At the beginning of December 2015, Heidelberger Druckmaschinen (Heideldruck for short) was the first company in the sector to announce its plans for drupa 2016. Both the new corporate strategy and the newly developed products and solutions sound promising. Following the interview with board member Harald Weimer about services, we are putting some more in-depth questions to Stephan Plenz, Member of the Management Board responsible for Heidelberg Equipment, who caused a global stir in February 2016 when he unveiled the new Primefire 106 system technology for industrial inkjet printing.
Gone are the days when the printing industry was regarded as a respected, venerable and noble trade. Printers are now no longer measured in terms of their survival skills during their ceremonial inauguration into the trade, but on the speed, efficiency, and intelligence and thus the profitably of their printing business. Heidelberg is keen to help today’s printing specialists gear this business to the digitized world and has come up with a number of ideas driven by its own transformation process.
Michael Seidl, ValuePublishing Partner, EMGroup, Vienna, Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of Print & Publishing, interviews Stephan Plenz | German version available
Heidelberg has a number of exciting developments to coincide with drupa. Could you give us an idea of your activities and plans?
Stephan Plenz: “Simply Smart” is the motto for our presentation of the print media industry’s digitized future at drupa. Essentially, it’s a case of integrating all processes into a coherent value creation system for print shops. That’s exactly what we mean by smart services, the smart print shop, and smart collaboration. It’s our way of combining everything we need to provide our customers with straightforward solutions that work. Market requirements remain complex and we can’t do anything about that. What we can do, though, is offer our customers a workflow that makes life easier. That’s the basic idea we’ve been developing for years and it’s the subject of much discussion in the context of Industry 4.0. It requires equipment that can make things easier and that can both understand and supply the pertinent information. It requires a workflow that is capable of processing and managing everything. And it requires people to describe, create, and further develop the relevant processes.
… And how does that work?
Stephan Plenz: Everyone in the various sections needs to be up to the mark for it to work. We’re very well placed in terms of equipment with our new user interface, because it will also help ensure things go smoothly. And we’re leading the way with our new digital press and the other solutions on show with the Speedmaster XL at drupa 2016. I’m talking about the machine concept and the existing workflow, which will be further augmented with web functions such as the Prinect Media Manager, giving our customers the potential to manage data – i.e. media – even though it is no longer simply output in printed form. All services derived from the data will subsequently be incorporated and will help make many processes more efficient.
In your presentation, you said that we should not only write about the new Heidelberg presses, but focus more on a company that sees itself as a system partner. Could you expand a little on that and explain what exactly you understand by industrialization?
Stephan Plenz: The slogan “More than machines” doesn’t mean that machines will cease to be important, but rather that a smart machine is needed that optimizes its performance when networked with other equipment. In other words, I first need a machine that is capable of this. The link is the key to automating processes through industrialization. It involves prepress operations that use the system for automated communication with the press rather than simply sending JDFs. The full scope of communication is vital, simplifying the job queue and ensuring the correct job sequence so as to minimize setup times. The sensors in the machines must also understand what is being communicated and apply it accordingly.
One-button operation has been the goal for some time now. How close are you to achieving this?
Stephan Plenz: That’s right, we have indeed been pursuing this goal for some time. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be where we are now. The aim is to get the process running in as few steps as possible. It goes without saying that it’s important for operators to perform these steps correctly. And the fewer steps are needed, the more efficient the system will be.
If you look at the big online print shops now, their level of industrialization is already very high, isn’t it?
Stephan Plenz: What we’ll be exhibiting at drupa 2016 will take this a significant step further. That applies above all to the data evaluation applications we’re pursuing in collaboration with our customers. Questions in this connection include “How can we improve maintenance?”, “What form can preventive maintenance take?” and “How can we use the data for automated ordering, call-off, and supply of consumables so that the entire print shop process runs far more efficiently?”. We know that the number of jobs will increase, but not print shops’ sales. That means the administrative costs for each job need to be reduced as effectively as possible. Otherwise, the large number of jobs generating less revenue will ultimately put print shops under pressure.
