Gallus: 100 years of flexo and improving

If you haven't already, wish Ferdinand and Gallus, a happy anniversary. Established in 1923, the Switzerland, St Gallen-based manufacturer of narrow-web flexo and digital presses, turned 100 this year. It's a celebratory feat, but proving that hitting the century mark is no reason to rest on one's laurels, Ferdinand Ruesch formally launched the Gallus One (G1) press, which was conceived in 1996

12 Sep 2023 | By Noel D'Cunha

Ferdinand Ruesch of Gallus

PrintWeek/WhatPackaging?, which takes pleasure in saluting this century-old company, caught up with Ferdinand Ruesch, the third generation at Gallus. Ruesch joined Gallus in 1974.

Ferdinand Ruesch in conversation with Noel D’Cunha.

To begin at the beginning
I did my apprenticeship at Gallus for five years between 1974 and 1979. I then left for the United States to learn English under the student-exchange program. I returned to Switzerland at the end of 1981, did my military service, rejoined Gallus, and continue to be the part.

The leadership style
I don't remember much about my grandfather, who passed away when I was only six. However, I have heard that he was a tough but generous man who was a patron to many. He had clear ideas about the future of machines and tools in modern factories and was a visionary. In those days, he was a lone warrior and had to push his ideas through stubbornly.

My father was even tougher. If a team member had a different idea from his, he would hold a fact-based discussion before overruling it, and he would only change his idea if the new one was really good. He believed that if something had to go wrong when implementing an idea, it had to be really bad. He would then start afresh with a new approach.

He stayed with his ideas always, which was ahead of his time, and he developed new concepts with every success.

However, as the world became more complex, the patronage style of running the company became more difficult. This continued with my father too.

When I took over as the leader, I quickly understood the need for a team approach. While I am still the leader, I involve more people in the process of thinking. This team approach has been very successful.

So, the journey of the Ruesch family business has gone from patronage-style leadership to team-led leadership.

Gallus in the genes
My grandfather began his manufacturing journey by purchasing a company out of receivership with 12 employees. The company produced scales and weights. A year later, the law changed, and they stopped producing scales and balances and started on customer request to produce the first Gallus printing press – the Gallus Junior for tags, while at the same time repairing printing machines in the town of St Gallen.

When my father took over in 1953, it was soon after the Second World War, and he was also coming out of the war. It was when Stan Avery had developed the pressure-sensitive material, and there was an opportunity to build a different printing press with a die-cutting. In both cases, it was a completely new engineering challenge.

My grandfather passed on the philosophy of using raw materials in the rotary process, putting it in one path to produce the finished product. My father put that idea into combination printing, letterpress, flexo, screen, and offset.

Continuous improvement
My father believed in the concept of rationalisation, optimisation, and automation, which drove him to transform raw materials into finished products more efficiently. The success of Gallus combination printing and die-cutting presses caught the attention of IBM, which approached Gallus to produce the IBM punch card printing machine, for programming the new computers.

My father was an early adopter of computer technology and encouraged the incorporation of automation in the combination printing machine and the factory. He envisioned a modern factory with efficient processes that required picking materials only once to produce the finished product, which led to great success. Gallus was among the first to install CNC machines in Switzerland and introduced the first CAD system. The office was computerised and connected as soon as they became available. My father had a strong drive for automation, and he automated the narrow-web roll-to-roll printing press with flying splicers and automated register control.

The aspect of precision came from my grandfather's work with scales and balances, ensuring that a gram is a gram, not a half gram. The components used in producing presses at Gallus were all produced in-house, differentiating the machines as precise in path and position during label production.

Like my grandfather, my father faced opposition to change but had a strong vision, which proved successful. When I took over, computers were already integrated into the printing machine. We produced the world first servo-driven printing machine in 1992 and PLCs, which were more electronic-based. When UV curing was introduced in the 70s, we made our own curing and corona treatment systems and control systems as availability was limited.

As the presses grew bigger, I realised the need for varied electronic-based components and transitioned from making everything ourselves to buying the best components on the market. We collaborated with specialists in UV curing, such as IST and GEW, to improve our products further. This approach significantly reduced costs and brought in a new management style from my father's. I focused on integrating the best central tech register control and buying components from specialised factories, making our products better and more efficient.

Gallus One digital press

Change is constant
In the past, a typical machine had a gearbox that consisted of numerous bearings, shafts, and sidewalls. For instance, a motor, a precise gearbox shaft, and cylinders increased in diameter over time. These components worked together to pull the web, which was essential for the success of our flexo press. And the quality – how precise the parts were made differentiated us from the others.

With the introduction of automation, we now used PLC, motors on each unit, and a servo drive that regulates the shaft's speed, and managed over a touch screen panel. But these components cannot be manufactured in-house anymore. As a result, conventional presses became more electronic-driven and digital. The benefit for the customer was so significant that it made many press makers follow this path.

Gallus' longevity
Understanding the changing trends is crucial, especially in terms of technology. For instance, we discovered that adding a servo drive to a machine and programming a PLC made it easier to make adjustments, which the computer could assist with. 

Another way to view technology is like a train. You can either jump on and ride it or take the driver's seat and steer it. It's important to understand what technology can offer to the printing industry.

The biggest challenge leading a 100-year-old company…
I think the biggest challenge is, now – understanding the shift from conventional to digital printing, how fast the shift will come and in which markets without losing the focus on the conventional printing processes. 

The complexities are much greater than when I took over from my father, as we are now replacing entire printing stations with just printing heads. This requires the right people in the right positions to come to a quick conclusion, so we can have a new product within the next two years. The rapid and cyclical changes in digital technology make this even more challenging. 

While digital printing offers new opportunities, it also presents challenges for manufacturers. There was a mechanical or servo drive with conventional flexo, but with digital, there are different technologies like laser, inkjet, and electrophotography. The challenge is determining which technology is right for which market and machine. 

In addition, the skill sets required for assembling conventional presses are different from those needed for digital presses. Having the right people on board to handle today's presses is essential. 

We anticipated the rise of digital printing and even designed the DO 330 in 1996, which combined conventional and digital technology. Today's GallusOne (G1) press is similar to what we envisioned in 1996. But, putting these conventional-digital combination presses together is so big that we could do it alone. That is where Heidelberg came in.

Love for India
What stands out most about India is its people, strong family values, and rich culture permeating every aspect of life. These things resonate deeply with my values and priorities, making me feel like a part of their extended family.

Additionally, I am constantly impressed by the resilience and resourcefulness of Gallus customers, who manage to overcome significant challenges in order to get their work done in an environment that is often more difficult than in other parts of the world. 

The next 100 for Gallus – How?
I retire at the right moment. No, that's a joke. What I want to say is: we need young people with fresh ideas, reflecting and understanding the need for tomorrow,

Today, the young ones are thinking differently than we have been. Hence, we need to have the right mix of people on board who understand that change – from conventional printing methods to digital and/or combining the two. With artificial intelligence, IoT, IIoT, and Industry 4.0 forcing its way, we need people familiar with these changes and will usher Gallus into a new era.

It’s going to be – people, people, people.