However, as revealed by recent visits to K Walter’s attractive headquarters in Krailling, Germany (not far from Munich), and Daetwyler’s headquarters in the pastoral setting of Bleienbach, Switzerland, the history stretches back much further than the last two years, and has positive implications for the future of gravure cylinder-making technology.
At Krailling, Max Rid and his team – including sales managers Ronny Siegel and Martin Raab – are welcoming and keen to share their views on the success of the reorganisation. ‘Just two years down the line, we can report that our restructuring is almost complete and that everything has settled well,’ says Max Rid. ‘We have a few outstanding issues to manage, but everything will be finalised by the end of this year; and the group will be present in its new format at drupa 2012 in Düsseldorf,’ he promises.
Just to complete the structural story, Max Rid heads up Heliograph Holding as CEO, while the CEOs of Daetwyler Graphics (Dr Rolf Pfiffner), Hell Gravure Systems (Dr Jörg Pohé), and K Walter (Christoph Gschossmann) make up the management board. Peter Daetwyler is not part of this management team, but continues to run his own companies, Daetwyler SwissTec and Daetwyler Industries.
As reported last year (PPM July10, p69), Daetwyler SwissTec, with doctor blade manufacturing plants in Switzerland, US, China and India, and Daetwyler Industries (the industrial manufacturing arm), with operations in Switzerland and Estonia, were not transferred to Heliograph Holding. These businesses continue to be led independently by Peter Daetwyler.
However, as Max Rid points out, companies within the Heliograph Holding group are also customers of Peter Daetwyler’s organisation – for instance, purchasing components from the Daetwyler Industries for use in the production of K Walter’s electroplating machines and Daetwyler Graphics’ finishing lines –
so it really is one happy family!
Full spectrum of technologies
Good news for customers around the world is that the unified enterprises within the Heliograph Holding group now offer the full spectrum of technologies for the production and handling of gravure cylinders.
Printers – whether for publication or packaging gravure – can now choose between the electromechanical and laser-based engraving technologies offered by Daetwyler, Hell and Schepers, all from a single source. Additionally, these products can be combined with K Walter’s plating and automation technology, Daetwyler Graphics’ surface finishing equipment, and Bauer Logistik’s storage and transportation expertise, supplied as perfectly integrated systems.
‘Our primary concept,’ explains Max Rid, ‘is that the five companies in the Heliograph Holding group operate independently, specialising in their own technologies, and offering their traditional products under their own well-established brand names.’
While, in general terms, each company produces exclusive products, Max admits that there’s a degree of competitiveness on the engraving side, with some overlapping technologies. ‘However,’ he quips with a smile, ‘the race isn’t over yet between the different laser engraving methods and electromechanical methods, so we need to maintain an interest in these competing technologies for the time being.
‘We’re now well set-up for the future,’ he continues. ‘The main target of the merger was to improve productivity; and this has been achieved.’
As Max Rid emphasises, the fastest growth for gravure printing is in the packaging sector. Compared to 25 years ago, when gravure was primarily used for publication printing, he underlines today’s total reversal of market share, with packaging clearly in the lead (see article on p26).
Publication gravure is declining, he says, pointing to the many US plant closures that have left just two businesses involved in publication gravure on that side of the Atlantic, and a whole raft of JVs, mergers and acquisitions among European printers.
Talking of prospects for publication gravure’s return to profitability, he particularly mentions Cerutti’s new press for publication gravure. Called the Aurora press, with web widths of 2m to 3m, it’s a compact and flexible machine, which can be operated with minimal staff and excellent energy efficiency. ‘In addition, the cylinders are small and lightweight which means that cylinder preparation lines can be compact,’ Max points out.
Summing up our discussion, Max Rid remarks: ‘Once publication gravure has gone through its consolidation phase, we expect it to return to being a successful industry – just on a smaller scale, with smaller, simpler and more cost-efficient equipment.’
Finishing par excellence
An hour’s plane journey from Munich to Zürich, followed by a high-speed train journey (a prime example of typical Swiss efficiency!), and a relaxing drive deep into the Swiss countryside, and we arrive at Daetwyler’s headquarters in Bleienbach, where the team is just as welcoming as the team at K Walter!
Here Robert Albrecht, area sales manager (already well known to Daetwyler’s customers in South Africa), takes up the story.
‘Yes, we were fierce competitors,’ Robert admits. ‘But because gravure is a relatively small market segment, we knew and respected each other. This certainly helped with the merger process, and we have easily managed the inevitable teething troubles,’ he maintains.
