Konica Minolta is a well-known supplier of toner-based digital printers, and in DRUPA 2012 the announced the B2 format KM1. At that time it was a pre-announcement, and the interest was pretty good. At DRUPA 2016 the KM1 was not just an idea, but a fully operational printer and many KM1’s are now at work globally.

At the recent Inkjet Update 2019 event in Denmark, we got the chance to talk to Mark Hinder, who is the Head of Market Development. The result is this great interview and if you see Mark Hinder sweating it may be because we ask him whether KM1 is a safe bet investing in or how they see the future of Inkjet – or maybe just because it was a really warm and beautiful day in Denmark.

Regardless – Mark Hinder as always gives an open and honest inside to the story about Konica Minolta KM1 and Inkjet in general.

Yes, lots. Lots and lots. It’s a strategic decision not to announce the numbers and who the customers are. I’d love to. Clearly we’d announce the ones that have agreed to do publicity and everything else, and we do that on a case by case. But let me give you a few updates.

So, Totem, book printer in Poland. Yes, we’ve done a video and bits and pieces and stuff like that with those guys. And they’re doing some fantastic work with books. Realisaprint in the south of France, online printer, big online printer in the south of France producing plastic cars and a whole host of different things with KM1. Druckpartner, we just made the announcement this week with Druckpartner around the AccurioJet KM1 in combination with MGI Evo. So now what they’re doing is they’re taking the output from KM1 and then embellishing it with the MGI Evo. And now are numerous cases like this.

The difficulty for us is that we have client confidentiality. And with a product like the AccurioJet KM1 certain things that that machine will do are very unique because of its characteristics. In a changing world of print, it’s all about return on investment, and whoever gets the product to market the quickest is often the winner. We’re working with our client way in advance before the machine is installed, and we’re looking at the business plan, we’re looking at the marketing plan. The last thing we want to do is be selfish and say, “Do you know what? Here’s all the installs. Here’s what we’ve done,” and then compromise that client confidentiality.

And that’s the most important because at the end of the day, if that customer can grow and get a return on investment very quickly, their time to market is crucial. We keep that in focus all the time. But we’ve also got the road to drupa. Let’s be honest, things are going to get quite busy over the next 12 months and you’re going to hear some very exciting things from us as we lead up to drupa on what we’ve done and where we’ve been and what we’re going to do in the future.

You’ve got this new platform, and I guess you’re experimenting. You’re understanding the market needs and the requirements. You’re looking at it from an innovation platform when you’re saying, “Where can we take this?” It’s fair to say that I think when we first developed the machine, we were looking at the commercial print sector moving work from offset within certain run links onto KM1 on to perhaps just paper based products.

What’s happened is our customers’ thirst for innovation has driven us in areas which we have only dreamt about, printing onto plastic cards, printing onto foils, printing onto textures, wood grain paper. It’s about our customers’ needs and about their innovation, which leads us then to sitting down and developing and testing.

The other thing that you’ve got to do is you’ve got to be cautious about not overstating your capabilities until you’ve fully tested them. We have the client’s business in our hands. If we say to them, “You can print on anything and there’s no problem and do all this,” et cetera, and then suddenly something happens, we’ve compromised the client. And we won’t do that. There’s an element of testing that needs to take place before we fully agree that, “Yeah, actually let’s go for it. Let’s go in this direction.” And that takes time. You can’t do that within the space of a couple of days or a couple of weeks. You’ve got to be really focused on it.

We, clearly we have a vision and we have a strategy around developing that platform. Where are we going to go? And I’m not going to give away our pre-drupa announcement because drupa is coming, all right. But for sure, it’s going to be exciting time and we’re going to make some announcements, of course we are, because we’re innovation focused.

But let’s come back to the reality. To invest and develop a platform like KM1 is a big investment, and therefore we’ve got to make sure we are focused on understanding how we’re going to make the return, as well as how clients are going to make a return, because you then can’t sustain that investment and develop in the future if you’re not that focused on it.

Then take the backdrop of what’s happening. I’m an English guy. Brexit, who would have predicted that back in 2016, all right? That causes issues for one particular market. But there’s other markets. You’ve got the developing markets within certain countries and certain areas within the EU. You’ve also got outside of the EU and a worldwide stage. So you have to focus on where you physically can take that product and do it in a controlled environment, making sure that you’re working with the client. But from a platform, yeah, it’s a great platform, and it’s got a very, very big future. Now we’re looking at, “Okay, how can we extend it?”

