Posts Tagged ‘Impala’

  • Q stands for quality – Print21 magazine feature

    The Swiss are not best known for their presence in the inkjet wide format market but that might be about to change. While the name swissQprint is yet to gain the stature of other Swiss printing brands, its owners leave no doubt as to their destination. Patrick Howard visited the manufacturing plant in Widnau, Switzerland, to meet the makers.

    The world does not suffer from a lack of wide format equipment manufacturers. Nor does it lack high-profile brands of wide format machines. The technology is not inherently difficult nor constitute a major barrier to entry; anyone can buy inkjet heads and some engineering expertise to fabricate wide format machines.

    All of which begs the question, what would make a small start-up enterprise in Switzerland think it could stake a claim in such a crowded market? And why would you want to try? I travelled from Zurich to the train station at Heerbrugg near the shores of Lake Constance on the Swiss-Austrian border to seek for answers to these questions.

    swissQprint is a bit of a phenomenon in the industry, seemingly springing fully formed out of nowhere to claim a Rolls Royce stature in wide format printing. It made its first international appearance at drupa in 2008, staking its claim with its initial product, the Oryx. This UV-inkjet flatbed machine was notable for the standards of precision and reliability that have come to represent the swissQprint range. It was manufactured to a level that few were expecting from the sector.

    Since then, swissQprint has progressed at a considered rate, bringing two new models to the market – the Impala in 2010 and, much to the industry’s surprise, the extra-wide format Nyala at this year’s drupa. Both models embodied design features and productivity improvements that responded to market demand. Each successor had more enhancements than its predecessor. For instance, the 512 Konica Minolta nozzles per printhead of the original Oryx (outputting 18m2/h in production mode), were superseded by 1,024 nozzles in the Impala (delivering up to 67m2/h), which was again trumped by the Nyala, outputting 72m2/h in production mode increasing to an industry beating 200m2h in draft mode. Just as important was the expansion in width going from 2.5 x 4m board to 3.2 x 4m in the Nyala.

    Some of the team behind the swissQprint brand (l-r) Reto Eicher, CEO, Petra Fetting, marcom, and Kilian Hintermann, product manager.

    Origins and motivation

    There is increasing industry acceptance of swissQprint’s claim that it produces the most productive and reliable machine on the market. Its stand at drupa was a magnet for visitors during most of the 14 days. The swissQprint brand is creating its own market niche and expectation. With three models under its belt, and with the Nyala claiming an ever-greater market share, it’s appropriate to look at how it all came about and what the future holds.

    swissQprint grew out of a larger Swiss manufacturing company that decided its fledgling inkjet business was not a strategic fit. In 2007, a handful of employees, led by CEO Reto Eicher, took the opportunity to leverage their expertise and experience in wide format UV technology to create a new business. They gained sufficient financial backing from a local Swiss regional finance partner, Rheintal Assetts, which is content with a minority shareholding, leaving the operation of the company to the owner-management. From the start, the strategy was to only make products that were best in class, not to compete on price against the majority of other wide format machines, and to develop an unparalleled service ethos.

    The swissQprint Impala.

    On meeting with the swissQprint people in their anonymous building in the Rhine Valley, there appears a disconnect between meeting the demands of an aggressively competitive market and the more reserved and considered long-term aims and ethos of the company. According to Eicher, the foundation of the company’s success rests as much on its personnel and service ethic as it does on its undoubted engineering excellence. A tall intense individual, he makes the point that most, nearly all, the employees are locals, living nearby. Their welfare is as important to the enterprise as market success, although obviously both need the other. There is no hunger for growth here, no five-year plan for market share, nothing that would make sense to a fund manager investing in any of the larger international corporations that play in the sector. Success is measured altogether differently at swissQprint and he seems a little phased by questions as to long-term strategy.

    “A difficult question. Five years ago we started with four people, now we are 35. We are happy how we are today but we see [that] you have to grow. And when you see what happens in the past three years, then I think we will grow,” he said.

    Not the cheapest

    Eicher is backed up in this approach to growth and the future by Kilian Hintermann, product manager, for whom there is no imperative in having a set strategy in place, other than to continue to do what is being done. He emphasises the benefits of flexibility that come from having all assembly processes in-house. Because swissQprint is so close to its customers, he does not believe there is need for big market surveys to discover what is the next step. “It’s not necessary, you just have to listen to what the customers are saying. We always have new ideas, of course. Nobody was expecting a new printer at drupa.

    “As long as we are earning money, we can invest in research and development. That is why we are not the cheapest. As long as we can do that, something will come and that is what customers want to see. Existing customers want to stay with us and buy the next generation.”

    There is no doubt that the Nyala has met the market’s expectations. Already 12 have been sold since its drupa launch, joining the 117 Oryx and 114 Impalas already in the market with the approximately 230 customers worldwide. And Hintermann is right, swissQprint is not the cheapest machine on the market, not by a long shot. The strategy appears to be to claim a top-of-the-market position by delivering a product that is unsurpassed in reliability and precision, in the tradition of classical Swiss engineering. The expectation is that swissQprint customers are prepared to pay for a superior performance from a dedicated manufacturer promoting a recognised brand.

    The other arm of the value proposition is assured levels of service. When people invest at this level, the expectation of back-up is extremely high. According to Reto Eicher, the company’s commitment to service is second to none.

    “We try to help everybody, all our customers. It’s not like in the United States where when they sell a machine one day, they are finished. We are not happy if the customer has a problem. It is important that we help them. This is our brand, this is very important to us. People who work here, everybody, are very passionate [about it]. I think you can feel it,” he said.

    What makes it work?

    All the passion in the world will not succeed unless it is backed up by the technology. The still relatively new industry of wide format printing is growing up, maturing in its expectations. It is moving further away from niche markets to become a mainstay of the commercial printing market. It is also finding a growing role in industrial processes. As such, its expectations are also developing. Speed and reliability are the essential requirements in a high-productivity market. This is where swissQprint plays. There is no doubt that the product is not for everyone, especially print-for-pay producers who are less concerned with quality than capital cost. There are plenty of other machines out there for that sector.

    For those who pin their future on the quality of output as well as being able to guarantee their delivery promises, swissQprint is a defining technology. Modular and flexible, robust to a fault, it is designed to meet every requirement in an industrial setting. Either flatbed or roll-to-roll, outputting on flexible or rigid materials, it has nine colour channels with the ability to handle specials and white colours, varnishes, and primers. With the Nyala there is a very smart option that allows oversized boards to be imaged and moved easily on reverse thrust air from the table.

    All of this is manufactured to the highest level at the Swiss manufacturing plant. It is an imprimatur of quality that is gaining ever-greater recognition and it is the basis on which the company is prospering. But behind the dedication to the high engineering standards, there is also a very pragmatic Swiss recognition of having to be cost effective, of meeting the market. There is no point in having the best machine if the price precludes making a profit. Kilian Hintermann is nothing if not a realist. He knows the market recognises the best recommendations are those from satisfied customers. Up to now, swissQprint appears to have no shortage of them.