‘Customers, too, have accepted the new arrangement. We have structured our sales team so that each customer has just one primary contact, who then liaises (where necessary) with other partners within the group. This facilitates close co-operation with customers for the joint development of projects and helps us to find a complete solution to suit each customer’s precise needs,’ Robert explains.
As both Max Rid and Robert Albrecht emphasise, a prime motivation behind the merger was to rationalise and consolidate R&D and manufacturing operations. And this is precisely what has happened.
‘Today, two years on, the entire galvano processes (ie copper, chrome and nickel plating, degreasing and other related processes) have become the domain of K Walter, while Daetwyler Graphics concentrates on cylinder finishing equipment,’ Robert elaborates.
With a foothold in industrial graphics that dates back to 1965, Daetwyler has long been regarded as a global leader in special gravure applications. Its market success is closely linked with names such as Polishmaster, Finishstar, Laserstar and Gravostar – surface finishing equipment that’s famous throughout the industry.
To cite just one example of the type of rationalisation that has occurred since the merger, CFM turning
and polishing machines, previously produced by
K Walter, are now produced by Daetwyler Graphics at Bleienbach, and, as entry level machines, have become part of the impressive line-up of Daetwyler finishing equipment.
Major plus for customers
Asked to name the biggest advantage of the new dispensation, Robert believes it’s the fact that there’s now considerably more accent on R&D, more focus on customer needs, and more focus on supplying standard products.
‘Previously, with the inevitable price war between our two companies, there were scarce funds to invest in R&D and new product development,’ he explains. ‘Now we’re able to consolidate our efforts without being sidetracked by competitive issues,’ he says. ‘In addition, we have much improved purchasing power, which means we
can produce our equipment more economically.’
Robert is extremely positive about the way the merger has gone. ‘It was good that it happened the way it did, and in a way that all could accept,’ he comments.
Business as usual in South Africa
And of course we have to conclude with a discussion of the South African situation.
Within the new Heliograph Holding structure, subsidiaries – such as Daetwyler South Africa – continue to distribute gravure cylinder-making equipment, doctor blades and other flexographic and gravure-related products.
‘Our worldwide service standards remain the same,’ Robert stresses. ‘So far as South Africa is concerned, there is no change,’ he adds. ‘Marcel Henchoz still visits South Africa twice a year to provide back-up service, and South African customers are quite relaxed about the new set-up.’And final word goes to Werner Hämmig, MD of the local subsidiary. ‘There has been zero impact on the South African market. We continue to offer the same leading-edge products for the local gravure industry, as well as doctor blades for both gravure and flexo printers, and we continue to offer the same high level of technical back-up and after-sales service that our customers have come to expect from us.’
FROM a technology point of view, the real story lies within the five component companies of Heliograph Holding, which work together to create perfectly-integrated, single-source solutions to meet printers’ complex requirements. Between them these five companies offer complete systems for publication, packaging and decorative gravure printing, including embossing and security printing. K Walter provides all the necessary technology
for electroplating and automation in gravure cylinder manufacture; Daetwyler Graphics designs and manufactures polishing and high-precision finishing machines and engraving systems; Hell Gravure Systems is a prime brand name when it comes to high-quality, long-lasting engraving equipment; Schepers manufactures laser systems for embossing and security printing; and Bauer Logistik specialises in transportation and storage systems for printing cylinders.
Four generations of dedication
THE company now known as K Walter has clocked up a noteworthy tradition in the gravure cylinder engraving business since its establishment by Max Rid’s great-grandfather, Kaspar Walter, in 1906.
In the early part of the 20th century, the fledgling business produced copper and zinc plates for engraving and distributed engraving tools, but by 1913 Kaspar Walter’s eldest son, Rudolf, had produced the first rotogravure cylinders. This necessitated the engineering and building of copper plating tanks and polishing machines – a development that marked the beginning of machine manufacture at Kaspar Walter.
For more than a century, and largely thanks to the dedication of four subsequent generations of the family, K Walter has remained immersed in the business of gravure printing and engraving.
It was in 2000 that the company formed a partnership with Bauer Logistik, a specialist in transportation and storage systems; and 2002 saw the company’s relocation to Krailling from its original home in Munich, and the move into its current, purpose-built building. That year also saw the start of K Walter’s close co-operation with Hell Gravure Systems in Kiel.
Following the formation of Heliograph Holding in 2009, the group now prides itself on its innovative equipment and automation technology, making it a competent partner for gravure cylinder making equipment.