Archive for the ‘Original Article’ Category

  • Hits & misses make the most of IGAS

    Tokyo Typhoon Number 12 of the season was a fizzer, a bit of a blow but nothing to bother the printers attending IGAS at Big Site out in the Bay. It came and went within a few hours; rain and wind enough to alarm the woman at the Heidelberg showroom where I was on Saturday afternoon. She urged us to get out quickly to avoid being stranded. Perhaps a little over the top, but …

    So, why was I at the Heidelberg showroom in Tokyo? Well here’s how the second part of my IGAS went.

    IGAS is an international exhibition, although overseas visitors are still only a small part of it. It’s international in that every manufacturer of note exhibits and as is becoming increasingly obvious that means most are Japanese firms. There are the large well known brands, but a walk around IGAS shows clearly the depth of ingenuity and industry in small firms and startups driving the printing equipment industry in Japan.

    With notable exceptions of course – HP is the eight hundred pound US gorilla in the centre of printing. Its digital reach is immense, encompassing every aspect of printing and packaging. In a prime position just inside the entrance in Hall 1 visitors were treated to a display of printed packaging that leaves no doubt that the future is definitely digital. It provided a testament to just how far the technology has been pushed and how this show was mostly about industrial printing mostly packaging.

    Konica Minolta Australian and Japanese colleagues (L to r) David Cascarino, Toshitaka Uemura, Koji Asaka and Anthony ‘AJ’ Jackson.

    Friday afternoon I had an appointment to meet with people from Konica Minolta who took time to talk about the 145-year-old company. Toshitaka Uemura, GM industry print business and Koji Asaka, assistant manager, are fine examples of all that’s best about Japanese corporate life. Dedicated and loyal they not only know the technology, but also are also deeply versed in the ethos and history of the company.

    There’s plenty of disparagement about the supposedly oppressed Japanese ‘salary men’ but they’re a remarkably hardworking and loyal bunch and these two were anything but put upon. Well informed too, as Uemura-san took me through the development of the company, its history as a photo and camera business and its prospects as a manufacturer of leading digital technology.

    There’s no doubt the Accurio KM1 is the flagship, a B2 inkjet press that is the first real contender to HP Indigo’s dominance. But there’s more in the portfolio too. The MGI digital embellishment JetVarnish 30 engine was prominent on the stand.

    Watch for a re-worked version of the Accurio Label press in the next few months, moving away from its BizHub-box appearance while still sticking with toner. It’s the technology the market wants, says Uemura-san, who was part of the planning team. He reckons the inkjet label sector is very well served but there’s a gap in the market where toner works in terms of cost and quality. And he gives every impression of knowing about what he speaks.

    Label specialist, Taishi Motoshige, (left) showed me around the Screen stand and introduced me to Ayaka Sasaki who looks after the CTP.

    Just next door Screen, another iconic Japanese manufacturer had a very busy stand. Based in the imperial city of Kyoto it has successfully reinvented itself as the market for its emblematic platemaking technology dwindled and almost died. But Screen is one of the few in the world still manufacturing CTP machines and lo and behold, there’s a new version released at this IGAS. A stripped-down unit aimed at the replacement market in developing countries, the PlateRite 8600NII can be upgraded with all the latest technology. As with much of Screen’s well-regarded technology, it’s widely rebadged and OEM’d.

    If you think a new CTP verges on the anachronistic, I was astounded to see a new proofing press on the stand, the Proof Jet F780 Mark ll. Who’d have thought sections of the Japanese media and advertising industry still insist on a proof from a proofing press? I mean, what’s the point, when it’s not going to be printed on the proofing press? Still, that’s what they want and Screen is happy to provide it.

    However, don’t let me give you the impression that Screen is caught in a weird time warp. Most of its stand was a model display of high-powered digital printing with two versions of the high-speed Truepress Jet, one for direct marketing production, the other for graphic arts; very impressive results. No sign yet of a cut sheet version.

    Fascinated to see the developments of Screen’s label press, with a new version out for the show, the TruePress L350UV+LM. The LM stands for low-migration; an ink set aiming to avoid any challenges to its suitability for labels on food products. Next to it was an Italian laser die cutter, a Cartes GE361L producing the best results from the technology I’ve seen. The label roll is split as it enters the machine with the printed layer being laser cut from the rear before being reunited with the liner. Clever solution that solves most of the angle cut problems from using lasers.

    Nothing to see here again, I’m afraid.

    One of the disappointments of IGAS was the no show of the Canon Voyager, the much-hyped flagship graphic arts digital press. I saw it at last drupa, but it wasn’t operating. The samples on display were tremendous. Same at IGAS. Lots of fabulous samples behind glass, lots of banners promoting the model, but no actual press. There were no English speaking staff, insofar as I could find, so I’m no wiser as to what’s happening with the Voyager. Perhaps it’s not for the Japanese market.

    There was an Océ Colorado there, promoted as a Canon product.

    David Currie, Australian IGAS-san and still a formidable printing equipment salesman.

    After a couple of days of missed calls, I managed to get in front of David Currie, executive chairman Currie Group, on the Saturday morning. I was keen to meet in Tokyo because David, if anyone, is the Australian IGAS-san. He tells me he’s being coming to the show for 31 years, ever since he hooked up with long-term friend and partner Hori-san, founder and owner of Horizon. (Hori-san… Horizon. Geddit?)

    We forget that at that time in the 1980s there was a sense, much promoted by competitors, that ‘Made in Japan’ was somehow dodgy and inferior. Certainly the trail David Currie blazed at the time was the road less travelled. Of course, nowadays, Japanese technology is the benchmark of quality and innovation.

    Such is the case with the vast range of equipment on the Horizon stand, the largest at IGAS, and not only on the Horizon stand but on others too, such as Ricoh and HP. In fact almost all the digital press manufacturers are using Horizon finishing kit.

    We tried to track Hori-san for a celebratory photo, but he wasn’t to be found. Then true to form, David Currie transformed into a younger version of himself as a Horizon equipment product manager and gave me a pretty comprehensive tour of the stand. Sure, he’s got people to do that for him, but once a printing equipment salesman …

    Anniversary celebrations for Richard Timson, whose 30 years with Heidelberg, man and boy, was commemorated with a gift of saki from Shuya Mizyno, president of Heidelberg Japan and Thomas Frank, head of sales Asia Pacific, who is also a 30-year Heidelberg veteran.

    Saturday afternoon with the typhoon closing in it was time to taxi to the Heidelberg showroom in Shinagawa. (Travel tip: never trust the driver over Google maps.) The German press manufacturer, represented by the redoubtable Thomas Frank, was showing off its Smart Print Shop concept while virtually promoting the new digital Primefire. There was no actual showing of the inkjet (at the Heidelberg IGAS stand visitors donned goggle-style glasses for a virtual tour) but there was a mighty Speedmaster XL 106, which proceeded to print 12 jobs of 150 sheets each (20 waste sheets per job) in 30 minutes, without operator intervention.

    While the printing was underway, the plates changing automatically and the press autonomously adjusting the settings, we were taken on a tour of the full print process, including the Versafire, which produced 26 digital jobs at the same time, again without operator input.

    Heidelberg promotes the concept as digitally controlled printing. Hugely productive to meet the challenge of the digital world, Frank also mentioned the ‘r’ word as in ‘rent a press’ with all the consumables supplied. This is the reality of the ‘subscription printing’ scheme being promoted by the company to drive new sales. It’s attempting to change the concept of how you go about owning productive print. Richard Timson, managing director ANZ says he’s close to getting the first Australian customer signed on.

    Determined to win: Tomomitsu Harada, is new managing director of the Australian company.

    Monday morning saw me heading west out of Tokyo to Tomi, halfway across the main island to visit the Mimaki plant. The aggressive and competitive wide format brand makes no bones about its drive to win market share in Australia and New Zealand. Tomomitsu Harada, the new managing director of the Australian company, unabashedly takes pride in his determined sales drive. At 31 it’s his first overseas managing director’s role and he’s determined to make the most of it. Bringing his family here in September, he’s settling in Chatswood, where else?

    Mimaki has one of the largest ranges of wide format equipment in the sector. With a company goal to double its revenue to $US1 billion within five years it’s the very model of a ‘win at all costs’ Japanese company. Fascinating to hear Harada quote the ‘beat sheet’ used by his salespeople; equipment that’s half the investment cost of rivals, ink that’s always cheaper, service that is aiming to be 100% performed by the company with a few years.

    There’s no doubting the engineering quality of Mimaki, but what makes it stand out for me is its sheer sales drive to win. It’s only been going direct in the local market for four years but expect to hear a lot more from the full-on Harada. He’ll be here in time for Visual Impact in Sydney where he promises to unveil a few surprises.

    The Epson stand, where I missed my walk through with Alastair Bourne, was packed with good gear such as the Surepress L-6034VW. It also provided my first sight of the LX-10000F, the Workforce engine that’s bringing PrecisionCore inkjet technology into the office and small production sectors.

    And that’s it from me in Japan. It was a great show. I messed up with a couple of appointments, notably with Epson on Monday (my apologies Alastair – see photo above). Check out the next issue of Print21 magazine for full IGAS report.

    Now I’m off to Haneda airport for an overnighter to Sydney. See you at the Yaffa LIVE Forum on Friday.


  • The pitfalls of going paperless – Print21 magazine

    Paperless Schmaperless. After being given the ‘we don’t do paper’ line by none other than Adobe, Andy McCourt gets out his big pen and notepad to write a riposte to all those digital evangelists, drawing on the ancient wisdom of the Bible to help prove his point.

    “Paperless” is a slogan worn as a badge of honour and environmental responsibility by many organisations as if a heavenly host of angels will start applauding once the statement “we’re paperless” is uttered.

    Organisations that, surprisingly, have gone paperless include Adobe – a company founded on software for graphic designers who create files for printing. A recent attempt to get a few brochures from Adobe for their new 3D Printing software in order to hand them out at a seminar drew a blank. “We simply don’t have any – it’s all on the web,” was the startling response.

