It is now two years ago that Sabine Gratias and Henner Meusel took over the helm at ODR GmbH in Rostock. They had known each other since the company's earliest days, long before the commercial print business was split off from the Ostsee-Zeitung newspaper in 1994 and went on to operate first as Offsetdruck Rostock, later as Ostsee Druck Rostock GmbH.
Sabine Gratias, who joined the new company with just a part-time contract, was appointed works manager in 1995 and is today managing director of the company. Co-partner Henner Meusel carries executive responsibility for sales.
The building in which the company still has its offices, and in which it has experienced a number of turbulent years, dates similarly from 1994. Stability, after all, is an important element of the concept. Of the previous 25 employees, 18 are still working for the company. But that does not mean that the other seven were made redundant, or the like. All left the company of their own free will, either upon reaching retirement age, to take advantage of early retirement opportunities or simply in the course of natural fluctuation. The loyalty of the core workforce, together with that of the majority of their customers, was one of the most important prerequisites for being able to keep ODR alive.
High reliability tipped the scales for Rapida
The product portfolio has traditionally included a whole series of periodicals. Their typical run lengths vary between 8,000 and almost 50,000 copies. One 12-page brochure is produced with a weekly circulation of 30,000 copies. ODR receives the data for the first four pages by 2.00 p.m. every Monday, and the rest follows by 7.00 p.m. The first 12,000 saddle-stitched brochures leave the premises by 2.00 a.m. the same night, and Tuesday morning 6.00 a.m. is the final deadline for the whole order. That can only be achieved on schedule week after week with reliable equipment. It is thus no surprise that Sabine Gratias decided to purchase a new five-colour Rapida 105 in November last year. After all, the company had already gathered decades of positive experience with Rapidas, and before that with Planeta presses. Even so, the decision was not taken by the directors alone; the printers were also involved in the choice of a new press from the very beginning.
The negotiations began at the pre-drupa open house in Radebeul in April 2008. A lot of time was invested to compare all the pros and cons of configurations with four or five printing units. In the end, the extensive work done for health insurance providers and for the tourism industry, much of which is designed to be printed in five colours, confirmed the necessity of an increased colour capability. It was clear from a relatively early stage, however, that the press was not to incorporate a coater unit, because then almost everything tends to get coated, even though many customers are not paying for the extra service. KBA finally received the order in the summer and the Rapida 105 already started up production on 18th December. As the new press was urgently needed to handle the end-of-year boom in business, every hour counted throughout the installation and commissioning. The unbureaucratic cooperation with both the KBA sales team and with financing specialists GEFA contributed to fast completion. “We have never started up a press that quickly before,” says Sabine Gratias, looking back today. And she has also not forgotten, how KBA print instructor Katrin Schmidt took over the press console without further ado one evening and continued the ongoing production with her Radebeul colleagues to enable the ODR printers to at least look by at the company's Christmas party.
A strong spring
By the end of April, the new Rapida had clocked up well over 5 million impressions. It was a strong spring for ODR. Besides the periodicals and the brochures which the tourist associations needed for the season's travel fairs, a considerable volume of orders was handled for the recently opened National Horticultural Show in Schwerin. This included, for example, 300,000 regional maps and a total of 1.5 million flyers for the nine theme gardens. Further interesting orders were received from the German Oceanographic Museum in Stralsund.
Internet business is also expanding. Posters with photos from around the Baltic region are proving extremely popular with tourism providers and private individuals alike. The company has at the same time developed fixed-price offers for the printing of flyers and postcards. In this way, a constant flow of work is brought in to keep capacity utilisation up between the regular scheduled jobs. But Sabine Gratias is nevertheless not a fan of pure Web-to-print business models. There are too few real quality demands, she says, recalling the production which has been taken on occasionally to help out colleagues with a stronger focus on this segment.
Automation, yes – but not for the sake of it
For the configuration of the Rapida 105, particular importance was attached to details serving quality control and the online communication of pre-press data for press presetting. DensiTronic ink density control is vital for a company whose quality management is certified to DIN/ISO 9002, even if it is not the colour bars, but the rest of the sheet which is actually sold. LogoTronic networking is an equally important feature. Fully automatic plate changers, on the other hand, were not considered a priority. Given the frequent longer runs, the semi-automatic SAPC system is perfectly adequate.
In the post-press department, a new Perfecta guillotine, three folding machines and a gatherer-stitcher permit practically all products to be finished in-house. Only thread-stitching and perfect binding have to be outsourced – for example to bookbinding specialists Kunst- und Verlagsbuchbinderei in Leipzig. A platesetter from Basysprint completes the line-up in pre-press. “We are now streamlined and flexible, we have shed unnecessary ballast, and can thus react quickly in every situation,” says Sabine Gratias. The company has made great progress, but there is one trend in the branch which sometimes causes unnecessary headaches. Blankets, for example, suddenly no longer lasted as long as usual. The reason, as it turned out, was a change in the composition of the washing cloth, making it harder than before. It was only after time-consuming complaints that the original quality was restored. There have also been fluctuations in the inks, which later proved to be the result of a new production location. And when it comes to paper, too, the proportion of filler is increasing constantly, while that of the fibres becomes ever smaller. It seems that a number of manufacturers and suppliers should keep a closer eye on the overall process and the needs of their customers, and not only on their margins.
The whole equipment base at ODR is now paid for, and apart from the monthly instalments for the press, the company has no liabilities. After weathering some stormy seas, it has now reached calmer waters – and can plan confidently for the future.
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