It is true that this applies not only to large print shops but also to SMEs?
Stephan Plenz: Yes, that’s right. Large companies aren’t the only ones affected. We’re discussing these issues with customers from companies of all sizes. We offer them different solution packages of course, but the requirements are the same.
It sounds very much like the future scenario will involve working with as few people as possible. Is that the case?
Stephan Plenz: Systems need to help people make as few mistakes as possible and concentrate on what’s really important, such as quality control and checking waste is minimized. At the end of the day, the operator needs to stand at the press and monitor the process – not simply apply the ink and certainly not wander around with plates. That doesn’t create value. In highly productive businesses, one faulty job is now all it takes to mess up an entire shift.
Are digital systems now intended to complement conventional offset presses?
Stephan Plenz: Yes, we’ve now taken things to the next level. We’ve optimized and automated the processes further still and made things far more transparent for operators and print shop management. The key questions in this respect include “What’s happening right now?”, “What do I need to look out for?” “What should I do if I can see from the job queue that plates are required?”, “What materials do I need?”, “Which inks, which coatings, which paper, etc.?”. All the answers are required before the job arrives. Essentially, we know everything we need to while the job is still being processed in the prepress department. Take the example of a job that needs to be ready by noon the next day. The system identifies a coating is needed that isn’t in stock.
How has this been dealt with to date?
Stephan Plenz: What happens all too often at present is that we wait till things go wrong! It’s only a partial fix for the system to say the coating needs to be ordered. It may actually be ordered, but it could also be forgotten or overlooked. So why doesn’t the system automatically place an order itself via our e-commerce platform? The buyer then gets a message that this has been done, that the coating arrived on time, and that it was called off at the negotiated prices. Why should someone adopt a process of this kind in the future? That’s the world we need to create.
Digital printing is now all about implementing concepts of this kind. Isn’t it a little late for Heidelberg to be looking to get involved?
Stephan Plenz: Not as I see it. There’s still room for us. We re-entered the market for digital printing systems in 2011 with the Linoprint systems [collaboration with Ricoh, ed. note], which we recently renamed Heidelberg Versafire. These have enjoyed great market success, especially over the past year in conjunction with our DFE – our digital front end. The positive market feedback the Gallus Labelfire 340 is getting makes us very optimistic. And our new B1 inkjet system technology – the Heidelberg Primefire 106 – might well be one of the highlights of drupa. We’re not looking to be the number one for everything, but we want to lead the way in implementing effective industrial, digital solutions. For us, it’s not about putting on a big show or getting lots of people in the hall. It’s about offering an effective industrial solution for digital printers. We’ve kept to our product roadmap statements in developing the new digital presses and nothing should change in that respect. The Primefire will undergo field tests this year and series production will start next year.
There was an interesting Q&A session during the Heideldruck press event on 19 February 2016. Video by Andreas Weber va iPad. — See as well our ValuePublishing real-time report via Storify.
Presumably, you won’t be revealing how much has been invested in developing the Primefire 106?
Stephan Plenz: We aren’t publicizing that. A good half of our R&D budget is currently going into digital applications. Don’t forget that we’ve developed a machine concept in record time that has everything the industry expects and demands of such a system, but then we did have the best possible starting point. We have a paper transfer system that is tried and tested in industry, our Prinect workflow, and Fujifilm – the strongest imaginable inkjet partner. Despite all these positives, it remains a challenge to create a press that ultimately meets customers’ needs.
Talking of Fujifilm, there’s clearly great chemistry between the two companies, isn’t there?
