Andrew Bailes-Collins is the Head of Product Management with Ultimate TechnoGraphics. In this chat with Editor Morten B. Reitoft, they discuss what to expect from Ultimate TechnoGraphics at the upcoming Hunkeler Innovationdays. Ultimate TechnoGraphics seems to be very successful these days, and with a strong focus on speed, the company delivers solutions that fit the digital transformation we see everywhere. Enjoy this chat, learn, and even better, see you at Hunkeler Innovationdays in Lucern. The event takes place from February 27th to March 2nd.
What to expect from Ultimate TechnoGraphics at the Hunkeler Innovationdays 2023
MR: We are with Andrew Bailes-Collins from Ultimate TechnoGraphics in Canada.
MR: Andrew, welcome to INKISH.
ABC: Thank you very much, it’s good to see you again.
MR: It’s good to see you too. We have enjoyed each others company a couple of times last year at Printing United but we also were at SG360 together, which was a fantastic site to visit.
I hope that the video we did has supported your business, We want to tell the story but we also want to support the business of course.
ABC: Yeah, that went down very well. That is a great customer and a great testimonial as well, so thank you for that.
MR: We were just at the right spot at the right time right?
MR: Andrew, we are going to talk about the Hunkeler Innovationdays. A lot of people have always cherished the Innovationdays as being one of the best events in the industry. Have you been there before?
ABC: Personally I haven’t. It’s my first time.
MR: Are you excited my friend?
ABC: I am excited for several reasons. One is just to go, I tried to go before, but for various reasons it didn’t happen and I am also excited because we have a lot going on. But the company is no stranger to the show.
For Ultimate it’s the 3rd or the 4th time we’ve been there as exhibitors. We have a lot of friends and partners there we integrate with with a lot of devices and systems. It’s a very strong market for us, high-speed inkjet direct mail. It’s like SG360, that’s the market they are in. Yes, I am really looking forward to attend. I said to Julie (Julie Watson is the CEO of Ultimate TechnoGraphics) there is to much snow in Montreal and asked if there was a possibility to go somewhere and she said I could go to Switzerland, so not getting away from the snow, unfortunately.
MR: I also think that one of the reasons why so many people are anticipating Innovationdays this year, is also because of COVID and had to postpone it 2 times, right? I also think it’s the first time since pre-pandemic that Innovationdays takes place. I think that a lot of people are anticipating that. You already mentioned that one of the markets you are in is Direct Mail and Transactional Print, but also in the Book Printing and print automation space.
I was just thinking that for all you guys that are working in the high-speed inkjet space, that it must be really interesting times because of the technology developing so rapidly, right?
Can you explain a little bit how you see the market and how you can help that market.
ABC: Well, we actually play in a lot more spaces than that. We do imposition, ganging and nesting and then also Bindery Automation.
If you think about what that market is, it’s typically very large files, ten’s of thousands if not hundred’s of thousands of pages, very very fast devices, very very short turn-a-rounds, SLA’s, contractual obligations often linked to mailing. So it’s a definite no-fail market. We have a specific version for that of Impostrip, it’s a scalable version, which is extremely fast. We have actually, and we will be showing that on the show, done some benchmarks tests with some incredible speed and we will be announcing those at the event, amongst other things.
So you have the speed, the connectivity, there are a lot of requirements for special marks on the imposition and things like that, which we are very strong at. The connectivity upstream and downstream and then all the Bindery automation on the back of that. It’s a market we are very strong in. We have a lot of customers and a lot of partners in it. For us it’s those two things: Connectivity and Speed. Let’s be honest, the presses aren’t getting any slower. The drive is there to get faster and then coupled with that there’s no use for a faster press if you can’t support that postpress. We are a key part in the middle, delivering the files correct and in timely fashion to the press.
Our customers are constantly challenging us in that market and we are bringing some of those new innovations to the show.
MR: I can’t help thinking about it, because when you talk about the SLA’s you can think about imposition on a roll, for example, if it’s an inkjet device, it should be simple, but it’s a lot of pages as you said. But secondly some of the SLA’s if you have them with the PSP’s are about the sequence of jobs because they have SLA’s with their customers, which is also quite demanding from time to time.
Is is all those things that can be taken into consideration when using Impostrip.
ABC: Yeah, when I say SLA I mean the ones our customers have with their partners. Their delivery schedules.
In fact I’ve been talking a lot to our customers to find out their challenges and how we can improve to help them.
