Given the huge influx of companies into wide-format print, Rob Fletcher considers the current state of the market and investigates whether opportunities are still available to those operating in the sector
Although the secret of growth opportunities in the wide-format print sector may have gotten out some time ago, it has not stopped companies from entering the sector. Whether it is commercial printers diversifying into the market or traditional sign-makers adding a new arm to their business, the sector has become a very popular and competitive place.
Given this flood of entrants into wide-format print, one would be forgiven for thinking that the many opportunities once available have now been snapped up by those quick enough to make the move.
And with FESPA Digital 2014 just around the corner, those that have not yet moved into the sector could well be pushed to do so when they view the wide-format print technology on offer in Munich.
With this in mind, what do some of the major manufacturers of wide-format equipment think of the current market? Is there still room for growth or should sign-makers and printers look elsewhere for new business and customers?
Increased competitive pressure
With a host of solutions on offer, Agfa Graphics is often regarded as one of the main players in wide-format manufacturing. The company, which will be in attendance at FESPA Digital 2014 later this month, has customers all around the world and is well placed to judge on the current state of the market.
“In terms of print production work load, which we monitor via the ink consumption, the market place shows a sound business activity level,” Agfa’s marketing manager for wide-format, Willy Van Dromme, said.
“In terms of new equipment sales, we notice a shift to more high-end system sales, which is in line with the market trends indicating a centralisation in the market and consequent business consolidation and a general ‘up market’ move.”
Although Van Dromme admits there is a high level of competition in the wide-format sector, he said there are companies that are unable to compete properly due to their choice of equipment.
“There is, and always has been, a structural production overcapacity in our business as an evident consequence of the characteristic peak load production profile,” he said. “On the other hand, over the past few years, many companies invested in a low-end or entry-level UV sign and display printer. They find it difficult today to build a sustainable business because the platform offers only limited production capacity.
“The increased competitive pressure plus structural changes in the way the business is developing moves our customers more up market in search of more production volume. So, they look for more productive equipment and workflow solutions.”
With this in mind, Van Dromme casts his thoughts ahead to FESPA Digital 2014, where Agfa will have a heavy presence in order to capitalise on interest in the wide-format print sector.
“In line with these market trends, Agfa’s focus is on taking solutions to the market with the best in segment price, productivity and quality performance,” he said. “Today, a comprehensive workflow solution as well as automation are considered basic business enablers so we offer them as part of the system.
“Moreover, evolutions in ink technology open up new application domains for our sign and display printers. Customers understand that partnering with Agfa means planning for a longstanding relationship with a caring and supporting supplier.
"The wide- and large-format markets are buzzing with activity"
“We have new models both in the mid-end and the high-end, for roll-to-roll and flat substrates. Center stage will be for Asanti, the integrated workflow solution for wide-format printers.
“We will also cover completely new applications for inkjet printing technology. Our 'House of Asanti' will give a nicely presented overview of creative ideas we received from customers. Also, Agfa's ink technologies are now integrated in many industrial applications.”
Buzzing with activity
Mimaki is another company that is widely regarded to be amongst the front-runners of technology providers in the wide-format print sector. Mike Horsten, general marketing manager for the firm’s EMEA operation, has picked up on growth in the market and anticipates even more movement.
“The wide- and large-format markets are buzzing with activity,” Hosten said. “Although it’s not very visible, there is a lot of movement in the market today. We see that there is a trend for large-format flatbed printers and there is a bigger focus on quality and production speeds. Furthermore, the second trend is the replacement market that is growing.
“I strongly believe that there is a growth in volume but the price is also getting lower of the sold products. This means that the producers need to get more volume out for the same revenue. In the case of Mimaki, we see a clear trend of this and we see our customers looking at other options for print, which could be soft sign or UV printing.”
Addressing the potential dangers of over-population in the market, Horsten remains upbeat about the amount of work
Mimaki will offer a number of ‘Anniversary Value’ packs for its JFX500 flatbed printer at FESPA Digital 2014
available and offers reassurance to companies either in the sector or considering expanding into it.
“There is only a problem of over-population in the super-wide area; there are too many machines in the market printing 3.2m and 5m solvent and UV. This means that the producers are competing for this segment,” Horsten said.
