Digital Geometry: Vic Stalam discusses Highcon’s push into the Americas
By Jon Robinson
Featured in PrintAction magazine’s February 2015 issue, now available online, Vic Stalam describes his new role as President of Highcon Americas and why the company’s unique Euclid cutting and creasing technology can disrupt one of printing’s most enduring long-run sectors. The full article is available in the print edition or via PrintAction‘s digital archive.
How is Highcon’s Direct to Pack technology unique?
Vic Stalam: Nothing else exists today in terms of what we have to offer… Highcon is the first to offer a totally digital Direct to Pack solution to the folding-carton market. It also handles both [worlds]. It doesn’t have to be digitally printed, it can also be analogue. Truth be told, most of the volume is still analogue and we need to support that. So, in this sense, it is not only the technology that is unique, but also the fact that we support both digital and analogue.
What stands out most about Highcon’s DART technology?
VS: The paper movement is right to left and, in stage one, once the paper is registered… the polymer is UV-cured and then it produces the creasing lines. It is very unique in that sense. Because it can address any point on the paper, you have opportunities to create very, very unique applications. Once the line is creased – and it is folded through the creasing lines – the next major stage is the laser, which does the actual cutting.
What’s unique about our technology is, not only DART and the way the polymer is laid, but also the way it is creased and then how it is registered for the laser to cut it. Typically when you use a high-powered laser you can burn all kinds of other things like paper or folding carton. Our technology takes care of [this challenge] so that you do not see any of that. It is a very clean process.
How are Euclid’s digital optics important to the laser-writing process?
VS: With the optics you not only have edge registration, which is mechanical, but we also have optical registration. With traditional die cutting, you just do not have the precision of a laser, so everything you see [off the Euclid] is going to be a higher quality product, as it relates to registration and the quality of the cut itself.
What advantage does Highcon, relative to printing’s historic postpress players, have when it comes to developing new approaches for finishing folding-carton work?
VS: I always think of the great Canadian Wayne Gretzky and a famous quote. Somebody in the press asked him, “You are not a big guy, what makes you great?” He said, which always sticks in my mind, “I always try to be one step ahead. I always try to get to where the puck is going to be next and I do not worry about where the puck is now.” I think that is where Highcon is going… positioning ourselves as customers move to digital – how is it going to help them in the future?
How would you compare Highcon’s potential impact to another stage of printing evolution, such as when film was eliminated in prepress?
VS: The world is going to be very different in just a few years – I guarantee you that. This is the disruption and we are going to be a big part of that on the finishing side. Remember how we used to have these film-based companies called trade shops – absolutely, same analogy. Trade finishers have an opportunity to embrace this new technology and grow or else they are going to fall by the wayside.
How can a technology like Euclid ease the ability for commercial printers to get into packaging?
VS: Having spent a lot of my life in both commercial printing and packaging, 70 percent of what commercial printers do is the same as what packaging printers do… There are differences. One is the language they speak. Commercial printers talk about pages and packaging printers obviously do not. There is an issue around substrates. Then there is an issue around specialty colours. Commercial printers now do six, seven colours. With packaging customers it is not unusual to see 10, 12, 14 with all of the varnishes, all of the metallics.
But when it comes to digital technology, the one thing I like about commercial printers is that they are trying hard to get digital right. I think they are probably five to 10 years ahead of packaging printers as far as digitization is concerned. I give them credit for that. Given their experience with digital technology, given their desire to get into packaging, I think solutions like Euclid will help.
How does Highcon benefit from the growth in digital press development for packaging?
VS: We are in constant dialogue with all of these digital press companies, whether it is HP, Xerox, Xeikon, Landa or Kodak, whoever, because the nature of the relationship between us is very symbiotic. We need each other, because if we can get a lot of short-run jobs printed with digital that will make the Euclid system very successful. They need us because they can do all of the digital printing, but it comes to a screeching halt if they have to depend on an analogue process for finishing. We are the missing link to complete that whole digitization process for end customers.
What type of printing company should be looking at Euclid?
VS: We are looking for companies who are very progressive and innovative, who want to look at new technology. That is one vector. The second one is we are looking for companies who either have digital or, more importantly, they are in the process of moving toward digital. We have a few customers who do not have any digital and are just putting it in now, after they put in the Euclid, because it also supports analogue. The third vector we are looking for is customers who want to grow with new applications, who are willing to work with their customers, the brand owners, to help them grow.
What type of industry sectors are being targeted for Euclid as a starting point?
VS: There are about three major sectors. One is clearly commercial printers who are doing folding carton. This is going to be key. Two is packaging printers who are doing a lot of the other stuff like labels. And the third sector is trade finishers, the prepress houses of the finishing business. Those are the three big ones as we move ahead.
