Anthony Thirlby is a man on a mission. The general manager of Heidelberg’s Prinect technology is evangelical about the transformative power of software, specifically at this time, the Prinect Business Manager software that he and Heidelberg believe is key to unlocking production efficiencies in all types of print business and which will take the industry into the Industry 4.0 era with its emphasis on cyber-physical systems and seamless connectivity.
If that is a stride too far for most printers to contemplate, Thirlby can point to hundreds of Heidelberg customers who, perhaps unaware, have taken the first steps towards the future. These are the companies that are using JDF to connect different islands of production, most probably prepress to press and workflow to MIS.
Heidelberg reckons that around 100 customers worldwide have started on the full integration journey with some 2,500 having implemented a prepress to press connection, 500 a link to an MIS. This is still only a fraction of the total customer case that Heidelberg has globally. It is indicative that the press remains the centre of focus for most print businesses, not the way it represents an output platform in an interconnected production flow.
It is more accurate to say that, thanks to JDF, the industry has had the potential to take the leap in productivity that Industry 4.0 opens up for that time. “People are still using paper job tickets, they are reentering information, with the potential for inaccuracies and there is limited information transferred. Consequently people do not get the full potential from their manufacturing operation,” he says.
Thirlby famously achieved the full potential from manufacturing as managing director of ESP Colour, where he was achieving performance figures from XL series presses that Heidelberg did not believe was possible. For that he had to combine Heidelberg, Kodak and Tharstern technology. Now his message is that while connectivity and integration works, all this is possible from Prinect Business Manager. “If I were a customer, I would buy Business Manager,” he says.
It is the key, he argues, to increasing OEE of a printing press from 25% to 50% and with it the production efficiencies and margins that the top 10% of printers achieve. “There are big differences between customers,” he says, pointing to research in North America to support this, showing large gap between the top printers and the rest in terms of margins earned. “We know where the pain points are,” he adds.
That extra performance opened by the software can be harnessed to increase market share from existing equipment or to reduce operating costs where the market is consolidating.
Heidelberg already concedes that it is unlikely to increase market share in major economies so will not be growing sales of sheetfed litho presses. Instead its growth path includes digital, consumables and the software that Business Manager represents.
“If you can generate more capacity, you can have the same production with less cost, or you can increase capacity to gain the market share that you require,” says Thirlby.
Business Manager is the layer that sits above the digital workflow. It tracks the progress of a job, sets the schedules and monitors production, much as a conventional MIS might. Business Manager is, however, positioned as more than an MIS, possibly semantics and undoubtedly only testable by companies that make full use of the technology.
Thirlby calls it a “business intelligence platform to focus on both business and production”. It will link every process in the business from incoming orders and CRM through production to delivery and invoicing. A new web to print portal is under test as a digital store front to replace the Pageflex derived system that Heidelberg started with and which was installed at customer 50 sites. The new version, currently in beta, is simpler, so is more suited to smaller print shops. While Heidelberg has through Prinect created a slick and production workflow, Prinect has always been limited in terms of outward connectivity. The new web shop technology will help address this.
None of this happens overnight. Heidelberg has trained its own staff and provided the tools for dealers where Heidelberg lacks its own sales organisation to do the same. It knows that it will have to provide training to customers, and more importantly create a compelling message to convince printers that the investment will be worthwhile.
“We have to demystify the complexity of the workflow,” says Thirlby, “and create the business platform for customers and focus on development of their own organisations. Even small print shows are experiencing the same pressures as the larger companies. Customers sometimes do not know where to start so we need to evolve and develop as they require.
“We have moved from being a craft industry. Now we have to allow customers to explain what it is they want to achieve, but most do not understand the benefit that software can bring. Business Manager is creating a lot of interest right now from different parts of the world. Business Manager is not just about having a digital workflow. Nobody else in the industry has this control over the end to end process. We have the right platform.
Anthony Thirlby says that rather than employ a team of programmers as was needed at ESP Colour, he would buy Print Business Manager as a business owner. Heidelberg, he says, is the only supplier with the full end to end solution for both business management and workflow and can supply either full or partial systems to both medium and large businesses.