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On the Road: Heidelberg Reveals Future Direction, Product Strategy

January 2013
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HEIDELBERG, GERMANY—Last month, Printing Impressions and its sister publications, Package Printing and In-plant Graphics, were invited to visit Heidelberger Druckmaschinen AG's headquarters to talk with executives and tour the company's massive sheetfed press manufacturing facility in nearby Wiesloch-Walldorf.

Overall, the offset press manufacturing giant remains optimistic about its future, despite the rise of digital printing and competition to print from e-readers and mobile devices. Executives pointed to especially strong press sales in emerging markets, like China, Brazil and India. They also noted strong growth trends in package printing, as well as the expansion of the company's services and consumables offerings—which now make up 60 percent of Heidelberg's business in the United States, vs. 40 percent from equipment sales.

For the U.S. market, which saw a plunge in press sales starting in 2008, Heidelberg's message was essentially this: "Modernize or get left behind." Press technology has advanced so much in the past five years, noted Heidelberg board member Stephan Plenz, that only printers with the latest technology can hope to compete in the global market. Compared to other industrialized countries, U.S. printers maintain some of the oldest offset presses, according to Plenz. "When I walk through shops in the U.S., the age of equipment is incredible," he said. "The competitiveness to other countries is suffering. You're not able to compete with a modernized print shop—not with old equipment."

These older presses, well built though they are, are not as efficient as newer, more automated Heidelberg presses that reduce makereadies and integrate better into Prinect workflows, Plenz maintained, resulting in less productive, more costly printing. He showed figures indicating a 20 percent drop in print production volume in the U.S. since 2006, compared to a 10 percent drop on a worldwide basis.

Conversely, emerging countries, noted board member Marcel Kiessling—who was named head of global sales last June—are showing substantial growth in print production volume: 6 percent per year, he said. Heidelberg expects this segment to account for 42 percent of global sheetfed volume by 2015, with a corresponding growth in press sales. The company is expanding its market coverage and service force in these countries.

Advantages of Anicolor Inking Units

During the three days spent with Heidelberg, Plenz and other executives pointed out the productivity and cost advantages of using Anicolor inking technology for producing shorter runs. These benefits include 90 percent fewer waste sheets, 50 percent less makeready time, ease of operation, and consistent, even ink application, without ghosting. Some Anicolor press users are selling the 10th sheet, Plenz contended. More than 1,000 SM 52 Anicolor units have been sold. And, introduced at drupa, the 29˝ Speedmaster XL 75 Anicolor press will be in full serial production early next year, with a UV model available by the end of 2014.

Two customer tours highlighted the advantages of Anicolor technology. Drucken 123, in Aschaffenburg, Germany, is a quick-turnaround commercial print shop that runs a five-color Speedmaster SX 52 with Anicolor and coater, along with a Linoprint C751 digital press. Owner Markus Müller noted the critical importance of hybrid production flexibility when focusing on short-run work.

A second customer visit to Druckerei Reuffurth GmbH, in Mühlheim am Main, showed a larger commercial print shop. Owner Hans Reuffurth said his high-end company has been a beta site for Heidelberg's Prinect Inpress Control and most recently for a six-color Speedmaster XL 75 Anicolor press. With Inpress and Anicolor, press operators do not have to make adjustments, he added. Reuffurth says he made Heidelberg his vendor of choice due to its complete workflow and equipment offerings.

Still, in the U.S., digital presses have been supplanting offset press demand. Heidelberg now offers digital presses in the form of its Linoprint C and Linoprint L printers (Ricoh and CSAT products). Plenz, however, was dismissive of some of the industry hype surrounding digital printing, especially sheetfed inkjet output devices.

"The U.S. is definitely the market with the biggest portion of digital presses, but there are so many printers out there losing money with digital devices," he contended, adding that many shops acquired digital gear because they thought they had to, but have not been making money with them. He said only 5 percent of short-run jobs require personalized printing and that transpromotional printing is being supplanted by the Internet, despite the early hype. Plenz also feels that much personalization today can best be done during the postpress stage.

In discussing Heidelberg's partnership with Landa Corp. to develop and manufacture digital printing presses based on Landa Nanographic Printing technology, announced during drupa, Heidelberg's Andreas Forer seemed cautiously optimistic. "If everything works as he [founder Benny Landa] has promised, then definitely we have a bright future," he said, alluding to some roadblocks that have already been encountered.

Heidelberg's marketing plans for its Linoprint C751 and C901 digital color printers seem predominantly focused on its base of existing offset customers, rather than on printers that are exclusively digital. Linoprint models are being offered as a way for an offset printer to handle very small run lengths, while enjoying Prinect integration and Heidelberg color management across multiple output devices.

So far the company has sold 170 Linoprint products, with the C751 comprising 70 percent of that business. Forer noted that customers are replacing their Kodak NexPress and HP Indigo digital presses—which they thought they would need for their production capabilities—with Linoprints, which he said are more appropriate for the type of digital work they are actually getting.

Using Prinect software to integrate Linoprint digital printers with prepress, offset and postpress equipment and manage the entire workflow was a recurring theme in our meetings with executives. Demonstrations in Heidelberg's Print Media Center (PMC) showed how Heidelberg's Web-to-Print Manager integrates with the Prinect Business Manager MIS to enable a seamless hybrid workflow for digital and offset printing.

During our visit, we toured both of Heidelberg's PMC locations, which function primarily as demo centers for potential customers, and house almost every piece of equipment sold by the company. Just opened in October, the PMC in Heidelberg (54,900 square feet) highlights Heidelberg's commercial print offerings, as well as CTP and postpress equipment. The PMC in Wiesloch-Walldorf (58,100 square feet) focuses more on Heidelberg's packaging and very-large-format presses. In the future, Kiessling noted, Heidelberg will use these PMC locations, as well as the ones in Atlanta, Sao Paolo and Shenzhen, as its primary customer contact platforms, rather than emphasizing trade shows for this purpose (except for emerging markets).

Among the many highlights of the trip, journalists met with both outgoing CEO Bernhard Schreier and new CEO Dr. Gerold Linzbach. Schreier made a surprise visit at the Wiesloch-Walldorf facility. After running Heidelberg for almost 13 years, Schreier said he wanted to meet one last time with industry journalists to thank them for their years of coverage. Schreier spoke optimistically about Dr. Linzbach, saying he had recommended that his replacement come from outside the industry to bring some new perspective. "[Dr. Linzbach] was an ideal choice," he said.

Dr. Linzbach met with journalists over dinner, spending time with smaller groups during the evening. Having been in his position for just more than 100 days, he said he is still in a learning mode. However, he emphasized a priority to restore the company to profitability (sooner rather than later) and to re-establish the corporate confidence that has long made Heidelberg the leader in the industry. PI


 

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