Label Day at Xeikon Café Helps Package Printers Leverage Tech To Boost Bottom Lines
On May 18 & 19, Xeikon invited a select group of customers, prospects, and journalists to its facilities in Chicago for a scaled-down version of it’s Xeikon Café event, usually held in Europe every two years, between Label Expo events. However, with COVID-19 having prevented meeting in person since early 2020 — and still making travel, especially international travel, problematic in some cases — the company decided to host a series of more localized events around the world.
Benoit Chatelard, CEO of Xeikon, noted that while online and Zoom meetings have helped fill the gap, he is pleased to be able to start returning to in-person events again. “The [sales] process is much longer without being able to see the machine, or feel the sample,” he said. “I’m getting the impression people have really enjoyed being with us — when you’re online, you’re in a pre-determined format and you can’t go off the agenda. Online is efficient, but it’s also too rigid, and all of the side discussions [at a live event] are important too.” In fact, the response was higher than expected, with more customers signing up to attend each of the two days than the company initially anticipated.
As for the format, the Xeikon Café was split into two distinct days — the first focused solely on label printing, while the second focused on more general graphic arts printing. In a welcome address, executives noted that it is the company’s goal to help businesses better understand how digital technologies impact the market, and how it can help them boost their bottom line — no matter what type of printing they do.
And since Xeikon is among the top manufacturers for both inkjet and toner equipment worldwide, helping printers understand the differences between the two and evaluate which is truly best for their growth is a key component of the strategy — and a key element of the Xeikon Café event, which included both presentations from customers on how the technologies helped them grow their businesses, as well as demos of the latest presses in the Innovation Center, where attendees could experience the equipment first hand, and ask questions to help them better understand where each one fits in the broader world of print production.
One interesting point of differentiation that was stressed between the inkjet and toner options was the durability versus food-safe question. While toner is FDA-approved for use in everything from flexible pouches to pet food bags, is also more susceptible to environmental factors, as well as things like scuffing or scratching, making it a poor choice for applications such as exterior product labels or floor graphics that could see a lot of wear and tear. On the other hand, inkjet is far more durable, and performs beautifully in those types of applications, while it is not safe to have directly against anything that could be consumed, making it poor choice for applications like flexible food packaging. Understanding what types of applications a shop intends to target is a key factor in determining which of the Xeikon portfolio of presses would be the best fit.
Trends to Watch
One of the trends Chatelard noted was very clearly reflected in the attendees at the event was the ever present supply chain issues plaguing the industry. The shortage of paper — and the increased cost of the paper when it can be found — are having serious impacts on business, disrupting operations, he noted.
“And even more than the cost [of the paper], is that when you don’t have it, you can’t produce anything,” he said. Not to say cost isn’t also a major issue, since “it’s been quite dramatic,” Chatelard said, but at the same time, that is in part tied to inflation, with the costs of everything going up at alarming rates.
That said, the supply chain is one area that Xeikon is looking to help ease the burden for it’s customers. “The challenge for us is that we don’t contribute to the challenge for our customers,” he said. “They are dependent on us, so we have taken on the costs of a working safety net.” That includes stocking parts, with Chatelard noting that Xeikon had no shortages during the pandemic because of that policy. Staying highly organized however, is a necessity, since the increasing costs and increasing shipping times for those parts both add layers of complexity that he stresses the company is staying on top of. “You ship one day, and suddenly it’s at 55 days,” he said. “But we have learned [how to manage that], and how to get organized, and so far so good.”
In fact, the challenge of stocking enough parts and supplies to be a resource for customers has meant the company has outgrown it’s North American headquarters. While it will remain in Chicago, the new building, which is 20 minutes from the current location, will have less office space, and more warehousing to allow it to serve customers better, Chatelard says.
Another major challenge that Chatelard noted the customers at the Café were talking to him about is the labor challenges, and the difficulty in finding competent people to put in the right positions to keep the business moving. “And when you do find them, it has to be a very good job quality you offer, with benefits, sustainability attributes, and the like,” Chatelard says. Employees right now are very picky, and there is a great deal of mobility, particularly in the United States, allowing individuals to “choose the best of the best, and they can shop around.”
Even Xeikon itself has run into this issue, Chatelard notes, pointing out that while the company has filled its gaps right now, it was difficult finding the right people for those open positions. “So we could feel it from both sides.” One way Xeikon is looking to help its customers tackle this particular challenge is with training programs to help get new operators up to speed quickly.
“With every press sold we have basic operator training, and basic workflow,” he says. “In addition, once they’ve gotten started, we have advanced workflow and application training,” as well as modules that dive deeper into the specifics of the press for those who want to get more in-depth into the performance and operation side of things.
Another way Xeikon is looking to help customers succeed even in these challenging times is with a more consultative offering to help sales teams — whether they are seasoned print salespeople or brand new to the industry — better understand what can be done with a digital press and how to present those applications to customers. Right now, there are a few individuals throughout the world, with three in the United States — two on the label side of the business, and one of the graphic arts side. “They aren’t there to market machines,” says Chatelard. “They go in to help customers grow their business, and offer advice on things like color management and business development. This is on top of our normal support, and it’s not something we charge for — this is a free resource for customers to take advantage of.” Right now, it’s still a small program, but Chatelard notes that it is proportional; if he starts seeing more demand for this service, he will look to expand it, adding more experts — people who have decades of experience in print, many of whom have run their own print businesses — to the roster worldwide. “These aren’t junior people, this is a job for proven senior managers who can be the adviser of our customers,” he says.
As for the future, Chatelard notes that Xeikon is continuing to grow and evolve. What started as a document company has expanded first into graphic arts, and then labels, which is a fast-growing market today. The next growth engine Chatelard is planning to ramp up is in the corrugated space, where he sees a great deal of potential growth. Beyond that, he sees flexible packaging as a very promising growth market that he plans to target with more specialized equipment and services. “Right now we do a little of that, but it’s very narrow in scope. After we get more traction in the corrugated space, that’s going to be the next thing,” he says.
Further afield, software continues to be a big priority for the company, with Chatelard noting that a new generation of the interface will be coming, updating and refreshing the way operators interact with the presses. He also hopes to be the first to bring an AI-enabled interface to the pressroom, with a prototype that collects all the data currently being generated and trying to predict things like maintenance schedules before the press has a chance to even go down, along with optimizing performance across the board. This project is one of what Chatelard notes is his personal baby, alongside the push into corrugated, that he is very excited to eventually bring to market.
Overall, between the excitement for what the future holds, and the engagement of the customers on site, who are eager to get back to business as usual, the Café ended on a very high note, with everyone who attended coming away with a few new ideas, a chance to experience the equipment first hand, and renewed motivation to see what comes next.