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Heidelberg Web Training Center relaunched, New equipment, Modernized plant

Thursday, October 16, 2003

Press release from the issuing company

DOVER, NH - As Heidelberg Web Systems Inc. completes a $5 million modernization of its Customer Training and Technology Center, in Dover, N.H., the press manufacturer is emphasizing training as one of the keys to the success of web printing systems. Begun last November, the project has reinforced Heidelberg's ability to ensure that when a customer takes delivery of a Mainstream, Sunday Press, or other web press, the employees responsible for running and maintaining the press will have been taught how to do so in a way that helps the owner to derive maximum value from the investment. “Our guiding principle is that proper set up, maintenance and operator training are vital to the performance of any web press system,” says Gary Fisher, who, as director of training and lithographic services, oversaw the Training Center’s expansion in Dover, about an hour's drive north of Boston. He and his staff worked hard to relaunch the augmented facility as a three-part technical academy. The new Training Center now includes a static lab for hands-on training on freestanding printing units; a folder lab equipped with three fully operational folders and a Contiweb splicer; and, most notably, a new wing with a fully operational printing tower from a Heidelberg Mainstream newspaper web press. Additional teaching assets include an XCalibur VLF (large format) thermal CTP platesetter consigned by AGFA; and related equipment and materials furnished by training partners AGFA, QTI, Baldwin, Böttcher, Sun Chemical, AWS, Rima, and Heidelberg Postpress. Thanks to the expansion, the Training Center will also have more classroom space with state-of-the-art presentation capabilities, more personnel, and, says Fisher, an even more important role to play in Heidelberg Web Systems’ commitment to customer service. Heidelberg Web Systems has continuously improved its customer training program over the years, but its basic philosophy has not changed. According to Fisher, printers still categorize their press personnel either as press operators or as maintenance staff, and the center continues to focus on the needs of both with courses in press operation and setup, mechanical maintenance, and electrical service. Timing the Instruction Most of the courses run from four to five days, although Fisher and his staff would be happy to stretch them over several additional days to add even more value to the instruction. But since it isn’t feasible for most printers to spare their production people for extended periods of time, the center tries to synchronize the scheduling of the training with the installation of the press. Ideally, customer personnel should come to Dover for their courses while the installation is being completed. Training in Dover is an optional feature of the sales contract, so it’s up to each customer to decide whether to avail itself of the opportunity. The purchase of a web press includes up to eight weeks of on-site training and support by Heidelberg’s field service teams, but in Fisher’s opinion, even a hand-holding period of this duration may not be enough when the technology is brand-new. He explains that because most printing companies buy presses only at long intervals—seven to eight years—press technology will have advanced considerably by the time the capital-investment decision is made. This means that what’s being purchased is a “new spaceship of a press” with features that crews won’t be familiar with—features that are best demonstrated and taught in the dedicated environment of the manufacturer’s training facility. While declining to send trainees to Dover does indeed keep key personnel at their posts, that decision usually obliges the Heidelberg field service trainer to spend the same number of extra days providing the training on site during the start-up—hardly an ideal setting for formal learning, according to Fisher. Activity at the center naturally depends on web press sales volume, with about half of all training tied directly to press sales. On average the center hosts as many as 1,000 students per year. Admirable Working Conditions The expanded learning environment in Dover is amply sized, comprising 21,000 sq. ft. of classroom, plant, and laboratory space. It’s a thoroughly professional environment as well, boasting a teaching staff of seven full-time instructors who share an average of 20 years of industry experience. The facility has achieved ISO certifications for quality management and environmental awareness (ISO 9001 and 14000, respectively), and it recertifies its compliance with these standards annually. However, the true core of the center’s training capability is its array of demonstration equipment. The main workshop contains static examples of every printing unit manufactured by Heidelberg Web Systems, and it is on these mechanical subsystems that students master the intricacies of maintaining the press as a whole. The static printing units are complemented by a folder lab housing a Contiweb CS splicer running white paper through folders and turn bars to demonstrate folding options and performance. In June, Heidelberg announced the center’s most significant enhancement to date: the dedication of a 5,300 sq. ft. area to North America’s only fully operational, double-width newspaper press tower for operator, mechanical, and electrical training. Configured with a JF-255 folder and Contiweb FD flying paster, the working Mainstream tower can produce eight-page broadsheet or 16-page tabloid sections in full color. Besides enabling the center to teach Mainstream press operation, setup, and maintenance, the tower is also used for testing with chemistry, consumables, and press settings identical to those in customers’ actual operations. The Mainstream tower will be the only fully functional printing unit that the center will house, but it may be the only such equipment the center needs. Fisher says that although students often are surprised to discover that they won’t be working with running presses, they catch on quickly to the center’s teaching methodology as they begin to investigate the static units. And whenever his