Kolbus has sold its perfect binding and book line business to Muller Martini.
The deal, announced on Friday (26 January), involves Kolbus perfect binders and hard case lines, as well as their peripheral equipment, and also encompasses the service and spare parts business for all Kolbus bookbinding systems installed worldwide.
Muller Martini chief executive Bruno Müller said: “Structural change has changed the graphic arts industry in recent years and our market has become much smaller and versatile at once.
“Customers need innovations on a regular basis, which have to be financed with lower sales quantities. Above all, our customers benefit from the efficiency gains bringing together the bookbinding activities.”
He added: “The market changes are directly affecting our customers, which are faced with new business models like digitisation. By combining the potentials for success like personnel, know-how, technology and infrastructure of the two companies, Muller Martini can provide the market with innovative solutions in the long term.
“This secures the future of the softcover and hardcover business of both the customers and the two machine manufacturers – and thus also jobs in the graphic arts industry.”
The Kolbus perfect binding and book line business, based at Rahden in Germany, and intellectual property will be transferred to Muller Martini Buchbinde-Systeme, a new business unit formed at the site that will be integrated into the Muller Martini group.
The 250 Kolbus employees working at the site will be transferred to Muller Martini under their existing employment conditions. The transfer will be completed on 30 April, until which point Kolbus said it will be “business as usual”.
Dirk Deceuninck, managing director of Muller Martini’s Northern Europe business, including the UK, told PrintWeek: “[This deal is] proof that our company believes in the industry and that our shareholders believe in our company.
“We will continue to serve both customers from Muller Martini and Kolbus in the correct and professional way, with our service, and that’s what we are now in the phase of organising. It’s all quite fresh but conversations with customers are starting now, to give them confidence in what is happening.”
Kolbus will continue to be headed up by chief executive Kai Büntemeyer. Retaining around 900 staff, Büntemeyer said the company will now “vigorously expand” its current activities in the packaging market and continue to focus on case making, parts manufacturing and its foundry business.
The manufacturer had signalled its increasing focus on the packaging market at Drupa 2016, with the world premiere of its BoxLine system.
Kolbus UK managing director Robert Flather told PrintWeek that none of the 10 Kolbus employees working in the UK will be affected by the deal.
“We are left with a very strong business, only 20% or so of our [global] employees have transferred. One of our new customers, from when the changeover happens, will be Muller Martini Buchbinde-Systeme, so we now move into a customer-supplier relationship with Muller Martini.
“Where that leaves us in the UK, is that we have burgeoning packaging interests that we’re focusing on going forward.”
He added: “One of the product lines that we’ve made for over 100 years is case makers, which Muller Martini have never made, and we’ve retained all that intellectual property and part of our business.
“Anybody that’s in books has got Kolbus equipment and will continue to be a Kolbus customer, albeit in a smaller way. The areas that we will lose contact with are the magazine type customers.
“We’re in for a bumpy couple of months but after that we will be in the sunlit uplands of packaging.”
One commercial printing customer commented: “In the long-term it means we will effectively only have one supplier when buying new bindery equipment, which is obviously a concern. But at least we know that Muller Martini is very committed to the graphic arts industry. From a servicing point-of-view it's good news."
The move follows Muller Martini’s 2014 acquisition of the service and parts business relating to Heidelberg’s saddlestitching and adhesive binding products.
Kolbus, meanwhile, stepped in to take over the Timsons T-Fold folder the following year, a month after Timsons was placed into voluntary liquidation. It will retain this product under the new company structure.
Later the same year, Kolbus formed a partnership with Timsons Engineering to reinstate the manufacturing of Timsons’ litho presses for book printing.