Our colleague Knud Wassermann asked Adrian Mayr, Head of Product Management & Corporate Marketing at Müller Martini, how the company is driving the digital transformation in print finishing and what further development priorities are envisaged. The topic of mass customization is being implemented in all dimensions – content, format and scope – in soft and hardcover production. And robots will, among other things, take over the transport between the individual machines and thus ensure cross-process inline solutions.
Already 15 years ago, the Swiss manufacturer created the basis for a networked production environment in print finishing with the introduction of the Connex workflow system. Today, the workflow solution is a key to automation and increased efficiency, especially in production environments that are strongly driven by digital printing.
Beyondprint: Digitalization in the graphic arts industry: curse or blessing?
Adrian Mayr: It is a reality that cannot be avoided. Companies that are innovative and know how to deal with change have opportunities even in this challenging environment. As soon as a customer leaves the mass market and mostly looks for a market segment characterized by digital printing, he has the chance to achieve better margins… Of course, this depends on the individual company, but there are also regional differences.
Beyondprint: How do you assess the DACH region?
Adrian Mayr: There are some lighthouse companies that are very innovative and pioneers in the truest sense of the word. In my opinion, the majority of companies are acting too cautiously. Our customer base in the US is driving digitalization much more strongly.
Beyondprint: What does Müller Martini’s digitalization strategy look like?
Adrian Mayr: We introduced the slogan “Finishing 4.0” at drupa 2016. This is the bracket for our digitalization strategy, which we have been consistently implementing ever since. With automation and networking, we have created the basis for processing products with a very high degree of variability. With “Touchless Workflow”, we are also pursuing the goal of manufacturing different products completely without operator intervention. This is our roadmap on the way to the Smart Factory.
Beyondprint: Is this a vision or a lived practice?
Adrian Mayr: In some areas, such as photo book production, it is already a reality. It is still a vision where upstream and downstream processes are involved, and manual intervention is still required.
Beyondprint: Integrating comprehensive finishing automation into the print workflow is a massive challenge – what solutions does Müller Martini offer here?
Adrian Mayr: Our workflow system Connex with its various modules takes over control in the finishing department. Connex has been a fixed component of our portfolio for 15 years and we are convinced that we are well positioned with it. Of course, the development of a workflow system is never complete, because the customers’ requirements are constantly changing. Just handing the customer a CIP4 specification is not enough. That’s why we have set up our own Solution Centre for the planning and implementation of complex projects and bundled the know-how there. This way, we achieve seamless integration of further processing into the overall workflow.
Beyondprint: In 2020, Heidelberg made the statement that JDF is not suitable for creating an open and manufacturer-independent workflow. With Zaikio, Heidelberg announced a central platform for automated supplier and customer management. Will Müller Martini support this initiative – and if so, in what form?
Adrian Mayr: Of course, there would be other technical approaches. But the fact is that JDF is available today and is established among customers. The part that is relevant for us can be covered relatively well with JDF. If someone comes along and says they are doing something new, then it has to be better than what is available. There is also the question of the dissemination of the Zaikio platform. No matter which approach, it has to work in China as well as in the US.
I found the statement by the CEO of Heidelberg interesting, and I can also understand it to a certain extent, but the road there is not really easy. The first CIP4 specification dates back to 2000, which shows how difficult it is to establish such standards on a broad scale. Therefore, something very convincing must already be put on the table in connection with Zaikio.
Beyondprint: That means Müller Martini is not yet convinced by Zaikio?
Adrian Mayr: When it comes to integrating systems into our customers’ workflow, we can cover most customer needs with JDF and JMF. Whereby we are basically open and maintain a regular exchange with Zaikio. The idea is interesting. Currently, however, our focus is on our JDF-based Connex workflow.
Beyondprint: Where do you see growth opportunities as a provider of finishing solutions, or does everything ultimately result in pure displacement competition?
Adrian Mayr: The classic offset printing environment is still in a consolidation phase. In the digital environment we see clear growth opportunities for our portfolio. Here, the development of the market and the technology suits us. Digital printing solutions are becoming more efficient and qualitatively better. Therefore, finishing solutions that are designed for industrial operation are also needed. In the long run, one will not be able to compete with “drilled-out office machines”.
Beyondprint: In recent months, you have announced numerous innovations in all product areas. Where are the main focuses and what are the highlights from your point of view?
Adrian Mayr: We are consistently pursuing our “Finishing 4.0” strategy. We have completely renewed our saddle stitcher portfolio in the lower and medium performance range. Due to the large installed base worldwide, saddle stitchers continue to be a relevant business segment for us. With our two new saddle stitchers Prinova and Primera PRO, customers can efficiently and cost-effectively manage the small parts in their job structure that are prevalent today with modern equipment.
