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Joanne Hunter talks to Dr Sonia Megert, VP market and product marketing at X-Rite, about what lies ahead for the specialist in colour science and technology, and her part in that future

Young printers battled for the global title of ‘best of the best’ at this year’s WorldSkills London 2011 by demonstrating expertise in applying X-Rite tools to verify and adjust the print quality and colour consistency in the offset process. So when digital printing of packaging starts to take hold, these fledglings will be masters of their trade and capable of fully exploiting the technology that X-Rite is developing today.

No wonder Dr Sonia Megert is excited by her role at X-Rite: she looks at overall market trends and cultivates a seed bed for new products by identifying and interacting with all the players in the supply chain.

Dr Megert came from the speciality chemicals company Ciba to join X-Rite three years ago. Founded in the 1950s, X-Rite’s expertise is in control and instrument systems. Its first product was x-ray marking tape. In 1975 came the first densitometer for photographic printing use. Then, in 1990, X-Rite shifted the emphasis to colour measurement. In 2006, it acquired Amazys, owner of Gretag–Macbeth quality control systems for the pressroom, which was followed by Pantone in 2007.

“It is compelling to see the marriage of a sensitive and emotional colour language that focuses on design and advanced colour technologies, and what that delivers to converters and retailers,” says Dr Megert. “It is a story of technical components – high tech instrument and software – combined with the ‘feeling’ artistic side.”

“My background is the pigment world. I used to look at colour trends, help create new possibilities and interact with specifiers and designers. In my last five years at Ciba I created a new service business for colour management and was involved in the software and hardware business with X-Rite, a partner of Ciba.”

She came on-board at X-Rite as a ‘complete package’. “I offered the full spectrum: an ability to understand how the process sticks together from beginning to end and system thinking.”

“X-Rite is in graphic arts, but also photo, paint, textiles and automotive: wherever colour is a critical component. I have good understanding of the dynamics in most of X-Rite’s core markets.”

Her international perspective is a further strength, because, she says: “Everything is about globalization of workflows. From the USA to Asia, I look at market trends and what the next partnering should be.” The objective is to maintain leadership, and “currently, in nine out of our 10 core markets we are number one”.

A recent trip to the USA took her into a board meeting that reviewed strategy and corporate direction.

“We are considered an instrument and software provider today and we want to change the perception towards being the partner of choice when addressing digitalization of colour workflow. X-Rite would like to take the lead with its partners.” What differentiates X-Rite, she believes, is that: “The retailer and brand owner will come to talk to us about their colour communication issues.” While other companies are focused on one actor in the supply chain, “we talk to everyone”.

The overall goal, she says, is “to create a universal colour language, leverage advantage and move it to the digital world”. Communication inside the retail supply chain is key, and “the science of spectrophotometer technology and Pantone aesthetics together strengthen colour language”.

Embedded technology in the printing machine automates the processes and removes human variations. This creates a consistency in the business which helps printers gain speed and reduce waste while effectively leveraging their workforce. But in addition, new X-Rite technology will address the exacting requirements of special-effect packaging.

“Colour is only one dimension; another is the material’s appearance. Special effect pigments such as metallic and pearlescent give a special look to packaging. We are working on a more precise language of Pantone colour and this embraces everything – colour and effect. Our latest technology is a coming together of all this: a materialization of the endeavour,” she says.

Dr Megert adds that digitalization has value for all users because it speeds up the design cycle, making clear what is being agreed upon, so decisions can be taken earlier, which shortens time to market. Many issues in today’s production are caused by perception of colour and how it is communicated through the value chain. The digitalization, or DNA of a colour, will seamlessly hand off all the characteristics and behaviour of that colour at the critical hand-offs, removing the perception of what the original intention was.

Such an efficient process helps suppliers win customers, she says. Like digitalization, it will be a ‘slow burn’. HP and Epson “have had our technology in their products for many years”, yet the level of integrated sensors used by digital printers is still only 3-5%. “The industry has a slow to adoption record, but we believe the right cost/performance can bring new growth opportunities to the packaging world.”

Dr Sonia Megert: international perspective Dr Sonia Megert

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