Monday, December 23, 2013

Chuck's 2013 Top Ten List - the Industry's Most Innovative Companies

This has been an exciting year for me! I've been so busy working at my new job at Standard Register I haven't been able to post here as much as I would like.  The blog has become sort of a quarterly. Hopefully I can carve out more time next year.

Meanwhile, this post is the start of a new tradition. While there are a few lists in the industry, I haven't seen one that talks about innovation.  Most industry lists are about size, i.e., printing company revenue. While scale has never been more important, with the continuing consolidation we are seeing, it certainly is not the most important factor.  

The companies I've included on this list are completely based on my own very subjective opinions. I've been studying these companies, listening to their CEOs, employees and customers, reading their marketing materials and using their products (and in some cases working for them) for a long time. I know there are many differing opinions out there about who should be included on such a list, and I hope some of you will post your own choices and your rationale!  Let's make it interesting.

1. HP
Here is a company that pretty much changed everything about printing.  Look around you today-- the world is turning to Inkjet.  Many companies are on the bandwagon (now, that is). HP invented this in 1984, when they made a machine and sold an extremely large number of them.  The ThinkJet wasn't that great, but they kept making their machines better. Better hardware and software. HP Laserjet=Game Change. If it weren't for HP, there probably wouldn't be very many "consumers" with printers in their homes (although sometimes I think my kids are going to bankrupt me printing coloring pages.)

More to the point, though: Indigos, Inkjets and Super-wide format. Substrates. Workflow. VDP Software. Consumer Photo with SnapFish! Cloud Printing. Home Printing, SMB Printing, Enterprise Printing, Transactional Printing, MPS, Mobile Printing, Book Printing, Package Printing, Wallpaper-- Did I miss anything? Frankly, I'm sure I did.

For me, there will always be a special place in my heart for Indigo. When it first came out, it just made sense to me. It was clear right at the start that this machine changed the game forever.  Now, reports say HP has spent close to $2B on the new B machines (e.g., 10000). These machines will change the game again, perhaps just as much as the first machine. Great management in the Indigo business at HP:  Yishai Amir, Alon Bar-Shany,  David Leshem, Jan Reicher, all great people. Too many more to mention.  Meg Whitman still knows how to run a company apparently.

2. EFI
It's hard to believe it's been over 10 years since EFI acquired my former employer PrintCafe Systems, Inc., saving the company from potential destruction by Creo's hostile takeover.  Prior to the Printcafe acquisition, EFI had annual revenues of $416 million. According to EFI, the company is expecting approximately $720 million in revenues for 2013, an increase of more than 70% over the last decade. The unequaled success of the Fiery made it surprising to many that EFI would acquire PCAF, and then only a couple of years later they got into the Inkjet business with the purchase of Vutek and have continued to advance and expand that product family.

Fast forward to 2013, the company is now a global leader in several areas, serving a diverse set of customers with an incredibly robust set of applications. The thing that really sets EFI apart is the leadership.  The charismatic Guy Gecht at the helm is supported by Marc Olin, former CEO of PCAF, VP GM of the software business and now interrim CFO--  and the guy responsible for buying up the world's best technology in the productivity and workflow arena (most recent and very exciting acquisition, the incredibly well respected Metrix Software in October); then there is CTO Ghilad Dziesietnik traveling the world looking for "game changing" new technologies, like machines that print on ceramics (With some of the coolest industrial design I've seen, to boot), watch cool movie here.  

The thing that's going to make EFI's innovation continue for years to come is that with each new company they've bought, they've acquired more of the brightest minds in the industry.  And this, in turn, makes it easier to attract the best talent for their organically grown inventions.

I visited the Admiral's Club at Chicago O'Hare airport one night a couple of months ago, and there was a copy of a BASF magazine about Chemistry.  I was a little bit shocked to see Benny Landa's face on the cover. But I shouldn't have been-- the success of the Indigo was probably as much due to the ElectroInk as it was to the amazing engineering of the press. Similarly, the new Landa presses are going to live or die on the success of Benny's new NanoInk.  I will be betting on living myself.

Attending the drupa show in Germany last year, and seeing the incredibly dramatic introduction of this machine was something I would not have wanted to miss.  Despite this, or even perhaps because of it, some in the industry believe the new presses Landa is making are "smoke and mirrors".

Stay tuned, industry... this company knows how to make and sell products that change the world.

4. Komori
Speaking of Landa, their strategy of partnering with traditional offset press manufacturers is brilliant. I was thrilled when I saw the Komori announcement; I've been a fan of Komori for a long time. Then I became a little confused when announcements with MAN Roland and Heidelberg followed.  To be frank, I thought that those two announcements were only for PR purposes, and diluted the Komori announcement, which for some reason I viewed as more real.