“In the lower segments, there is less competition if you produce niche products. With Mimaki, most of our customers we have been able to supply different solutions so that they can grow their business in the areas where the profits still are available.”
Glancing ahead to FESPA Digital 2014, Horsten says Mimaki has big plans for the show. As well as launching its theme of ‘Together we Create’, the firm will also use the event to celebrate the tenth anniversary of its entrance into the European market.
|"The wide-format print market in Europe is strong, but the main growth is recorded in the emerging countries"
“The Fespa Digital show is very important for us and we will be happy to explain large-format printing to our customers,” Horsten said. “We will introduce our ‘Anniversary Value’ packs for the JFX500 flatbed printer. We will be giving away a 160cm printer or ink or a warranty extension or a great trade-in offer for an old flatbed printer.
“Although we can’t comment on new releases until they are there, I can say that it will be a ‘must’ to go to the Mimaki booth to see the newest generations of printers and flatbed printers. We will be showing our new range of flatbed printers, the UV roll-to-roll printers and some new textile printers.”
Roland DG is another market giant that is currently in the process of finalising its plans for FESPA Digital 2014. Michel Van Vliet, product marketing manager at Roland DG, said the company has identified wife-format growth across a number of different market and will address this widespread interest at the show.
“The wide-format print market in Europe is strong, but the main growth is recorded in the emerging countries,” Van Vliet said. “In Europe, where the sign market is quite stable, we notice that many businesses come up with all sorts of new, profitable digital printing applications. This way, the market widens and becomes more diverse. We support these newcomers to the printing business and offer them the guidance they need to get started or to make their business more profitable.
Personalisation is a trend. People want to decorate their houses with things like personal wall paper, lamps, cushions and curtains. Since people want to personalise almost anything, the number of jobs becomes larger.
“Furthermore, our digital printers are also popular amongst companies that need to save money. For instance, more and more packaging companies rely on digital printing to create small runs and proofs because digital printing offers a cost-efficient alternative to many traditional processes. Therefore, we are convinced that the market for digital prints is very wide and gets even wider every day.”
Although Van Vliet is enthusiastic about the market, he does warn companies of the need to differentiate themselves in order to stand out from the competition in what is becoming an increasingly popular sector.
“Since the number of applications that is created with a digital printer grows steadily and companies are always looking for the best ways to express creativity, we can be assured that the request for digital prints will remain high. But as always, a company will need to look for ways to differentiate in order to make money.
The VS-640i wide-format inkjet printer is amongst the Roland DG products that will be on display at FESPA Digital 2014
“Roland DG offers the tools to make the difference; our printers are extremely reliable, offer an outstanding print quality, have an integrated cutting function, and excel in ease-of-use. Moreover, you can use our printers with special ink colours like silver metallic, light grey, white and varnish. We offer eco-solvent, LED-UV and sublimation printers, so we have a solution to every need.
With this in mind, Van Vliet turns his attention to FESPA Digital 2014, where Roland DG will be presenting a host of its options. Operating under a nautical theme at the show, Van Vliet invites visitors to “throw out their anchors” at the Roland DG booth in order to “set their course” for the coming years.
“Once on board, you will get a closer look at our shipshape printers with the new ECO-SOL MAX2 or UV inks,” Van Vliet said, continuing the above-mentioned nautical theme. “You’ll also discover the treasure trove of possibilities that our machines offer and the applications that users can utilise to place themselves firmly on the map.
“The profitable opportunities that digital printing offers are endless, and we offer the right knowledge, equipment and support to put the wind in your sails. Visit our booth and tell us how we can help you. We look forward to welcoming you and to take you on board.”
Although many have raised concerns about the wide-format print market’s ability to continue to handle an ongoing influx of companies, it seems kit manufacturers in the sector remain upbeat about its future. And with FESPA Digital 2014 set to showcase a whole range of options to boost your wide-format print service further, there is every chance you could get yourself ahead of the game and move to the front of what is an incredibly popular market.
Book your ticket to FESPA Digital, meet these industry figures and enjoy the opportunities, educational content and products which make FESPA Digital 2014 the largest and most important event on the world's print calendar.