Konica Minolta: Leading the Revolution for Inkjet

Mr Akiyoshi Ohno, Konica Minolta

Mr Akiyoshi Ohno, Konica Minolta

Mr Akiyoshi Ohno is the Executive Officer of Konica Minolta and whilst visiting their state of the art new Demo Centre in Bregnano, nr Como in Lombardy I discovered more about his, and Konica Minolta's inkjet story.

Mr Ohno informs me that in Japan, at the age of 62 most people retire, jhowever he has been kept on as a special advisor to continue to promote inkjet and Konica Minolta into the world of high speed inkjet as his experience and reputation continues to be important to the future of Konica Minolta.

His mission is also to support his successor, Mr Komatsu, and at the same time continue to promote and raise the visibility of KM. Mr Ohno’s focus is to lead the inkjet vision by promoting the brand, supporting their distribution network and championing the development of inkjet wherever he goes. So we had a very interesting discussion and here it is in interview format.

How did you get to run the inkjet business at Konica Minolta?

“As a student I studied Applied Chemistry at Tokyo University and as well as learning about chemistry developed a love of playing guitar, and photography, and was drawn to Konica Minolta in line with this passion for photography.”

As Konica Minolta was back then already a global enterprise I had become stationed in Germany, in Hamburg and ended up being in the country for 11 years and this is where my children were born. I began working for the copier division and for the first two years and was a trainee, then I was asked to stay for 3 years to stay on longer to establish a factory for photocopier production in Europe which after assessing various locations in different northern European countries, I finally focused on north Germany.”

When did you get involved with inkjet?

“I joined inkjet in 1999 along with Mr Ito. When Mr Ito retired, then I was in the position to succeed as division director for inkjet. 

Our first product was the 512 nozzle, which gave performance of 42 picolitre/360 npi/7.6khz! At the time it was an amazing piece of engineering, but when compared with the latest Konica Minolta head technology, which is the 17761777, we have a drop of 3.5 pl/600 npi /84khz! So the advances in quality and speed over this time period have been considerable.”

How have you developed Konica Minolta in the field of inkjet?

“Well when I joined I felt that Konica Minolta, despite being a big brand had no real visibility in the inkjet marketplace. So in 2003 I decided to change all of that by presenting at IMI with the aim of making some noise about our technology and our achievements.”

(Having been to a few IMI Conferences now myself I have heard about this very presentation on numerous occasions, so it has become the stuff of conference folklore.)

“When I made the presentation fun as well as informative and then later at the networking party I found a guitar and decided to play it. We all had a great time. When I got back to the office I was very proud to discover that I had been awarded the best speaker at the conference so it had obviously achieved something! And Konica Minolta had arrived.”

Akiyoshi Ohno with John Corrall of Industrial Inkjet Ltd

Akiyoshi Ohno with John Corrall of Industrial Inkjet Ltd

Not long after this point, Konica Minolta had seen early on that the European marketplace was very important to the development of inkjet. At this point Mr Ohno had gotten to know John Corral who had just left Xaar to pursue a venture to create an inkjet based business that specialised in integrating technology into manufacturing lines. Industrial Inkjet came into existence with the support of Konica Minolta.

“I am really very proud of what IIJ has achieved, not just for John, but for all of the people there. It keeps growing! It helps Konica Minolta greatly as we have an excellent European base near Cambridge.”

After discussions this came about. Industrial Inkjet was supported by Mr Ohno and now they have 50 employees and doing very well. Konica Minolta is a big company looking for big market gains but they don’t necessarily think of individual’s customisation and this is IIJ’s role.

Mr Oho explains that for Japan, Europe is too far away and Konica Minolta more mass manufacturing focused. 

In Como, at the Demo centre seeing Enrico Verga as being very much part of the leadership team it is clear that the approach for the digital textile market is similar.

Mr Ohno with Enrico Verga (COO) and Seiji Nakashima of Konica Minolta at the Demo Centre, Bregnano, Como

Mr Ohno with Enrico Verga (COO) and Seiji Nakashima of Konica Minolta at the Demo Centre, Bregnano, Como

The company that bears his name, ‘Verga’ has started as a copier distributor in the Como area and now his father retired and now Enrico, Emilio, Elena the next generation and has been very loyal to Konica over the past few years. 

