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KPG: Redefining Value-Add

By Cary Sherburne, Senior WTT Editor

May 27, 2004 -- KPG has historically been known for its analog and digital plate businesses, and has gradually been adding to its portfolio with a wide range of partnerships and alliances with RIP, platemaking and output engine manufacturers. While these announcements have been made as they have occurred, drupa 2004 was the first time I have seen the entire integrated story. KPG's drupa exhibit reflected the culmination of an aggressive strategy of acquisition and partnering which I have no doubt the company will continue to enhance into the future.

At drupa, KPG announced a distribution relationship with Canon wherein KPG will distribute the full line of Canon color products from 11 pages per minute and up. The 11 ppm devices are packaged with a KPG RIP, and the 4000 and 5100 series Canon products come with an EFI RIP. KPG's Vic Stalam indicated that the company had no intention of adding Canon black & white products to its portfolio.

KPG also announced the new DirectPress 5634 DI based on Presstek's ProFire Excel imaging and capable of delivering up to 300 lpi standard, stochastic or hybrid screening.

The company announced that it had completed its acquisition of RealTimeImage, and, on the last day of the show, further announced the acquisition of Bell Microproducts Solutions' PageComposer software effective June 1. Developed for the workflow needs of the prepress industry, PageComposer, which will be known under the KPG brand MatchFlow Composer, handles the conversion of such industry standard prepress file formats as PostScript, PDF, PDF/X-1a or PDF/X-3, Scitex Native, Handshake CT & LW, and TIFF/IT-P1 into any standard file format, with secured content, to output on all types of devices, including high-resolution imagesetters, color proofers and CTP equipment.. MatchFlow Composer technology will be integrated as a component of the KPG Color Fidelity System, which was shown as a technology demonstration at drupa. The Color Fidelity System enables customers to automate critical color management operations from capture to output and benefit from efficiency-based cost savings and higher image quality and is described in a bit more detail later in this article.

In refining its market approach, KPG has chosen to place market focus on three segments: commercial print, newspapers and packaging—a broad scope, but a vertical focus that has allowed the company to develop customized solutions targeted at those specific environments. At drupa, KPG was showing end-to-end configured solutions for each of the three environments. KPG's Vic Stalam and Beth Hogan-Scott provided me with a tour of the KPG stand.

Newspapers

According to Hogan-Scott, as little as four years ago, there was no thermal plate system available for the newspaper market. Seeing this as an opportunity, KPG, in conjunction with its partners, set out to design a full thermal system, including the imaging head, platesetter, processing unit and punch bend unit, all fully automated, which resulted in the Newsetter being introduced four years ago. There are now over 300 thermal installs worldwide in newspaper facilities from KPG and others--a 20% market share for thermal in a very short time--and in new installations, KPG reports that almost 50% are using thermal imaging technology. KPG's new plate for the newspaper market, Thermal News Gold, sports an imaging speed up to 40% faster than other plates, according to Hogan-Scott, a key benefit for that time-sensitive market. The company was showing its Newsetter, pictured here.

Packaging

KPG sees the packaging market as its highest growth potential. The company was demonstrating a complete solution for packaging, including two proofing products, Approval NX and First Check. Approval NX was being demonstrated producing metallics, along with a technology demonstration of fluorescents. First Check produces up to eight colors using a thermal ribbon system. It can also produce metallics and white, but no fluorescents at this time. These products allow packaging design firms to bring comping in house, an important capability in a world where cycle times continue to be compressed. According to Stalam, KPG's big announcement in the packaging area is its entry into flexography, with a technology demonstration of digital flexo plates for the full range of packaging applications. Stalam claims the KPG offering will simplify the digital flexo platemaking process and will be commercially available in 12-18 months.

