For many years, the drupa stage was dominated by Heidelberg. Then the world changed and the company lost its place at the centre of the print universe. It has been shaken and stirred over the past three years by CEO Gerold Linzbach, who was brought in to essentially restructure and bring the company back to health. Linzbach’s ideas which he says are based on close listening to Heidelberg employees and customers, seem to be working although in fairness, some of the stern measures to slim down the company were initiated even before he took over. Now on the eve of drupa 2016 in May, Heidelberg has conjured up a rocking strategy and is ready to once again leverage the industry’s main event for its journey of regeneration and transformation
The new smart strategy of Heidelberg is based on modest expectations for the sheetfed offset press market which the company expects will remain flat globally with some shift within the markets to Asia and perhaps Africa and Latin America. The past year saw an increase in sheetfed sales in the Americas but as Linzbach said in reference to the last year’s China market, “Our problem is that every year one market goes off a cliff – especially for new printing machines.”
Other aspects of the strategy are to build up the consumables and services business which are already approaching half of the company’s turnover. In consumables Heidelberg has already acquired a chemicals company and there are indications that it will acquire other companies, possibly in the inks segment. However, according to Harald Weimer, the company is definitely not planning to acquire any offset plate manufacturing. The other implication of services is to also build up the company’s cloud-based services for spares, performance monitoring and performance enhancement consulting.
An important part of the mix is the company’s Prinect workflow and front-end software which is also key to its digital offerings – the Gallus Labelfire 340 label press which is in beta testing 24 x 7 and ready for sale in April, probably so that the first sales can be announced at drupa; and, the just revealed Primefire 106 digital press aimed at the carton packaging market which will be shown at drupa and is likely to be ready for sale in the 2017-18 time frame.
Heidelberg Primefire 106 at drupa
On 19 February 2016, the new Primefire 106 7-color digital printing system was shown to a large group of trade journalists, experts and analysts at the Heidelberg R&D centre next to the iconic steel and glass Heidelberg PMA building in the company’s home city. The Primefire 106 has been developed in close collaboration with Fujifilm and the 70 x 100 cm press is clearly aimed at the industrial printing market which can be also be read as the board packaging market. Only one printed sheet purportedly ‘the first sheet printed two weeks ago’ was shown at a considerable distance to the audience in the PMA auditorium so nothing can be meaningfully said at this point about the print quality achieved so far.
The press has a typical Heidelberg feeder and delivery and includes a conditioning unit for paper and board preceding the digital imaging unit with the heads mounted in an arc on top of what looks like the top half of a stationary common impression cylinder. The digital engine is followed by an infra-red drying tower and a coating tower before the sheets reach what looks like one of Heidelberg’s typical extended deliveries. The press could in fact turn out to be wider than an offset press for similar paper widths but in fairness one should wait for drupa to see it properly from all sides.
Using aqueous inks and the robust Fujifilm Dimatix Samba 1200 x 1200 dpi inkjet heads with variable droplets that have also been used on the Fujifilm Jetpress 720 B2 press with 70 installations so far, the Heidelberg Primefire 106 is designed to open up new market segments by making industrial printing even more flexible. The digital inks and the conditioning fluid that is applied with an anilox like a typical flood coating are both recylable and in conformity with Swiss Ordinances on low migration quite likely making them suitable for food packaging.
“We will take our industry into a new digital era by stepping up our investment in the digital and services growth segments. Our customers expect us to deliver added value and enhanced business opportunities, and we are actively helping them make the transformation to a digitized future,” said Linzbach. Developed jointly with Fujifilm in less than two years, the new Primefire 106 digital printing system will have its world premiere at drupa in end-May. Following the presentation at drupa, the sales launch is scheduled for 2017. Fujifilm which will also sell the Primefire 106 will come up with its own name for the press before drupa according to Takashi Yanagawa, senior vice president of Fujifilm’s Graphic Systems Division who took part in the press conference along with Fujifilm chairman and CEO Hitoshi Yoshida.
At the February 2016 event in Heidelberg for the trade media from Asia Pacific, North America and Europe, Heidelberg indicated that it wants to use drupa 2016 to project itself as the driving force behind the industry’s maintenance and performance monitoring including performance and productivity enhancing consulting; to pressroom consumables.
Stefan Plenz holding up the first sheet printed two weeks earlier on the Heidelberg Printfire 106 at the company’s R&D centre in Heidelberg. Photo PSA
Heidelberg will be presenting the industry’s digitized future under the motto ‘Simply Smart’ at drupa 2016 in Düsseldorf. In addition, it is planning to create its own mini-drupa at its factory in Weisloch near Heidelberg where it expects perhaps 4,000 or 5,000 drupa visitors to have a more complete and detailed look at its entire array of sheetfed offset and digital presses.
The print market as a whole is increasingly moving toward shorter, more personalized runs. In response to the double-digit annual growth rates of digital printing, Heidelberg now offers a comprehensive digital portfolio that is integrated with the company’s latest offset solutions. “Integrated print shops fare better in a difficult market environment. Automation is the key to remaining competitive in the printing sector. The digitized value chain will be indispensable for most printing companies simply to remain fit for the future,” said Stephan Plenz, member of the management board responsible for Heidelberg Equipment and one of the key drivers of the Primefire 106 project along with Jason Oliver who is basically now the go to man at Heidelberg for most if not all of its digital press and integration initiatives.
Digitized value chain in a fully integrated pressroom
The basis for this is an integrated software platform enabling a continuous flow of data – from job acceptance to the machines and on to order processing. Heidelberg has combined its entire portfolio in the Prinect print and media workflow. In conjunction with a completely new control system design and concept for sheetfed offset presses, an increasing number of steps for automatic pressroom operation are making their way into the printing systems. With the new Speedmaster generation from Heidelberg, the reality of an autonomous pressroom is getting ever closer. “In the Smart Print Shop of the future, we will be demonstrating that Heidelberg is more than the sum of its machines. The benchmark will no longer be the break-even point for individual systems, but the performance of our customers’ entire value chain. We offer solutions for everything – from completely new business innovations to highly efficient overall processes,” explains Plenz.
Cloud-based service platform to boost competitiveness
The company is working on a new cloud-based service platform that covers the entire Heidelberg service portfolio and makes it easily accessible. This platform is based on the Remote Service network operated by Heidelberg, which links over 10,000 machines and a further 15,000 software products to the Heidelberg service portfolio.
Associated services such as Remote Monitoring and Performance Plus are provided on this platform and not only help customers with press availability, but also with improving their overall productivity. The large number of machines in the network is key to the quality of the individual service products and productivity recommendations.
Customers gain access to the service platform via a customer portal that includes various apps. All the information, support, and contacts customers require from Heidelberg are to hand – from an overview of their installed equipment and available updates to fault messages and self-help tools. “In the digitized world of the future, customers will have all the information they need to optimize their company’s operations at a glance. We also offer our customers concrete solutions to maximize machine availability, increase their overall productivity, and obtain very easy access to consumables tested by Heidelberg,” said Harald Weimer, member of the management board responsible for Heidelberg Services. Heidelberg already generates nearly 50% of its sales with service and consumables and is continuously expanding its service portfolio.
Packaging South Asia is the cooperating media partner for drupa 2016 which is scheduled to be held from 31 May to 10 June at Dusseldorf, Germany.