ValueDialog with Rainer Wolf, Heideldruck: Quantum leap through digitization in offset printing

Photos: Heideldruck. Photo collage: Andreas Weber, Mainz/Frankfurt am Main, Germany


When the control station of a large-format Heidelberg printing press can be used like a smartphone, it calls for a closer look. For the first time, intuitive operator guidance has been complemented by intelligent automation of the press. The main requirements when developing a product: top quality, maximum productivity, and cost effectiveness strengthen small and large print shops alike, securing them analytical, organizational, and operational advantages. 

Rainer Wolf, Head of Sheetfed Product Management at Heidelberger Druckmaschinen AG (for short: Heideldruck), provides an insight into the “reboot” of offset printing aimed at enabling perfect interaction between people, processes, machines, and materials for perfect results at the push of a button.


Interview: Andreas Weber, Head of Value | German version


Heideldruck presented a “reboot” of offset printing at drupa 2016, with a strong focus on digitization. What does this mean?

Rainer Wolf: Well, first of all, it’s not just our products that have changed, Heidelberg as a company has also successfully repositioned itself. Our exhibition at drupa 2016 under the motto Simply Smart showed how digital integration adds concrete value and what the smart print shop of the future will look like. Digitization, automation, flexibilization, and market orientation will all be interlinked. We are confident of achieving this goal since we have integrated innovations from the digital world like big data, cloud services, eShops, automation tools, and so on and by so doing are raising industrialization in printing to a new level. Offset printing offers the greatest potential for unexpected momentum, since it is regarded as a “saturated, mature market” shaped by “analog” technologies. But that is not the case!

Why do you say that?

Rainer Wolf: The days of analog offset printing are long gone. Now we have intelligent, digital real-time analyses for productivity and production control as well as a new concept for the press control station with multitouch operation similar to that of an iPhone, including widgets and apps that can be used via the Prinect networking platform. We call the philosophy that underpins this “Push to Stop” – it is an holistic, integrated approach to digital networking and automated production that enables print shops both small and large to offer up-to-date services as a smart print shop on the basis of autonomous and guided printing.

How was this received by customers?

Rainer Wolf: The new approach has been very well received. There has been no negative feedback about our Push to Stop philosophy. On the contrary, Push to Stop is now an integral part of communication with our customers and has been actively requested since drupa 2016. And that’s despite the fact that Push to Stop isn’t a product; it’s a philosophy or a new way of thinking that can deliver significant improvements in business and production processes. It is on this basis that we look for solutions. Overall, we find that there is also particularly high demand for digitization in offset printing in the emerging markets like India or China, so it’s not just in the Western world.

What concrete improvements are required? What challenges are your customers facing?

Rainer Wolf: On the one hand, we are seeing a clear trend towards shorter runs, in other words the job change rate per hour/shift is going right up. On the other hand, print shops have been under considerable cost pressure for years, and fighting continuous price erosion. Add to this the continuous increase in costs for paper, power, consumables, and so on. So print shops need to keep cutting overheads and further reducing their production costs with intelligent, integrated solutions.

[NOTE: See also the ValueTrendRadar analysis Opportunities for value creation with printing]



Photos: Heideldruck, 2016

What does this mean for your customers and for Heideldruck?

Rainer Wolf: We’re focusing on the issue of “cost pressure” and fast makeready times, and have identified huge potential for improvement through our Push to Stop concept and analyses. It’s no longer enough to consider process steps in isolation if we want to achieve improvements, instead we need an integrated approach in terms of relevant standardization opportunities. The focus is on automated production as a way of preventing bad decisions and eliminating mechanisms of disruption. It is very important to closely analyze with customers how the number of touchpoints, in other words manual interventions during job fulfillment, can be reduced. State-of-the-art technology is not the only way to greater effectiveness, it can also be achieved by optimizing interaction between people and machinery.

How do you determine the effectiveness of a print shop operation?

Rainer Wolf: What’s important is the level of output and the workload associated with this. When looking at print shops as high-performance production operations, the “Overall Equipment Effectiveness” (OEE for short) is an important indicator. In other words, measuring and assessing what a press is actually producing. In theory, a Speedmaster XL 106 running around the clock, 365 days a year, can produce almost 160 million printed sheets per year [this is equivalent to 1.44 billion printed pages, or 2.88 billion DIN A4 printed pages with a perfecting press]. In practice, Speedmaster XL customers in Western Europe “only” achieve around 40 million sheets per year on average. That’s just a quarter of what’s possible. The reason for this is that there are too many friction losses and coordination problems that need to be eliminated in the overall job processing and production process (including pre-media). Our aim with Push to Stop is to win back some of the unused 75 percent and achieve an OEE factor of 50 percent. That represents a doubling of the current average. And we know it’s possible, because a small number of print shops are already doing it. They are achieving 70 to even 90 million sheets per year. This greatly increases profitability since much more can be produced at lower costs.