Oh absolutely. You know I’m going to say yes. Of course I’ve got to say yes. But I think that the reality behind it is we’ve got to prove it. And we do that, customers. I think the customers that we have using KM1 and there are a number now that have got their second machine, we have some that actually got third and fourth machines globally, because they’ve seen that the actual opportunity not only to make money on the initial machine, but actually there isn’t another alternative. And then on the second and the third and the fourth investment, where’s that going to take their business, and then how do we support them to make sure that their initial return we can replicate that.

Now, often that could be as simple as looking at a new particular type of substrate or a particular type of application that they want to print. And then comparing and benchmarking that against other manufacturers devices that are out there, as well as the return on investment.

But also, and this is the strongest part, it’s about partnership. I think one of the great things that we’ve got is the ability to work with a customer through the rampart before they place the order. Then during installation so that they start to see that return on investment, and then post where we’re then developing and helping them to actually continue to realize the investment that they hoped, but now it’s actually coming through.

Now, I’ll give you an example. Last week we were in Valencia and we held ProCon Conference number free. It was great to see KM1 customers exchanging views, and now starting to exchange business ideas between them. And that’s something that we want to foster, we want to nurture, and we want to make sure we encourage that communication between KM1 users. And that’s something that we are definitely going to develop more of and we’re going to put investment into doing it.

But you’ve also then got to be looking at it from a point of view saying, “Okay, if you’ve got a platform, which by the way works, it’s very stable, and you then say, ‘Well what is next?’ You’ve got to look at it to say, ‘Well, how can I support that customer even further?'” As I mentioned earlier on today, there’d be some announcement shortly around color stability. We’re working with Fogra. We’ve created a pantone book now for KM1 to show all the lovely pantone matching we can do within certain Delta-E. It’s a highly stable platform.

So when you get that and you know that it works, what you’ve then got to be focused on is how can I make sure that the customers that are out there that potentially are looking at their next investment have access in the way to see what our capabilities are. We’ve run a series of workshops, open house events, et cetera to do that.

I think the reality behind it is that with inkjet, and let’s just take about inject technology first and then we’ll talk about Campbell, inkjet technology in some people’s mind is is still new technology and they don’t want to be the early adopter, they don’t want to be the first ones into the market. They’re kind of observing from the sidelines and going, “Okay, when it’s right, I’ll jump in.” The difficulty is that the early adopters are often the winners, because they will jump in, they’re innovation focused, they’re looking at it, they’ll develop a market.

Then is it too late for other people to jump in? Of course it’s not. It’s just that perhaps the first initial good profits and maybe the good revenue is being captured by other people, and then you’re into commoditization. This is something that frustrates me a little bit about the print industry. Somebody does something, creates it, puts it online or whatever and is making good money from it. And then guess what? Somebody says, “I want a slice of that action. I’m going to do it 50% cheaper.” Why? Why?

I think we compete internally with ourselves because we’re so focused on trying to look at everything on a price related basis, rather than looking at it and saying, “Let’s create something for that particular client that perhaps adds value to that client’s business and we can sell it for that.” And that’s really what the print industry is really got to be focused on. Not this, “My print company down the road is my competitor does it. I’m going to slash my pricing.” Because all it is is a race to the bottom.

I really think that what we’ve got to do as an industry is to look at where the gaps in the market are, how printed products are going to evolve and change, and then look at how we can develop market opportunities around it. At the end of the day, direct mail and all those areas that are out there, it’s going to exist. It’s coming back. Page volumes are growing in digital, et cetera. We see it. But, we’ve got to encourage commercial printers, agencies, brand owners to sit in the room and look at how print can continue to grow and develop in the multichannel mix.

Well to me, if you make things more efficient and you take out cost, then just drive that to the bottom line and make more profit. And I think the other thing as well is that you’ve got to look at it from a point of view of saying that we’ve got to reach clients who have drawn I call it generation mobile. There’s a whole group of individuals out there that have never grown up with print. They’ve grown up with mobile technology and the internet and everything else. I have a son and a daughter. And do you know what? They’re generation mobile.

So what we’ve got to do is educate that end of the market and actually bring them back to print and actually create a wow effect and actually show them what can be done in print, and then encourage them to go out and reach out for content or whatever it is and procure it.