In November, Landa and Komori issued a statement revealing that I had been correct to believe Komori was a better partner, if not for the reason I suspected.  According to the statement, Landa engineers have been evaluating proposals from the industry’s leading press vendors, both European and Asian, to supply sheetfed platforms for Landa Nanographic Printing Presses.

In making its assessment, Landa took into account caliber of engineering, robustness of design, automation, reliability and cost effectiveness. The vendor’s culture of innovation, technical resources, commercial success and financial stability were also important criteria. The analysis pointed to Komori as the clear partner of choice for Landa. Landa then placed orders with Komori for sheetfed platforms for Landa’s S10 Nanographic Printing Presses, which will start to be delivered to customers in the fourth quarter of 2014.

Komori also conducted due diligence between its and Landa's engineers and scientists and concluded that Nanography has the potential to deliver on its promise of matching the quality and speed of
offset printing at the lowest cost per page in the digital printing industry. Komori formalized its license agreement with Landa, cementing the long term strategic alliance between the companies. Simply amazing stuff. Act 2 of the Benny Landa story has only just begun!

Obviously other great stuff going on at Komori besides Inkjets, but it's thrilling to see them making this kind of move.

5. Esko
Maybe this should be Danaher Corporation, because the portfolio of important and leading edge products just keeps growing.  Prepress and workflow software, packaging CAD, industry leading automation software, color control (most angles covered, pun intended), cutting machines (LOVE that Kongsberg stuff), Esko has you covered.

Winner of a prestigious 2013 InterTech Award, Aleyant is a small Chicago area company creating industry-leading Web-to-Print and VDP solutions: Pressero and eDocBuilder, respectively.  These solutions compare very favorably to solutions from companies who have both been around longer, and also spend far more on marketing. Pressero has a huge number of features that older but better know systems don't have.

Aleyant’s eDocBuilder provides a simple authoring tool, making it easier and faster to get customer documents online for customization and ordering. Yet it is scalable and high performance. It is tightly integrated into the Pressero storefront, but also licensed for use standalone (in fact, other Web-to-Print systems, like, use it as part of their solutions.)

A unique Interactive Designer allows the PSP’s customer to personalize print items: edit content; add additional text or images; change text font, size, color; re-position items, and more. Using HTML5, Interactive Designer templates are faster loading than competitor systems using Flash, and also unlike those solutions, runs beautifully on Smartphones and on the iPad.

Aleyant recognized early that many printers have significant technology investments, with accompanying investments in staff training and processes, that are costly to replace. So instead of suggesting replacement Pressero leverages those investments by providing the most flexible integration capabilities of any Web-to-Print system available today.

7. Scodix
You want some 3D printing?  This is 3D printing... the other stuff that is getting the hype is called "making".
Scodix brings a new look and tangible dimension to the graphic communications printed image, creating an eye-catching, memorable experience. The experience is made possible by breakthrough, patent-pending technology developed by Scodix. Some press manufactured have a "texture" option on their digital presses, but those enhancements are really child's play compared to Scodix.  The Israel company's hardware looks much like an Indigo, and is manufactured to the same sort of extremely high tolerances of quality.

8. CGS
It's clear that any software tool a printing company needs should be in the cloud.  Printers are usually IT experts out of necessity, rather than by inclination. CGS is a quiet industry company that has become the "gold standard" in the color management arena. Recently, ORIS Lynx, a cloud-based application deriving its special sauce from the same famed color management software lineage the company has been developing since the 1970s, garnered the prestigious 2013 InterTech Technology Award. ORIS Lynx, a groundbreaking development that represents the first true Cloud color management application, employing a web based user interface to allow the user to perform tasks like generating device links and/or ICC profiles without the need to install an on-site system.

9. NewPage
These days I'm generally more fascinating by non-paper substrates than by plain old ground up trees, but NewPage is both in my new home areacode, and focused on real (or should I say "true") market needs with the web offset compatible inket gloss paper, "TrueJet Hybrid", that lets the user personalize in-line with web offset or off-line in bindery applications. It's a a gloss coated paper that delivers high-quality print results in both inkjet and offset production.

Update, as of January 10, 2014: Verso Paper acquires NewPage for $1.4 Billion! Read Printing Impressions story.

10. Xerox
Intentionally last on this list, but never least... it struck me as a tiny bit disingenuous when Xerox CTO Sophie Vandebroek said in a blog post  recently that she told an MIT audience a few years back, "We no longer make copiers", and claimed "It’s literally true. Our copiers are now multi-function with the ability to fax, scan and print." Well, OK.  But even today, the company is basically selling lots and lots of copiers with little computers and scanners attached to them. It's copiers that have changed, not what Xerox is selling.

However, I must say that recent moves, especially the acquisition of French Inkjet press manufacturer Impika, have the makings of potentially exciting new products.  And, of course, XMPie remains awesome, and they appear to have regained some footing in the Xerox world this year, with prominence in the booth at the Chicago trade show.  Stay tuned.