Sign & Digital UK
Labels & Packaging
I suppose we shouldn’t be shocked when we hear that a major German press manufacturer has filed for administration, given the state of both the European economy and the printing industry, but we are.
The news that Man Roland had filed for the German equivalent of Chapter 11 came out of the blue and brought back memories for me of the same thing happening to Linotype Hell some years ago. They were another one of those giants of the Industry that had been around forever, always had large stands at trade shows, fancy head office facilities and employed thousands of people. Then suddenly, bang and they are gone - or in Linotype-Hell’s case, swallowed up into Heidelberg under pressure from the German government.
At the time we were all gobsmacked and didn’t see it coming. Sure Apple had come along and destroyed the niche market that Linotype, Compugraphic and others had enjoyed for their proprietary front end systems. Postscript from Adobe meant you could use a Mac to produce finished artwork electronically, but you still needed to output film. Or rather you didn’t since you could now go directly to plate. Some manufacturers were able to make the transition from filmsetters to platesetters, notably Dainippon Screen, but Linotype Hell was not quick enough and their shareholders and staff paid the price.
It has got to be hard being a European press manufacturer today. Here you have a large factory, staffed with skilled workers who have spent their working lives making printing presses. The European market for these products is shrinking as lithographic printing transfers to India and China and banks stop lending to their customers in Europe who do want to buy a press. You have a high series of fixed factory costs, employment legislation that makes it difficult and costly to downsize and a recession that makes your bankers reluctant to support you.
It can’t be any easier for the other German press manufacturers, because the conditions are the same for them, so we have to assume they are not gloating over Man Roland’s demise. You can’t suddenly switch to making iPads even if you wanted to, because the Chinese have cornered that market. Even selling presses to the growing Chinese and Indian printing markets is not on, since those countries have now got manufacturers of their own. Remember how many Chinese companies we saw at IPEX 2010?
If the market is tough for the press manufacturers, spare a thought for the plate manufacturers too. The big three – Agfa, Fuji and Kodak are fighting to keep their share of a declining market at the same time that Chinese manufactured plates are being imported into Europe. The same comparisons with press manufacturers can be made with the plate manufacturers, who will also find it very difficult to make something else that customers might want on a redundant plate line. Therefore I don’t think it will be too long before we hear that one of these leading pre press players is exiting the Industry.