Muller Martini has taken over the perfect binding operations of rival Kolbus, a move driven by the shrinking market for perfect binding equipment.
The move stunned all parts of the industry when announced on Friday, prompting concerned calls to both Muller Martini and Kolbus. A series of meetings this week will will begin to frame how the integration of sales, support and spares will take place.
Kolbus will retain its growing packaging business, case making, parts manufacture and its foundry. Muller Martini will be a customer for high quality parts from the German company. Meanwhile Muller Martini has formed Muller Martini Buchbinde-Systeme GmbH as a subsidiary to operate with 250 former Kolbus employees in Rahden.
This will leave Kolbus with a staff of 900 in the north German town with a focus on packaging and engineering of high specification components tor third parties.
Bruno Muller, CEO of Muller Martini, says: “Structural change has changed the graphic arts industry in recent years and our market has become much smaller and versatile at once.” This has led to the two companies competing fiercely for any binding project, weakening revenue and margins for both companies.
This shrinking market has had consequences for both the manufacturers and printers. “Customers need innovations on a regular basis, which have to be financed with lower sales quantities. Above all, our customers benefit from the efficiency gains bringing together the bookbinding activities.” says Muller.
Muller Martini has the broader portfolio, both in perfect binding and across finishing with an extensive range of saddle stitching equipment. This was strengthened when Muller Martini acquired Heidelberg’s interests in saddle stitchers and perfect binding in 2014. While Heidelberg’s technology provided the template for the Vareo book of one binder, the remainder of its portfolio has been subsumed.
At Drupa Muller Martini’s presentation focused on its implementation of Industry 4.0 with a automated changeover from book to book, changing pagination and format from he same inkjet printed reel. It introduced the Infinitrim robotic trimmer. Kolbus also demonstrated an Industry 4.0 strategy and announced it would open its technology making its API freely available while running the KM200 without stopping between differed format and sized books, via a fully automatic but less photogenic three-knife trimmer.
As well as the KM200 aimed at ultra short run work, the stable has included the KM600/610, a 6,000 and 7,000cph and the high speed KM412. In contrast the Muller Martini range runs from the three-clamp Vareo, though Pantera, Alegro, Bolero models rising to the Corona at up to 18,000cph.
While there is a strong logic to the consolidation from the manufacturing side, it will not be universally welcomed by those using the equipment. Many companies in the UK at least, are passionately in one camp or the other. Trade service providers have tended to favour the Kolbus machines for the standalone versatility, while printers have been adherents of Muller Martini’s more integrated approach.
This polarity will demand diplomacy over the next few months as the two operations come together, if only to answer questions about ongoing support and service levels. The merger may also provide an opportunity for second tier providers to gain business. Wohlenberg, supplied by UK agent Friedheim International has a portfolio of binders, though none that competes at the highest end. Similarly Horizon has made a mark with the BQ470 and now BQ480, but has had relatively little success with is CABS gatherer/binder in Europe. That may change while the Italian produced Risetec looks promising but is new to the market.
Kai Buntemeyer, who remains CEO of Kolbus, says he is optimistic for the business: “In recent years, the packaging market has grown consistently. We see a good potential and will vigorously expand our current activities in this business. There are also very good perspectives in the segment of component manufacturing for sophisticated mechanical engineering companies including Muller Martini Buchbinde-Systeme GmbH and Kolbus Luxury Packaging.”
It retains a dominant position in case making, a sector where Muller Martini has no presence. It also retains the folder originally developed by Timsons for digital presses.
The Kolbus foundry is an increasingly important asset as other foundries in Germany are gradually extinguished and permits to restart are virtually impossible to obtain. Muller Martini has always relied on others to supply castings.
Kolbus can trace its history to 1775. As well as the main factory in Raden, it has factories in Gerabronn and Krostitz in Germany and Kalamazoo in the US.
Muller Martini has remained in the hands of the Muller family since its foundation in 1946 in Zofingen. It has 1600 staff across a number of plants in Switzerland.
Muller Martini will continue to manufacture binders in Rahden where Kolbus has had a factory for generations. Kolbus will retain its foundry, luxury packaging and parts machining ability.