Only twenty minutes from Stuttgart airport, you find a printing company with five robots working for the company - day in, day out. As the company's CEO, Steffen Franzisi, explains, it only requires electricity and some maintenance. The robots are all delivered as part of the MBO CoBo Stack solutions introduced less than a year ago and have become a success for MBO and the company's customers. Several hundred solutions are already in the market, and with labor shortage, the robots are good coworkers and reliable and feasible for printing companies. Steffen Franzisi explains that the acquisition cost and improved productivity easily make it an easy calculation. And. with W. Kohlhammer Druckerei, you clearly see this, as one operator can manage up to three MBO folding machines. Not only are the robots productive, but they also remove the heavy lifting from the employees, and the term CoBot is the right term here, as the robot is a coworker.

This story, however, is about robots and how a relatively conventional printing company isn't afraid of investing in technology that gives the company a competitive edge. Kohlhammer has three 8-color Heidelberg XL-106 presses. As you may have seen in a film produced by Heidelberger Druckmaschinen, Kohlhammer is one of the subscription customers that was touted some years ago. Franzisi emphasizes that Kohlhammer owns the machines and that the subscription model relates to all the machine consumables (not plates). In part of the building, a consignation warehouse is established. When the operators need a new blanket, inks, or anything else part of the agreement, the item is scanned, and replacements are automatically ordered. Steffen Franzisi explains that the subscription model has been excellent for Kohlhammer as they spent too much time ordering and managing inks, blankets, varnishes, etc., and the process needs to be simplified to its max.

Also, the CTP department, which chemistry-free process-free plates, is taking advantage of some of the new services offered in the market. Kohlhammer works with Fujifilm and utilizes the model where the plates are returned after use. Essentially Kohlhammer only pays for the usage - which again, according to Franzisi, simplifies operation.

In the press room, you, as mentioned, find the three XL-106s, and with the oldest being ten years old, Kohlhammer has started to consider what comes next. With an open-minded strategy towards new, and also with experience from other brands in the past, Franzisi has not decided which brand/model he will consider in the future; however, together with the Screen 520S, which he uses in his digital production center along with four Konica-Minolta cut-sheet printers, he emphasized that he sees growth in digital, and maybe less in offset. With that said, the more rightful story is that the XL-106s are so efficient that a new generation of offset presses easily outperform previous versions, so the three machines at some point can be replaced with two - only time will tell.

Kohlhammer specializes in magazines and catalogs. With catalogs made with thousands of pages and spines of more than 65 mm, the perfect binding department is equipped with a CoBo-Stack that takes off the finished books and stack them on a pallet.

With the production of several hundred magazines, Kohlhammer also needs packing and addressing capabilities. –After a request from customers who wanted the magazines wrapped in paper, Kohlhammer invested in technology able to wrap brochures. Rather than just using white paper, roles with printed personalized content from the Screen 520 were used to wrap the magazines. The Solution is not only more sustainable but also adds the dimension of adding new value to the wrapping as it can be used for messages, advertising, or just nice print. All the paper wrapping Kohlhammer offers their customers are CO2 compensated - quite an exciting solution.

Kohlhammer is owned by a publishing company, yet only 5-10% of the production is for the owner. This has, however, given Kohlhammer more than 150 years of history and many changes during that time. Today the company delivers high-quality print and can both stitch and perfect bind in-house, giving the company relatively fast turn-around times. At the same time, Kohlhammer has also developed software to handle various customers' needs - from easy re-ordering to consolidation of print orders, delivered directly to the digital print department.

As we talk, it becomes clear that Franzisi is a curious CEO who is not afraid of trying out new things; however, he also emphasizes that his focus is to operate the business as lean and smart as possible to ensure a profitable business - even in difficult times.

The day before visiting Kohlhammer, I am invited for dinner at Franzisi's home, and on the way back to my hotel, I get a glimpse into what Franzisi does in his spare time. His hobby room has a few small 3D printing machines. Franzisi frequently uses them for everything, even for spare parts in the printing company. The company's excellence is an essential part of Kohlhammer and Franzisi's history - and awards from Deutscher Drucker are part of the story.

Franzisi, as CEO, has worked his way 'up' in Kohlhammer, so he knows his company. While setting up for the interview, there is a problem with a paper reel, and here the CEO is not afraid of getting dirty while finding a solution with the paper.

On a final note - Franzisi and I, of course, talk about the future of commercial print. I wouldn't say that Steffen Franzisi is worried about the future, but he definitely focuses on how the future will be. We have a great discussion about whether commercial print is declining, as many people think - but that I have already written about on INKISH.NEWS, and I will write more about that at another time.

For now, I look forward to seeing the film we did from Kohlhammer. As always, keep an eye open on the players in the industry who are not afraid of being one step ahead of others - we need beacons, and as said, though Kohlhammer, in many ways, is an established printing company, the steps taken with robots and innovative sustainable packaging solutions seems to be what customers want - and isn't that we all should focus on?

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