    Adobe’s CS6 is the most widely-used creative software with over 8 million users worldwide. From the middle of last year, Adobe began shifting CS6 users to a subscription model where all the software is accessed via Creative Cloud. There will be no more development of CS6 ‘in a box’; if you want the latest updates you have to subscribe. Already, according to Adobe, 1.8 million creatives are using Creative Cloud, and the graph is heading north. It’s been a success.

    The trajectory of Adobe and companies like it is clear: abandon print and paper and become exclusively a mobile, tablet and online business. Adobe is going beyond this with the launch of ‘Marketing Cloud’, for which Creative Cloud is the on-ramp. Marketing Cloud includes analytics, strategy planning and even campaign execution – including print, even though you can’t get a brochure out of Adobe. A request for a simple A4 sheet listing the website links to 3D Printing features was also denied, so the 3D Seminar information packs went to delegates with no Adobe content, but plenty from their print-literate competitor, Autodesk.

    Clever catalogues

    This just one example of where print can not and should not be replaced. Catalogues are another well-documented example. The latest Australian Shopper Intent Report, compiled by centre owner AMP Capital Shopping Centres, confirms that consumers like to be ‘omni-channel’ when it comes to shopping research but that printed catalogues remain the number one influencer.

    “The medium with the highest level of influence on shopper purchases remains the colour catalogue, which was preferred by more than a third (37 per cent) of respondents. This was apparent even among younger shoppers, with 28 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds and 30 per cent of 25- to 34-year-olds nominating the catalogue as their first preference,” says the report.

    Where groceries are concerned, the impact of printed catalogues is even more profound, with 68 per cent of households that have received and read grocery catalogues making a purchase as a result. An organisation called the Commercial Economic Advisory Service of Australia releases an annual report, the most recent showing that 60 per cent of retailers’ total advertising budgets are still spent on printed catalogues. Why is this so? Because they generate sales; on average, every dollar spent on a retail catalogue generates $14 in sales… sometimes as high as $40.

    Even online retailers find catalogues boost sales, such as Las Vegas-based apparel gurus “Average per-transaction sales from’s print catalog, Zappos Life, is consistently twice what it achieves online.” (source: Australian Catalogue Association website.)

     Loyal legal docs

    Another area where paper proves its worth is in the legal system. While there are very advanced document management systems for courts and law practitioners, paper remains intrinsic to the effective prosecution (as in the carrying-out sense) of the law. The Michigan Bar Association even warns its members against going totally paperless as it may expose them to malpractice suits. Issues with indexing, document retrieval and security abound. Given the susceptibility of even the most secure systems to being hacked, what do you think a determined plaintiff or defendant might do to win a case involving millions of dollars?

    Ironically, it is the existence of paper and the thoroughness of archivists that makes the legal system function, even in a quasi-digitised environment. Were it not for all of the stored and scanned documents stretching back scores or even hundreds of years, retrieval of vital matters in law would not be possible.

    In the UK, most defence lawyers have simply refused to go paperless when asked by the Crown Prosecution Service. In a letter to the Director of Public Prosecutions, the 30 largest criminal firms, accounting for over 10 per cent of the criminal legal aid budget, gave notice that they will not take part in the scheme until concerns over costs and workability have been addressed. “We have drawn the line,” one signatory said.

    Surety of statements

    In the finance world, lists no fewer than 12 pitfalls of ‘going paperless’. These include:

    • Statements and notices lost in overflowing email in-boxes
    • Email address changes that are not communicated to the financial institution
    • Spam filters trapping financial notifications and alerts
    • Hard drives crashing and erasing records
    • New computers being installed and records lost in the process
    • Laptops being stolen along with the digital paper trail
    • Computers infected with viruses rendering them inoperable or, worse, sending financial data to the thieves
    • Stress at tax-time trying to remember web addresses and login credentials to access last year’s financial info
    • Forgetting to rebalance your investments because you never take the time to login and look at your online statement
    • Forgetting to report investment income/losses on your taxes because you had no paper trail and forgot about the account
    • Trying to explain to the tax auditor that you don’t have paper copies because you “are saving trees” (which you are not of course)
    • Back-up files being lost, forgotten or corrupted.

    As if that’s not enough, in the UK for example there are 7.1 million people who have never used the internet and a further 16 million who are less than computer-proficient. What to do? Send them to a taxpayer-funded boot camp or consign them to a scrap heap of non tech-savvy human detritus?

    Bonza books

    For eBook zealots and pseudo ‘save the planet’ delusionists, printed books are the inconvenient truth that just won’t go away. The eBook has done so much to promote print. EL James’s mum-porn story series 50 Shades of Grey began as an eBook only, going on to sell over 100 million copies in print (I personally preferred the pastiche 50 Sheds of Grey, it takes erotica to a new level with lines such as: “I lay back exhausted, gazing happily out of the shed window. Despite my concerns about my inexperience, my rhubarb was coming up a treat.”)

    As American comic book artist and writer, Brian Haberlin, says: “Printed books are for people who love printed books. Digital books are for those who love digital books.” Haberlin co-authored Anomaly, a sci-fi extravaganza of a book costing over $50 with a downloadable app that scans the pages and makes them jump out like 3D. He articulates why books will never die better than I can, saying: “Books are cool! I love print, always will. I love digital, always will. But they will continue to be different experiences. It’s a different texture, a different experience and that alone warrants their existence.”

    This omni-channel, multiplexed media approach is where informational and entertainment print fits in, now and in the future. Just as our five senses exist independently, and yet work together, so print works with all other media.

    A famous authoritative quote regarding the human body goes: “If the foot says, ‘Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,’ it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. And if the ear says, ‘Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,’ it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?” (1 Corinthians 12:16).

    So it is with print and other media; there is a place and function for it all and it is about time the paperless mantra was consigned to the… err… waste paper basket? I haven’t even touched on the myth, nay the lie, of saving the planet by going paperless. I would hope that all of the published evidence and discrediting of misinformation has got through to people: that managed forest plantations producing pulpable fibre for paper actually lock in carbon, sustain watercourses and generate oxygen. After that, the product thus produced – paper – can be recycled and used again.

    Spent energy used reading online or on mobile devices can never be recycled and the carbon it emits has to be dealt with at some future stage by the trees that make the paper, which then gets recycled…

    No apologies for that inconvenient truth.

  • Opus new backers in the market for investment funding

    Hong Kong-based printing company, 1010, is negotiating with potential third parties to recapitalise the troubled Opus business following its successful novation takeover.

    The publicly listed Opus, was given a ‘get out of jail’ card by 1010, which picked up its $50 million debt to the Commonwealth Bank for $20million. 1010 is substantially owned by Chuk Kin (CK) Lau and has a market capitalisation of approximately A$110 million. Private equity funds are seen to be the most likely investors in the company.

    Local industry hopes are focused on an injection of much-needed investment in Opus, which has been starved of funds in recent times. An announcement on the equity recapitalisation, which would be subject to the approval of OPUS shareholders, is expected in the near future.

    OPUS and 1010 have had commercial links for several years through respective senior management connections. As the product offerings are largely complementary and in many cases to the same international customer base, OPUS and 1010 have consulted from time to time on business initiatives and as a result have developed a mutually respectful relationship.

    Opus enjoyed stellar growth in recent times culminating in the reverse takeover of McPherson Printing. It is a diversified graphic communication business that targets a range of increasingly global customers.

  • Currie Group turns 65 years – meet the man at the helm: Print21 magazine article

    In running a business, as in sailing a boat, only so much can be learned from books; the rest relies on sense, instinct and experience. Mostly it is a measure of character. It is 45 years since David Currie stepped aboard his family’s business, 65 years since his father, Bill Currie, first set up as a printing engineer in Melbourne, and 21 years since Bill passed away. On a significant anniversary the man on the bridge of the largest privately-owned graphic arts supplier in the industry shares some of his views and experiences with Patrick Howard.

    There is a danger when celebrating anniversaries that the focus will be unduly on past achievements at the expense of current innovation and imaginative strategies. This is especially true in the printing industry where the technology and business landscape is undergoing remorseless change and constant renewal. In busy day-to-day engagement there is little time to look back at where we have come from; past events provide scant guidance to the future when terms of trade are under such pressure. But there is value to be gleaned by recognising the attributes and talents of individuals who have successfully navigated the seas of change and risen to the top of their field. Studying the quality of decisions made over the course of a lifetime and the determination and commitment brought to the task at hand can teach us much.

    David Currie is the most successful graphic arts merchant in Australia and New Zealand. His enterprise, Currie Group, is the largest privately-owned supplier of equipment, consumables and technology to the printing industry in the region. This year its total revenue will be similar to that of long-term rival merchant, Heidelberg Australia & NZ. It is a visionary, integrated company delivering such iconic technologies as HP Indigo digital presses, Horizon print finishing equipment, Cron CTP and Scodix digital embellishing. In addition, Currie Group invoices over $3 million a month in clicks and offset printing consumables such as Agfa plates, T&K Toka inks and chemistry. Ironically, for a company that started out in print engineering, it has no offset presses in its portfolio, not one, nothing, absolutely zero.

    It is in this latter singular fact that the true nature of David Currie, businessman, can be discerned. That Currie Group does not deal in offset presses, despite being shaped by the technology for most of its existence, underscores an essential ability to recognise the changing winds of technology and market conditions and move decisively to adapt. Or as David Currie puts it, “Part of our success is that we’ve always changed gears much faster than anybody else.”

    What’s in a name?

    When David Currie joined his father’s business in 1969 at the age of 18, printing presses were mostly letterpress. Offset presses were starting to make inroads into the industry but there was still debate as to whether they could ever match the quality. For the young Currie, coming straight from school, the reality of printing engineering and working on lathes and milling machines was a life-changing revelation.

    “I started on the tools, in the machine shop, going out to help pull down dirty old machines and coming home in the evening with greasy overalls and dirty hands. And I just couldn’t see myself doing it for the rest of my life. I saw my private school mates going off to university or going into well-paid jobs while I was on a first-year apprentice wages. The life expectancy then was to start having nicer cars, nicer holidays… but not on my wage.”

