Finishing & Screen Printing
Doing everything yourself is the best livelihood
Friday 17. April 2020 - The takeover of Cologne-based Druckerei Flock brought Georg Gottwald a rollercoaster ride that lasted many years. Permanent adjustments to changing market situations and a focus on business customers ultimately secured his competitiveness in the long term. The high added value necessary for success is achieved primarily through the use of Horizon machines in the finishing department.
“Owning my own printing plant was not my intention at all,” says Georg Gottwald. But as soon as the now 44-year-old had passed his master craftsman’s examination, things turned out differently than planned. “A supplier of my training company at the time approached me and asked if I would be interested in taking over a long-established printing company,” recalls Gottwald. The key data made a good impression: founded in 1969, the Cologne-Pesch-based Flock printing company had a solid customer base of companies and agencies, served exclusively corporate customers with a team of ten dedicated and experienced specialists and enjoyed well-filled order books. However, the owner now wanted to retire from professional life and was looking for a suitable successor. “Everything fitted together well, also on the human level,” reports Georg Gottwald. Just 24 years old, however, he did not feel up to the role of entrepreneur on his own. He teamed up with a friend and colleague, and the new owners of the printing company set to work with ambition and verve.
Stony road to success
Enthusiasm was followed by disillusionment a few years later. With the rapid spread of digital printing, customer requirements changed and at the same time the aging machinery had to be renewed. Delays in delivery and unexpected technical problems with the commissioning of replacement equipment put the company owner and staff in an increasingly difficult situation. “At times, not a single functioning machine was available in the 800 m² production area. In order to be able to fulfil existing orders, we had to relocate the work to other printing plants,” says Georg Gottwald. To keep costs under control, the Flock printing company had to downsize and change location. From Cologne-Pesch, the company finally moved to the Frechen district, to an industrial estate near the Cologne-West motorway junction. In the end it took a good ten years for the company to stabilize the situation, which had become precarious in the meantime, and to find a solid base again. Giving up was not an option for the trained offset printer. While his partner was reorienting himself professionally, Gottwald persistently stayed with the company and now bears sole responsibility as sole owner. Today, Druckerei Flock has the most modern machines on 600 m² of production space in Cologne-Marsdorf, and with a workforce reduced to five people, the company feels well prepared for the future.
Focus on offset printing
Georg Gottwald attributes this success to the high level of vertical integration in his company, which gives Druckerei Flock an added value in the region of 90 percent. The company mainly supplies industrial companies within a radius of a good 100 kilometres. Regular customers secure 80 percent of the order volume. While many other competitors have switched over to digital printing, Gottwald is consistently sticking to offset production with a five-colour Heidelberg CD-102-5 LX press: “We primarily produce long runs of brochures, posters, flyers and catalogues. Offset printing is still the most economical option here”. Because customers design all products themselves, prepress only involves the preparation of the print data provided and thus generates hardly any costs.
Highest potential in further processing
Although Gottwald sees high-quality, high-performance printing technology on the one hand, the greatest potential for value creation lies in finishing. “Initially, we concentrated entirely on printing and left work such as folding or stitching to other service providers,” says the company boss. “As a small company, we could not have financed the necessary specialist personnel at all. This changed when Georg Gottwald became aware of Horizon products a good five years ago. Initially, he was only looking for a folding machine for processing large 70/100 formats. The decision was made in favour of a Horizon AFC-746F. As a combination folding machine for the B1 format, the system has six buckle plates and two sword folding stations, and the paper is fed either by pallet or round pile feeder. The fold type and formats can be selected quickly and conveniently on the touchscreen, and fully automatic adjustment replaces the time-consuming adjustment of individual components, thus reducing makeready times. In keeping with the philosophy of simple operation, the AFC-746F does not require any specialist personnel – and thus meets the requirements of small businesses in particular.
Rapid expansion of machinery
Satisfied with the performance of the folding machine and the associated Horizon Service all round, Georg Gottwald rapidly expanded the vertical range of manufacture in the finishing department. The machine park now also includes a Horizon BQ-270 perfect binder and a PSX-56 pack delivery with signature press, which can be used flexibly and as required on the saddle stitcher or folding machine. The PSX-56 presses the incoming products and stacks them into handy packs, thus making the most of the performance of the fast-running machines and making production even more profitable. Finally, a Horizon StitchLiner Mark III saddle stitcher including a VAC-L600H gathering machine with four towers serves as the “backbone” of the Flock printing company. At the touch of a button and in a matter of seconds, it retrieves prepared jobs and produces saddle-stitched brochures of the highest quality at a speed of up to 6,000 copies per hour: As a high-performance system for industrial production, the StitchLiner Mark III is now one of the world’s most popular solutions for achieving optimum profitability in booklet production. Reliable processing of A4 landscape brochures is made possible by the VAC-L600H gathering machine, which can accommodate sheets up to 610 mm in length. Parameters such as overlap, speed, suction and blowing air can be individually adjusted and guarantee perfect results even with critical papers.
For Georg Gottwald, the flexibility of the finishing department is a major factor in securing the existence of the entire printing plant: “In our small team, practically everyone must be able to do everything. Whenever necessary and there’s no other way, the salesman is always at the folding machine. With the Horizon machines this can be done without any problems, otherwise we would hardly be able to ensure the profitability of our production.
Competitive advantage FSC certification
In addition to the efficiency of its machinery, Georg Gottwald also keeps an eye on changes in the market environment. For example, a public-sector customer recently demanded proof of FSC certification as a prerequisite for participation in the tendering process for a major project. In view of the costs associated with certification, Gottwald initially hesitated until it heard about the possibility of group certification: several small companies, each with a maximum of 15 employees or annual turnover of no more than three million euros, will be combined into a group and jointly certified. The costs are significantly lower than those of individual certification, making it affordable for the Flock printing company, and in the end, it even paid off directly by winning the tender. For the future, Georg Gottwald expects that more and more customers will pay attention to seals of approval and that FSC certification will certainly be a competitive advantage. Despite difficult phases, in retrospect he is happy that he dared to take the leap into entrepreneurial independence. His tip: “Stay on the ball and don’t bury your head in the sand. Somehow there is always a solution.”