So new tools and technologies are important. But it takes more than that. What else, exactly?

Rainer Wolf: What is needed are exact analyses of all workflows coupled with practical experience. Digitization opens up wide-ranging possibilities. So what the customer needs to do is define very specific priorities. In this context, we have managed to secure first-class practitioners for our teams who analyze customers’ workflows and processes and match them with our technical solution possibilities.

And what do these expert practitioners do differently?

Rainer Wolf: They look at things from a different perspective; they review the actual workflows and then assess how technology can provide the best support. — The starting point is an analysis of the consistency of all the workflows in an operation in order to determine how many touchpoints there have been to date and which ones need to be/can be eliminated. For example, makeready times of just 2 minutes with 60 start-up sheets can be realized by making proper use of our tools and coordinating our paper, ink, and other consumables. These are outstanding numbers! — We are also asked: What do smooth approval processes for printing look like? — Or when talking about prepress: What is a good order for printing plates to reach the machine? It’s our job to make sure that customers can operate their Speedmaster at full speed, even with shorter runs and up to five or even ten job changes per hour.



Source: Heideldruck


What does that mean for the future?

Rainer Wolf: Our customers’ productivity has just about doubled in the last ten years. Similar gains in productivity will be possible in the coming ten years, enabling customers to achieve lasting improvements in their competitiveness. Some innovative companies, particularly from the online print sector, are already in a position to do this. But there are also opportunities to be had for companies that specialize in niche markets, since productivity pays off there too.

So if done correctly, digitization in offset printing has the potential to bring about a paradigm shift in the sector In your opinion, are there any hurdles to be overcome?

Rainer Wolf: Digitization is the first step on the path to the industrialization of printing. Therefore senior management needs to be acutely aware of our customers’ engagement with the changes in the market. The dynamism of the processes that happen before printing in particular is unbelievably high. It’s not just the mode of production that’s changing, but also how print jobs are placed. The big question is then: who is ultimately the right printing partner? Our Push to Stop philosophy is a significant help. Because as I have said, what is needed at the outset is not a big investment in technology, but rather a fundamental rethink, analysis, and networking (via Prinect). No one can go back and start with a blank sheet. Instead it’s a question of formulating a statement of intent — and then consistently optimizing processes and workflows in order to make better use of capacities. What we’re talking about isn’t really continuous improvement, since this only optimizes subprocesses. Push to Stop makes it possible to take bigger steps, almost in the sense of a quantum leap.

Digitization is becoming a management issue. What about the employees?

Rainer Wolf: It goes without saying that it’s very important to get the employees on board and allay any fears they might have about the impending changes. The expectation is that digitization will increase output while reducing workload. Push to Stop will help the employees to cope with this higher output. The autonomous, intelligent machine knows exactly and on demand the most effective way to work. The role of the printer is changing, involving less active operation of the machine and more production monitoring, quality assurance, and making sure that production runs without any problems. This is something we have to get used to. For us at Heidelberg, this means that we need to make sure that the printer can achieve this high level of output on a sustained basis and count on the machine and its assistance systems.

Last but not least: what’s the most exciting/important thing about the Heidelberg innovations for the offset printing market?

Rainer Wolf: Good question! The Push to Stop concept is unique, so it’s the main driver in terms of the strategic direction. In terms of technology, Hycolor Multidrive is one of my favorites because it lets us execute multiple processes simultaneously and makes us much faster, especially when it comes to complex makeready processes. For example, Hycolor Multidrive has reduced the time needed to wash the rubber blanket, impression cylinder, and ink rollers to just two and a half minutes.

But my real highlight is Intellistart 2, the software that brings Push to Stop to the press. For the first time, multiple follow-up orders can be prepared and released while production is still underway. In addition, processes are automatically started when changing jobs – and then run on their own. Intellistart 2 organizes all of this automatically and the printer is even shown a timeline on the Wallscreen XL with exactly which processes are currently underway, what needs to be done manually, and how long it will be until production starts. Seen in this way, Intellistart 2 is the right product at the right time for taking the first step into the age of Push to Stop.

Thank you for this interview.



About the interviewee

Rainer Wolf, Head of Sheetfed Product Management at Heidelberger Druckmaschinen AG.

Rainer Wolf, a qualified printing technology engineer, has learned about printing from the bottom up. After training and working as an offset printer, he spent four years studying at the Stuttgart College of Printing (1994 to 1998) and also worked as a management assistant in a well-known print shop in Southern Germany. Since 2000, Mr. Wolf has held various positions within the Product Management at Heidelberger Druckmaschinen AG. Key roles have included Market Intelligence as well as Head of Product Line Strategy. In 2014 he was nominated to the Board of Directors of Heidelberg Graphic Equipment Shanghai (HGES). He has been Head of Sheetfed Product Management since April 2015.


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