The other thing we’re showing at the show, and you know my background is PDF, I’m heavily involved with the Ghent Work Group. Also in my ‘previous life’, I’ve worked for 2 preflight vendors.
We found that one of the challenges that exists in that Direct Mail market, is that the file often doesn’t come from ‘professional sources’. They come from a variety of PDF libraries and applications and they are very large. Like I said before ten’s of thousands if not hundred’s of thousands of pages. So if you have a problem, it’s not an easy one to resolve because preflight solutions struggle with the size of those files. So, one of the things we’re launching at Hunkeler Innovationdays 2023, is a solution to help with that.
I can’t say much about it, but it’s called BetterPDF and it’s a module for Impostrip which I think will be a great benefit to our customers in that market. We are really excited to show that at Hunkeler. It’s out on Beta for the moment. Just to get people’s reaction and see what they think.
MR: Super, funny that you mentioned that because of the thousands of pages, I was also thinking that, with all the inkjet devices today that have high capabilities when it comes to colors and replacing even jobs that you would normally print of an offset press or Indigo type of press. So I take that it’s not just the number of pages but they get way bigger in file size because you have more information on every page right?
ABC: That’s not always true because actually, digital print, as far as PDF concerned, it’s actually less restrictive than offset printing. You have to color seperate the file for offset printing. There are certain restraints that you have, that you don’t have with digital printing. It’s a lot more forgiving.
Having said that, it’s the number of pages and also the variable data, each page can be different. It’s not that you just rip one page and then print 100.000 copies of it. You rip 100.000 pages. Each page, an entity on it’s own, so there are no short-cuts. You just have to number crunch through those files. These are areas in which we feel we can help our customers.
MR: It’s funny because when I visited your offices in Canada, almost a year ago, I spoke to Raymond Duval, and I asked him why we are always looking to improve speed? But, you actually just gave a perfect answer, because if you move from having one page that is replicated many times to products of one, which is almost like an ideal in print today to eliminate waste of paper and warehouse space, there is a clear trend towards smaller and smaller circulations are for many many different reasons right? So that must put more strains on your side, right?
ABC: Yeah, and also coupled with that is the automation story. You know that in my previous roles I was heavily involved in automation. It’s funny, automation is different things to different people now. You know, there are still people who do manual imposition, you know moving to automatic imposition is people that are trying to automate their workflow to get the files to the press. Now, what we find, with our Ultimate Bindery product, is that people are trying to automate the postpress side of it. There is no point having the files to press if all you are doing is having more pallets on the floor. You’ve got to get jobs finished so you can invoice them. So the whole thing about short run brings additional challenges to all parts of production. More files, more make-ready’s, more job changes, more paper changes. The whole workflow environment is really really fluid and exciting. There are a lot of things going on.
MR: What I was just about to say that if you can talk about a ‘perfect workflow’ automation system for a print company, it is essentially eliminating all the bottle-necks, wherever they are. It could be, maybe not related to impostrip and Ultimate, but maybe just the fact if you can’t get customers because noone is answering the phone. So when we talk about the value of automation is basically that we get the work done as fast and efficient as possible. That may also be the answer as why it is so important to have the speed on the processing side and also on the computer side. Of course the new computers give you a lot of advantages.
Another question I have that just came to mind; A lot of people are using the Apple computers. Are you natively supporting the M-architecture now?
ABC: Yes, I am actually talking to you from an M1 Macbook Pro and last November we launched a native M1 version and straight out of the box, with no extra functionality testing that I was doing with some quite serious files, 38 percent speed increase, over Rosetta.
MR: So when we are talking about faster and better processing of course you will need to have the hardware to support it. But since you can now deliver a native Mac application for the M-processors basically you give a lot of advantage just because of that right?
ABC: It depends of what the clients want, really. Because a lot of people run us almost as a lights-out scenario, an automation scenario. We are somewhere in a server room, in a rack, with other applications. Other people run it on their desktop and they have someone sitting there. Some use it manually, and others are sitting there just monitoring it. We offer different choices depending on what our customers want. We are actually launching our flagship product, a scalable product, which was only available on Windows before. That basically means you can run 8, 16, 24 imposition servers simultaniously. You can process million page jobs extremely quickly. Or you can process 24 jobs at the same time.
That was only ever a Windows application before but actually at Hunkeler we will show the Mac version. It’s benificial to make some investment in updating our product range to support ARM.
