Big H clarifies position on post-press

Jo Francis
Monday, November 10, 2014

When Heidelberg announced in August that it was exiting the saddlestitching and perfect binding market, and moving to an OEM model in some of its other post-press operations, it seems some people got the wrong end of the stick.

Heidelberg is not “getting out of post-press”. In fact, Stephan Plenz, the Heidelberg board member responsible for equipment, will be adding some new finishing kit to the manufacturer’s range in the not-too-distant future. 

What the firm definitely is doing is getting out of the areas where it can’t make money, he explains. “We are not just taking products out, we are reshaping the portfolio. Yes, stitchers and binders are out, but we are growing other segments.”

While some Heidelberg customers PrintWeek spoke to at the time appeared remarkably blasé about the post-press changes, Plenz accepts there will be an inevitable negative reaction from some quarters: “You will never get applause for this sort of decision from the customer side.”

The focus now is on ensuring the best possible handover with Muller Martini, which is taking on the service and parts for the stitchers and perfect binding kit. “We will fulfill our service commitments and we won’t shy away from that,” he states. “We are working on the solution customer by customer because every customer is a little bit different. Most will be cleared by the beginning of next year, but there are many customers where this will take a longer. 

“The quality of the handover is more important than to be fast. We are not in a rush.”

Looking to the future finishing portfolio, those other segments where new products will be added include finishing kit for digital print applications, where Heidelberg is not presently a major player. “Digital is definitely an area we are looking into. We already have some products, such as small-format cutters, being heavily used in the digital industry today. And with the latest product from Gallus we have added inkjet to a platform where the complete finishing solution is already there,” Plenz says. 

“Digital finishing is of interest. We can see where the niches and the spots are where we will offer new products.”

A new die-cutter is also in the works. “The next product to be launched is a die-cutter. We have listened to our customers and they are looking for products at a certain price level. We think we can achieve that with our new partner.

“It’s not only price. It’s performance for a certain price level. When you have a fully running sheetfed press you need one-and-a-half if not two die-cutters to keep up with it because the speed is slower and the makeready takes longer. With this, we are still looking at having two die-cutters, but at a different price level than before.”

Plenz’s equipment remit includes the all-important printing press business, by far Heidelberg’s biggest operation. We’ve seen how Heidelberg has moved to finesse its post-press operations, so what about presses – how is that business changing?

“The changes are coming from two sides: consolidation of our customers and new technologies that provide productivity improvements to the market,” he says. 

“There is a big change in that industry, no doubt. It’s going more and more to B1 format, we see fewer smaller-format presses in the industrialised market. So we analyse it in different segments. Industrialised versus emerging, and packaging versus classical commercial print.”

As Plenz points out, while digital printing is growing enormously, offset is actually holding relatively steady on a global basis due to the ability of modern presses to produce both short and long runs super-efficiently. “It’s not only that digital is growing, it’s that web and gravure are doing down. For example, magazines with smaller run lengths become sheetfed customers.”

What’s more, he believes there are still further improvements possible when it comes to offset makeready times. “This process of makeready improvement is not at an end by far. When you look into the advances in the past five to 10 years, they have been bigger than the improvements on digital presses.”

Could it even be feasible that makeready waste is completely eliminated? “We are not far away from that. With Anicolor we say 20 sheets and I know many customers are selling the eighth or 10th sheet. Zero is always a target, but first of all we must look at how to get the users of these presses closer to the technology and really making better use of what’s already installed.

“The other focus is yearly output that is going up and up, and a broader range of substrates running at full speed – not maximum speed only on one special condition.”

The next exciting thing on the sheetfed side will be Heidelberg’s entry into the sheetfed inkjet press market. A platform has been decided on, but Plenz is remaining tight-lipped on the details for now. Will it be B2 or B1? He won’t say just yet. 

“The biggest thing is you have to decide it from a customer’s point-of-view. What is the real use from customers? What will they do with it, and what will they print with it?” he states. “What do my customers need when the machine is ready for the market? Out of that we will derive the right format.”

He says the success of HP’s B2 Indigo 10000 is “a good sign, because I cannot change the industry on my own. Having a market that is ready for a bigger size digital press will help me to sell more machines. If nobody would buy that machine, I would not be as confident.”

Plenz will say that the coming product will be mainstream commercial and packaging. Which hints at B1. We’ll know more next year.

He concludes: “So, looking into that from a printer’s point-of-view, today’s solutions on the market are not fulfilling their needs. What they need is real industrial digital printing. These are the questions we try  to answer.”






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