May 12, 2003 -- In December 2001 Huwig, a conventional offset print enterprise in Riegelsberg, Germany, expanded into digital offset with a 74 Karat. Customer response has been overwhelming, boosting sales and enabling the company to redefine itself as a print and media service provider.
The road to success is not always the most direct, and this is an experience that Huwig shares with many others. Running a printshop was not what Kurt Huwig, father of the present proprietor of the same name, had in mind back in 1947 when he set up a company called Pharaowerk to sell office equipment. He never imagined that the business would evolve into a flourishing print enterprise.
But as time went on he decided to print the loose-leaf binders he produced, followed by duplicating books, writing paper, filing cards, delivery notes and account books. When Kurt Huwig junior (now senior) took over the business in July 1970 after joining as an apprentice in 1964, one of the first things he did was to upgrade the production equipment and install an offset press alongside the letterpress one.
In 1977 Huwig was only the fourth printer in Saarland to purchase a Linotronic photosetting machine and in 1990 he was the first small-scale printer in Germany to install a four-colour B2 press – a bold move for an entrepreneur with less than four employees.
The addition of the first 74 Karat in southwest Germany in late 2001 was another typically bold move and caused some excitement in the regional print trade. But for Huwig, who also chairs the Saarland branch of the Rhineland-Palatinate and Saarland Print and Media Association, the benefits were compelling. “What clinched the choice of press for me was the Karat’s flexibility, reliability and, above all, its superb print quality.”
Intelligent Concept , Ambitious Goal
The decision to go digital was not taken lightly, and was made only after Huwig’s younger son Rainer had agreed to carry on the business. So the purchase of the Karat also marked a succession change, and one with a clearly defined goal: to expand sales and become the technological leader in the regional market.
The first step was to trawl for short-run work at the high end of the market, and to this end Kurt Huwig senior approached every company in the region with a potential interest in high-quality sales literature. To increase press utilisation the Huwigs offered special packages like multi-up, simultaneous production of posters and flyers.
They found that a phone call or e-mail was often enough to convey the benefits of DI offset to the customer base they targeted, which included caravan dealers and manufacturers of building plant etc. with print needs of between 200 and 5,000 brochures. “Some 70 per cent of prospects wanted to run a test job before committing themselves,” explains Huwig senior, “and they all, without exception, became customers.” One new account is saucepan manufacturer Woll-Profi-Guss, which has its sales brochures for Saarland printed in runs of 5,000 to 25,000 copies.
The second step, an internal cost comparison between conventional and digital offset, revealed no outright winner since the cost of film and plate chemicals for the one was balanced by the higher plate prices for the other. Digital offset, however, was much more flexible.
The third step, to limit risk, was implemented by spinning off the Karat business as Printcom GmbH. Also headed by Rainer Huwig, it currently employs four people, two of whom alternate at the Karat. One of the jobs they print is the Saarland events calendar.
Media Mr. Fix-it…
The company’s goal of raising its market profile was achieved much sooner than expected, aided by the Huwigs’ family constellation. Kurt Huwig junior, a gifted programmer who runs his own specialist data and network business, provides technical assistance whenever it is needed. He has, for example, programmed a Linux-based automatic data acceptance workflow in which files can be cleaned up, recalculated (images) and converted into professional PDF files.
This additional workflow automation not only reduces the pre-press workload but also allows the company to accept non-professional files (eg video images) and typical office data formats (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Corel etc.). Another big advantage is that Kurt Huwig junior can get just about any print job up and running – an ability that has gained the company a reputation as a media Mr. Fix-it. As one client commented, “If I have a problem with a job I just go to Huwig and they sort it out in no time.”
…Complete with Box of Tricks
Rainer has made just as much of an impact as his brother. A qualified industrial economist and avowed perfectionist, he has expanded and modified internal production around the Karat workflow, streamlining the job filing system, seeking out new marketing models and refining workflow organisation.
His ingenious file classification system simplifies colour management and supports workflow automation with hot folders. With a click of the mouse the operator can choose from three types of file: ‘low resolution’, which triggers the output of an imposition proof; ‘Iris proof’, which delivers a contract colour proof on an Epson Stylus 7000, without the need for an Iris printer; or ‘high resolution’, which enables print run colour to be controlled direct. Clicking on ‘wet offset simulation’ reduces saturation to mimic a conventional offset print.
The processes within the 74 Karat, being 100 per cent reliable, allow all kinds of output to be simulated, even cromalins. With the colour management system, which embraces Creo’s Profile Wizard and GretagMacbeth’s ProfileMaker with iQueue profile link, it is possible to cut drying times by reducing the thickness of the ink film. The system actuates the relevant profiles in the background.
The Huwigs can boast a lot of other tricks that competitors are unable to match. One is a way of manipulating the software to enable mono jobs to be printed cost-effectively on the 74 Karat, in batches of four. After impositioning, each job is imaged onto one of the four plates and printed in sequence, with the other three plates running blind.
Superior Quality, Fast Delivery
Although the company’s data-handling talents may not be instantly evident, the superior print quality is: the Karat’s typically brilliant colour reproduction and print-to-print image uniformity (with densities of between 1.40 and 1.50) have won regular orders from customers not just in Germany but in France and the Netherlands as well.
“If customers ring us up after receiving their orders it’s to congratulate us on the quality, not to complain,” says Kurt Huwig happily. “Here, our ability to enhance the screen from 80 to 83 lines per centimetre also plays a role, since it enables skin tones, for example, to be reproduced more faithfully.”
Speed is another selling point. The 74 Karat has cut the average lead time to one or two days, or a week at the most for complex brochures. Some jobs can even be collected the same day. A speed premium is factored into the price.
Tops for Technology…
When the press was first installed it was run for just two or three hours a day, partly due to teething troubles with the imaging technology. Now it prints between 7 and 14 jobs in one-shift operation, which means it is productive for six hours. Press warm-up each morning, maintenance and care take up the rest of the time. The average job length is 2,200 sheets, though on occasions the Karat has printed as many as 30,000 sheets, eg for a brochure to support a TV advertising campaign.
Although the Karat is extremely compact, its high output is causing problems because there is not enough room for all the piles of printed sheets. As a result the company is planning to build an extension.
“The discipline imposed by a digital workflow has brought substantial benefits,” concludes Kurt Huwig senior. He is particularly impressed by the print quality and the process reliability delivered by the Gravuflow inking unit. “The plates are inked uniformly from left to right and front to back, there’s no ghosting and no streaking when mixing full-tone solids, white space and lines. The reproduction of gradations, pastel solids and saturated colours is also much better than in wet offset.”
The 74 Karat’s easy handling and its absolute job and process reliability has been confirmed by tests conducted by the Print and Media Association. Internal analyses have shown that the level of plate waste is amazingly low – just 3 per cent, against up to 40 per cent in conventional print production.
In the twelve months following the installation of the Karat, Huwig and Printcom together achieved a double-digit increase in sales, and are set to maintain this impressive growth rate in the current year.
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