The EFI/Xeikon announcement was significant for a number of reasons, and I think it sets the tone for some of the activities we’ll see in 2018. Make no mistake, inkjet is trending upward, with increased speeds and improved quality causing converters that are looking to move into digital to reconsider their options. Once upon a time and not too long ago, you could count on one hand the number of production class digital label press vendors. Today, you’ll need several hands, because OEMs like Domino, Durst and Epson – to name a few – are making serious inroads, and I believe we’ll see inkjet and inkjet-based hybrid presses continue to challenge the EP leaders like HP and Xeikon for market share.
However, there is a big “but.” The EFI/Xeikon news essentially signifies EFI basically “throwing in the towel” within the now very competitive inkjet label press arena. And I predict there will be others to follow – not necessarily inkjet presses, but label presses in general. There is simply too much competition for every vendor to succeed, and new players are entering the market yearly. I’m predicting in 2018 perhaps discontinued press lines, and companies shifting gears to where they see more potential for success, much like how EFI views wide format and textile printing.
The M&A trend will continue in 2018, on both the converter and supplier sides of the business. This will be driven by the desire to enter growth markets such as flexible packaging. The year 2017 closed with the announcement of Fort Dearborn acquiring NCL Specialties. This was not just another acquisition for one of the largest label companies in the US. The move marks Fort Dearborn’s initial entry into the flexible packaging space. There will be more moves like this to come, from both the biggest players as well as small to mid-sized companies.