispersion like many other inks. Great marketing name though, and they are very versatile in the printing of differing substrates because they do not penetrate the media as much. Some say this is a disadvantage with coated stocks as the true nature of the media does not show through and colours are duller; but you be the judge.

    Buy what is right for you

    So which wide format inkjet process is best? Well it all depends on application and your business model. Dye-sub is in a class of its own for textile and apparel printing, although direct-to-garment is coming up. Aqueous is still king for photo, fine-art and proofing due to the dye-like inks, wider colour gamut and smaller particles but are weaker outdoors.

    For signage that leaves Latex, UV, Solvent and now UVgel – each with its own unique pros and cons.

    Trucking on regardless – Latex is one of HP’s most successful print technologies ever.

    My advice is don’t get too hung up on the process; just look at quality, performance, durability and most importantly total cost of operation and then arrive at an accurate cost-per-square-metre on whatever material. This will include power consumption, ink costed on coverage and not per-litre (some inks achieve better results by using less rather than more), degree of expertise and training required, cost of parts and replacement printheads and leasing or rental costs: outright purchase price if you prefer it that way. Warranty is also a very important consideration and we are seeing manufacturers offering longer warranty options in order to retain the ink loyalty. Try and get printheads covered under warranty.

    When you are at PacPrint, do your homework and ask the hard questions, see and measure results and always remember what your main applications are. One thing for certain is that it’s the best opportunity under one roof you will have for another four years!

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • Easy Signs takes control of colour

    The team at Easy Signs

    Sydney’s Easy Signs, servicing clients nationally, has solved its colour management consistency issues with the help of Colour Graphic Services and its Mellow Colour PrintSpec analysis software plus Color Logic Copra and ColorAnt ICC profiling applications.

    Located on the outer fringes of Sydney at Ingleburn, Easy Signs has conquered colour consistency by calling in the Colour Doctor – David Crowther of Colour Graphic Services. Easy Signs was established in 2006 at Miranda, and moved to new premises in November 2014. Staff count has risen to 36.

    Easy Signs’ reach is Australia-wide because they have fully embraced online commerce. Their website is clear and quick to navigate with all pricing calculations transparently online for both resellers and end users. The majority of orders are shipped within 24 hours of receipt, so there is little time for lengthy colour adjustments or re-dos.

    Director Andy Fryer, with high school colleague Adam Parnell, established the company following a venture in online commerce. “I have an IT and web design background while Adam is all about finance, so it’s a great combination.”

    As an IT professional, Fryer is used to using measured data metrics to know exactly where the business is at. After several attempts, this was not the case with colour management and re-prints were not uncommon.

    David Crowther with Easy Signs’ Mark McInnes

    “We basically needed colour consistency between machines, substrates and between repeat jobs. Customers expect to see the same colour on a job printed this month as they did last month and the month before. Until our new CIO – Chief Innovation Officer – Mark McInnes joined in late 2016, we were experiencing colour shifts and, despite investing in an expensive chart-reading spectrophotometer, were unable to get colour completely under control. Mark introduced us to David Crowther, who he had worked with in the past. David performed a free colour health check using a special target print, measured it through Mellow Colour’s PrintSpec and produced a numerical report that identified the root causes of our colour variations.”

    Crowther says: “Following the colour health check measurements, PrintSpec was able to reveal colour vagaries across Easy Signs’ two SwissQPrint Nyalas, two HP Latex 360s and recently acquired HP Latex 3100. We started with training in printer calibration and ICC profiling and, in conjunction with this training, I advocated using Color Logic’s ColorAnt for measuring, analyzing and optimising to profile chart measurement data, and Copra for creating very high quality ICC profiles themselves.

    “Further training covering monitoring and evaluation of on-going colour quality took place. With this, I advocated Mellow Colour’s PrintSpec, which produces clear and accurate reports on how a print organisation’s colour is tracking. PrintSpec identifies issues before they become problems and saves a great deal of time and money in re-prints and consumables. The fact that we can utilise ISO 12647 as a standard reference point for any print process, offset, flexo, digital and wide format is of great benefit.”

    Apart from the recently-installed HP Latex 3100, Easy Sign’s has recently become the first company in Australia to upgrade one of their 2 SwissQPrint Nyala 2 UV Flatbed printers to the newly released 4×4 printhead configuration, giving them nearly double the previous print speed to cope with demand.

