Commentary & Analysis
Beyond-the-Box Thinking at Canon Solutions America Anniversary Event
Canon Solutions America hosted its third anniversary event last week in Boca Raton, Fla., highlighting the state of the market, new product developments, and customer case studies. In this feature, we focus on the company’s wide-format offerings.
By Richard Romano
Published: February 29, 2016
The full moon, not quite a supermoon, hung large in the sky, reflecting off the dark sea. A soft breeze wafted through the oceanside patio where a couple dozen industry writers and analysts gathered to celebrate the third anniversary of Canon Solutions America (CSA).
“We rented the moon for this event,” joked Toyo Kuwamura, CSA President and CEO, the next morning.
Three years ago, Canon and Océ joined forces to create Canon Solutions America, and the annual anniversary event has become a prime opportunity to catch up on what CSA has been up to over the past year, interact with company executives and customers, and tour the ever-evolving Customer Experience Center (CEC) in Boca Raton, Fla.
CSA is active in a wide variety of markets and printing technologies—production inkjet and enterprise printing, to name two—but wide-format printing, in all its myriad forms, is certainly one of their hot growth areas. The Arizona is CSA’s flatbed UV printing platform, and the first Arizona flatbed, the 250GT, was introduced a decade earlier in 2006. The most recent models in this platform are the six-color Océ Arizona 6160 XTS and seven-color Océ Arizona 6170 XTS, launched in late 2014. Last year, CSA doubled the number of placements of the Arizona 6160, and one of the highlights of the CEC tour—as always—was seeing examples of the new products the Arizona is capable of producing.
From a single entry-level flatbed a decade ago, “we now have a full lineup, from entry-level, sub-$100,000, six board-per-hour machines all the way up to our 6170 Series at 33 boards an hour,” said Sal Sheikh, Vice President of Marketing for Large Format Solutions.
One of the much-touted features of the Arizona series printers is the ability to layer ink to create textured output, useful for such applications as Braille output for Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-compliant signage, fine-art reproductions that can simulate thick brush strokes (Vincent Van Gogh, eat your heart out), and more. (How do you set up your print file to do this? Short answer: multiple Photoshop files.) An Arizona flatbed, when run in conjunction with a cutting table, said CSA Marketing Manager Randy Paar, “is not a printer, but a manufacturing system.”
“What we’re seeing today is the evolution of new applications,” said Sheikh in his presentation on Tuesday. Sheikh highlighted some of the “targeted specialty applications” enabled by the Arizona platform, such as the ADA-compliant signage and fine-art reproductions mentioned earlier, as well as membrane switch overlays for microwave ovens, ATMs, and gas pumps, glass panels, interior décor, and packaging, ranging from prototyping to full-scale digital production. Sheikh also mentioned that some “creative customers” were even producing custom-printed toilet seats. (Flushed with success indeed.) Customers have also been developing workflows and production processes using flooring materials. “They take unfinished laminate flooring, put a priming coating on it, print, put a finishing coat on it, and it’s streamlined in a workflow. We’re seeing more and more of this kind of customization, whether it’s for children’s decorations or inlays for high-end houses,” said Sheikh. Printing on glass is also a new and interesting application, and he cited one customer that prints on architectural glass for commercial buildings.
One new area that CSA is looking at is interior decorating panel printing, which Sheikh admitted is not quite commercialized yet. “If you think of how many commercial buildings there are and the number of interior elements, such as bathrooms, lobby tiling, and so on, there is a lot of opportunity to create custom finishes at much lower cost,” he said. Basically, it involves printing individual panels and tiling them if necessary. “This is something that we are looking into developing with a number of partners.”
In addition to the Arizona flatbed line, CSA also offers the ColorWave series of printers, comprising both toner (the ColorWave 500 and 700) and single-pass inkjet (ColorWave 910) devices. The ColorWave 500 has been repositioned, said Mal Baboyian, Executive Vice President, Large Format and Printing Production Solutions, “to create a new [market] segment and capture the corporate CAD color market. The ColorWave 500 is ideal for those environments.” This is thanks in large part to its 42-inch size that can handle standard 30x42-inch output. As for the 910, the emphasis has been on ensuring that it is compatible with as wide a range of media as possible, also a primary effort of Canon’s Media Lab and the production inkjet side of the business.
Textile printing and soft signage are the hot applications du jour, and, to that end, last October, CSA had announced that it was partnering with Media One Digital Imaging Solutions to offer Media One’s d.gen brand of dye-sublimation inkjet printers, a.berger brand textiles, and textile finishing options. This is going to be a strong focus for the company going forward.
“We’re building a display graphics organization for 2017 in order to enter new markets,” said Baboyian. As much as CSA has been growing, he added, “real growth will come in 2017 and ’18.”
One of the great advantages to events such as these CSA anniversary fêtes is the ability to hear from customers—actual printers—who are on the front lines productively and profitably using this equipment. The customers on hand in Boca spanned the gamut of CSA’s users, from Impact, a Minneapolis-based mailing house and lettershop that is transitioning into production inkjet printing, to the Salt River Project (SRP), an Arizona utility that supplies water and electricity in the Southwest. Representing wide-format and specialty printing were brothers Mark and Matt Landaal from Landaal Packaging Systems, a 56-year-old family-owned business based in Michigan. The company began as a box-making business, primarily serving (given its location in Flint, Mich.) the automotive industry. A second plant was opened in Bay City to serve agricultural producers.
Business was going along fine until 2007, when the company’s largest automotive customer went bankrupt, a customer that had accounted for 90-percent of its packaging division’s business. “That forced us to do a lot of changing and reinventing ourselves,” said Matt Landaal. “It’s very challenging for a small family-run business to take that type of blow.”
So they got to work looking at other options. “In 2009, we came up with this mantra: ‘partner or perish,’” said Mark Landaal. As a result, they investigated two new vertical markets: retail packaging and temporary POP displays. “We decided to enter the wide-format digital printing market,” said Mark.
Armed with four criteria—low cost of entry, high-quality imaging, excellent customer service, and ease of operation—the Landaals embarked on their “partner or perish” mission, and—no surprise, given whose event this was—they chose Canon. Landaal acquired an Arizona 360 GT flatbed printer, and have since picked up three more Arizonas, including a 6170.
Making the transition from box makers to wide-format printing specialists required an internal paradigm shift, not surprisingly, but it has allowed them to provide quick, flexible, and efficient production for a growing number of clients beyond the automotive and agriculture markets. Their customer base is now tripartite: for-the-trade printers or brokers who outsource to Landaal, retailers, and brand owners themselves.
“Where do we see ourselves going next?” said Mark. “Building on the customers that we’ve built with this technology.” A major new client is Fathead, seller of sports and entertainment graphics. The company is also now able to approach retailers like Cabela’s and compete with other print service providers for relatively low-volume in-store graphics.
Landaal sees personalization as becoming ever more important. “I feel that what we’ll see in the next few years is the need for mid-size brand companies that want to grab the attention of consumers to be more personalized to [specific] demographics,” said Mark.
It’s not overstating matters to say that adopting wide-format printing technology literally saved the company.
“One of the big things that has helped us change direction is the technology and the excitement of it,” said Mark, “and building that excitement not just on the production side, but on the sales and marketing and the design sides.”
Truly out-of-the-box thinking.