    The Currie engineering business was at the forefront of a time when change was picking up speed. Bill Currie was ambitious to grow the business but as technology moved into a new electronic phase, the ability of companies to operate independently of manufacturers was restricted. There was no way to survive unless you dealt with manufacturers directly.

    At this time, David Currie was in charge of transport, shifting and helping to install presses for such luminary companies as FT Wimble and Tomasetti. It wasn’t long before father and son had their own trading company, IPES (Integrated Printing Equipment Services) with some partners from VRG, another paper-cum-machinery company based in Sydney.

    Going overseas in the company of experienced traders was a seminal and eye-opening experience. A trip to Japan in 1977 saw the young Currie involved in buying the first Shinohara (then called Fuji) offset press, bringing it back and installing it the following year at Patterson Press in Melbourne. In that first trade the young man discovered his destiny as a graphic arts merchant; there would be no going back to working on the lathe.

    The partners of IPES soon separated and the business, now known as WA Currie & Company, took off on a trajectory that saw it represent a pantheon of offset press manufacturers over the years; Koenig & Bauer, Miller, Planeta, Hamada, Akiyama and Shinohara. “And that’s just the offset presses,” said Currie.

    In 1981, Currie met a similar aged but very shy Japanese man named Eijiro Hori who also worked for his father in their Japanese manufacturing company. This friendship with the owner of Horizon International still continues today, not only as close business associates but also as firm family friends.

    David Currie displays a HP Indigo print digitally enhanced with Scodix embellishment at Currie Group's high-tech Hawthorn showroom.

    Currie Group (as it became six years ago) represented a host of other brands in such sectors as business form presses, finishing and consumables. Many of these once-iconic names are gone now, consumed in mergers, taken over or gone out of business, or overtaken by changes in technology. Much the same has happened on the production side of offset printing in Australia, which has changed almost beyond recognition. There are far fewer printers now than previously.

    “I can remember a database in the early- to mid-1980s. We identified 15,000 printers we could sell to. We’d be struggling to get 2,000 now. The consolidation of the industry has been quite dramatic. There is a merger, collapse or acquisition happening every week. Look at Snap. They were big customers of ours for small offset such as Hamada. They don’t even produce now, they get CMYKhub to do it,” he said.

    “I helped set up their hubs in Queensland, NSW and part of Western Australia. The Queensland one is totally shut and no doubt the trend will continue. None of the Snap guys will ever buy an offset press again. All they do is convenience copying – the sophisticated stuff is done by trade printers.”

    “I knew your father”

    The graphic arts is a family-dominated industry. Despite the irruption of private equity players in the past decade, printing is an industry where individuals have their livelihoods, destinies and reputations on the line. There is longevity to printing business ownership and relationships, a trans-generational legacy that thrives on knowing who you’re dealing with. David Currie finds he is sometimes dealing with the grandchildren of his original customers.

    “Experience counts for so much. My son now at university has a big bushy beard. My daughter asked, ‘Dad, have you ever had a beard?’. When I was in my mid-twenties I had a baby face. I was dealing with people who were old enough to be my father, sometimes my grandfather, and I was always trying make myself look more experienced, so I grew a beard.

    “At that stage I was dealing with a generation that was considerably older than me. I remember taking Ray Norgate of McKellar Renown to Japan where I sold him a two-colour Shinohara. He’s the grandfather of the kids who are running it now.

    “Then there was a generation who were my age, sort of. They were the movers and shakers of the industry, the guys who were in their forties when I was late twenties, early thirties. You ran all around the place with them, all over Australia, trips overseas, that sort of thing. All of a sudden, those people died, sold out, went broke or whatever.

    “I’m fortunate now that I’ve got a group of customers who are friends that I deal with personally. They’re 10 to 15 years younger than me, now turning 50. I hosted a group in Sydney who were all 50 in December; Craig Walker of IPG and his partner Rod McCall, John Wanless, Bambra Press, and Michael McDiarmid, Emerald Press. When they start talking about going to retire you really start to worry. By the way, Leo Moio (Print Media Group) didn’t qualify because he is already 52.

    “Then you can look at CMYKhub. Trent Nankervis, who is 34, runs it and his father Gary, who is my age, is in the background semi-retired. It’s very much the old bull and the young bull story.”

    As second-generation himself, third if you count Albert Rushbrooke, his maternal grandfather who worked at the Government Printer in Victoria, David Currie identifies the pluses and minuses of the generational shift. The printing industry has been good to many people who have made a very good life out of it. As with his own children, they go to university and in a perfect world there may be interest to further the family involvement.

    “However, unlike the baby boomers who were expected to go into the family business, Gen X and Y have so many more choices, although the competition is now very tough.

    “Although industry news has been dominated by high profile names and venture capital, there are family names – such as the Hannas, Hannans, MacNamaras, Norgates, Easons and Murphys – who have successfully brought in the next generation. There are high profile suppliers like Doggetts also making the transition.

    “Then there are lots of smaller companies that are third and fourth generations. If I go through our active top 100 customers there is quite a smattering of older companies. The vast majority are privately owned and there are certainly many generational ones in there. Look at Planet Press in Sydney run by the Marsh family. In my early days I recall selling a folding machine to Colin, the father, who was quite a bit older than me, but Russell, Peter and their sister Joanne are running the business today.”

    Stepping up to the mark

    David Currie is fond of saying that “the harder I work, the luckier I get”. But there is more to it than that.

    It was a combination of good luck and the willingness to take a massive risk that gained Currie Group the iconic Indigo – now HP Indigo – agency in 2001. With the benefit of hindsight it seems like a no brainer to accept the digital agency. But when he was offered it at PacPrint 2001the future was not so clear-cut; digital technology was still battling quality and reliability issues. Resistance from the offset industry was massive. It was also before HP stepped in and gave Benny Landa’s Indigo the huge cash investment required to transform digital printing into a viable imaging solution.

    “It was Andy Middleton of Indigo who walked onto my stand at PacPrint. They knew we had the customer base because we were so successful in that A3 market. But there was a lot to it. I had to come up with the money. I sold the original property that Dad started here in Hawthorn to set it up. I had to buy everything from ODIS, stock machines, all the parts and the existing service agreements. Within the first six months we copped an enormous bad debt from Colour Solutions (the original Melbourne Indigo site) of approximately $150,000.”

    Father and son: Bill Currie's portrait, painted by his wife and David's mother, Marjorie, has a place of honour in the Currie Group boardroom.

    The Indigo agency was without doubt the single most significant deal David Currie has made, and one that now contributes over half the Group’s revenue. But David Currie has form when it comes to acquiring businesses, with a long line of acquisitions that have made the company what it is today. He tallies the roll call by the individuals who came with the businesses rather than the technologies; Bernie Robinson, managing director, came with AM International, the consumables business acquired in 2000. Phillip Rennell, sales and marketing director, and Mark Dawes, general manager of the labels and packaging division, were part of the ODIS/Indigo takeover. Most recently, Tim Stafford, sales manager of the labels and packaging division, came across with the buy-out of Universal Print Partners, the Melbourne-based label equipment company.

    Along with Andrew Fitzpatrick, finance director, they go to make up a management team that David Currie considers the equal of anything in the industry. Now Currie Group is on a growth path, looking for new employees in sales and service and fresh acquisitions.

    “There is growth in all product areas. New Zealand is on fire for us now. The hardest thing is to find good people. We could put on ten people in sales and service if I could find them,” he said.

    Despite having successfully created a sustaining enterprise with a management structure that allows him the luxury of stepping back, David Currie has little time for talk of retirement. He is very hands-on, his life enmeshed in the industry, the barriers between business and friendship, professional and social almost redundant. He lives at a pace that would exhaust many a younger man. In the weeks before our meeting he returned from circumnavigating Tasmania in his power boat to join the Currie exhibition truck in Perth, meeting customers and sealing deals. He recently returned from Israel where he hosted a group of customers to explore the future of HP Indigo’s packaging sector.

    “This is a people business. Contracts are still written on the back of beer coasters. I still get excited with the technology and doing business. I’ve met some great characters in the industry, made lots of close friends. But you never know the future, or when and how to pick it. No one knows.”

    That may appear self-evident but in David Currie’s case it is an understanding informed by lived experience. In a lifetime in the printing industry he has sailed perilously close to disaster as well as enjoyed solid triumph. No one is better placed to navigate the treacherous seas of uncertainty.

  • The case for more capacity-based pricing in the printing industry – James Cryer

    The story of how Anthony Thirlby’s UK-based printing company, ESP Colour, is revolutionising the workflow, pricing and productivity of the industry – in the April issue of Print21 magazine – prompted James Cryer, industry gadfly and iconoclast, to write an affirmative and positive response.

    Greetings Anthony,

    I was fascinated to read the article on your company in Patrick Howard’s Print21. Being 4th generation in print, I toss the occasional thought bubble into his magazine and online publications on issues that annoy or fascinate me about the printing industry.

    And being self-employed I can afford to be as idiotic, controversial or merely thought provoking as I wish. No one can fire me! I’ve tried everything to fire up a vicious attack –even a mild rebuke, or being told I’m an idiot would be nice ­but so far nothing.

    I can just imagine if I’d written about a hypothetical company that proposed to do what you’re doing and wrote: Now what you’ve got to do to make a buck is to tell your clients they CAN’T have their favourite stock, nor can they have exactly the trim-size their chairman nominated 40 years ago and they may have to WAIT a few extra days  – the fact that the newly-minted purchasing officer who said they needed the job tomorrow when they didn’t really need it for two weeks is irrelevant! – And (I haven’t finished yet!) your client CANNOT see a proof, no, not even if they offer to pay, it’ll bugger-up the entire workflow and cost millions!

    And finally, if they’d even persisted in reading this far without tipping their morning coffee over my words as if to obliterate them forever, I would, tongue in cheek, of course, tell them that if any client even HINTED at wanting to come and do a press-check they’d be fired! And yes, firing clients is actually part of the process of running a profitable print shop.