Commercial Print

For print service providers who wish to transition from an analog to digital workflow, KPG will structure a bundled solution that meets the printer's individual needs and requirements based on a KPG assessment and incorporating one or more of four output workflow paths: CTP, DI press, color digital printer/copier and wide format. Turnkey solutions include KPG's DirectWorks workflow (based on EFI OneFlow and incorporating KPG color tools, FirstPath Proofing and RealTimeImage monitor proofing), RIP, output device, inkjet proofer if appropriate, and for CTP, KPG's new ThermalDirect processless plates. These configurations provide a fully JDF-enabled workflow. For the small-to mid-sized printer who wants to make a rapid transition to digital, this approach offers a simple, modular, single-source solution to what can be a complex decision process. It will be interesting to monitor KPG's success with this approach, both from the perspective of customer adoption rates and sales force effectiveness. This offering, which supports a multi-vendor, multi-technology, automated environment—clearly an increasingly important characteristic of today's world—delivers a logical customer migration path and should see good market receptivity.

Monitor Proofing

KPG has led the charge in terms of monitor proofing developments, and its acquisition of RealTimeImage gives the company control over a key technology element. Hogan-Scott said, “RealTimeImage is becoming a standard in the industry for monitor proofing. Here at drupa, both EFI and EskoGraphics have announced that RealTime proofing technology is being incorporated into their workflows.”

KPG was showing a new configuration of its MatchPrint Virtual Proofing system as well. While the stand still displayed the “booth” concept that was initially introduced with MatchPrint Virtual, a new, more streamlined version uses a much smaller viewing hood which the user must acquire from KPG. KPG specifies three different LCD monitors which the customer can acquire for use with the system. Hogan-Scott estimates that initial systems costs are under $5,000, with a subscriber-based model in which the user pays based on actual usage levels.

Color Fidelity System

Shown as a technology demonstration at drupa, KPG's Color Fidelity System is an architecture for an umbrella solution set that will be brought to market in a modular fashion. KPG announced three modules at drupa.

Module 1: This module allows for a streamlined workflow to bring images captured via a digital camera into the production environment. It includes automated RGB to CMYK conversions geared toward production of newspaper inserts, catalogs and other high volume publishing applications.

Module 2: This module will include Matchprint Virtual technology that ensures consistent color in proofing and printing cycles, allowing users to view and edit digital proofs under consistent color conditions.

Module 3. This is an output module that is both SWOP and SNAP certified, with on-the-fly selection that allows the user to map an image into a specific color space with no need to rescan to meet the requirements of different environments or geographies.

Looking to the Future

KPG did an excellent job a drupa of laying out its overall strategy in a clear and consistent manner. The company has accumulated an impressive array of products and services, and by focusing specifically on three vertical markets, has been able to much more clearly articulate its value proposition.

As our readers are surely aware, KPG is a joint venture between Kodak and Sun Chemical. Although it is operated as an independent entity, it will also be interesting to see what impact the new management team at Kodak's Graphic Communications Division will have on the KPG suite of offerings. Most likely to be seen short-term is the incorporation of the NexPress color and black & white digital printing solutions into the KPG portfolio. When asked at the Kodak press conference about whether the company would be taking on the NexPress products, Jeff Jacobson, CEO of KPG, responded: “We would be proud to do so and are in discussions. We are not prepared to make announcements, but we think we will be an excellent channel.”

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This report was written by Cary Sherburne. She can be reached via email at cary@sherburneassociates.com, online at www.sherburneassociates.com and by telephone at 603-430-5463.


Prior to launching her consulting practice, Ms. Cary Sherburne was the Vice President of Marketing Communications and Outsourcing Solutions at IKON Office Solutions. In that capacity, she developed and implemented a branding campaign to build brand awareness for IKON in the marketplace as well as enhance employee pride in the organization, and was responsible for all internal and external communications, including trade shows and events, corporate newsletters, and industry and press relations. In the outsourcing role, she set strategic objectives and priorities for IKON’s product and services portfolio in its Outsourcing businesses, including development of programs and sales support materials for that environment.

Sherburne was a Director at CAP Ventures, an internationally known firm specializing in market research and strategic consulting for the digital document and print on demand industry, before joining IKON, where she launched and managed the company’s Document Outsourcing Consulting Service.

Her tenure in the printing and publishing industry has also included sales and marketing positions at Xerox Corporation, Indigo America and Bitstream. She is a frequent speaker at industry events and a recognized author.

Cary can be reached via email at cary@sherburneassociates.com, online at www.sherburneassociates.com and by telephone at 603-430-5463.