Sewn up? A yarn about Brother’s Roland aspirations

Mar 26, 2024 at 01:41 pm by admin

It might seem a stretch when companies tell us the market for newspaper press equipment – and newspapers for that matter – is “mature”, as in “largely past”, to be talking about the machinations of inkjet tech companies.

That’s not the case for giants such as Kodak, Fujifilm and HP, of course, all of which have customers that depend upon inkjet web for their production. And importantly, who knows what the future holds?

The application of short-run and personalised print tech to newspapers was always the largely-untapped opportunity, understandably ignored by media marketers who had fires aplenty to fight with their core, historic product.

But that doesn’t mean it has gone away yet.

Inkjet heads were once a popular addition on newspaper presses to imprint lottery numbers and personalised information. Axel Springer uses the technology to link a reader’s print purchase to its paywalled website for Bild.

But other applications have been much less sophisticated. The last I saw was at Bundaberg’s News-Mai l- since which time both press and printed edition closed in 2020 – have been committed to history.

The technology I saw there was that of UK pioneer Domino.

Who as it happens, is now part of Brother, a brand one tends to think of in connection with sewing and fax machines. Yes, we still have one in the corner of the GXpress office, though the phone line to which it was once connected has gone.

Well, think again. Brother – named for the two Yasuis who started making sewing machines some 116 years ago – is now a giant company with eight big factories around Asia, the US and Europe. And a patent book to match.

And is bidding to acquire Roland DG – not the keyboards and music brand, but the inkjet giant of the same name – against a management buyout proposal which has private equity backing.

Neither of which have much to do with newspapers, other than the Domino connection mentioned above. But could.

In an analysis for his Wide Format Online, Andy McCourt suggests Brother’s intervention is worthy of closer inspection. “If (the bid is) successful, we could be looking at the creation of another HP, Epson or Fujifilm-sized supplier to our changing industry, and one that offers diversification opportunities into industrial markets,” he says.

McCourt says that despite existing largely “outside the tent” of signage and display, Brother “is a major force in sewing and embroidery machines, office printers, MFDs and label printers of the marking and identification kind used in offices, warehouses and homes”. And owning Domino Print Sciences in the UK, putting them “in the high-end of digital label printing”, as well as having their own printhead technology.

At 64 billion Yen (about A$646 million), the bid for Roland DG, incidentally, is a fraction of the 820 billion Yen (A$8.28 billion) Brother expects to take in revenue in the year just ending.

Its ambitions for the company – which also makes 3D printers and machines for making teeth – are to boost R&D and take it much further into industrial markets expected to be more profitable than “static” print. And there’s the possibility that another bidder, such as Taiyo XYZ, might offer more.

As for opportunities for newsmedia? A strong “new” player might have the will and resources to make something opportunity-scaled happen.

Peter Coleman

Pictured: Brother Industries (Philippines) completed a giant third factory last month; (above) the company’s product and technology timeline

Sections: Print business


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