The SigmaLine III for the production of book blocks is clearly aimed at the digital printing market. In combination with the Vareo glue binder and the InfiniTrim three-knife trimmer, a digital book production line is created that illustrates our innovation path very well.F
Beyondprint: Which solution do you think will have the biggest impact on the industry?
Adrian Mayr: I believe it is the combination of Vareo and InfiniTrim, complemented by the hardcover functionality of the Diamant Digital book line. This gives the customer the possibility to customize soft and hardcover products in terms of content, size and format.
In the USA, for example, the hardcover book market is recording double-digit growth rates. A survey of the US printing industry revealed that companies are suffering from staff shortages and that meeting delivery deadlines is becoming even more difficult. This simply calls for more automation in finishing.
Beyondprint: Mass customization is a trend that has taken hold of the entire economy. Can Müller Martini already cover and implement this topic in finishing?
Adrian Mayr: In connection with the SigmaLine we talk about “PDF in – Book out”, which is not quite true, because the SigmaLine III “only” delivers book blocks. The slogan should become reality in the next few years – a roll of paper is clamped in at the front and a finished book comes out at the back. However, this presupposes that we build in buffer sections between the individual work steps in order to coordinate their cycle frequency. In this way, individual systems can be combined into a complete system.
Beyondprint: Drupa did not take place in 2020 or 2021. Does the absence of the leading trade fair have an impact on the sales of your machines?
Adrian Mayr: We do not see any direct impact on our business development due to the lack of trade fairs. Whereas 2020 was a very difficult year for all of us, and so some investment projects were postponed. Especially in the digital environment, the order situation has developed very positively again.
Beyondprint: Kolbus customers were sceptical about the takeover by Müller Martini and often thought that they were just trying to get rid of an annoying competitor. Were you able to convince Kolbus customers and win them over?
Adrian Mayr: We were able to convince the majority of customers that they also have a reliable partner in Müller Martini, who will also guarantee the service of the Kolbus machines in the future. The initial uncertainty has subsided.
Internally, the integration of Kolbus went well, and the colleagues in Rahden (editor’s note: Kolbus location) identify very strongly with Müller Martini. We have a balanced portfolio with a mixture of ex Kolbus and Müller Martini machines, and we have also strengthened the location through product relocations. We are also continuously developing the machines that were historically built in Rahden – for example, the Publica PRO glue binder.
Beyondprint: If you look at your competitors’ portfolios, their performance often stops where Müller Martini’s only begins. Doesn’t that mean that Müller Martini is missing out on market opportunities?
Adrian Mayr: This is a question that we also discuss internally time and again. However, we have come to the conclusion that with our structure it would be difficult to offer machines with a lower performance spectrum at prices in line with the market. Against this background, we focus on the high-performance industrial sector. Knowing full well that there are submarkets that we do not cover.
Beyondprint: Layflat bindings are currently developing into a hype. What solutions can Müller Martini offer here?
Adrian Mayr: Currently we do not have a solution. We are observing the development and looking at how layflat binding could fit into an industrial environment. We are currently working with adhesive manufacturers to further improve the opening behavior.
Beyondprint: Robots are slowly but surely making their way into print finishing. Will Müller Martini also have approaches and corresponding solutions here?
Adrian Mayr: Yes, definitely. Robotics is an elementary component of the Smart Factory to close the gaps that still exist in the transfer of products between the individual work steps, which we are working on intensively. In addition to mass production, the robots should also be able to cope with variable production, which, however, increases the technological requirements.
Beyondprint: Your solutions are packed with sensors and cameras, so artificial intelligence (AI) is almost a given?
Adrian Mayr: With our self-developed camera system ASIR PRO, we are moving in this direction. It analyses printed sheets by means of 1D/2D barcode or image comparison. Defective sheets are detected and ejected. The camera system still has a lot of potential for AI. We also have some ideas, but not everything can be implemented at the same time.
Beyondprint: What do you think the “new normal” often cited today will look like for the printing industry?
Adrian Mayr: Companies that do not close their minds to digitalization and align their processes and machinery to it will continue to be successful. The classic, volume-oriented print market will certainly be around for a few more years, but consolidation will continue there due to the low margins. If you look at the figures for the printing industry in the USA, you can see a rebound in certain areas. The fact that this trend is taking place in a digital-savvy country like the USA is a positive sign.
Beyondprint: Don’t you think there is too much talk in the industry about automation and efficiency and not enough about how to increase the value of print?
Adrian Mayr: Print products transport emotions. We have to play this trump card to increase the appeal for the recipient, reader and whomever else. This is a topic that the entire industry must address.
Beyondprint: Mr. Mayr, thank you for the interview!