    As said, if I’d written that as a serious article I’d have to check my letterbox and look under my car even more frequently than I do now. And yet, here it is, in brutal reality, reminding us that truth really IS stranger than fiction – a printing company making money by breaking all the rules!

    Just backtracking slightly, I must say I am a bit of an iconoclast myself when it comes to trying to break down some of the long-held conventions, which have plagued our industry. So, when I first started reading the article I was mildly intrigued and began underlining a few bits that caught my fancy.

    By the time I got to the end, the whole double-page spread was awash with double and triple underlinings, furious exclamation-marks and vigorous marginal scribblings, making it vaguely like one of our grandkids’ works of art.

    Anthems to success

    But seriously, this article, or more correctly, your business model, should be compulsory reading for all intending entrants into the wonderful world of commercial print. You are to be worshipped as the anti-Christ – the messiah, the Great Profit (sorry!) the one who can lead us out of the wilderness and back onto the sunlit uplands – from whence we came(th).

    The bits I thought were the most radical were –

    • “98% of what we print goes on one size”
    • “We … employ the best people [and] pay them 20% above average” (I must say this is music to a recruiter’s ears)
    • “We never schedule by delivery date” (love it!)
    • “There was initial reluctance from clients but we won them over” – and – “clients formed the biggest obstacle”.

    They’re all anthems to success, but arguably the last one is the most telling. Traditionally we’ve all been a bunch of lemmings, reluctant to stand out from the crowd or take a stand. We’re an industry cowed by convention and struggling to climb out from under the yoke of craft, which philosophically is built around perpetuating the status quo.

    If I had written that mythic article proposing we should do what you have done, I’d have been assailed by an avalanche of why it wouldn’t work.  We’re unwitting subscribers to the maxim: The perfect is the enemy of the good – in that we’re quick to see possible faults with ANY new system and so we cling to the proven or the familiar and don’t do anything!

    Plus, we’ve been too quick to seek the ‘magic bullet’ in rushing out to buy the latest Speedmaster (for example).  But if you don’t upgrade the workflow software you may as well just go and buy a second-hand press. Us blokes and we are mainly a masculine industry, are too bedazzled by big iron. We don’t see the bigger picture, which is the point Frank Romano made when he said: ‘Workflow is king’ (or words to that effect).

    Another dimension to this is, I was pleased to read that nowhere are you bleating about ‘quality’. That’s yesterday’s fish-wrapper – ALL print quality is good these days!

    What you’re doing is not unlike what Subway do; offer limited choices  – a few bread choices, a few fillings, a few sauces, etc. The customer thinks he’s getting unlimited choices, but in fact Subway have worked out what – I paraphrase you – 98% of people want to eat! If you want Trader Joe’s South African Smoke Seasoning or some such, forget it! Go somewhere else. And we’re not stopping to ask the chef if he’s heard of it. Go away, you’re holding up the queue of paying customers!

    I’m not suggesting that printing companies should employ Serco-style armed guards with machetes and axes to ward off time-waster clients, but … hmmm!

    You want it when?

    One of the causes of this pressure to schedule jobs according to their perceived ‘wanted dates,’ which you have refused to kow-tow to, is the sense that every print job is URGENT! We’ve probably contributed to the problem, collectively over the years by over-promising and under-delivering – or to put it in more technical jargon: we frequently run late.

    So clients hedge their bets by insisting on a delivery date that is sooner than they really need it. And why wouldn’t they? We don’t give them any reason to do otherwise. The pressure this creates leads to a lumpy workflow, where we DON’T group like jobs or adjust the press progressively as you do. The workflow becomes a battleground where ‘special pleading’ trumps efficiency.

    This disruptiveness gets embedded in our collective cost structure and creates a massive arbitrage opportunity for someone to come along, who is not under-cutting but who simply has a smoother workflow.

    How to get the smoother sequencing? If only there was a sorting mechanism to group all the GENUINELY urgent jobs, then the reasonably urgent ones – and finally the non time-critical ones. One idea I’ve had (Anthony, I’d be interested in your thoughts) is to price them differently according to urgency. I’m not suggesting you change your system but there may be scope to introduce a time-sensitive pricing mechanism, if not in your operation, then other printers could explore it, as another way of using price signals to modify customers’ behaviour.

    My proposal is as follows;

    What better or easier way to do that, than to simply quote EVERY job by routinely offering (say) three price options:

    $10/k for urgent delivery (i.e. that falls outside our normal flow);

    $9/k for normal delivery;

    $8/k if you’re in no hurry and allow us to blend it into our workflow at a time that suits us.

    The numbers are arbitrary, of course. But the point is that for 100 years we’ve priced everything on a normal delivery basis, but we cave in and deliver many jobs ahead of schedule, which has a disruptive and largely un-recovered cost impact. Economists love this three-tiered approach as it places a cost on disruption, but it ALSO offers a reward/incentive to those clients who genuinely aren’t in any hurry. Why should they pay as much as the queue-jumper? But that’s what our traditional one size-fits-all pricing philosophy has encouraged over the years: it’s actually ENCOURAGED everyone to seek a rushed delivery benefit for free!

    This idea is not new! Airlines use it, as do hotels, just about every service provider in a competitive market where excess capacity can come and go like the wind, uses it – except the printing industry!

    There is no LOGICAL reason why we shouldn’t adopt a capacity-based pricing model. We can now monitor and predict our workflow pretty well. I think the answer is that our estimators probably went to the same school that estimators in the building game went to where you simply take the cost of a tonne of bricks, add the cement (metaphorically), add the labour component, add the lot together and bingo! there’s the cost of your building.

    I know it’s going to cause aggravation among some quarters, who will struggle to understand why the very same book or brochure could cost $6 one day and $5 another. I’m dying to tell someone, somewhere, someday, the reason is that the latter client didn’t lie about wanting it overnight; he actually gave the printer a few days extra to produce it!

    But getting back to your new approach. The economist would view it as simply stopping one client gaining an unfair advantage –i.e. getting his job earlier than another client, but not paying anything for that benefit. It’s a bit like a crowd at a football match; if one person stands up to gain an unfair advantage everyone else then has to. But nobody is better off. In fact they’re all worse off, because now they’re all standing!

    Your pricing approach, is virtually like saying, if EVERYBODY sits down, we’re ALL going to be better off!

    Everyone in our industry is complaining about margins. Everyone’s complaining about not wanting to lower prices, because in theory it squeezes margins. Everyone talks about trying to get a better i.e. higher, price.  But the paradox is, that the higher the price of ANYTHING, the LESS people will buy. With the advent of the internet and other media, it was never so important that print should be price competitive, not with the bloke down the road, but with other communication options.

    Your approach addresses the margin issue without obsessing about the price issue and where you’re having the best of both worlds; one – by asking everyone to ‘sit down’ your margins go up, and two – by effectively offering a generally more competitive price, more people will buy from you.

    Sometimes the simplest solutions seem to elude us.

    I’d be interested to know what you think of the above – a lot of it is simply stating the bleeding obvious – but sometimes even that has to be spelled out.

    Yours is arguably the single most dramatic break-through in memory, in our march towards greater efficiency.


    James Cryer, BA, MBA

    JDA Print Recruitment

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  • Taking the lead in H-UV – Print21 magazine article

    Six of the nine Komori presses that have gone in to Australia and New Zealand in the past year are equipped with H-UV drying. The others can be retrofitted. The partners from Sydney-based Rawson Graphics installed the first Australian H-UV Komori last July and are solidly behind the new technology.

    There is no dispute about the production benefits of UV printing. Getting perfectly dry printed sheets off a press so they can be moved directly to finishing gives a new meaning to the idea of ‘print on demand’. The elimination of powder in the print drying process contributes to a better working environment and more even results. Short run-ups of approximately 30 sheets eliminate waste and save money.

    The problems arise with the side effects of using conventional UV lamps which emit ozone and odour. Print factories need to have serious ventilation to deal with the noxious gas while the smell of the print often makes it unsuitable for much indoor promotional work and packaging.

    Then there is the Komori patented H-UV print drying system.

    Rawson Graphics in Sydney was the first printer in Australia to install a H-UV Komori, a five-colour S529. That was last July, shortly after Shane Wildash, who had decided on buying the press for his own company ArtVue, merged with Lachlan Finch and Andrew Price, owners of Rawson Graphics. To say the partners are now enthusiasts for the new technology is no exaggeration. While printing the outer board wrap-cover of this issue of Print21, Price and Wildash took the time to share their experiences with H-UV.

    The new press takes its place alongside an older full-size Komori LS640 + coater. Integrating H-UV printing has changed the way the business operates and expanded the markets it addresses. It has fired a cultural change not only among the printers on the floor but throughout the whole company. As far as Shane Wildash is concerned, it is the way all commercial print will be produced in the future.

    “There are too many reasons why it is better. It dries immediately, which means it doesn’t scuff so we don’t use varnish. The colour management is much better so there is a lot less waste and we can supply print on demand in a way that was impossible before,” he said.

    The partners tell of a job for a major retail client in Sydney of 100,000 DL leaflets where the job came in at 11.00am. It was on the press by 12.00 and delivered to the city by 3.00pm in the afternoon.

    “We just could not do that job before. This press is just chewing up the work,” said Wildash.

    Another example comes with ‘clingz’ where Rawson Graphics is gaining a reputation for fast turnaround of the thin plastic sheets. Before H-UV printing the ‘clingz’ required foil inks, running in small stacks and took days to dry. Now they are ready for delivery straight away the next day.

    “Shane had never done any ‘clingz’ before, whereas we were doing them regularly every month on the big Komori, “ said Andrew Price. “Since the H-UV went in we’re turning them around in less than half of the time. Without powder they are ready as soon as they come off the press.”

    “I don’t think in 12 months we’ve reprinted a job on bad quality. There are no hickeys and the lack of spray powder is a bonus. Most of all, it changes the mindset. You go to see the production manager last July pre H-UV with what would seem to be an impossible task and he’d say ‘No, can’t be done’. Now none of the reps get knocked back,” said Wildash.

    Tip of the iceberg

    In the competitive Sydney market, expanding the scope of work you are able to do is a meaningful advantage. While the press is transforming the everyday commercial work of the award-winning company, it is also beckoning to the use of a wide range of plastics.

