Baldwin Vision Systems – a registration, inspection and color powerhouse

Interview: Karl Fritchen of Baldwin Vision Systems

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Karl Fritchen CEO of Baldwin Vision Systems
Karl Fritchen CEO of Baldwin Vision Systems

Baldwin Vision Systems is a new company created by Baldwin that has been on a buying spree over the last few years. QuadTech was the Baldwin’s fifth acquisition since joining the BW Forsyth Partners family of companies in 2012, and the fourth completed in 2017. Baldwin acquired QuadTech from the large printing company QuadGraphics and combined it with two of its existing divisions – Web Printing Controls and PC Industries – creating a global platform that will operate as Baldwin Vision Systems. All three companies are in the US midwest – Wisconsin and Illinois.

Karl Fritchen, formerly QuadTech president became the CEO of the new company whose product technologies will span closed-loop automation for registration, inking, color management, web handling and 100% inspection for the commercial, newspaper, labels, packaging, converting and publication gravure industries. Naresh Khanna recently interviewed Fritchen.

Naresh Khanna – Tell us a bit about the merger process of the three companies and the current status.

Karl Fritchen – As you know we were integrated with two other groups that Baldwin also purchased. One is Web Printing Controls and the other is PC industries. The merger has gone very well. We have done some sifting and product tiering and we did obsolete 4 product lines amongst the three companies. We have been able to combine one half of the Quadtech team with the WPC engineering team and the PCI team with the other half of the Quadtech team for the best of class technology for the best possible solutions for our customers. We have already come up with one new product and in the next eight or ten months we expect to launch another.

There is great complement of product lines – for example we were in packaging and wide web, PC industries is in narrow web and label markets. QuadTech had a worldwide network of sales and service operations including a wholly owned manufacturing operation in India. The combination of products and expertise held within the three companies will enable us to reach areas of the market we were unable to reach individually.

The most exciting thing about the integration process is to get the engineers to work together in new teams. Engineers love to develop new things that are exciting. We expect to see several new products in the next year.

NK: Are any of the benefits of the merger and the formation of Baldwin Vision Systems becoming apparent?

Karl Fritchen – We’re already seeing growth because our other companies didn’t have a global sales force and we have sold their products around the world. It’s also a way for us to do product tiering where we offer a wider range of solutions. The PC Industries inspection system is more cost effective with a great feature set which makes us more competitive for the SouthEast Asian market. We are already showing results where we have been able to do product tiering and offer and sell WPC and PC Industries products in markets that they were not reaching before.

NK: What about increasing competition since cameras and CCDs are becoming more accessible and we see an increase of registration and inspection systems integrated or built in India and China while at the same time, the bigger press manufacturers are offering their own systems and even retrofitting registration and color control systems on their competitor’s presses?

Karl Fritchen – While some of the components are becoming more accessible this is still a very specialized industry. The real magic is in the control systems and the algorithms. Customers’ demands keep increasing and changing, so ongoing engineering in our types of technologies is required. While some of the larger OEM’s can justify building and integrating their own registration, inspection and color systems, many of the manufacturers do not have the volumes to justify this work which requires constant research and development. We continue to be in discussion with new OEMs including several Spanish and Italian manufacturers.

NK: Do you plan to become more competitive by manufacturing in India or Asia?

Karl Fritchen – We do some local supply for Manugraph which doesn’t come from the US anymore. We are pursuing this as far as manufacturing more in India. The new technology Autotron 3600 [which is meant to replace the well-known workhorse Autotron with a huge footprint in India and around the world] has had a great deal of input from the Indian team in Gandhinagar. Aimed at packaging systems, the first couple of these registration systems are on gravure presses at beta sites in India as well. They will likely be offered by Indian press manufacturers as soon as we launch the product.

NK: Do you plan to leverage Indian application software capabilities?

Karl Fritchen – Yes, We will do software testing and later we will move into software development.

NK: Has the combination of the three companies into Baldwin Vision Systems led to any redundancies or other developments?

Karl Fritchen – We have actually moved to a new manufacturing facility in Wisconsin. For the Quadtech people it’s exciting to be part of a manufacturing company rather than with a printing company. I worked happily with the QuadGraphics family for 32 years but now with Baldwin Vision Systems, we have access to other ancillary equipment that the Baldwin group manufactures. There are a lot more opportunities for collaboration.

Also, since QuadGraphics established its own successful packaging company a few years ago, it was becoming tougher for us to to sell to its competitors. This was one of the reasons we were able to convince the QuadGraphics board to let go of us – because over time it was going to make it more difficult for us to succeed.

Workforce is a real challenge in the United States right now. And since unemployment in the states where we are is currently at a record low level of 4%, we have to focus on retention. The culture of Baldwin is also to hold on to people.