Who’s got more riding on the outcome of Print 05 than a printing equipment salesman?

With the exception of the owners of the Graphic Arts Show Company, probably nobody. KBA North America’s Walter Chmura is headed for the event with the same hopeful ambitions as hundreds of others in his end of the business, KBA sales brethren and competitors alike. What gives Chmura an unusual stake in the show is the fact that he comes to McCormick Place with something that most of his counterparts don’t have but would be delighted, no doubt, to possess.

That’s the insight he gained from his prior experience as a user of the kinds of equipment he’s now selling as KBA’s recently appointed Midwest regional vice president. Chmura spent the first nine of his 23 years in the industry as a press operator, service manager, and plant manager—a career stage that gave him, in his words, “the ability to relate to any individual in a plant, from the floor boys to members of the board of directors.”

“I can speak to members of the industry on all levels,” says Chmura, who is based in Chicago. “The kind of relationship that I have with my customers lets me put myself into their shoes and understand what they go through on a daily basis.” He expects to put this well-earned empathy to good use at Print 05 as he strives to explain how KBA’s sheetfed presses can take printing businesses to the next level with their versatility, efficiency, and mechanical refinements.

WTT: The press release announcing your appointment said that you’re an expert at closing “the most challenging deals.” What does it take to close a challenging deal for a multimillion-dollar piece of printing equipment? What does the printer have to know or believe about that press before he’s ready to sign on the dotted line?

WC: The customer has to fully understand what that press will do and what it will bring to his company. In order for that to happen, there has to be trust and honor in the relationship between an equipment sales representative and his customers. I believe that the customer should always buy the press that’s best suited to his plant and that will solve all of his production problems. If I can’t offer the customer that press, then I won’t try to sell him any press. It’s a sales representative’s responsibility to provide solutions, not just a piece of iron.

WTT: As we head into Print 05, what’s the mood of the industry like? Are printers really ready to invest and expand?

WC: I think that the pulse of the industry is very exciting now because printers are beginning to understand the possibilities of things like MIS and automation. They’re seeing, for instance, that it’s possible to replace two old presses with one new press that’s twice as efficient. In the old days, many printers thought the way to achieve productivity was to have loads and loads of presses so that the plant could deal with whatever might come along. Today printers realize that operating high-throughput, high-efficiency presses is better than just trying to make do with a lot of ordinary equipment.

WTT: What about their concerns? If you were still a printing plant manager, what would you be concerned about?

WC: I’d be concerned about manufacturing efficiency. I’d want to know that whatever equipment I purchased would help to solve my efficiency issues. Jobs and margins are getting smaller, and it’s up to the press manufacturers to offer the kinds of equipment that can help printers get the highest returns. That’s what I liked about KBA: they don’t build cookie-cutter presses. They’re flexible. They offer a multitude of options by designing sheetfed equipment that can handle all of the many different kinds of work that printers do.

WTT: PIA recently reported that nearly all of the 4,800 printing plants that closed their doors between 2000 and 2004 were shops employing fewer than 50 people. It’s predicted that many more small shops will close. Is this market segment still of long-term interest to KBA?

WC: KBA is very interested in selling and supporting the market segment that has 50 or few employees. We support the small?shop market with many new and interesting options. One new system is the Genius 52UV, a four- or five-unit waterless press that uses our Gravuflow inking unit. The Genius 52UV lets smaller printers expand their product range and print a wider variety of substrates. The press can print on stocks up to 32 pt and is ideal for paper, board, and plastic.

Another important attribute is that it’s easy to use, because the printing result is defined in prepress and no longer on the press itself. So, the Genius 52 provides a much more standardized printing process than a conventional offset press.

WTT: Last May, as a result of its acquisition of Grafitec, KBA announced the addition of the Performa 74, a 20.5" x 29" press available in up to six colors. How does the Performa 74 complement the rest of the KBA product line?

WC: The Performa 74 is a great addition to our portfolio. The goal of the Performa 74 is to provide a flexible and economical solution for small and mid-size commercial printers. The Performa 74, which will be supported by KBA’s service and training structure, lets customers be flexible and profitable by running a variety of sheet sizes.

WTT: KBA’s largest press at Print 05 will be a 56" Rapida 142. KBA makes other VLF (very large format) presses besides the Rapida 142. What kinds of printers are your customers for VLF equipment? Is it a growth market, or is it just a replacement market?

WC: KBA manufactures the industry’s widest range of sheetfed presses in formats from 20" to 81" for folding carton, label, plastic/specialty substrate, and commercial printing. We also offer roll to sheet technology, perfecting large-format presses, and in-line perfing, scoring, and slitting. In each market segment, we can give customers with smaller format presses the ability to increase efficiencies and capacity with large format presses.

Commercial printers, for example, should ask themselves, “Why should I purchase another 40 press? What is another 40" press going to do for my company?” The answer is that with a 40" press, the printer can run 32-page signatures and slit the sheet in the delivery. This lets the bindery process two 16-page signatures with less handling at the cutters. This is one way in which a large-format press lets sales- and marketing-driven printers diversify into more lucrative markets with higher gross margins.

KBA expects to take many orders for many different press configurations at Print 05. We had 27% growth in 2003 and 42% growth in 2004 in all market segments from digital to commercial to packaging. We see Print 05 as an opportunity to raise the brand awareness and to help printers determine which configurations will best support the present and future needs of their companies.

WTT: At Print 05, there’ll be the usual emphasis on technologies for JDF integration, CIP3/4 compliance, and computer integrated manufacturing. What will KBA have to say and/or display on the subject of production workflow?

WC: KBA will be demonstrating Logotronic, our open-architecture workflow solution, in complete integration to all of our presses. We’re also partnering with EFI to demonstrate the interface of EFI’s Logic MIS with Logotronic.

Integrating production and business systems lets printers gain greater visibility throughout the entire operation. By accessing production information in real time, management can make better decisions, eliminate communication errors and waste, reduce cycle times, and capture costs previously lost in the print process. A critical component of this information flow is the use of open systems and file standards such as JDF. As a partner in the NGP (Networked Graphic Production) initiative, KBA is committed to providing an open standard for the printing industry.

WTT: Twenty-three years in the industry is a long time. Imagine yourself back at the beginning with the ability to see into the future—all the way to today. What do you think you would find most surprising or unexpected about the industry as it is now, compared to what it was like then?

WC: I think the biggest single surprise would be the industry’s transition to the smart-factory approach. I’d never have imagined that we could ever get away from “silo” management, where every department knows what its own job is but isn’t necessarily sharing information with the other departments. Today, MIS at the plant and the corporate levels gives us solutions that we didn’t have then. I can remember the battles between the pressroom and the prep department over delays and mistakes in plate preparation, and all of the anger and the finger-pointing that went with it. It’s nice to have those days behind us.