At Océ Research and Development (R&D), they want to make new things possible. While most of the focus is on expanding what Océ is doing now, the company’s Advanced Technological Development (ATD) programs are all about looking into the future: from the world of print to printing the world.
Alive and kicking
Printing is very much alive, with a wealth of opportunities ahead of us. But even in a thriving industry, change is inevitable. In its base markets, Océ is seeing print volumes slowly decreasing. However, these markets will continue to drive a large amount of revenue and profit in the next years. In addition, the graphic arts market is booming, and innovations there, are positioning Océ to take advantage of that growth.
Still, the company is keen not to rest on past achievements. Developing a completely new market and proposition takes a lot of time. To be ready to conquer new opportunities when tradiational base markets disappear, it’s important to invest right now.
Ernst Ullersma, Vice President in Océ R&D 1: “Most of our R&D capacity is going into the development of graphic arts products. Retailers are trying to impress their customers and beat online competition. For event organizers too, graphic arts is important. Banners and flags are increasingly affordable, and high-quality graphics give an event a lot of prestige.”
“A single event may use hundreds of banners, and the number of events is growing around the world. Digital media cannot replace printed media in this case. At Océ, everyone who is working on our growth is doing something for graphic arts.”
Riding the wave
“Still, even while investing in a growth market, we need to keep an eye on the horizon. What is a growth market now will become obsolete in several decades. Industrial printing and digital manufacturing are new growth areas; printing physical objects, such as packaging, textiles, electronics and even bio-based materials. The ATD program is how we put our feelers into the world. Océ is not big enough to create a market from scratch, so we do small experiments and pay attention to where new markets are emerging. Then, we jump in and ride that wave. Of course, it’s hard to predict which technologies will become important. That’s why we cast a wide net, so we can select the very best opportunities.”
More than just “because it’s cool”
Océ sees itself as a product development organization, not a “cool” technology development organization. In other words, Océ develops a technology because there is a demand for it and it can be used in a product. The company selects the technologies with the greatest promise and the widest application range. Ernst: “With our ATD projects, we work to anticipate the needs of the business. Then, when the decision comes to go for it, we are ready.”
In 2016, several product/market studies were carried out to define the next wave of innovations beyond the graphic arts market. Océ has explored the possibilities of using its piezo inkjet technology in the packaging market. In recent years, the drupa exhibition showed the potential of digital technology in, for instance, the label, folding carton, corrugated or flexibles market. Océ in Poing, Germany, started 2 projects to expand Océ inkjet technology towards this packaging market.
The Océ base markets, technical documents, transaction and direct mail and office documents are still the company’s largest generators of revenue and profit. In these large, mature markets, the focus of Océ customers is on efficiency and cost reduction.
Graphic arts is one of the company’s growth markets. Applications that not only inform people, but also convey emotion. This market has been growing for years, and is slowly maturing, from a focus on availability and quality improvements, to a focus on efficiency.
Ernst: “Future developments are hard to predict, but we have to start exploring now, to be ready when the markets inevitably change. Industrial printing holds a lot of promise, with potential applications that range from the obvious to the world-changing. Instead of just printing on products, we could be printing the products themselves.”
An interesting future market for Océ is packaging. We already have the technological skills to print on cardboard and other packaging materials. And there is increasing demand for shorter run lengths and more flexible sizes in packaging. Ernst: “Right now, online retailers end up shipping a lot of air, which is expensive. We could help them make customized, personalized boxes that fit perfectly.”
Of course, the technological investment is only one side of the equation. A viable product proposition needs to fit the company, with a broad support base for the service structure and organization that come with custom-fit machines.
High-speed jetting of molten metal
Océ metaljet is one of the few small, long-term projects Océ has invested in without a product in mind. With metaljet, you can 3D-print highly precise metal parts. Currently, metaljet is being tested in universities, and the resulting research papers should help define concrete industrial applications.
A little further out: printing textiles
Custom textiles can also be an interesting future market for Océ, although not as short-term as packaging. Instead of mass-produced clothing, which has a big negative impact on people and the planet, people increasingly want custom-made clothing with a perfect fit and a sustainable footprint. Although many people are experimenting with custom clothing and personalized fabrics, the market and its supporting technology is still in its infancy, and Océ does not yet have a fleshed-out product proposition.