MR: When we talk about these productivity gains and let’s say we buy this web based inkjet printer, a 2 million dollar machine and it has some software build in to it, and now I want to optimize the productivity on it. Is it a good ROI to invest in Ultimate software compared to the software delivered to the machine?
ABC: Depending on the use case, yes. One of the big things that people are looking to do, is let’s say you bought 5 devices, and you have 5 different software applications, one on each device, that’s 5 different maintenance contracts, 5 different applications to learn. We offer a centralized solution.
You feed Ultimate Impostrip and we will feed all the devices so that will give you production flexibility as well. We often see that that people will buy a device with something integrated that they get ‘for free’. It’s for a certain level of production, and look at their production as a whole, not just at that one device but look at the production as a whole and also look at their finishing. In fact a lot of people look at their finishing first and work backwards. Just to see where the bottle-necks are and the improvements can happen.
Very often now what we find it that people are pushing jobs massively and quickly through the factory and then it comes to a stop at the finishing side. What a lot of our resellers are doing now is starting from the back, what’s the capacity of finishing, what is the capacity of the press, how fast can you get files to the press, to get the true picture of how the business is going to function. It’s incredible.
MR: I would also say that if you look at buying software like Ultimate you also end up in a situation that you become a little bit less dependent on specific components in your production. Because if you want to replace one component in your system, you don’t need also to change the entire software side. It should make it more easy to upgrade your hardware when needed.
ABC: Yeah, that cherry-picking of best of breed products, I mean I was involved with Switch (Enfocus) before, that kind of picking the products, rather then buying a complete end-to-end print workflow, you are buying what is best for you, which gives you flexibility to change and evolve and adapt.
We are independently owned, as a company, and by nature we have to be ‘open’ and integrate with everything. That really is one of our strong points. Coupled with the fact you know we have a lot of customers that really push us for new functionnality. They are investing heavily in other areas and need us to provide them with the software for that. It’s exciting and scary at the same time.
MR: Now you are going to Switzerland and you have all the print OEM’s and actually quite a few of the bindery equipment providers as well. How are you going to present your solutions on Innovationdays. What can a guest expect?
ABC: It’s great for me because I am actually not going directly to Lucerne. I am going to Belgium first. You know I am in the executive team of the Ghent Work Group (GWG) so we have a meeting the week before. Then on the Sunday, I will fly down to Lucerne.
We are there with our partners IMPRESSED GmbH, whom I know you know, You’ve met Karsten at the Horizon event, to serve the German speakers. We’ve got: New Speed Benchmarking, we are showing what is capable with our solution for driving these fast devices and large files. We’ve got this new product: BetterPDF, which, actually the first time I’ve talked publically about, is now to you. But I am not going to say too much, that’s more for people to learn about at the show. We are showing a new version of Ultimate Impostrip, that will be released shortly after Hunkeler Innovationdays; our Ultimate Impostrip 2023.1 version. So that is exciting, but you know I am quite new to the business and all these new things, I get a real buzz out of it. We have got new integrations, new devices that we are supporting on the finishing side. There will be new devices there as well. We have a lot of partners there, existing partners and of course we are looking forward to make some new ones. Plus, we are going te see lot of customers and maybe even get some new ones. It’s going to be action packed and our schedule for meetings is already pretty full. We are booking them for the morning and evening now.
You know, you mentioned before about post-COVID and we were both at Printing United, you saw the success of that show, we put down to COVID and everyone started suddenly willing to see things and I really hope and really believe that Hunkeler Innovationdays will be the same. Similar to LabelExpo, people are starved and they want to communicate and want to touch things, want to feel things, talk about things. You can do a lot over the internet but nothing beats sitting down with a coffee and having a proper conversation about things. I think it’s going to be a great show!
MR: On an end note. Let me ask you a very simple question. Is it Finishing First, Printing First or Software First?
ABC: It’s actually neither. It’s File First. Without the file, or without a good file, you’ve got nothing. Everything stands in waiting.
MR: I thought I could get you into saying something that could cause some political struggles when I see you in Lucerne. But you are like the gentleman you always are.
ABC: You know I started my life as a prepress manager, I started my life as a typesetter, but I’ve been involved in production you know, and I’ve been involved in PDF for over 20/25 years, so for me that’s the most important thing you know. If you have a bad file, you have bad printing, no matter how you finish it and how beautiful it looks, the embellishment you put on it. If you’ve got 72 DPI images, it’s not a nice job. For me, sitting on the fence, it’s all about the file. It all starts with the file, that’s my answer 🙂