    “Really, this is just the tip of the iceberg. We’re testing so many different stocks and plastics with such good results,” said Price. “We are doing some good work using white ink won ReflectaKote [from Allkotes]. It’s opening new markets in flexible short-run packaging. We’re still talking with the same customers but we’re expanding what we can offer them.

    “ We’ve always had a good collaborative relationship with our customers. We can say, ‘Instead of doing your packaging on four-colour plus a metallic, why don’t you do it all on ReflectaKote?’ It really gets them thinking of the possibilities.”

    Proof is on the paper: Mark Harvey, production manager, with Rawson Graphics partners Andrew Price and Shane Wildash

    Rawson Graphics is a dynamic business with a ‘can do’ attitude. The advent of the Komori H-UV along with an HP Indigo 7500 is galvanising the company on many levels. All the stocks – paper, boards and plastics – are now tested on both new platforms. Despite the technology orientation and willingness to push the boundaries, the Rawson Graphics partners are sanguine about how technology plays in the marketplace. According to Price there is little to be gained in talking up the technology.

    “There is no point taking about digital to the clients. As Lachlan says, ‘Customers just want printing and want to deal with someone who knows what they’re doing, gives them great service and quality product.”

  • CMYKhub powers up with a HP Indigo 10000

    Trent Nankervis installs Australia’s fourth HP Indigo 10000 press to boost capacity in short-run, high-value print to meet the expectations of its print industry customers.

    The premier ‘for trade’ supplier made over $2 million investments in the Melbourne facility following a survey of its reseller customers that identified a market for such items as high-quality digitally printed short-run A4 landscape perfect bound and saddle-stitched booklets as well as A2 size jobs such as point-of-sale posters.

    CMYKhub is setting a cracking pace nationwide in press investment and technology upgrades as it keeps pace with growing demand from its printer resellers. According to Nankervis the growth is a vindication of CMYKhub’s commitment to never sell direct.

    Now the addition of a HP Indigo 10000 to the Heidelberg West facility, only the fourth one to go into Australia, is set to expand the range of products it can offer its resellers even more.

    While admitting it is difficult to do a definitive ROI on new equipment Nankervis is convinced the HP Indigo 10000 is the right technology at the right time. “We made the decision after interviewing our customers to find out what they wanted. There was overwhelming positive response for the work the HP Indigo 10000 can produce,” he said.

    The new press is still settling in, running test sheets this week, although Nankervis confessed himself surprised at the quality of the first few sheets that came off the machine. “I’ve tested many different machines but these were as good as it gets,” he said.

    "It’s a balance of timing and technology," Trent Nankervis, MD, CMYKhub

    To complement the new press, CMYKhub has also installed a Scodix digital embossing press, which is capable a high lift spot UV effect adding impact with a high-spot gloss finish to printed material.

    The intention is to fill the press with new work, not take it from the current line up of HP Indigo 5600 and the Komori Lithrone G40P 8-colour H-UV perfector. (He traded in the HP Indigo 7600.)

    Working on the premise that the market only has so much capacity for this time of equipment and that within 18 or so months there will be six to ten of them in operation, Nankervis believes now is the time to make the move.

    “It’s a balance of timing and technology. I believe the 10000 technology is now quite acceptable where it is. There are other brands in the market but they’re not ready yet. I did a lot of testing and by the time the others are ready it will be a challenge to consider a two million dollar investment with so many already in the market,” he said.

    As an avid technologist he believes that while the future will belong to inkjet it’s not ready yet in terms of repeatability and maintenance. One of the first early fans of Benny Landa’s Nanography, he recognises that the emerging press company is now focusing more on the packaging market with its five colour and coater machine. The commercial version of the Landa press is still some years off.

    “At this stage the HP Indigo 10000 is the best option for commercial printers such as us,” he said.

    The digital engine is only one of a number of new investments, mostly in Ryobi LED-UV perfectors, the latest going into Queensland following a similar post-PacPrint installation in Sydney.

    “It depends on the size of the market and the demand. Here in Melbourne we need the big Komori but other markets are different,” said Nankervis.

    CMYKhub resellers will shortly receive sample kits to assist them take maximum advantage of the new products from the HP Indigo 10000. “We feel the short run 6-page A4 brochures and landscape A4 brochures will aid the resellers to tackle markets like the real estate industry,” said Nankervis.







  • Google Books – evil or not: Andy McCourt’s ReVerb

    Something relating to print reverberated in the past week. It was an ABC doco on Google’s attempts to digitize every book in the world. What began as a noble endeavour to enable universal access to humankind’s entire storehouse of knowledge has descended into litigation and castigation for copyright breaches.

    Called ‘Google and the World Brain’ this documentary by British director Ben Lewis invokes the works of famed Sci-Fi visionary HG Wells, who in the 1930s advocated such a ‘World Brain’ saying: “Without a World Encyclopaedia to hold men’s minds together in something like a common interpretation of reality, there is no hope whatever of anything but an accidental and transitory alleviation of any of our world troubles,” adding, in this pre-computer era: “a sort of mental clearing house for the mind, a depot where knowledge and ideas are received, sorted, summarized, digested, clarified and compared.”

     While HG (as in Wells, not Roy &), comes across as a nice old-school socialist duffer, like all extreme lefties, his vision tends to depend on total conformity – getting rid of anyone who won’t toe the socialist line; Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot took this to extremes. For most of his life, HG was also stridently anti-semitic; his advocating for the abolishment of Judaism was only tempered by a deathbed recantation in a holocaust-influenced apology to Chaim Weitzman.

    Wells’ World Brain idea was certainly complicit with his vision for a global society or, as has been said: “Inside every Socialist is a Totalitarian screaming to get out.” Wells even coined the term ‘New World Order’ – but what of Goggle’s intent?

     Rapine of the libraries?

    Scanning and digitizing all the world’s books means access to libraries. Some of these books are very valuable and need special handling, or the use of facsimile copies. Starting around 2002, Google made deals with major libraries around the world to scan out-of-copyright books. They patented new book scanning technology that enable the books to be scanned part open; not flat which can damage the binding. The only problem was; they scanned copyright books as well.

    In 2005, the US Author’s Guild sued Google for ‘massive copyright infringement.’ Later suits came from publishers in France, Germany and China. Settlements were agreed but Google cited ‘fair use’ of books, and the fact they were undertaking a useful service to humanity, as a defense. As the lawsuits continue, the maker of the documentary sheds a more commercial light on the project:

    “I didn’t think this was an organization that was totally suspicious when I started out. I thought, ‘These people are immensely imaginative. They come up with these remarkable new inventions – like a search engine that really works. And, of course, they subscribe to the ideology of the Internet: free culture and free information. But, by the time I’d finished the film I decided that [along with] any belief they had in that system, they’d also worked out that there was a way to make $150 billion. To ruthlessly exploit new-market economic areas that other people hadn’t spotted, and then try and dominate them in a monopolistic way. As you walk through the door there, it’s almost like you can feel the temperature change.”

     Thirty million scanned books later, the project has slowed as Google encounters opposition that has been articulated even by country Presidents such as Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s former chief Sarkozy. Google’s slogan ‘don’t be evil’ is under the microscope as its intent appears that it might be: ignore copyright; rip off authors; use the meta-data gleaned from people’s book searches to invade their privacy, track and profile them and sell this information to the highest bidders.

    A book is not a series of tweets

    Ben Lewis’ excellently-made documentary (which you can download or buy here tends to draw this conclusion as it was repeatedly stymied for access to Google executives and even when granted, strict rules on what questions could be asked were imposed, such as ‘we can’t talk about books, only search.’

    Phoo-ey! Even the competency of the Google Book project was called into question, with miss-scanned pages and the laughable categorizing of Walt Whitman’s masterpiece ‘Leaves of Grass’ under ‘Gardening!’

    Quote of the show goes to Jaron Lanier, author of ‘Who Owns the Future’ and ‘You are Not a Gadget.’ Lanier was a computer and internet wunderkind, virtually inventing virtual reality and working at Atari but he is the voice-in-the-wilderness warning of the perils in allowing too few to know too much. The one of his I really liked and laughed out loud at was: “A book is not a series of tweets.”

    Therein lays the essence. Google is trying to do something new with a medium that is already perfect. You can make a raw diamond better by cutting it but once cut, it should be at its apogee…a perfect, never-to-be-sullied representation of sheer beauty and art. What makes books so perfect as a medium to convey thoughts, ideas, knowledge, rants, lies, damn lies and statistics is this:

    Books are deliciously anarchic and disgracefully evasive, so much so that many can only be tracked by treasure hunt. They are a disgusting alphabet-soup of dire individualism. Once the cover is open, you are immersed in the machinations of the author who will cause a multiplicity of synapse reactions in your brain, turn your stomach, palpitate your heart and cause you to orgasm if you are lucky. They are the expressions of individuals, not some form of mythical ‘collective wisdom’ – belief in which is the pernicious road to misery, totalitarianism, mediocrity and shame. There exists shared wisdom, not collective wisdom. A camel is a horse designed by collective wisdom. Collectivism = Marxism.

    Google does such great Search, AdWords, free Email and Browser – why has the company gone off the rails on the Book project? Answer, because books are more powerful, a beast that will never be tamed so long as a man or woman’s reach exceeds his or her grasp, (‘…or what’s a heaven for?’ – Robert Browning.)

    Give me books: paper, cloth, leather, inky and fibre ones. Dirty, smelly, outrageous, literate and badly written, shelf-worn, digitally remastered, Dymock-pocked, old and new, sordid and sacred……… or give me death.

  • Agfa gets back into digital printing with MGI

    After a pioneering history in the digital revolution, including the first Australian agency of Xeikon in the early 1990s, the iconic Belgium-based business has returned to commercial digital print with its local launch of the French-built Meteor DP 8700 XL.

    Promoting a ‘click-free’ business model, Agfa intends to succeed where other suppliers failed, including Ferrostaal and GBC, in convincing the local industry of the benefits of the Meteor. It will also promote a wide range of equipment from manufacturer MGI, including the iFoil digital embellisher in competition with the Scodix from Currie Group.