There are also some very creative design applications to take advantage and we will build on that as we go forward in time.
How much investment is needed to add Euclid in your facility?
VS: Just as a ballpark, the entry-level product is around $690,000. That is where it starts and then you can add things to it.
What savings can be realized through Euclid, specifically by eliminating traditional die-cutting processes?
VS: It takes about 15 minutes to set up a job in terms of the Euclid. In the case of die cutting, first of all, probably you have to send the job outside. You have to schedule it and then it takes typically anywhere from one to three days. The actual set up time is between four to eight hours on the die-cutting side depending on the complexity of the job versus 15 minutes, so there is a huge difference in the set-up times.
In the case of die cutting, they will have to store [a new die] in the event that they may have to reuse it at some point, which means they need a huge inventory management system and storage space. Think of the old days of film; how you had to store film and then go find it when needed. It is just a mess. Go back to the days of stripping a piece of film on a light table. And it also depends on the experience of the operator.
How many Euclid systems are currently installed in North America?
VS: We have four in North America right now, with one currently going in. We just launched the product in North America at Graph Expo [September 2014].
Do you have projections for how many Euclid systems should be installed on an annual basis?
VS: No, it is too early to tell. One of my jobs is to size the market, how big the opportunity is. As the new guy, I am going to go look at it with a fresh set of eyes. Ask me in three months.
How is Euclid’s consumables opportunity attractive to Highcon?
VS: There are three consumables that go with the system. The first one is the polymer. And this is the polymer I talked about earlier, which creates the creasing line. The polymer is first put on the foil and then it is UV hardened and then it creates a creasing line on the substrate.
The second one is the foil onto which the crease lines are written. And those two are one to one. For every job, you need a polymer and you need a foil. And the last consumable is called the counter substrate, which supports the high-quality creasing. It is replaced approximately every 120 jobs on average, so that is probably once every two months, depending on how many jobs you run.
Is the foil and polymer developed by Highcon or a third-party?
VS: Highcon develops it all. It is optimized to run – absolutely.
What hidden costs should printers consider before investing in Euclid?
VS: There are two things. The power requirement. Make sure they have enough power in the plant. And two is the chilling unit. Make sure there is enough accommodation for the chilling unit.
How does Euclid deal with waste material?
VS: This is a very important point. We are also unique in terms of how we automatically strip off all of the waste materials into a collection bin, which is totally automated. You cannot do that with traditional die cutting. It is a mess when you look at a traditional die-cutting machine – carton board is all over the place.
How will Highcon reach the market in the Americas, particularly here in Canada?
VS: Today, we have an agent out of Winnipeg called Canadian Printing Equipment. I’m going to be coming up in the next few weeks and doing an assessment on what do we need. At the same time, we continue to work with digital press partners. But right now it is definitely a dealer model for Canada, given how big the country is and what we need to do.
What technology challenges does Euclid still face?
VS: We continue to listen and learn from cutomers and we will not be a one-trick pony. We are committed to being an R&D powerhouse in this space and we are building a portfolio of products. One of the reasons why I joined the company is because of its strong commitment to R&D and the desire to listen and continue to iterate on the product. In my experience, with new products, that is the only way to do it.
What struck you most on your recent tour of Highcon’s facility in Israel?
VS: I believe in the technology. I believe in the value of what it will do for our customers and their customers. I have had the opportunity over the years to work with several Israeli companies. Their passion in terms of technology and their hard-work ethic is just incredible. I was there for four days. I was trying to cram in as much as possible. I was there every day from 8 o’clock to 8 o’clock, before we went for dinner, and I saw almost the whole team working. That is passion in terms of new technology.
What excites you most about Highcon’s technology and its potential impact?
VS: The single biggest thing that I am excited about is the fact that for brand owners, especially for folding-carton end customers, it means that now they can push for short runs without a lot of additional cost, at a very affordable rate. Today short run [folding carton] is not affordable because the finishing is very, very expensive. We are going to bring a lot of value to brand owners in terms of helping them grow their brand. I think that is going to have a major impact.
It is also going to cut down on the amount of time they need to bring a new product out. Brand owners take months and months when they have a new product to get on the shelf, so every day counts. Also new applications, which you could never produce with traditional die cutting.
What is your most important message to PrintAction’s readers?
VS: There is a major shift going on within the folding-carton market, to go digital. And we are going to be a major part of it. We are going to make it happen because it brings value to our customers and their customers. There is going to be a seismic shift even if today a lot of the volume is still traditionally printed. It is just a matter of time before the shift happens.