Industrialization in the printing industry is still progressing, but finishing has often been the exception up to now. We talked to Dr Markus Rall, CEO of the Polar Group, about the benefits of automation especially for smaller print service providers, about Polar's strategic orientation and new business models for print shops regarding finishing with digital laser cutting.
Automation and the associated increase in efficiency within the production processes are currently the most discussed topics in our industry. How is Polar meeting the need for more automation and minimized set-up times?
The reduced set-up time topic has been the predominant topic in pressrooms during recent years. However, the main point is that: Set-up time was not a significant factor in finishing, because in most companies it was simply of little interest to anyone by the time that this point was reached. In practice, it is often the case that set-up times are usually not noted at this point in the production process. Our equipment enables us to reduce a cutter's set-up time to zero, but this is often only a theoretical value. What use is the degree of automation and the high performance of a finishing system when around 80% of users are still entering the respective dimensions manually and they import their jobs from old programs that have been adapted to meet their current needs? Such a procedure is sheer nonsense as it is completely unnecessary nowadays. With Compucut, we are able to provide a workflow solution that enables users to easily import the data into the machine and ensure error-free production. Our circuitry has been designed to exclude errors right from the outset and a specific cutting sequence is also defined. However, if errors occur during finishing this means that they were created at the outset during the prepress stage.
We have only just reached the point where the market finally understands this on a broad scale. Online printers have impressively demonstrated how efficient, conceptual production can be set up and now the benefits are also coming to the smaller service providers and they recognize the opportunities that a self-contained process and a high degree of automation can bring them. They also recognize that this is not just an option for the very big players in the market. Industrialization of the printing industry has finally arrived in finishing and this is also reflected in our order books for all three areas - cutting, die-cutting and labels. We are presently selling so many systems that our current delivery time is eight months, even though we have already significantly increased our staff since 2017.
Polar has made some substantial strategic changes in recent years and significantly expanded its business sector. To what extent has your business changed from today's point of view?
First of all, I would like to emphasize that the printing industry still remains our core market and the takeover of Dienst Verpackungstechnik in 2011 has given us another very exciting foothold in the continuously growing packaging industry and we have expanded even more since then. Almost four years ago we also decided to expand our portfolio to include laser cutting in addition to cutting and die-cutting, which are our core competencies. Digital laser cutting has enabled us to enter another promising market that certainly offers great potential, because our Digicut systems open up a large and especially lucrative market to print service providers in the finishing sector and this can only be exploited through creative ideas. In my view, Polar has optimally positioned itself for the future.
There has also been a crucial change to our business in addition to expanding it, and that is our role with regard to our customers. We have found that the path to a product or solution does not just involve us designing and developing something that we believe there is a market demand for, as customers frequently approach us and ask us if we can provide them with a special solution to a specific requirement. Sometimes the answer is that we have never done it this way before, but we will approach the challenge with the necessary pioneering spirit. This means that the customer shows us what something should specifically look like and then we develop our own solution for it, such as the one we have currently realized for the web-to-print sector.
The result is a huge system with four 155 cutters, which gets its input from a large-format 7B printing press. The material is slit before it is fed into the huge cutting system via two joggers. This system has grippers that load the first two machines as well as grippers that load the two machines at the rear. Relevant logic is used here to query which layer is to be fed into to which machine. Of course intermediate buffer systems are also installed just in case things start to encroach on each other. Naturally, you can also say: That this huge solution cannot be sold very often, but the logic behind this system is impressive. Of course the system can also be trimmed down to just two machines and this will make it interesting to a broader market. Even though the implemented volume will be less the logic remains the same and it can be transferred in a variety of ways once it has been studied and conceived.
Let us return to digital laser cutting. Have your customers recognized the additional benefits and the high finishing value of these solutions? How do they manage to make this potential available to their clientele?
I think that many customers have approached us so that they can handle small print runs more efficiently and economically and optimize their own finishing. But they quickly realize that our Digicut systems can be used to realize completely new sales models and orders. They will all ultimately benefit from the wide range of applications provided by our laser cutters, which, in both the Digicut Eco and Digicut Plus versions, will enable them to cut, perforate, score, groove and engrave in a single pass and without making any tool changes. Of course, a certain creative pleasure in experimenting is vital in order to create exciting new applications that clearly stand out from the usual offerings from the rest of the market. A little pioneering spirit is clearly needed here. It also makes sense to target your customers with specific applications. This is what we do with our customers and I think that our customers should act similarly with their own clientele. Some applications simply have to become "available" in order to develop an appropriate concept for them. This is why we lasered booklets "on-the-fly" in the run-up to the Hunkeler Innovation Days to show that with Digicut Plus we are not only able to process separate sheets, but entire booklets as well. This makes production of one to thousands of copies possible. This is of great interest to our customers, as the processing and individualization of medium-sized print runs is becoming more and more relevant, especially in digital printing. There are almost no limits with regard to the final designs It is now possible to realize filigree motifs that would not be possible without using classic die-cutting tools. In the run-up to the Hunkeler Innovation Days we successfully ran a test sample and personalized booklets.
Dr Rall, thank you very much for a very interesting interview!
Source: World of Print | 5/2019 | www.worldofprint.com