instructors want to show the students something specific, they can turn to their “virtual-reality computer system”: a digital simulator that replicates and displays the conditions of a running press. Because the simulator can be programmed to represent various presses printing an assortment of web products, it can serve both as a demonstration platform and as a practical problem-solving tool. Nashville Native There were no digital simulators in 1989, the year that Heidelberg opened its first web Training Center in Nashville, Tenn. The centerpiece of the facility was a Heidelberg M1000, the company’s premier web press at the time. Heidelberg transplanted the Training Center from Nashville to Dover in the winter of 2001. Its present home is a former foundry building constructed in 1849. The Harris Automatic Press Company (acquired as Harris Graphics Corp. by Heidelberg in 1988) began manufacturing printing machines here in 1903. The plant has “really changed” in its reinvention as a Training Center over the last two years, Fisher observes. The holder of a master’s degree in technology education and a bachelor’s degree in graphic communications from Eastern Illinois University, Fisher worked for World Color Press in the late 1980s as the writer, videographer, and editor of more than 50 training videos. He spent time as a training supervisor with Stork Contiweb, a maker of web splicers and dryers that is now a part of Heidelberg, before returning to World Color Press to take charge of prepress production. Having joined Heidelberg Web Systems in Nashville in 1996, Fisher now directs its field training operations as well as the Dover training facilities. As a headmaster for industrial education, he believes as strongly in creating supportive learning environments as he does in developing quality course content. Mechanical and electrical maintenance classes are limited to four students so that no one is kept waiting for a turn at a static unit. Most important, says Fisher, is gaining the confidence of visiting students who have been plucked from their normal surroundings for a week of intensive, hands-on study in an unfamiliar setting. “Many of the people that we see have not had the opportunity to be formally trained at a remote facility, especially smaller companies with finite personnel,” Fisher observes. “Being here with us is a ‘first flight’ for many of them—the first time that they’ve traveled away from their companies.” To be certain that everyone remains relaxed and receptive, the training team audits classes to monitor progress and satisfaction. Students’ comments from post-course evaluations help the training group build continuous improvement into the curriculum. Nuts, Bolts, and Know-How The keynote of every course is real-world applicability. “The best way for adults to learn is to put them on the equipment they’re going to work on,” says Fisher. “Everything that we show and tell is something they need to know in order to operate and maintain Heidelberg web presses.” To gauge individual progress, his instructors use essential-skills checklists. The center refrains from testing because tests can be intimidating and some people, as Fisher says, “just do not test well.” The instructors instead put the emphasis on structured procedures that can be repeated and reinforced. Sometimes it’s possible to work with the customer to evaluate students’ skills and knowledge before the training starts. This allows the training staff to adjust the course content to better suit the capabilities of the incoming class. For example, planning ahead in this way might enable the center to arrange to train a customer’s most experienced people first and then coach the novices in a group of their own. Because of the advanced nature of current press technology, “there needs to be a cultural change in the way the customers perceive technology.” Fisher says. “The days of multimeters and one-line operator interfaces are going by the wayside. Today’s presses offer graphical, multilevel interfaces and require laptop computers with sophisticated software to monitor and troubleshoot press issues.” Because students can expect to encounter remote diagnostics, automation, and other technical improvements in their presswork, Fisher adds, the Training Center strives to inject all of these elements into its coursework. They Can Look It Up Educational support for customer trainees doesn’t end with the completion of a course. Upon course conclusion, each student receives customized documentation that outlines everything covered in the instruction. This is to be used as a reference handbook and troubleshooting guide when the student is back on the job. Should a problem arise that a look into the course documents won’t solve, a phone call to the Training Center is always an option for help with an answer. Is it possible to quantify the benefits of training in dollars-and-cents terms? Fisher admits that it would be a “huge undertaking” to measure the precise impact of training on customers’ bottom lines. On the other hand, he says it's very easy to document added costs in service, maintenance and down time that web printers incur when they don't invest enough in training. Fisher says that the satisfaction of Heidelberg customers that have sent people to Dover for training speaks for itself. “Word of mouth gets us more business than anything else,” he says, explaining that favorable reports by trainees tend to spread rapidly within individual plants and among plants of companies with multiple locations. The feedback from these sites, he says, indicates that faster makereadies, reduced waste, and improved print quality are commonly perceived to be the dividends of time spent in study at the Training Center. Fisher says that the center’s expansion represents “a major commitment to making training an integral part of service” behind the sale of all Heidelberg Web Systems products. And while the economic doldrums of the print equipment market remain a reality to be faced, they have done nothing to dampen Fisher’s conviction that these are the best of times to redouble the effort on behalf of training. “When things do turn around,” he says, “we’ll be that much better prepared to help our customers.”




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