News: Analysis & Commentary: Technology
A PACKAGE FOR EVERY PERSON
Imagine the sales boost Coca-Cola Co. could get if it printed full-color pictures of coach Joe Paterno on every can of Coke at Penn State football games next fall. Or what if Newt Gingrich appeared on every package of Excedrin sold at the next Democratic National Convention? That kind of customized packaging is a marketer's dream. Until now, though, it has been too expensive: It takes too much time and money to prepare a conventional press for short printing runs.
Enter Benzion "Benny" Landa, founder of Israel's Indigo Ltd. He claims his new Omnius One-Shot Color printing system, announced on Jan. 25, makes it economical to print cans, bottles, labels, and paper packaging in far smaller lots than ever before. Some major printers are clamoring for the first machines. Toronto-based Moore Corp., the giant maker of business forms, plans to produce customized labels with its machine. Says Moore Chief Executive Reto Braun: "This is a breakthrough. It's one more strong indication that chip technology is entering the printing business."
TILES AND TABLECLOTHS. Omnius does away with the bulky, awkward metal printing plates used in conventional offset presses. In its process, ink is laid directly onto a smooth, rubbery roller by computer, then transferred onto the print surface. The ink is specially formulated to lift cleanly off the roller, so a different image can be laid down with each revolution. The technology is the same as in the E-Print machines that Indigo introduced successfully last year. But E-Print can print only on single sheets of paper. Omnius can handle rolls of paper, plastic film, or cardboard, as well as cans, bottles, and ceramic tiles.
Where will the new technology lead? Landa foresees beer cans customized for weddings and full-color product brochures that can be changed weekly, to say nothing of coordinated kitchen tiles, curtains, and tablecloths, all printed overnight on an Omnius machine. The one drawback: Indigo's special ink is more expensive. So for long runs--say, 100,000 or more, depending on the type of job--it still makes sense to gear up a conventional press. Landa vows to refine Omnius for bigger jobs.
Omnius looks like another big win for the Canadian-born Landa, 48, who became one of Israel's richest men last May when his company went public in the U.S. with a market value of $1 billion. Landa's family trust retains 70% of Indigo's shares. The stock sagged last summer but has since rebounded--and surpassed the offering price the day Omnius was announced. If Omnius takes off the way early customers predict, the main thing it will be printing is money.By Peter Coy in New York, with Neal Sandler in Jerusalem