Posts Tagged ‘Xingraphics’

  • Fine China plates go global – Print21 magazine feature

    In the world of printing plates there are three major brands… and then there is Xingraphics, the new kid on the block. Xingraphics is the only new brand from the powerhouse of China that has cut through onto the global stage. It is readily recognisable and is moving up the rankings. Safwen Hijazi talks to Patrick Howard about where the brand has come from and, more importantly, where it is going.

    Coca-Cola is the world’s number one brand, followed by IBM, Microsoft and Google (source: Bloomberg Business Week). The top 100 global brands represent a select club, one that has few connections to the printing and graphic arts industry. HP makes it in at #10, Canon at #33, Xerox at #57 – but all are listed as electronics brands. Adobe comes in at #88 as a supplier of computer software.

    It is not an easy task for a new enterprise to break through as a global brand in any industry. There are plenty of established competitors ready to protect their turf and customers with an inbuilt resistance to change; hard work is required to establish a reputation for quality and reliability.

    Few Chinese brands have made it into the global brand rankings. Despite being the manufacturing centre of the world, Chinese companies struggle to win recognition. At drupa, there were many Chinese graphic arts suppliers exhibiting but few with the marketing style and panache of their western counterparts.

    A standout exception is Xingraphics, the Chengdu-based plate manufacturer that has successfully marketed itself and its printing plates on the world stage since 2002. In the decade since it emerged from a partnership with Creo to stand on its own feet, Xingraphics has consistently pursued a strategy to make itself into a global brand. It has carefully developed a reputation for consistent quality and positioned itself not merely as an alternative supplier but as a differentiated plate manufacturer.

    It is now reaping the rewards, growing its market share to the stage where its goal of being among the top three suppliers is within sight. According to Safwen Hijazi (pictured right with Ferag’s Ian Martin), vice president, Xingraphics was always destined to be a global brand, its success only a matter of time.

    Way back when

    When Kodak bought out the Canadian-based Creo in the early part of the century, it left Xingraphics, the China-based manufacturing partner, with an opportunity and a dilemma. The opportunity was obvious, a world-class printing plate manufacturing process and an ambition to return to the global stage under its own brand. The dilemma was two-fold; Kodak had taken control of the Creo technology leaving Xingraphics to urgently develop its own proprietary thermal plates. It also had to develop an international distribution network from scratch as, under the original agreement, Creo handled all sales outside China.

    “The takeover left Xingraphics with no international presence,” says Hijazi. “What Xingraphics had gained from the partnership was world-class quality control and high-end manufacturing processes from a company that valued its brand. But it was left without any IP.”

    Under Kendall Zhao, chairman and president, Xingraphics developed its own proprietary positive thermal plate technology, FIT, in 2006. Within a couple of years it had successfully fought off patent infringement cases brought by Agfa to reaffirm its own unique plate technology.

    The development of its international network was arguably more difficult. Following a career with 3M and Kodak in Australia, Hijazi was working with Creo, then with Kodak in China, when he was approached to become the vice president of Xingraphics and take the company global. His job was to create and operate the global service, marketing and sales organisations around the world.

    In a whirlwind of accomplishment, he began by targeting Europe first with the inaugural distributor recruited in Spain. Since then he has created a network of what he prefers to call partners rather than just dealers in 58 countries, as well as major service centres in the Netherlands for Europe and Chicago for North and Latin America. He is responsible for developing the company’s overall strategy of not going directly to the market, except in China.

    A significant part of the strategy was to move early to partner with respected brands, companies of stature who were not competitors; Heidelberg, manroland and Dainippon Screen. None had a plate product of their own and all were established valued brands. Significantly, the three brands are still partners but now account for less than 20 per cent of Xingraphic’s overall business. Dainippon Screen is the preferred hardware supplier, bringing its top-of-the-range CTP brand to support Xingraphics. Heidelberg (excluding APAC region) and manroland remain plate resellers.