    “One thing for certain,” says Andy Fryer, “whatever production direction we head into in the future, we know that we will have colour quality totally under control, thanks to David and Colour Graphic Services.”

    Easy Signs HP Latex printroom

    Easy Signs directors Andy Fryer (r) and Adam Parnell (l)

    One of Easy Signs’ SwissQprint Nyalas

     

     

     

  • A fight for press freedom – McCourt’s ReVerb

    (l-r) Trump inauguration, 2017; Obama inauguration, 2009.

    Forcing myself to listen to President Trump’s inauguration address, I remained nonplussed until I heard: “We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly …”

    Huh? Just a few days before, we had all heard Trump refuse a reporter from a major network the right to even ask a question. We heard him call journalists: “dishonest” “disgusting” “liars” and “scum”. During his campaign, he said: “Believe me, if I become president, oh, do they have problems…” before threatening to close bothersome media down using libel laws. It seems the truth behind the Trump mask is vastly different to the words he used in his inaugural address.

    'Without a cynical media, tyrants flourish': Andy McCourt, Editor Print21 magazine

    There was more blahblah and bluster against the media from Trump, but you probably heard it all anyway. As someone once said: “everyone wants a free press until they are featured in it.” It is a hallmark of tyrants and megalomaniacs to first attack freedom of expression and discredit it by accusing it of bias, distortion and now ‘fake news.’ Benjamin Franklin knew this when he said: “Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.”

    Undoubtedly, perversions of truth can occur in the media; journalists and editors make no claim to angelic perfection but it should be born in mind what ‘media’ means, and its role in a democracy.

    It derives from the Latin ‘medium, meaning: “an intervening agency, means, or instrument.” It also implies “being in the middle of…” Media in all of its forms, electronic and print, is the middle-man in information dissemination. It is and should be on the cynical side, questioning everything and assuming nothing until researched and verified. This is not to advocate pan-society cynicism; it’s a job someone has to do in a healthy democracy and the ancient Greeks who invented both (fittingly cynic means ‘dog-like’), counted great philosophers such as Aristotle, Euclid, Plato, Socrates and Diogenes amongst its founders.

    We need cynics and sceptics

    Without a cynical media, tyrants flourish, mendacious men get away with murder and people become enslaved. Perhaps Mr. Trump would do well to consider the beliefs of previous American Presidents, beginning with the first:

    “If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” George Washington

    In particular, Trump might consider the words of Theodore Roosevelt: “To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.”

    More recently: “Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.”Harry Truman

    PUTIN ON THE AGONY

    Lurking in the shadows behind America’s new Caesar is the worrisome wraith of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. It should be emphasized that, although he promulgates his physical prowess and therefore comes across a bit of a jock, Putin was not only a lieutenant-colonel KGB officer, but a brilliant one. After his KGB posting in former East Germany (unquestionably a country that fulfilled Truman’s quote), he wrote a thesis for a PhD in economic sciences, focusing on raw materials and minerals – or did he?

    In 2013, Time magazine published findings from the Brookings Institute that asserted Putin’s 218-page thesis was plagiarized from an American economics textbook, including diagrams. Even in Russia, where ‘degrees for sale’ is a corrupt industry, it is nervously acknowledged that this might be the case but, as Brookings’ Clifford Gaddy says: “Everybody knows about it, but nobody wants to bring it up.” Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev brought it up and was quickly shut down – using the state-controlled media.

    Since assuming power in 2000, Putin has increasingly tightened his grip on the media. At least 21 unsolved killings of journalists and editors have occurred. The Committee to Protect Journalists ranks Russia in the top three countries where it is deadly to work as a journalist – only behind Algeria and Iraq. Many more journalists and even bloggers and Facebook posters have ended up in prison or been forced to resign after intimidation.

    As for freedom of the press, Russia ranks 148th out of 179 countries according to the 2016 survey by Reporters Without Borders. Australia, by the way, lies shamefully at 25th, well behind New Zealand at 5th. The worst? North Korea.

