Commentary & Analysis
X-Rite Pantone: An Inside View
Senior Editor Cary Sherburne recently had the opportunity to visit two X-Rite and PANTONE locations, in Grand Rapids MI and Tewksbury MA, respectively, including hands-on with X-Rite instrumentation, a tour of the manufacturing floor, discussions with software engineers, and time with the company’s CEO Tom Vacchiano.
By Cary Sherburne
Published: August 30, 2012
I recently had the pleasure of visiting X-Rite’s headquarters in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I was interested in diving deeper into some of the announcements the company made at drupa, and some new products that will be announced soon. It was also interesting to walk the manufacturing floor and to see the impact that X-Rite’s new parent company, Danaher, is already having on the operation.
Although my visit with CEO Tom Vacchiano occurred at the end of the day, I wanted to start there, sharing his comments on the acquisition, what it means to the company, and some of the changes he has seen as a result.
Vacchiano said, “Danaher is really terrific in terms of professionalism and integrity, and this has shone through in all of my interactions with them. Secondly, they acquired X-Rite for the purpose of growing our business, both independently as well as in conjunction with sister companies like Esko and the rest of the Product Identification Development (PID) group. We are working together to see how we can partner and learn from different parts of the business, and that has been 80% of the conversation. Third, Danaher is very good at continuous improvement across the whole business, starting in manufacturing operations, supply chain and logistics, and from there expanding more broadly throughout the organization. While X-Rite was a fairly efficient and cost-conscious business, Danaher has helped us think at the next level of continuous improvement, giving us great tools and experiences. They have even invited us into other Danaher companies outside of the PID Group, which has been fabulous for me. It is a shared learning experience, and they are building on top of and around what we are good at, not changing what we are good at.
“During the first 75 to 90 days, there have been no negative surprises and a lot of confirmation that what we hoped for is what we are going to get—a great partner, and a company that believes in us and is supporting us to take the next steps.”
As I visited various parts of the operation, I saw this coming to life, with Danaher’s flavor of continuous improvement in evidence just about everywhere. On the manufacturing floor, each group had charts on the wall showing progress and performance against a number of metrics. Danaher uses the acronym QDIP—Quality, Delivery, Inventory, Productivity—and on the manufacturing floor, inserts “Safety” in front of that. One of the key changes for the X-Rite manufacturing process is a move from batch processing of product builds to a one-piece process; that is, each individual product makes its way through the entire manufacturing process, rather than having a number of partially completed products reach each station in a batch. Danaher believes this is a much more efficient process. And although it has been a significant change for manufacturing employees, it does seem to be working well for them.
In talking to a number of employees across the organization, from manufacturing to marketing, it is clear that Danaher is making a significant investment in training employees in continuous improvement techniques, developing a common language, and setting the stage for future growth for the company.
I also got a peek into other industries that X-Rite supports, including medical, auto, photo, laboratories, home décor and more. We think about the color communication and measurement the company provides relative to the graphic arts industry, but they do the same thing in other industries. Consider the Pantone Guides or swatch books we are used to seeing—they also have those for plastics, paint, textiles, and believe it or not, beads and soil! Being a person that loves crafts, I was trying to get my hands on a bead book, but there wasn’t one in stock at the moment. Guess I will have to look online! In a future article, I will discuss how I think print service providers might be able to leverage some of these other industries for new revenue streams.
Discussions with X-Rite product managers were wide-ranging, from information about the services and educational opportunities, including roadshows, that the company makes available online and in person; on-site color audits to help businesses ensure they have optimum color strategies and practices in places; and hands on with the newest X-Rite instruments. There is not enough space here to cover everything, so I will touch on some highlights that I found interesting.
Two products that were shown at drupa were especially interesting, CAPSURE and the new X-Rite eXact™. CAPSURE is a handy entry-level color measuring device that is elegant in its simplicity. I am certainly not a color expert, but I was able to install the device and begin to use it within a few minutes. It has a number of PANTONE Guides pre-installed for reference, including PLUS Coated, Uncoated, Fashion+Home Cotton, Plastics, and the new PLUS 336 colors recently introduced. You simply find the color you want to measure and press the measure button on the device. You can adjust the color to have more or less yellow/blue, red/green; find similar colors and color schemes; and adjust the color to be lighter or darker with a simple and visual slider bar on the right of the color screen till you find the exact color you want. Once you have the color, you can save the color in the device and record a voice tag that describes the color for future reference. Users can also take advantage of Pantone D50 lighting indicators, stickers with two light-sensitive color swatches that will appear the same color under a D50 light source (D50 is a light source that is without color bias and does not skew or influence accurate color readings).
This simple but effective device can be a good sales tool for printers, easy to carry around on customer visits. For example, if a customer provides a sample and says, “I want that color,” the sales rep can easily snap the color to get the exact measurement, taking the guesswork out of that aspect of customer consultation. Sometimes customer materials, which began with a certain corporate color, have drifted over time due to use of various suppliers, freelancers, etc. CAPSURE can also help the sales rep communicate this to customers and readjust the corporate color as appropriate for future work. It helps print sales reps be more consultative and bring extra value to the discussion. CAPSURE comes with client software and a user application guide that makes it easy to build and share custom color palettes. It also shows the difference in color based on different lighting conditions such as home lighting, store lighting, viewing booth and D65 daylight. A lot of capability in a handy handheld.
X-Rite eXact takes color measurement and communication to another level and is designed for use on the production floor. X-Rite claims that this is the first color measurement device to feature a color touch screen, and to be able to measure all aspects of M0-M3, including single-pass measurement of M0, M2 and M3, as well as measurement of M1: Part 1, D50 daylight through the entire visible spectrum. X-Rite describes this next-generation color measurement device as a “platform,” since it comes in three upgradeable versions: Densitometer, and Standard and Advanced Spectrophotometer. It is customizable per user so that the most common actions can be accessed with one click. It also has a BestMatch function that allows press operators to keep ink colors on target before color shifts are visible. Combined with other software and solutions, such as NetProfiler, PantoneLIVE™ and Color iQC Print, users can command excellent control of shop floor color with a single device, for consistency across multiple printing technologies, substrates and locations.
In Tewksbury, I was able to see a new consumer product coming soon—stay tuned on that one. I also got an education on the capabilities of, and differences between, i1Pro 2, i1Display Pro, i1iSiS, IntelliTrax and EasyTrax. Of particular interest was the new i1Pro 2 spectrophotometer that was shown at drupa. This color calibration and profiling instrument has improved accuracy and ergonomics and is available in four models for photo, prepress, digital print and publishers.
X-Rite and PANTONE permeate so many aspects of the printing industry, between its measurement devices, software solutions and swatch books, and you see some product or solution from, or reference to (i.e. PMS colors) the company in just about every print shop you visit. So it was quite interesting to visit the manufacturing site, speak to the developers, product managers, and executives, and get an inside view into where the company is today and where it is going, especially following its acquisition by Danaher.