Mr Ohno explains, “Enrico’s father made a success of copier business and made a lot of money. The next generation the photocopier technology was not as buoyant and perhaps not as creative or disruptive as the digital textile. Enrico found inkjet textile printing much more creative and interesting. For more information please take a look at this link to a previous blog about the SP-1. It is clear Konica is a collaborative business.” 

(Link to story here) The new range of Konica Minolta digital textile machines are as impressive as the Demo centre itself demonstrating the importance that Konica Minolta places on the Como area itself as well as Europe for industrial level printing.

What other industrial applications is Konica Minolta active in?

“We also have Printed Electronics. Konica Minolta develops heads and printers in closed rooms for printing touch panel metal mesh matrix. In this sphere we don’t sell printers, we sell heads but focus in very specific areas for touch panels. It does what screen printing can do it also has a special format 5 micron lines making the touch panel very sensitive. “
So with all of these key areas developing quickly one could think that perhaps digital technology is on the cusp or replacing analogue, so I ask the question.

Will digital replace analogue?

“It will not completely because you cannot underestimate analogue. Without this respect inkjet cannot be successful. However digital will continue to rise in use and popularity as it can achieve things that analogue cannot. Not least that analogue requires skilled labour and when compared, inkjet does not have the same demands on the operator. For screen printing you really need to know what you are doing.  This kind of know how is not easy to reproduce. So digital is relatively easy in comparison and this gives advantages to the manufacturer especially with the advent of single pass and some manufacturing, print onto 3d shapes for example, now this change is coming and it is enlarging the entire mix and packaging as well is beginning to see an increase in demand for inkjet.”

So packaging is a big next marketplace?

“It is an exciting market but packaging however is very difficult. 1) Gravure or Flexo is already very established. Whilst retailers want on demand printing, they still demand that the specification and the technology has to be the same black, same red, following the corporate brand guidelines. Inkjet still has a challenge for that. Also what is important is print in and around food to satisfy food regulations.”

What other segments are developing?

 “The current hot theme seems to be wall paper, laminates and labels. The headache of conventional printing of wall paper is the fact that the wall paper manufacturer must carry a huge stock of rolls. This is because the runs using rotary screen cylinder and/or gravure cylinder have to be so long. The wall paper manufacturers have to keep the huge volume of cylinders to prepare for repeat orders. The headache for the laminate industry seems even heavier. Most of laminate board manufacturers outsource the printing job on the thin roll paper. The stock volume of printed roll paper at laminate board manufacturers is huge, at the same time the stock of printing cylinder at printing company is equally huge. As for labels, the industry has the same kind of headache. For example, if a company had 300 products and operated in 20 different languages, they must already produce 6,000 different labels and this is a difficult task to control with precision. 

One more sector could be “direct printing”, to print not necessarily on flat surfaces, but often on curved glass, round shaped plastic parts or cylinder shaped tubes. It shows the potential to possibly eliminate labels by printing directly on the target items.”

So what with all of these changes and the variety of the applications where do you think this will end up?

“For Konica Minolta, I don’t want to just sell another inkjet head. One more head or one more printer. But my mission is to fuel an industrial revolution for inkjet. Every April we accept a newcomer when we employ new graduates, I often ask these new guys what is your job in your company? Maybe doing some very good research and some maybe handling customer complaints I remind them to keep in their mind that they are part of this revolution. They are helping this revolution to happen. They are not doing something menial! Everything we do here makes a contribution to something greater than ourselves. We have kept this mission statement the same as this is an ongoing mission.”

The revolution has begun but not finished then?

“Yes but it is our mission to continue our work and for Konica Minolta to collaborate to create technology that enables new possibilities in printing in all industrial applications and commercial applications as well. It is an exciting time as the technology becomes faster, the quality increases and the demand for customisation and for more automated and flexible production increases.”

Konica Minolta exhibit at InPrint Show on booth #D55 to view their entry go to http://bit.ly/1MTyHN0