    A 2015 Huffington Post report notes that: “After Putin came into power in 2000, he established control over the three main TV stations. In 2001 and 2002, he took control of the two biggest TV channels, ORT (now First Channel) and NTV. The state broadcaster, RTR (now Rossiya 1), was already under his control. During his subsequent year in power, Putin moved more and more outlets under his influence until he controlled most of the major mainstream media. He appoints editors and general directors, either officially or unofficially.”

     And this is the man who America’s new President appears to hero-worship and sees as a good example. Yes, it’s a good example of total control of the media and abuse of power. As President, Putin has done a good job for Russia and no one could accuse him of not being a great patriot but that old KGB deviousness and cunning still underscores everything he says and does – it’s all about control.

    What about Australian media?

    How might all this affect Australian media? If Trump carries through on his promises to throttle the freedom out of the US media, learning from his idol Putin, it sets an example other world leaders might see as validated.

    We have not been immune from attacks on freedom of speech. Queensland under Joh Bjelke Petersen was notorious for its stifling of the media and persecution of journalists who were doing their jobs.

    More recently, we saw Gina Rinehart’s foray into media ownership, buying a large stake in Fairfax and demanding a seat on the board and the right to hire and fire editors. She did not like the way Fairfax journalists covered the mining industry and her private family stoushes. Failing to achieve either, she sold her stake again to focus on what she is really good at – mining. But not before trying to intimidate five Fairfax reporters including Walkley-award winning Adele Ferguson by subpoenaing them to reveal their sources. In living memory, journalists have been jailed for refusing to reveal sources – something that is enshrined in journalistic rights in all democracies.

    The 1975 kidnap and murder of newspaper publisher and activist Juanita Nielsen remains largely unsolved.

    If Trump is allowed to get away with a Putin-style clampdown on free media, the results will resound around the world and don’t think we will be immune in Australia. Unlikely, yes, but not immune.

    Constitutional rights

    There are a few inconvenient things standing in Trump’s way, such as the First Amendment to the American Constitution, Congress must pass any new anti-media legislation plus a vibrant, free, unreasonable and cynical media that exists coast-to-coast in America. I don’t think Trump gives a darn about any of these things, such is his self-centred lack of knowledge about the world in general. He’s used you giving the orders on reality TV, so that makes him a fine candidate for President? “You’re fired?”

    As for his meaningless mantra ‘Make America great again,’ what is not great about a country where, today, 30% of the world’s biggest 2000 companies are American (Forbes)? Where there are more billionaires than the next four countries combined? Where the IMF still ranks the USA #1 in world GDP (nominal) by a long way although China is predicted to overtake the USA in 2020 (but it does have 1.35 billion population!)? Also by far the world’s strongest military machine, spending more on defense than the next nine countries combined and possessing the world’s largest nuclear arsenal? The world’s two largest stock exchanges – four times the size of its nearest four rivals? The list goes on.

    Maybe what Trump means is: ‘Make me great again’ and anything, anyone, who criticises him is an enemy of that greatness – especially the media. Forbes reports that his wealth dropped by $800 million last year. He’s now ranked just the 336th richest person in the world. We should not overlook his six corporate bankruptcies.  He claims a net worth of around $10 billion, Forbes say $4.5 billion. Maybe he’ll finally release his tax returns.

    There is so much to report about America’s new President and his relationship with Russia (and I don’t criticize any sincere attempts at reconciling differences using diplomatic entente cordiale). The only way this can be done is with a free media, free of threats and retributions.

    But, he’s threatened and promised retributions – the first American President ever to do so, apparently learned from Putin. Even if it’s all mouth and braggadocio, it’s very unpresidential.

    Will our leaders look on and imitate? Or worse, be cajoled into clamp-downs by the Trump administration and America’s considerable sway over Australia?

    If ever this happens, welcome to 1984.

     Footnote: Trump’s PR machine’s latest accusation is that the media has not accurately reported the crowd size at his inauguration. Aerial photographs taken at the same time at Obama’s 2009 inauguration and Trump’s clearly show a greatly diminished crowd size – probably two-thirds smaller. And yet he and his minders aver that ‘the crowd was bigger and the media are liars… worst people on the planet…” blahblah. The fact that crowd size in itself is a major issue in assuaging this President’s ego is a worry, but to openly deny evidential fact, claim falsehoods as truth and those reporting the truth as liars is even more worrying. Check it out for yourself here.