Commentary & Analysis
Executive Q&A - Wim Maes, Summa
Many of our readers will remember Wim Maes for his tenure as the CEO of Xeikon, a role he held from 2009 to March of 2017. From Xeikon to Summa, Wim Maes helps make the company a worldwide industry leader.
By Cary Sherburne
Published: August 19, 2019
Many of our readers will remember Wim Maes for his tenure as the CEO of Xeikon, a role he held from 2009 to March of 2017. In parallel, he was also President of Flint Group Digital Printing Solutions from 2015 until 2017 following the acquisition of Xeikon by The Flint Group. Today, Maes is an Executive Member of the Board at Summa NV (www.summa.eu), a global leader in cutting and finishing equipment for the printing, signage, outdoor advertising and packaging industries, most recently adding solutions for textiles to the mix. Senior Editor Cary Sherburne spoke with Maes to learn more about Summa, his role there and his thoughts about the future of the industry.
PN: Wim, let’s start by talking about how you got involved in the printing industry in the first place.
WM: To be honest, my background is in engineering, and my first real association with the printing industry was as CEO of Xeikon, a role I took on in 2009. I spent six years in R&D, six years in sales and did two turnaround stories for The Punch Group. This included development of robots for milking cows, on-board computers for trucks, etc. I didn’t really know the difference between an offset printer and a flexo printer.
PN: In 2009, the organization, Xeikon, was part of was called PUNCH Graphix, right?
WM: That’s right. In 2010, we changed the name from PUNCH Graphix back to Xeikon, as it was before. The company went through a number of ownership changes and ultimately was acquired by The Flint Group in 2015. In 2009, Xeikon started to focus on packaging, which accounted for 10% of revenues at that time. When I left in 2017, packaging was 65% of our business.
PN: Why did you leave Xeikon?
WM: I had been at Xeikon for eight years, and the company was in a good place. I also helped establish the Flint Group Digital Printing Solutions business, of which Xeikon was a major part. The Flint Group was a very good and stable owner for Xeikon, and I felt it would be good for someone with new ideas to take over. Plus, I was looking forward to doing something new.
PN: What attracted you to Summa?
WM: In the summer of 2016, I was invited to be a board member at Summa. I was so busy at the time, integrating Xeikon into The Flint Group, that I didn’t really have the bandwidth to take on another project, but I found the company to be interesting. After I left Xeikon, Summa asked me to help start Summa America, so I kind of rolled into Summa right after Xeikon. I was then asked to get Summa Asia up and running, and now I run the worldwide business.
PN: There had been Summa cutting systems in America for some time. What was involved with getting Summa America started?
WM: When I took over the America operation, we had two offices – one in Seattle and one in Boston – and our business was primarily direct sales to end users from those two offices. I changed that model to eliminate direct sales and established a dealer/reseller channel. The Boston office became Summa America, and the Seattle office went back to a previous Summa owner who became one of our dealers.
PN: Was it difficult getting dealers/resellers on board? It’s only been a couple of years …
WM: Not at all. Everyone knows Summa for roll cutters; maybe not so much for our flatbed or textile offerings. We’ve been around so long and the machines perform so well, that when you go to ISA or SGIA, they all know Summa and have had good experiences with the brand. Resellers knew we had a superior product, but they previously had no access to it, so they were very happy to jump on board with us.
PN: How many dealers or resellers do you have on board?
WM: In terms of our flatbed products, about a dozen. For our roll cutters, about two dozen. We don’t want to have too many resellers; we don’t want to over-distribute the product. We want our resellers to have enough skin in the game so they can invest in service, market the product and be able to sell the value, not just sell on price.
PN: When we did our annual print franchise review earlier this year, we heard the Summa name come up quite often. Do you sell direct to the franchise networks?
WM: No. All Summa sales are now through channels.We don’t have any more direct sales. Each franchise center engages a dealer or reseller independently to gain access to the products.
PN: So it sounds like you took on Asia pretty quickly after joining the company.
WM: Yes, Summa America has its own vice president and general manager now, who has taken over the operational role for the Americas, where our focus currently is on North America. We are not so active in Latin America yet, but it is on our roadmap for the future. Asia was a bit more of a challenge. They didn’t know about the product there. Luckily, we were able to hire an industry-experienced team that had a good network. Now even our competitors in Asia say that everyone is talking about Summa.