    In Australia, Safwen quickly sought out Ferag as a prospective partner, a respected brand with a solid industry presence but one without a plate brand of its own.

    “It has been a solid growing business ever since,” he says. “And 18 months ago, manroland came on board as another partner in Australia.”

    It takes time

    The quality of its distributors has proved integral to the success strategy of Xingraphics in Australia. Ian Martin, GM Ferag, says the increasing penetration of Xingraphics into the local industry is going well. “We’ve established a strong beach head with an increasing number of customers in the sheetfed commercial sector,” he says.

    According to Martin, the market regards Xingraphics as the alternative and, when combined with the Ferag reputation, it has a significant level of credibility.

    “The product has been excellent. The core aluminium comes from Japan and Germany, same as the other major brands that manufacture in China. The manufacturing process is the same.

    “In Australia, Xingraphics has proved to be a very flexible partner, quite supportive in reaching agreements around equipment,” he says.

    So far Xingraphics is mainly in sheetfed although Martin confirms he has run heatset web trials with both Fairfax and IPMG.

    “The plates performed well, there were no issues there, but it’s very difficult to break into that sector as there are some strong commercial deals in place.”

    Focus Press is a significant sheetfed customer for Xingraphics in NSW while Lithocraft features in Victoria. A notable web plant is the ethnic newspaper printing company, All Colour Media Printing in Victoria, which runs Goss Community presses.

    “Now we are getting to the stage that people are phoning us up. They know we have plates and they want to trial them. It is a real solid product that Xingraphics continues to enhance. They have improved chemistry and now have a true processless plate that will do very well,” says Martin.

    Quality and growth

    The company has three main products under its FIT plate brand; FIT News which, as the name suggests, is a newspaper plate; FIT Invado, an entry level, low-run plate that is targeted and sold mainly in developing countries; and FIT Extra Melior, the robust long-run, fast imaging plate with high resolution that is the main seller in markets such as Australia.

    In addition at drupa, Xingraphics brought out two new plates; FIT Primus, a low chemistry plate that uses half the standard amount, and FIT Eco-Primus , a plate the company maintains is the first totally processless plate. Both will be available in the local market before the end of the year.

    All plates are manufactured at the Xingraphics production plant in Chengdu which has four plate lines, three installed within the past five years, making it one of the most modern plants in the world. The plant has a capacity of 45,000 square metres but only 60 per cent is being used at present so there is a lot of upside. It does not make any violet-light plates or conventional plates, outsourcing any requirements for the Chinese market to other local plate manufacturers. All aluminium used is imported from Germany and Japan in order to get the required levels of consistency. Locally-manufactured aluminium made by international companies is only used in the manufacture of the Invado.

    Hijazi is the first to admit that selling against the stigma of ‘made in China’ proved a challenge at first.

    “In Australia, customers were cautious but we were helped by Ferag, by solid promotion of the brand and by word of mouth from customers who had good experiences. People spoke of it as being a good quality plate, delivering good value and, yes, saving some money. In many cases we outperform the competition.

    “We were also helped by the fact that the big three are all now producing their own plates in China.”

    Xingraphics currently has a 5 per cent share of the Australian market which, despite having considerably more in different countries i.e. 35 per cent in Spain, is about its overall world market share.

    “We have the highest growth in the industry. We’re coming from a smaller base but our growth is doubling year on year. We’re aiming at a 7 per cent market share in the next few years.

    “We are the only viable alternative to the established brands. Printers want choice and we are determined to give them a combination of quality and price that will make us competitive in the long term,” he says.

    He has no concerns about the impact of digital on the offset market. He reckons any dramatic impact is still at least a decade away. Meanwhile, Xingraphics is developing an inkjet business for the consumable side of digital.

    In this region, New Zealand remains a market of interest and Hijazi predicts some movement there in the near future. Given his track record so far, expect to hear Kiwi printers making the Xingraphics move in the not-too-distant future.