Stephan Plenz: Definitely, we’ve got excellent chemistry. We need to deal with the different cultures of a German and a Japanese company. There are always issues to be resolved and we approach these very openly with Fuji. Fujifilm and Heidelberg had a unique opportunity, because both companies needed to build a press to satisfy the industrial market and its needs. Each partner has some knowledge and expertise that the other doesn’t. Nonetheless, it’s a Herculean task to put everything together and produce a press that works. But we were starting from the ideal position. What’s more, there are good reasons why Fujifilm decided to work with Heidelberg even though it’s pressing ahead with its own JetPress development in a different format and could also have built a press in B1 format. In our case, though, we wanted to get the best of both worlds and have created a partnership of equals.
Will Fujifilm be marketing the press itself on the Asian markets?
Stephan Plenz: It’s too soon to make a definite statement about that. Both Fujifilm and Heidelberg are planning sales and marketing activities for the new system. What is certain is that we’ll be selling the Primefire on all markets on which Heidelberg is represented. We developed the press jointly, so Fujifilm will also be offering it to its own customers.
Something else I’d be interested to know in the “smart and cool” context is do you feel this new way of thinking at Heidelberg has been fully taken on board?
Stephan Plenz: Being smart has nothing to do with being cool. A company must have the ability to keep reinventing itself in a changed environment. Heidelberg was a completely different company in the 1980s and 1990s than in the new Millennium, certainly up till 2010. The changes we’ve initiated with strategies such as partnerships and the adjustments the changes in this industry have forced us to make – which admittedly weren’t always easy – have taken us another step forward. We’ve realigned and rebranded Heidelberg.
In your opinion, what are the most important aspects of this realignment?
Stephan Plenz: The things we’ve begun to change in recent years are now becoming apparent, starting with the logo, the rebranding, and the products. We’ve been in the process of building up a digital portfolio since 2010. That requires a clear strategy, stamina, and patience. It’s difficult to say whether that’s already been taken on board throughout the company. I believe we’ve made good use of the post-crisis period, geared our activities to the future, and regained the strength required to show the outside world what we’ve achieved. This isn’t the result of a process with four weeks of workshops and a new logo. It’s a reflection of something different, something new – and the result of the change we’re striving for with this company. It was a case of keeping the positive things about Heidelberg, leaving behind the less positive things, and setting about repositioning the company.
Do you have a target sales figure in mind for digital printing business at Heidelberg?
Stephan Plenz: We’ve said that in the medium term we’re looking to generate sales of over 200 million euros and we’ll definitely achieve that, maybe even a little more.
What are your expectations for drupa 2016 in terms of sales and visitor numbers?
Stephan Plenz: They’re very high for our new developments. The drupa trade show in Düsseldorf gives us the opportunity to present the company, the repositioning, and naturally new products, solutions, and innovations to our customers. To coincide with Düsseldorf, however, we’ll also be exhibiting our entire existing portfolio at our Wiesloch-Walldorf site. We’re delighted with the level of interest and expect to generate a significant number of orders. I think we can be very proud that we really do have something significant to show people.
So drupa 2016 has come at the right time, then?
Stephan Plenz: You could say that, yes, and such opportunities are vital. But in truth it’s not a case of whether 250,000 or 200,000 people pass through the drupa turnstiles. The important thing for us is that we attract the relevant customers. They have to be there and we’ll grasp the opportunity to get talking to them and answer their questions. We’re well prepared.
In contrast to previous drupa trade shows, partnerships will play a very big role at the Heidelberg stand, won’t they?
Stephan Plenz: That’s right. And our approach is also different and new. There are no longer individual companies in the hall simply exhibiting their own products. We have a coherent concept that we’re all presenting jointly.
Thank you for this interview.
About Stephan Plenz
The graduate engineer born in 1965 joined Heideldruck in 1986 and has worked in areas such as production technology, quality management, assembly & logistics, and many more besides. In 2010, he was appointed Member of the Management Board responsible for Heidelberg Equipment. In 2014, he significantly expanded the product portfolio and took it to the next level with Ricoh and Fujifilm as partners.