"We have an installation of 500 machines in India," says, Markus Rall, managing director, Polar Mohr

In an email interaction, Markus Rall, managing director, Polar-Mohr shares his views on the company’s journey from 1940s to the present scenario with Rahul Kumar of PrintWeek India. It has sold approximately 135,000 machines all over the world and, more than 500 in India since 1980s.

03 May 2014 | By Rahul Kumar

PrintWeek India (PWI): The history of Polar-Mohr is the history of innovations in cutting machine technology. Your comment.

Markus Rall (MR): 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. We could bear that risk.

PWI: Your company also gave rise to expectations to the printing industry. Can a fast pace of innovations be maintained?

MR: 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.

PWI: What do you mean with that level of automation?

MR: Each and every customer is not able and willing to afford full automation. In many cases, there is always an operator at the machine, for instance, for quality inspections. 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.

PWI: What does this look like in web-to-print with its often very short runs?

MR: 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.

PWI: Assuming the process chains are perfectly matched. How well does the coordination of the interfaces work with the machinery manufacturers concerned?

MR: We have 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.

PWI: What does process integration mean to a smaller print house?

MR: The connection from pre-press 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.

PWI: Do you see market potential there?

MR: 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. We have the big advantages in terms of ergonomics. Automation is accompanied by a significant change. 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.

PWI: Where are growth areas which can offset the stagnating or even decreasing business volumes in the printing industry?

MR: 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.

PWI: What are your plans for the packaging market?

MR: In 2011, we already acquired Dienst Verpackungstechnik 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.

PWI: 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?

MR: 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.

PWI: How is the situation as regards the diversification of your target markets? 

MR: 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. We started having a look in industries other than the printing and packaging market long ago. At the moment, we are systematising this scouting.

PWI: How will you do this?

MR: 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. We listen to our networks and try to establish networks where previously the processes rather ran side by side. Surely, 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 in to the special engineering industry. This is simply not our strong point.

PWI: ... And so, it substantially limits the search?

MR: 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.

PWI: 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?

MR:  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.

PWI: 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.

MR: 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.

PWI: Why so?

MR: We came to cutting machine manufacturing after the Second World War because this market suddenly lay fallow in Western 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.

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.

PWI: What are the future plans for Indian market?

MR: With an installation base of more than 500 machines and a successful cooperation with Heidelberg India in terms of sales and after-sales service, we are well positioned to take advantage of the opportunities a growing  Indian graphic arts market is offering whether it be label, packaging, commercial or digital printing.