    The Meteor DP 8700 XL press made its debut at Agfa Graphics open house functions in Melbourne this week, giving guests a chance to sit in on a demonstration and catch up with specialists from MGI and AGFA Graphics. It joins the company’s UV-based wide format printers, notably the Anapurna, as part of its digital imaging stable.

    Against a backdrop that urged visitors to ‘Stay Ahead’, the Meteor ran through a number of print jobs on a variety of substrates from offset paper to envelopes, synthetics stocks and rigid plastics up to 1020mm in length. The demonstrations placed the press as a viable and cost-effective alternative for those looking at flexibility in the high-end digital sector, but for Mark Brindley, managing director Agfa Oceania, it is the ability to dramatically increase margins and lift profitability which is most important.

    “With the average profit on print running at around five per cent, it’s no wonder the Meteor’s ability to produce general commercial work with a profit margin of 20, 30, 50 or even 70 per cent is creating interest around the world,” said Brindley. “Add to that the flexibility to diversify into new revenue streams, including high margin products like oversize print, packaging, labels and plastic cards, to name a few, and the Meteor really can be a key to healthier margins and improved business profitability.”

    Ray Pena from MGI detailed the attractive purchase price, the ability to print to standard offset papers, the flexibility to expand into more lucrative markets, as key differentiators, but the ability to free businesses from the traditional digital ‘click charge’ model is perhaps the most critical, he said.

    Presenting the MGI Meteor DP 8700 XL are (from left): AGFA Graphics’ Mark Brindley, managing director, Oceania; Peter Williams, sales & technical specialist and Harry Kontogiannis, manager – wide-format inkjet and commercial printing, with Raymond Pena Jnr, MGI International director of ßales & communications.

    “While click charge contracts may allow manufacturers to set a lower initial purchase price, which looks attractive, they lock press owners in to significantly higher ongoing costs, particularly when machine upgrades and trailing residual contract commitments are factored in,” Pena warned. “Under a click charge contract, every image is costing you money…and you’re committed to paying for agreed production levels, even if your volumes slip or vary from month to month.”

    Brindley acknowledged that these are challenging times for the industry, “but the Meteor press range, and the wider range of innovative products from MGI, offer some exciting solutions and options for businesses,” he said.

    “We’re delighted to be partnering with MGI and look forward to working with key decision makers over the next weeks and months to help them ‘imagine the possibilities’ for their businesses.”


  • Process at the heartbeat of printing – Print21 magazine

    Making print into a viable manufacturing process requires more than hardworking presses. It also needs sophisticated production systems designed with strict but flexible parameters to make the important decisions, removing the influence of any single individual. Then it needs management with the discipline to make sure the system works all the time. Meet Anthony Thirlby who is re-writing the book on the future of printing.

    There is far too much emotion in printing. Most commercial printers run on gut feeling, a dread mixture of anxiety and hope. Uncertain of their true costs and quoting blindly against the market, they are forever second-guessing themselves and the competition. Many live in a permanent fog of aspiration that detracts from the productivity and profitability of the business. Not so Anthony Thirlby, managing director of ESP Colour in the southern English town of Swindon. The mild-mannered Northern Irishman has built a groundbreaking rules-based production process that is not only transparent and up to the minute, but makes all the quoting decisions based on real time situational feedback.

    In doing so he has created something of a Mecca for printers worldwide, including the upper echelon of Australian and New Zealand printers, who have made the journey to his West Country plant. They come to learn how to run a printing business in a market that is more and more owned by print management firms and web-to-print, where margins are under constant pressure and where automation is no longer simply an option.

    “I operate on negative margins, because the software looks at that job in isolation but at any one time I have 50 A5 jobs going through the system." Anthony Thirlby.

    They come because Thirlby claims a unique statistic; he maintains that his two Heidelberg XL105 and XL106 machines are the world’s most productive presses. Between them they print 155 million impressions a year; their performance is such that Heidelberg uses them as R&D platforms. The presses have a default speed of 18,000 sheets per hour, the rated top speed from Heidelberg, which delivers an average net speed of 17,763. Highly automated, a four-colour plate changeover, from last sheet to first sheet, takes two minutes, a statistic Thirlby is attempting to lower. “Although I’m not sure if the physics are possible,” he says.

    The printers from around the world also come because Thirlby is happy to share his experiences with them, aware that it is not what you know, but what you do with what you know that matters. And there is no doubt that the disciplined former pro-footballer runs one of the most formidable benchmark printing operations anywhere in the world.

    His operating statistics are impressive. Although it is not a huge business, the company’s £14 million pro rata turnover is generated through printing 19,000+ jobs per year at an average run length of 3,900 from 24,000 orders. To achieve this, two prepress operators oversee all the orders processed, using one Kodak platesetter with the capacity of 60 plates per hour that produces 135,000 plates per year.

    As with most printing companies, post-press production drives the business. That’s where there are capacity issues. Every hour of press time generates a ratio of no more than four hours of finishing. Cutting folding, saddle stitching and perfect binding are all CIP4 linked and part of the process.

    “Fold, stitch, trim is our core product,” explains Thirlby. “When I get very busy on that product I adjust my rates and go into the perfect binding product range. I’ve always got prepress and press capacity available. I don’t always have post press capacity. That’s the bottleneck.”

    And you know he is continuously working on addressing the problem.

    Automation is the heartbeat

    There is no doubt that ESP Colour is a very efficiently run printing company but what sets it apart is Thirlby’s focus on the reality of the market. He addresses the challenges of quoting for work with real time-information from a rules-based automated workflow built on Tharstern’s Primo MIS software linked with Kodak Prinergy. This he describes as the “heartbeat” of the system.

    “We’ve never been emotional about print. Ninety-eight per cent of what we print goes on one size and that satisfies 96 per cent of all the print in the UK. The other four per cent you can’t pay me enough to do,” he says.

    Automation kicks in at the very start of the process when the system generates a quote based on the pre-ordained rules, with the values continually adjusted. This takes out any emotion in the process. Thirlby quotes 140 jobs a month and wins on average 41 per cent of them. The time for a job to convert from quote to press is 5.2 days and it is rare that any one job will be quoted with a positive margin.

    “I operate on negative margins, because the software looks at that job in isolation but at any one time I have 50 A5 jobs going through the system. I charge 16 minutes make-ready that we do in sub-two now. Bindery is charged at 45 minutes to an hour for set up but it takes us five minutes. We don’t differentiate between customers, we just do product.

    “We’re measuring our sales throughput in real time. We’re selling on added value. The top line value is irrelevant; it’s sales minus purchases and what’s left is the bit for us.”

    ESP Colour’s break even is £380,000 in added value, which will show as a negative in the system even though the business will be already ahead of break even by some considerable distance. The UK print market is arguably ahead of Australia and New Zealand in having made the adjustment to the new market realities of printing. There is astringency to buying, selling and terms of credit that is more pronounced than here. The print management market in the UK is very mature and more pervasive. As a result it is unavoidable. Almost half of ESP Colour’s work comes from print management.

    “The highest level of available credit insurance in the UK is within the print management sector and they always have suitable products available. We have an average of 61 days creditor days across the business, which is good for the UK. The industry average in the UK is 77 days. Print management provides the majority of what we do for eight months of the year. In March print management is approximately 40 per cent of our turnover. We use that market to recover overhead and we use other markets to generate margin.

    “Working days in the month have a huge impact on my pricing. Our overhead structure is based on 20 working days. So when March is 21 and April is 21, I’ll discount my prices by 8 per cent. We work on pure volume,” he says.

    Process runs itself

    The decision to automate the workflow, starting with the quoting system, has shaped the business in different ways. It placed efficiency and process at the centre of the organisation. Thirlby has developed a unique workplace culture to deal with it. For instance, there is no production manager nor sales manager.

    “We have no middle management in the business. No production manager, no bindery manager. The only hand-off manager in the business is the customer service manager and she personally looks after £2 million plus of accounts.

    “The process runs the business. We have guys that are responsible for every shift but we don’t have guys with bums on seats. We have always employed the best people we can get. We pay them 20 per cent above average wages, with healthcare, gym membership and insurance. They get to work on the best presses, using the best substrates they can run. Basically, we never want to give people a reason not to do their job correctly.

    “I’ve never worked on a machine. However, I understand the machine inside out, I specify the machines and work with the machine manufacturers but I’ve always been a firm believer that technology takes care of itself. Of course, you have to have fantastic people to apply the process. The average age in this business is 36. By utilising and developing technology I can prolong their careers.”

    Schedule is the method

    ESP Colour's pressroom with the Heidelberg XL105 and XL106 machines, claimed as the world’s most productive presses. Between them they print 155 million impressions per year.

    Getting everything in the system to work in sync is a complex and sophisticated process. A lot of it passes off as common sense but it involves deep knowledge of what it takes to get the machinery to be able to operate at maximum efficiency. For instance, the work of the presses is made easier by a steady incremental increase in paper weights throughout the day.

    “The way we schedule is quite unique. We never schedule by delivery date; we schedule by paper weight and folding scheme. We’re incrementally going up and down the paper weights, which makes the press work less. Changing sheet size for us is 22 minutes of downtime. You cannot achieve the impression counts we do without feeding the things correctly.

    “I never worry about the amount of work we need to process in a short period of time. It’s a given. I’m always available and I always have capacity. Our average section of a job is on press for less than 14 minutes.

    “We only print spot colours one shift a week, so every spot colour quote that goes out is for five working days lead time. Four-colour work schedule is three days, specials are five days.”

    Paper selection is also hugely critical when working at this level of productivity. Not all substrates will run at 18,000 per hour consistently. Every new press that goes in, and the most recent was last year, is product tested with different papers for eight weeks. Any substrate or sheet size that does not run without problems at 18,000 is discarded.

    “All we ever quote for is our core product range – 70gsm to 400gsm offset; 90gsm to 400gsm coated. With that I cover nearly everything that is available for commercial printing – conventional marketing literature, direct mail inserts, catalogues. There’s nothing on my shop floor you don’t see on any other printer’s.”

