While it expands its product offering and extends its markets Mimaki engineering is also undergoing an internal transition, so will that impact its professional large-format graphics customer-base?
“Our mission is to understand where our growth potential lies. We are restructuring our resource to identify where our new customers may be, investing to educate them about what digital printing can offer them, and reformatting our internal processes and operations to ensure we can benefit from changing market demands.” So says Ronald Van Den Broek, general manager sales EMEA, Mimaki Europe, expanding upon a vision statement for Mimaki Engineering by president Kazuaki Ikeda back in April 2016.
At that time Ikeda pointed out that Mimaki was producing inkjet printers for three segments - sign and graphics (SG), industrial products (IP) and textiles and apparel (TA) - and that: “We aim to be at the top of each of these markets. From here on we will endeavor to become a truly global company, with the goal of entering a new growth stage in line with further advances in digital printing. In addition to deeply cultivating the TA and North American markets, there is much that must be done to reach the top position.”
So what has happened in the intervening two years, and what does that mean for PSPs using Mimaki technology? Well, Van Den Broek is clear that while there may be something of a corporate shift in focus from its traditional one on the SG market to the IP and TA sectors, the professional graphics market will hardly be set adrift. “Our R&D focus now is more in IP and TA where we can see a place for digital to replace analogue technologies, but the sign and graphics market has been our focus market and we’ll continue to develop our offering there.”
More of that in a moment, but lets just be clear how Mimaki defines its three core sectors because there are products in each that are of use to professional PSPs, so don’t let the groupings skew your thinking. SG encompasses all roll-to-roll printers using solvent, UV-LED, latex or solvent-UV inks. IP covers the smallformat UJF flatbed printers up to the large-format JFX series flatbed printers - all of which use UVLED curable ink. TA products range from entry level textile printers like the TS30-1300 to the Mimaki Tiger 1800B for high volume production, with models covering dye sublimation ink to acid, reactive and textile pigment inks.
In the last financial year Mimaki Engineering - listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange First Section - had a turnover of 48,331m Yen, Europe accounting for 28.7% of that, making the region its biggest overall market (Japan 26.4%, Asia Oceania 17.5%, North America 14.1%, rest 13.3%). Total profit was 2,049m Yen, a figure the engineering giant does not break down by region - or by product sector. But there are indications of where we can expect the biggest shifts.
Van Den Broek reiterates Ikeda’s message that the TA segment has Mimaki’s heart aflutter. “Looking for new markets is not a scatter-gun approach for us. We have people trying to identify markets where we know we can lead with our technologies, and we do expect to grow the TA segment significantly.”
Ikeda has been clear on Mimaki’s intention regarding this sector: “We foresee the TA market will grow rapidly since the textile print industry has been shifting their production system from analogue to digital. We, which have already proposed the total solution (i.e. printers, ink and software) for digital textile printing and built worldwide sales network, will lead the TA market. Our most urgent task is to gain a large share of the market in North America, which has the world’s largest demand. In order to demonstrate values of Mimaki products and customer service, we need to establish appropriate sales channels that can provide faithful service quickly from one end of North America to the other.”
So there’s a core focus. Another, as we’ve already said, is the IP segment, where ongoing R&D will provide advances that can be enjoyed by PSPs as well as ‘industrial’ users, but it’s also where Mimaki is doing a lot of market research into new customer-bases and devoting marketing attention. “We need to educate potential new customers of our technology and explain to them what it means for them right through from design, to personalisation, to product, to packaging. There are big operations that can benefit, but also there are many entrepreneurs - printing onto glass or whatever - that we can expect to invest in digital print technology,” says Van Den Broek. “We are working hard to reach people, exploring many new exhibitions etc., to get us into new markets.”
Mimaki’s launch last year of a UV-curable fullcolour 3D printer - the 3DUJ-553 - highlights another new customer focus for the company, which ploughs around 8% of its annual turnover into R&D. Much of that is being funneled into software and ink development, with the Internet of Things a major consideration going forward.
Connectivity enhancements are already present in a number of Mimaki’s print devices, enabling operators to communicate remotely with printers, benefit from smart diagnostics tools and receive instant messages from the hardware etc. Van Den Broek stresses that IoT developmental work continues apace, with data the company receives back from systems in the field being as much a key R&D tool for Mimaki as it is useful for the PSP using the printer. “Do we really need to focus on developing eight-colour machines if we find that most people only use four most of the time? Which inks are they using and should we be spending our R&D budget in the best way possible?” he explains.
When it comes to workflow solutions, Mimaki has made huge strides - integrated workflows that tap into industry standard software to reduce training time and offer familiar workspaces, intelligent firmware that communicates with the operator, barcode data that contains print-and-cut job instructions to ensure output is correctly have all been implemented, and we’re promised more to come to improve efficiencies. New UCJ300 series printer/cutters at Fespa 2018 will have a new ID Cut function for automatic cutting of consecutive jobs via barcode for instance.
You can expect further acquisitions to also impact ‘workflow’ in that Mimaki is determined to offer “one stop shopping for customers in terms of logistics,” says Van den Broek. “People don’t want to buy a printer from us and finishing kit from somewhere else. They want a solution that they know will work. We will do more acquisitions most probably to allow us to provide the whole solution.”
Alongside that expansion vision is an internal restructuring one. As Ikeda explained back in 2016: “In order to remain as a group of innovators and to fully exploit personal characteristics and capability of our individual employees, we have commenced a new group independent profitability management system (GIPS) to pursue departmental profitability in small groups. All members of each group centered on its leader will share issues and try to resolve them. Through such activities, all employees will participate in the management and each of them will have efficiency in mind. Thus, we are looking to make our company an aggregate of small fruits like a cluster of grapes.
Asked how that’s panning out within Mimaki Europe specifically Van den Broek said: “Mimaki Europe’s key focus area is to implement our new management system into our organisation. By doing so, we will be better able to pinpoint and tackle new opportunities and challenges in a controlled and effective way.”
And how is the transformation expected to impact Mimaki Engineering overall, in say, five years’ time? The response as you might expect is somewhat corporate in tone: “As a global company, it will improve Mimaki’s corporate governance system, accelerate market and product developments by finding synergies, produce an effective supply chain, expand and find new revenue streams, provide greater access to talented employees. It will be interesting to see how that will all impact the professional graphics market.