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Digital Digest: Heidelberg Digital Sneak Peek Reveals New Strategy

May 2014 By Mark Michelson, Editor-in-Chief
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HEIDELBERG, GERMANY—The reference to the word "humble" and the usage of PowerPoint presentations containing "heart-shaped artwork" images throughout are not what one would typically expect from a presentation by the CEO of the world's largest sheetfed printing press manufacturer, but Heidelberger Druckmaschinen CEO Dr. Gerold Linzbach made it clear that the company is not your father's Heidelberg anymore.

Although the manufacturer once held the belief that its customers sought homegrown, "industrial-strength" output solutions developed solely by Heidelberg, Linzbach admitted the need to change that inward mindset throughout his organization, especially when it comes to the external partnerships Heidelberg needs to gain a bigger foothold and market share in the fast-growing digital printing arena.

"We looked for the best partners to add the best pieces to our solution," Linzbach told a room full of international journalists and industry analysts assembled here for the "Digital Sneak Peek" event early last month.

"We understand the customer knows best. This sounds a bit philosophical, but Heidelberg was an extremely proud company. We are a much more humble company now," he stressed, pointing out that Heidelberg's employee ranks have shrunk from 20,000 to 13,000 people and referencing the financial difficulties faced by Heidelberg in recent years.

Dubbed internally as "Synerjetix," Heidelberg is seeking full buy-in among its employees to collaborate with a number of partners to develop digital inkjet printing solutions for commercial and package printing applications.

Foremost, Jason Oliver, head of Heidelberg's digital business unit, announced a partnership with Fujifilm to develop a Heidelberg-branded, B1-format color inkjet press designed for commercial and package printing. Company officials remained vague on when the cutsheet press will officially debut—but although Heidelberg still has until the end of the year to sign up for drupa 2016—it seems logical that timeframe would represent the desired launch date.

Oliver added that Fujifilm was a natural partner given its industry leadership in drop-on-demand inkjet print head technology, inks and printing quality, combined with Heidelberg's expertise in substrate handling, process controls and precision manufacturing.

In the shorter term, Heidelberg is collaborating with Fujifilm and Gallus (in which it owns a 30 percent stake) to present a new Gallus digital label printing press this fall that incorporates Fujifilm inkjet printing technology. This integrated solution is designed to meet the growing demand for a cost-effective means of producing short runs and customized labels. It reportedly will feature offset quality, the speed of flexo, the cost and durability advantages of UV inkjet, and in-line converting capabilities.

In addition, in what it hails as a new 4D printing solution called the Jetmaster Dimension, Heidelberg has developed an inkjet-based device designed to print on three-dimensional objects. The first customer will be online European print shop flyeralarm, which will use its Jetmaster Dimension to personalize soccer balls.

The next phase of the technology, combined with robotics, should enable Heidelberg to enter new industrial industries—like automotive, public transportation and aerospace—and consumer goods markets such as bottles. With the ability to print on curved surfaces, Jetmaster Dimension could be used to print customized, full-color graphics and advertisements on cars, trucks, buses and even airplanes, increasing flexibility and dramatically reducing the costly and labor-intensive processes used today.

"Overall, we estimate that the digital sector (including three-dimensional printing) offers us sales potential of more than EUR 200 million (US$275+ million) per year in the medium term," predicts Linzbach.

As part of the press event, attendees were invited into an R&D basement area that featured a full-color Fujifilm Jet Press 720 cutsheet inkjet press, which is being used for product testing. It was positioned across the aisle from a Heidelberg anicolor offset press (which can achieve makereadies in as little as 30 sheets and two minutes). Nearby was a digital Gallus press with a temporary box covering where the Fujifilm inkjet heads will ultimately be placed, and, finally, a soccer ball personalization demonstration incorporated the Jetmaster Dimension.

Despite its heightened commitment to the inkjet printing space, Heidelberg is not forsaking its existing relationships in dry toner-based digital printing. Building on its three-year partnership with Ricoh, more than 400 Heidelberg Linoprint C (C 901 and C 751) digital printing systems have reportedly been sold worldwide. The printer enables the hybrid integration of digital personalization with offset shells, as well as short-run and personalized digital press runs. Heidelberg's Prinect Digital Print Manager integrates the Linoprint C into Heidelberg's overall Prinect workflow. Oliver also noted that more Ricoh products are in the pipeline.

"The three-year partnership with Ricoh has been an all-out success," he says. "Customers who have bought solutions from our Linoprint C range are tapping into new value-added business opportunities such as hybrid applications that utilize both offset and digital technologies in combination."

Oliver also introduced some team members of its digital advisory council, referring to them as "sherpas," who are helping Heidelberg devise its digital printing strategy. They included Jim Kano, a former senior Fiery sales executive at EFI; Peter Mack, a consultant at HyGround Consulting and a former Heidelberg employee; Dr. Ken Stack, the founder of Jetrion and, more recently, M&A firm Proximus LLC; and Mike Willis, managing director of IMI Europe, which produces inkjet conferences. PI



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