Lyoner Str. 18
60528 Frankfurt, de
"Intelligent automation involves the employees"
Dr. Markus Rall has been the Managing Director of the Hofheim-based POLAR-Mohr Maschinenvertriebsgesellschaft GmbH & Co. KG since 2012. The Hessian company entered into cutting machine manufacturing in the mid 1940s and became a market leader very soon. To date it has sold approximately 135,000 machines all over the world.
Dr. Rall. The history of POLAR-Mohr reads like a history of innovations in cutting machine technology.
Markus Rall: As a market leader, our company had the strength and the good developers needed to drive innovations and start trends. Of course, such a strategy also includes some setbacks. Not every innovation will be a success. That's the risk of the pioneer. POLAR-Mohr could bear that risk.
Of course, your company thus also gave rise to expectations. Can the previously existing fast pace of innovations be maintained?
Rall: We still have a well-filled pipeline. Recently we presented our EasyLoad which closes the gap between manual and automatic jogging. Such automation solutions are key areas of our research and development team. We want to offer our customers a level of automation that is appropriate for their individual processes.
What does that mean?
Rall: By far not every customer is able and willing to afford full automation. In many cases, there is always an operator at the machine, for instance, for quality inspections or because this is required by law. In the performance of many tasks, human beings with their excellent sensors and high flexibility in their actions are far superior to automatic processes. Intelligent automation involves these human skills.
What does this look like in Web-2-Print with its often very short runs?
Rall: As far as the really big Web-to-Print players with their high throughput of flexible runs are concerned, there is also a market for fully automated solutions to which we are a supplier. There, the piles of paper are fed at the front end, and at the back end, the finished end product is delivered. This requires intelligent integration from prepress to finishing. Such high-end solutions are, however, still a small market...
...assuming the process chains are perfectly matched. How well does the coordination of the interfaces work with the machinery manufacturers concerned?
Rall: In this respect, POLAR-Mohr has an advantage due to the very long-standing cooperation with Heidelberg as a strong partner. With its huge market shares, Heidelberg is setting standards in our industry. Our machines have been aligned with that quasi right from the start. And this also applies to our other partners from prepress. Networking through Compucut®, which generates cutting programmes automatically from prepress data, has been used for more than a quarter of a century. When I joined the management of POLAR-Mohr in autumn 2012, I was really surprised to see that my predecessors were striving to implement connections during the 1980s already and have consistently optimised them. For industrial printing companies, this is now an absolute must.
And what does process integration look like in smaller printing houses?
Rall: The connection from prepress to the printing press is standard there, too. Quite often, however, the connection to post-press processes is still solved in a pragmatic way - if not a shirt-sleeve way. Much is still done very spontaneously.
Do you see market potential there?
Rall: Absolutely. The trend goes away from the stand-alone machines in the direction of an expansion of the peripheral equipment. Here we are leading with our "POLAR Automation for Cutting Efficiency" - or, in short, PACE. Such systems are in great demand especially in high-wage countries. Added to that, we have the big advantages in terms of ergonomics. Work safety partly requires that the employees be released from physical strain. For us, automation is accompanied by a significant change. Because productivity increases in the automated process chains. A modern machine then replaces several other ones. At the same time, the demand for support is rising. The whole business model is shifting. But this segment is growing.
Where are further growth areas which can offset the stagnating or even decreasing business volumes in the printing industry?
Rall: We are successful with our compact cutting machines with a cutting width of 56 cm, 66 cm and up to 80 cm. They complete our portfolio at the lower end and are also sold by Heidelberg and our other partners in many different countries. They are in great demand in small printing houses and copy shops. Here, we could achieve a very positive two-digit growth in the course of the last two years. That's not a prime topic, but it helps us to fully use our production and assembly capacities. A second important area is label cutting, both die cutting according to the puncture principle and counter-pressure die cutting for paper and in-mould plastic labels. The efforts that we have invested in this area over the last few years are now paying off. They enable to achieve productivity increases by 50 percent compared to the established technology.
You are also on your way to the packaging market...
