Linzbach outlines future for the Big H

Jo Francis
Monday, April 14, 2014

"Heidelberg” and “humble” aren’t two words normally seen in the same sentence. But that’s exactly what happened earlier this month when the manufacturer unveiled its latest plans to establish a meaningful business in the digital printing space.

A heart-shaped image also featured, as the group demonstrated its warm and cuddly side when it comes to embracing new markets. 

“For a long time we thought that if you want to do it right, you have to do it yourself,” says chief executive Gerold Linzbach, who was making his first public outing at an industry briefing of this ilk since taking the top job 18 months ago. 

“We switched this thinking and we looked for the best partners to add the best pieces to our solution. We are now able to use different components and different elements,” he adds, while admitting “this sounds a bit philosophical, but Heidelberg was an extremely proud company. We are a much more humble company now. We understand that the customer knows best.”

Such a statement could be, and indeed was, greeted with guffaws from some of Heidelberg’s competitors. But it’s clear that Linzbach has injected a new type of energy into the business. There’s something of the iron fist in the velvet glove about his demeanour – charming, humorous and affable, but underneath that the distinct impression that people or businesses that don’t perform, or resist the new ethos, will be swiftly dispatched. 

He says his career has not been as a slash-and-burn type of turnaround executive, rather he has become expert at repositioning businesses and that’s what he’s in the process of doing at big H. “I’m a person who tries to go a bit deeper and make a match between what the company should look like, what the company now is and how to get from A to B,” he explains. 

And, having come from a varied background spanning a range of industries, he doesn’t have much time for print’s doom merchants.

“What I found over the past 18 months was completely different to what I expected. The overall frustration about printing – printing is dead, printing is shrinking... Everyone in this industry is singing the same song. Customers, suppliers, even journalists.

“I have had contact with 10-15 different industries in the past 30 years. If you want to feel bad, come with me to the textile industry. Then you will know what really bad is. So stop complaining.”

Digital printing, again

Following the partnership agreement with Fujifilm announced in autumn 2013 Heidelberg has now revealed what it plans to roll out in the way of inkjet products as it aims for €200m (£166m) of sales in the digital space. 

To summarise, the new products include a hybrid label press based on a Gallus platform, the ‘4D’ Jetmaster Dimension which prints onto three-dimensional objects (although this doesn’t use Fujifilm heads at the moment), and a range of sheetfed inkjet presses that will, it claims, provide the industrial inkjet solution Heidelberg’s customers crave. 

“The customer is obviously getting confused. Offset players are trying to say offset is the best solution. Digital suppliers like HP are saying digital is best,” he says. “We can offer digital and conventional solutions and things that make it comfortable to handle both technologies in a print shop. So start a discussion about what applications the customer wants to be in and what might be the best configuration for them.

“We don’t care as long as it says Heidelberg on the side of the machine!”

Linzbach is also keen that Heidelberg plays to its strengths when it come to its worldwide service and support network. “And by the way we can supply you with the right service attitude. We have learned from our customers that the service attitude from some digital vendors could be improved.”

The as-yet-unnamed digital label press should be shown in September. The also as-yet-unnamed sheetfed inkjet presses are rather further off but a Drupa 2016 timeframe looks likely. That begs the question, gasp, given all the upheaval in the international event landscape, will Heidelberg be at Drupa?

“No question we will be there in some shape or fashion,” says Linzbach. “It also depends how the Drupa concept is developing. If the concept is aligned with our intention of how to present, fine. If it goes in the opposite direction, less fine.”

Stephan Plenz, the Heidelberg board member with responsibility for equipment said that compared with the Fujifilm Jet Press 720 that Heidelberg has been poring over in its research lab, the firm’s own sheetfed offering will be “totally different”. 

“The only thing that stays is the head, the rest will change – it has to. They [Fujifilm] had a technology trying to find a market. You have to go the other way around.”

It’s also worth noting that Linzbach states that it is imperative that the new digital product developments have to make financial sense for all parties. 

“It is all under the paradigm that it has to be economically sensible for our customers and also for us.”

The move into printing onto three-dimensional objects is a notable departure from Heidelberg’s commercial print heartland, even though the first unit is set to be installed this September at an established and successful web-to-print customer, Germany’s Flyeralarm.

Linzbach believes it has the potential to be “seriously big”.

It also marks a new business model, as Flyeralarm will pay a ‘per print’ charge, the sort of recurring business model that is completely new to Heidelberg. 

Linzbach has had a good look under the hood of Heidelberg during his first 18 months and we can expect that he will finesse the firm’s portfolio further. This could involve small acquisitions akin to the purchase of Hi-Tech Coatings in 2008. But he will not waste time flogging dead horses. 

“It is crystal clear to me that to be a sustainable happy inspiring company for everyone, we just need a little bit of cash in order to clean out our portfolio,” says Linzbach 

“A few horses are half dead. So we have outlined a story for all of the businesses in Heidelberg. Focus number one is graphic industry, focus number two is printing machines and, at the end of the day, making some money.”

From humble to happy and inspiring. Get ready for Heidelberg 2.0. 

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