Since the beginning of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has put the global economy into a tailspin. While the crisis continues to impact supply chains all over the world, China has already begun shifting gears to get back to normal.
Xeikon CEO, Benoit Chatelard, echoed this observation: “What we see is a slow start from China. My people are able to go and visit customers. We have many activities in Singapore, and in Australia too. But Taiwan has really been the most active in the business, since the very beginning.”
“We are growing in Asia. This year, the business is stunted from the COVID-19 pandemic. China closed quickly, followed by Singapore and some other Asian countries. We are just restarting, in fact, Taiwan has been very active,” Chatelard continued.
“Right now, we are experimenting our robustness as a company and our will to weather the storm. This is a good stress test for a company to see if Xeikon can pass this crisis without damage and have good business continuity,” said Chatelard.
In December last year, Xeikon announced the opening of the Innovation Centre in China at the Shanghai University of Printing. With the new facility, Xeikon now has two Innovation Centres in Asia to better serve the region. The first centre is in Tokyo, Japan. As the COVID-19 lockdown has lifted in some cities in China, Chatelard confirmed that the Shanghai centre has already reopened.
“The centre is fully open and operational. We have our own infrastructure to watch demonstrations, benchmark, and show proof of concept. We’ve also invested in more people,” said Chatelard. “But I would say at the beginning of the year we've not gotten the fruits of that because of the current situation. I’m confident that when we restart we'll have a good perspective in Asia.”
The pandemic has catalysed changes in the industry. Most businesses have had to restructure how they operate. Industry 4.0 and automation are trends which have been accelerated. Companies that used to be resistant or slow in its adoption has had to make quick decisions to adopt the technologies to stay productive.
Chatelard highlighted the growth of digital technologies in these times: “There will be a stimulation for digital, firstly due to the uncertainty of the business because of this crisis. You need to be more on-demand, so I think digital will give more flexibility for the future.”
“The other thing is, you’d see that we have to survive without your people being necessarily in the plant, so there's a lot of thought about Manufacturing 4.0,” Chatelard continued. “You could say that digital needs far less labour than conventional. So, right now is a simulation to seriously consider more on-demand technology, and more non-labour technology.”
“With the grouping of jobs into a platform, you go digital to digital and eliminate the manual preparation of a plant. It’s far less labour intensive. When your labour workforce cannot be on site or you are far, digital gives you an edge. At this time I think many customers will probably have learnt that for future investment, I would cross it out even more than before digital than conventional. I think that would be what will happen,” said Chatelard.
The Possible New Future: Xeikon Café TV
Due to the current situation, open houses, relevant events and tradeshows are put on the back burner for now. The company’s signature Xeikon Café events, typically held at its Innovation Centres are also on hold. To mitigate the effects of not having personal face time and live demonstrations, Chatelard revealed the company will be launching Xeikon Café TV.
“Last month we invested into live streaming equipment in all our centres’ stations learning how to make online demonstrations that we can do for a customer or for a group of customer,” Chatelard said. “We are now developing the methodology to make it more professional. In June, it will be even more interactive. We will be using some live streaming. For that you need to implement some smart technology to make it functional, efficient and not boring so you can retain the attention of an audience for a couple of hours.”
In the last week of April, Xeikon ran the first two Xeikon Café TV live streaming in the US; one for the label industry, the other for graphic arts.
Personal interactions are still crucial, as Chatelard added that the company hopes to eventually continue participating in trade shows by the end of the year.
Chatelard also hopes to kickstart Xeikon Cafés as soon as possible. Xeikon had organised a Café event in its Tokyo centre right before the lockdown, and that the next logical step would be to do an edition at the Shanghai facility.
“However, if we cannot plan for a Shanghai edition, we'll do it online. I think the technology will be used more and more to even avoid traveling. As you know, going from North China to South China alone is an investment of time as well,” said Chatelard. “This can progress into a discussion with the customer, could be good to connect online with expand and to progress your thinking. So I think the crisis help us learn how to use even better visual connection with our customer. That's my vision.”
First published in Issue 05/2020 of Print Innovation Asia.