Rall: ...we all see that this market shows stable growth. And POLAR-Mohr also takes its share of the cake. In 2011, we already acquired Dienst Verpackungstechnik GmbH in Hochheim - a specialist for the production of cartoning systems. We are just about to enter new productivity ranges with our machines there. In this market, we are very optimistic for the near future.
The packaging technology market in the southern hemisphere gives rise to big expectations. Do you also see potential for printing and paper converting machines there?
Rall: Definitely for packaging printing. And when I look at the development in China - a country which practically did not buy any printing machines and then grew into a key market of this industry within just a few years - I am sure that there is a backlog of demand in Asia, Africa and South America. Even though the Internet and mobile telephone systems play an increasingly important role there too. Therefore, I definitely see market potential for us and our industry there.
With an 85 percent export ratio, POLAR-MOHR is a global player. How is the situation as regards the diversification of your target markets?
Rall: Our cutting machines have long ceased to cut only paper and board, they also cut cork, filter materials, plastic materials, rubber and, as I learnt just recently, even swordfish (he laughs). We started having a look in industries other than the printing and packaging market long ago. At the moment, we are systematising this scouting.
Rall: To start with, we have delegated the respective responsibility to persons who really can invest time. This is the be all and end all. In addition, we discuss potential application scenarios for our machines, e.g., with suppliers active in other industries than the graphic arts industry. We listen to our networks and try to establish networks where previously the processes rather ran side by side. I am sure: There are many places where there is a demand for good cutting technology. It's a real challenge to find out where. Above all because we cannot and will not enter the special engineering industry. This is simply not our strong point...
...which substantially limits the search.
Rall: Yes. A certain market potential must be visible so that it will be profitable for us and the potential buyer to start doing development work. Basically we have to conquer new frontiers in order to cushion the problems in the graphic arts industry.
Isn't it the better option for a company of your size to open up new markets by means of strategic acquisitions instead of developing them from scratch?
Rall: We have pursued this path with Dienst Verpackungstechnik very successfully. We are growing at two-digit rates there. And there are various synergy effects - for instance as far as purchasing, production and assembly or development are concerned.
Will others follow this good example? Since more than 130,000 machines have been sold world-wide, POLAR-Mohr probably has the financial power for further take-overs.
Rall: POLAR is a giant brand known by really everyone in the graphic arts industry all over the world. We have earned this reputation through high quality - I may say that because I said exactly that already before I joined this company. Of course, our company has made much money and set aside reserves during all these decades. This enabled us to take over Dienst. And I have a look round what else could go well with us, how we can gain more strength and how we can add clever supplements to our portfolio. You were right in saying that it's not easy for a company of our size to develop new markets from scratch. In the end, you also need a bit of luck. We at POLAR-Mohr know that from experience.
Why is that?
Rall: We came to cutting machine manufacturing after the Second World War because this market suddenly lay fallow in Western Germany. All previously existing manufacturers were located in Eastern Germany. It was pure luck that opened this market for us. In addition, we soon found Heidelberg as a strong partner. This good luck was ingeniously used in decades of successful years by my predecessors. Due to the structural changes in the printing industry, we are now in a new situation in which we have to fight - and need good luck again. We wish to prompt that good luck by having a look in new markets and releasing test balloons. If we tackle ten issues and succeed in three, this will be certainly better than anxiously freezing in the status quo.
At a glance
What is now POLAR-Mohr Maschinenvertriebsgesellschaft GmbH & Co. KG was founded by Adolf Mohr as a factory for wood and metal working machines in 1906. He was the first to use ball-bearings - cool "poles" - in planing machines which were sold by the company under the brand POLAR. POLAR-Mohr only started manufacturing cutting machines after the division of Germany in 1946, and in 1949 the company entered into cooperation with Heidelberger Druckmaschinen which has been maintained to this very day. What followed were successful years in the course of which POLAR-Mohr became a market and technological leader. Now the Hofheim-based company has approximately 500 employees who manufacture between 1000 and 1200 high-speed cutters and 900 peripheral components per year. To date, POLAR-Mohr has sold a total of approximately 135,000 machines all over the world. The Hessians are represented in 17 countries and have an export ratio of more than 85 percent.
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