    With clients logging into the Tharstern system on a secure web page that enables them to track the progress of the job, there are no hard colour proofs. When a job enters the workflow, a content proof is produced purely for internal purposes. According to Thirlby, there was an initial reluctance from the clients but he won them over.

    “We know and understand colour through technology, better than most. Clients formed the biggest obstacle at the beginning in getting away from hi-res proofs. But I came up with a commercial proposition to stop them wanting it. When you look at the life cycle of a printed job, traditionally over 55 per cent of the time is spent on proofing. We now do less than 1 per cent of hard copy proofing.”

    The arrival of web-to-print has only reinforced the supremacy of automation. The ESP online system, like the rest of the MIS, is a development built on Tharstern’s Primo. Online orders are ganged up using EFI Metrix. They then follow the same rules-based processes as the conventional workflow, completely lights out and hands off.

    Passionate about process

    While Thirlby has taken the emotion out of the day-to-day operation of his commercial printing business, he is passionate about the process and the future of the industry. He is in great demand as a speaker and presenter and works closely with Tharstern, Kodak and Heidelberg to continually improve the system. He employs four full-time programmers to continually refine the automation. But he is very aware of his limitations.

    “A lot of our competitors pretend they can do everything. They go to the client and say, ‘We can do all your work, and we’re fantastic’. We don’t say that. I’ve never met a print company worldwide that can do everything well. We understand how to get to a sellable sheet better than most. We understand colour better than most. It is important that you position yourself in the market and understand the product range you do efficiently. Only then can you get product stability in the system.”

    There is a brave new world of printing since the advent of print managers and web-to-print ordering. Anyone who imagines they can stand apart from the forces shaping the market is likely delusional. Certainly they’re unlikely to succeed against pragmatic realists such as Anthony Thirlby. In his pursuit of efficiency he may have taken the emotion out of the printing process but he has retained a true competitive passion for winning.

  • Do you want democracy with that?

    The battle for Tecoma is heating up as the Dandenong community continues its struggle against the might of international fast food corporation McDonalds with the help of Garry Muratore,  popular printing industry identity and Print21 columnist.

    The long-running battle to prevent Maccas locating a 27/7 hamburger joint in the township against the wishes of the community has fired up Muratore. The well-known colour specialist is proving to be a masterful campaigner when it comes to winning the fight for hearts and minds.

    As part of the community action Muratore has helped the anti-Maccas campaign go global across the internet, throughout the local and international media, making the battle for Tecoma into a cause célèbre. Radio, television, internet blogs and even a rock video document the progress of the battle over the course of almost two years. CNN has broadcast an account of the struggle in the USA.

    Sit-ins, community gardens, court cases and street demos have focused attention on the normally sleepy Victorian village. So far the giant multi-national shows no sign of backing off. Muratore believes it is afraid of setting a precedent if it caves in under community pressure.

    The colourful graphic arts professional says he is committed to the fight no matter how long it takes. Here’s his latest blog on The Guardian.

  • Fuji Xerox Premier Partners focus on what matters at PacPrint

    Up to 170 of the region’s top digital printers have come to Melbourne to meet, talk and network before getting a view of the company’s latest inkjet engine shown for the first time.

    With a theme of Focusing on ‘what matters most’, the delegates from all over the Asia Pacific region gathered at the Crown Convention Centre to be welcomed to Australia by Nick Kugenthiran, managing director of Fuji Xerox Australia, and Shuji Aso, corporate vice president from Japan.

    Presentations by motivational and technical speakers, included a briefing from Elliot Harper, chief technology officer, Digital Logic, who set the tone of the show with an explanation of the world beyond cross media.

    Nick Kugenthiran played host to Fuji Xerox Premier Partners in Melbourne.

    Round table conferences and Q&A sessions with advertising agency print buyers filled the first day of the three-day conference. Delegates partied into the night at Melbourne’s Showtime venue on the banks of the Yarra.

    The numbers of Premier Partners are set to give a boost to the opening day attendance at PacPrint with an expected traffic jam at the Fuji Xerox stand in the afternoon. A technology showcase of the new inkjet machine will be centre stage as well as the first showing of the super-fast Docu-Wide machine.

    This is the first time the Fuji Xerox Premier Partners conference has been held in Melbourne. According to delegates the ability to access the latest information as well as the  networking opportunities and sharing views on how printers are faring in the many different countries throughout the region makes the conference a worthwhile kick off to PacPrint.

  • Printing is for printers – Print21 magazine article

    Large printing companies are a good and necessary part of the industry. They have the scale and the capacity to invest in new technologies and create the jobs to employ and train the next generation of printers. They instil efficiencies in production, service the needs of the largest print buyers and, at best, anchor the printing industry as a modern manufacturing industry.

    This needs to be said in the light of recent events but the issue at stake is not the size of printing companies but their ownership. The recent debacle came about as a result of investors attempting to use printing as a cat’s paw to engage in financial manipulation. The hedge funds and private equity people had no interest in running printing companies. It was a financial play, plain and simple, and as such they deserved their fate. Unfortunately they took down a lot of employees and suppliers in their fall.

    With the smoke clearing it is time to take stock and celebrate the end of the price war that has bastardised printing in the region for the past seven years; Patrick Howard

    Their demise clears the ground and, by and large, leaves the industry in the hands of people who intend to make a living from producing print. This is a very healthy thing. Owner-operators are the historical tradition of printing. The very name ‘printer’ means so much more than someone operating a press. It identifies the owner of the business.

    Most printing businesses are small-to-medium affairs employing less than10 staff, many under five. Indeed, Clive Denholm of CMYKhub, a man who has his fingers on the pulse, tells me there are 14,000 businesses in print sales in Australia, with an average complement of 1.1 staff. These are mostly designers who have become the frontline and first point of contact for people wanting to create a piece of printing. He also quotes the IBIS statistic of 5,700 commercial printing companies.

    At the far end of the scale there is IPMG, perhaps the largest printing company in the region after PMP. Certainly it’s in a lot better shape than the ailing publicly-listed giant whose share price is currently languishing around 24 cents after dipping below 14 cents early this year. IPMG is privately owned by the Hannan family who have been in the business of printing for over a generation. Their only purpose in owning and running the number of printing companies they do is to make money… from the print. Their investment in a greenfield site at Warwick Farm with a multi-million dollar purchase of two manroland 48-page state-of-the-art web presses is indicative of a long-term vision. Perceptively, Steven Anstice, the retiring CEO of IPMG, said he would not spend a dollar in commercial sheetfed printing because the market had become totally debased.

    The survival, or perhaps resurrection, of Blue Star printing under the Selig family puts another family back in the saddle of one of the top four printers. For sure, Geoff Selig has private backers, everyone needs financiers, but importantly he is in control. He has repudiated decisively the strategy of being a big printing company purely for the sake of it by not taking up the New Zealand business. He ‘gave’ the ACT business to Opus. These are the actions of a printer who wants to run a profitable business, not bulk it up in order to launch it on the stock exchange, the original PE strategy.

    Tom Sturgess in New Zealand is in a similar position owning the rest of Blue Star and the remains of GEON. But there are many large, efficient, profitable, family-owned printing companies in the industry… too many to even begin to list.

    With the smoke clearing it is time to take stock and celebrate the end of the price war that has bastardised printing in the region for the past seven years. This is not overstating the case. The genius behind Gresham Private Equity’s foray into printing, Roy McKelvie, told me the strategy was to mop up the small printing companies. His tactics were to buy the latest equipment in order to gain the lowest production cost and then to “never be beaten on price”.

    I took this to be a declaration of a price war on the industry. How long it remained the tactics of GEON is debateable after the original strategy was derailed by the GFC. But it certainly informed the corporate culture there for far too long. Owners who have a fair dinkum stake in the profitability and long-term survival of their printing companies would never adopt that kind of suicidal pricing.

    It has taken a while but, with one or two exceptions, the printing industry is back in the hands of printers. Suddenly the future is looking brighter.

  • Get an APPetite for APPS! Andy McCourt’s ReVerb.

    Mobile Apps set to ignite the next print revolution. News that spending on marketing-oriented print is set to decline by 6% over the next two years is sobering indeed but the intoxicating counterfoil is that mobile marketing dollars will increase by 8.8% over the same period.

    So, Mr Printer; you have digitized your workflow. Well done indeed. Files come in, are checked, preflighted, colour corrected, imposed and proofed before chemistry-free CTP rips the plates that are automatically loaded onto your press; or the files are sent directly to a digital press. Great.

    Of course, you have also installed W2P on your website or already have your head in the Cloud? Fantastic, that’s the way to go; make it easy for any customer to send in files over the internet, pay for the job and receive the fruits of your craft within days. Terrific; you’re up to date.

    Now that you are digital and online, it’s time to sit back, make sure the software is kept updated and watch the work come in, right? Sorry mates, the digital world never stands still – you should know that. I’m here to tell you about the next wave of change that will impact on the Graphic Arts and the good news is: now is the perfect time to start planning for it.

    The fastest growing communications medium in human history is the mobile Smartphone and kindred devices such as Tablets. By October last year, the number of Smartphones in use worldwide exceeded one billion. Analysts such as Gartner and IT Strategies predict it will pass two billion sometime in 2015 and three billion by the end of 2017. The total population of the world including children and the aged is around seven billion.

    While the first ‘Smartphone’ launch is claimed by IBM with its Simon device in 1992, current logic would suggest the modern Smartphone revolution began in 2007 when Apple introduced the iPhone. This was quickly followed by the development of third-party ‘Apps’ – short for Applications or Applets – that offered extra features, games and graphical experiences.

    Six years later and we have Samsung leading the global Smartphone market, Apple still posting strong sales and every other phone maker jumping on the bandwagon including electronics giant Sony. Larger touch-screens all the way up to ten-inch Tablets are facilitating more sophisticated graphics but the overriding success story in Smartphones is the App. Approximately 50 million iOS Apps are downloaded from the Apple Appstore or iTunes every day. A slightly lesser number, but growing faster, are downloaded from the Android Appstores such as Google Play.