PN: Your business has primarily been in the signs and display graphics market. But at FESPA, you were showing textile cutting tables. Can you talk about how and why you entered the textiles market?
WM: We see a big future in textiles and that there is also a gap in the market for textiles. We didn’t see any other company making dedicated single-ply cutting products that served the textile market. The products I see now in the market for cutting textiles, for garments or for soft signage, are non-purpose-built. They are products originally designed for the sign market trying to sell into textiles. There are also lower quality systems from Asia in the market. We saw an opening for high-quality cutting systems purpose-built for this market. A lot of the companies also are smaller companies that need a high quality, but sub-$100,000 solution, and they also want laser cutting.
PN: You showed an impressive laser cutting solution at FESPA, the L3214, which is able to cut the fabric while the belt is moving. Talk about the development of that product.
WM: We acquired CadCam Technology because they had laser technology, which we think is very important for textiles. It’s a non-contact cutting technology and it has the added benefit of sealing the edge of the fabric while cutting. If you are cutting Lycra for sportswear with a knife, the materials move, which they don’t with laser, so you get a more accurate cut. Plus, the light beam can move faster. CadCam has a lot of experience, and we estimate that over 1000 machines are already installed, of which a significant part are in the textile market. They are very strong in R&D, but less focused in sales and marketing. They had been in business for 20 years. We saw a good fit.
PN: Was the L3214 developed subsequent to the acquisition?
WM: CadCam already had a plan with drawings on the table. We did some adjustments to the machine because we wanted it to look like a Summa machine, and we gave them time and resources to develop the product.. It’s unique in the market. There are actually two machines: The L3214 is 3.2 meters wide and is targeted at the soft signage market. The L1810 is a 1.8-meter solution more focused on apparel, since we see folks in that market primarily using fabric widths of 1.8 meters or less. The L1810 is currently available and the L3214 is close to commercial release. Also, our experience has been that the L3214 delivers three times the productivity of other systems, which means we are seeing three older machines replaced by one L3214 in many cases.
PN: You have been in the roll-fed business for a while, but aren’t you relatively new to the flatbed business?
WM: We have been in the roll-fed business since the 1980s, and the flatbed business for 10 years. Last year our flatbed business grew by 50%, which means we are taking market share. A lot of mid-sized companies in the sign market have roll-to-roll printers and cutters, and want to add a flatbed. The F1612 is a good choice for that, a very versatile machine that averages at $75,000 depending on configuration. It’s also compact – many customers have a limited footprint available. It has been our most successful machine in the flatbed market, and now these customers are growing into bigger flatbeds, and we are growing with them.
PN: What are your key growth initiatives?
WM: We have two main initiatives, starting with regional growth. Summa has been strong in Europe, but we see a lot of potential to grow outside of Europe. In 2015, our revenues from outside EMEA were less than 10%, but are now more than 30%. Secondly, it is our mission to be a trusted partner for textile printing and converting companies. Our long-term plan is to get to 50% of our business related to fabrics and textiles; currently, it is less than 20%.
PN: Why should people look at Summa as a cutting solution?
WM: Our tagline is "Legendary Performance" for a reason. The products are very reliable, and this is important to customers. Finishing is always the last step, and if it fails, you don’t meet customer deadlines. Plus, waste in finishing due to errors and rework is very expensive, taking out the profit of the job. Plus support – we want to be there immediately if something goes wrong, and our dealer network helps us do that. We also don’t oversell our products. We try to understand what the customer is looking for and provide them with a solution that meets that need. If it is fit for the customer’s purpose, they are happy.
PN: Any final words you would like to share with our readers?
WM: Summa is investing to make the life of sign makers and textile converters easier, taking complexity out of the finishing job. One way we do that is through our patented barcode process. Barcodes are printed on the material, and our devices automatically search for barcodes when the material gets to the device. This sets the device up automatically. It will know all the settings, including which knife should be used; it will check that the right tool is being used and will calibrate it before cutting. And then it just cuts continuously, job after job on the roll. Our machines often work unattended overnight, even our flatbeds, which have a roll-fed option as well. These systems make a big difference for our customers. We still see a lot of manual finishing being done, or finishing being done by an expensive, complex system. Our vision is to make reliable systems that are automated and easy to operate with a high level of productivity. We want to help people take the bottlenecks out of finishing.