    Many of these Apps are games and simple business/lifestyle tools but increasingly we are seeing B2B applications involving printed output.

    One of the first was Yes, I know this is a website but the product is an iPhone App that enables you to take a picture, enter a name and address or select from your address book, add a greeting message and upload. A few days later a glossy postcard using your photo arrives at the designated address. The cost? $2 including postage – cheaper than many stand-alone postcards. All production is on HP Indigo presses, starting with the original Swiss site but now including multiple production hubs in Singapore, USA and elsewhere. Millions of printed cards have been sent this way.

    This success was emulated in Australia by Matt Sanford’s with the addition of greeting cards, calendars and spoof magazine covers. Online greeting card pioneer Moonpig has also gone App for both iOS and Android, , licensed here by David Minnett’s Momentum Group in Crow’s Nest, Sydney,

    It’s not a long stretch of the bungy rubber to see how postcards and greetings sourced via mobile Apps can lead to other printed products, with the unique advantage of marketing the concept to almost half of the world’s population! Business cards would appear to be a natural progression, using Apps with templates, design ideas and finishing choices.

    Tablet computers such as the iPad and Samsung Galaxy Tab offer large, almost A4, screens and lend themselves to more adventurous graphic design. The new breed of higher resolution phone cameras – 8MP+ – even offer the possibility of a brochure being designed, written and illustrated, all from an App. Most current printing Apps such as PrintShare: tend to be restricted to plain sheet production on remote printers but a clever App developer should have no problem building in finishing options, fold choices and so on.

    The secret is in APPtitude

    Developing new Apps involves coding and design that is probably outside the field of expertise of most printers. Using a hobbyist APP developer who has just written a game may not be advisable. Good Apps need to run bug-free on at least iOS and Android platforms and nothing will kill your ‘Killer App’ faster than bad reviews and problematic user experiences.

    So, ‘where d’ya geddit?’ Answer is a proficient App development studio. They are the rock stars of modern IT – stimulated by stories of $5,000 Apps generating $3 million in downloads within weeks – very few do that. The popular Angry Birds game App reportedly cost around $140,000 to develop and has generated close to $500 million in sales – but we’re talking games here.

    A good A2P (App-to-Print™) program can cost anything from $10,000 to $50,000 to write and test. Then it needs launching on the App stores, a sister website, marketing using all the tricks of online affiliate plans, google Adwords, SEO and more conventional means. Once developed by a professional App developer – it’s yours and you can sell to the world or just to your local customers but it would be folly to restrict it to just one country.

    The most important part of any App development program is the initial brief and you will be met with questionnaires to determine the desired features – accurately. Just as there are really no two identical workflows, even from the same supplier, there will be many variations on successful A2Ps. Oh, and don’t forget the Non-Disclosure Agreement.

    The beauty is that A2P is in its infancy, there is plenty of time to get on board. Sure, as with W2P, there will eventually be ‘off the shelf’ customizable A2P programs and plug-ins to W2P but for the moment, your best bet it to talk with an App development studio because it is not as simple as it might look.

    So, as the great Johnny O’Keefe sang “If you wanna be ‘Appy, sing an ‘Appy song!”

    I hope you APPreciate the advice…A2P Apps are here to stay.




  • The quick and the ‘not-so-dead’ – the return of quick printers

    Quick printers once had to battle for their reputations but now they’re fighting to regain independence with a new association in the USA aiming to represent smaller printers again.

    Quick printers were at the forefront of the move to on-demand printing. Using a combination of small offset and early digital technology they transformed the industry. In the USA, the National Association of Quick Printers (NAQP) was a highly effective industry group but some years ago it was gobbled up by a larger association.

    Now Harry Brelsford, one of the original members of the NAQP and owner of Varsity Graphics on the Gold Coast, has signed on with some old friends who are taking up the fight. The  National Print Owners Association (NPOA) is a reinvention of the quick printers association, formed with the aim of giving control back to members.

    According to Harry, the feeling is that the larger association has not performed for the smaller/digital printer.

    “A group of the old guys who where involved with the NAQP got together and launched the new National Print Owners Association in December last year. The main instigators are John Stewart and Mike Stevens, both printers and both who have visited Australia on speaking assignments.

    “I signed up on New Years Day – so that it is easy for me to remember. I’ll be attending their first conference in April in New Orleans. I think I am the only Aussie member at this stage,” he said.

    In an introductory letter to ‘fellow printers,’ John Stewart lays out the new groups genesis, motives and goals.

    The National Print Owners Association (NPOA) was launched by 19 printers, just like yourself, on December 20, 2012. Since then, we have attracted more than 170 printers and new applications arrive daily. We have a great spring conference planned for April 18-21st in New Orleans featuring great speakers and lots of time to socialize with fellow printers.

     We have a number of unique services on the drawing board, including free downloads of unique spreadsheets for determining costs for colour and black and white copies, calculating budgeted hourly rates, and break-even calculations. We will soon be launching a member-run resource centre staffed by experts within our ranks, and a special member-only resource page for reporting the latest and lowest prices for recently purchased equipment such as creasers, folders, presses, collators, inkjet printers, large format printers and the myriad of machines necessary in our industry.

     You can take advantage of our special “New Member Discounts” ranging between 18-29 percent if you sign-up between now and Jan. 31, 2013. By joining NPOA, you can also save 23 percent on our New Orleans Conference Registration Fees as well, but you have to act now. Please visit our new NPOA web site today and read why so many printers are signing up for this brand new trade association.

    We look forward to you joining this new ‘member-owned, member-run’ trade association designed to serve printers just like you.

  • End of the road for GEON private equity owners

    A massive operational restructuring lies ahead for the troubled printing company as US investor KKR Capstone and Sydney-based fund manager, Allegro were handed the company on a plate to save it from going into administration last Friday. Gresham PE passed it over to the financiers for a ‘small’ undisclosed sum, drawing a line under its disastrous involvement in the printing industry.

    GEON will be restructured by the two companies ‘special situations’ group, which will take a hands-on management role. According to reports Jamie Bolton, KKR Capstone director will be involved in the restructuring. It would be unrealistic to expect there will be no loss of jobs.

    The private equity ownership saga draws to an end with the revelation that GEON, whose earnings are now (as reported in the press) as less than $10 million per year, was headed for administration if no one picked it up. The dramatic drop in earnings from the estimated $60 million when Gresham Private Equity bought the company in 2007, illustrates the dire straits of the company, which is the largest sheetfed producer in the region.

    At the time of Gresham’s initial involvement GEON was valued at over $320 million with the Bank of Scotland International (BOSI) lending the private equity fund over $250 million to finance the deal. The strategy was to launch GEON on the stock market, a plan that disappeared in the global financial crisis.

    On its website GEON claims it once had revenues over $200 million.

    BOSI sold the loan as part of a $350 million portfolio to KKR and Allegro last year – the GEON component identified at a rock bottom price of around $5 million. As part of the deal they became GEON’s primary lenders owed $80 million that was due to be repaid in 2015. That will now be written off the books as the new owners look to rescue what they can from the loss-making business.

    Currently GEON has 1,200 employees in Australia and New Zealand. It faces massive restructuring as its new owners try to extract what value they can from the company’s numerous printing and mailing sites on both sides of the Tasman.

    Allegro directors, Chester Moynihan and Adrian Loader, are based in Sydney and represent Australian superannuation funds among other forms of finance. They claim to manage over $300 million in investments.

    New York based KKR Capstone’s special situations group has invested in distressed debt in Australia in companies’ such as Nine Entertainment and Centro Property Group.

    Please note that all correspondence for comments relating to this article is now closed.

  • WWF will monitor APP’s new logging practice

    Decades of suspicion and enmity between the conservation organisation and the Indonesian paper maker mean it will take some time before anything is taken on trust.

    The World Wildlife Fund urges businesses in a statement to maintain a ban on APP paper until it can deliver truly independent confirmation that APP has stopped draining peat soils and pulping tropical forests with high conservation value. WWF hopes that APP’s new commitments will do more than just stop its own bulldozers, including protecting the natural forests in its concessions from all illegal activities.

    The organisation gave a veiled welcome to the announcement that  Sinar Mas Group’s Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) has stopped clearing Indonesia’s tropical forests and peatlands to allow an assessment of their conservation and carbon values. It accused the papermaker of failing to live up to previous commitments.

    APP runs two of the world’s largest pulp mills on Sumatra, where it produces the pulp for the toilet paper, tissue, copy paper and packaging that it sells worldwide. According to WWF the company and its wood suppliers are responsible for clearing more than 2 million hectares of rain forest on the island since beginning operations in 1984. Last year APP announced a move to clean up its act

    The company’s latest announcement came as part of APP’s new Forest Conservation policy during the quarterly update to its ‘Vision 2020′ Sustainability Roadmap. Teguh Ganda Wijaya, (pictured) Chairman of Sinar Mas Group-APP and head of the family’s pulp and paper business, was present when the announcement was made. It affirmed that no member of his APP group operating in Indonesia or China will accept any tropical timber felled in Indonesia after 31 January 2013 until company consultants have completed a full “high conservation value” and a “high carbon stock” assessment of their forest concessions.

    According to reports he cited recent natural disasters such as the flooding of Jakarta and Hurricane Sandy in the US as reasons why the company is changing its practices.

    “Climate change is a fact and we need to take action now in protecting the forests we already have and by planting more trees. We currently plant more than a million a day. At APP we have a saying that if you ‘use more paper, we plant more trees’, let’s make the world a botanical garden,” he is reported to have said.

    A statement on the company’s website has him saying, “This is a major commitment and investment from APP Group. We are doing this for the sustainability of our business and for the benefit of society. We hope our stakeholders will support our new Policy, help us along the way and urge other industry players to follow.

    “APP is a world leader in the pulp and paper business, and we will act as leaders are expected to do.”

    Greenpeace, another long-term critic of APP has warmly welcomed the news, describing the new policy as a major breakthrough. It immediately suspended its campaign against the company to allow it to deliver on its commitments.