Jean-Pascal Bobst: Where is packaging headed - The Noel D'Cunha Sunday Column

Jean-Pascal Bobst, CEO of Bobst Group, in conversation with Noel D’Cunha, on the sidelines of the Annual Press Conference held at Bobst Competence Centre. The Sunday Column discusses the company's vision, technology, sustainability, and how packaging is becoming a smart business choice.

17 Jul 2022 | By Noel D'Cunha

Noel D’Cunha (NMD): During the recently concluded PrintPack India 2022, we saw the Bobst stand buzzing with activities. There were orders booked, seven in all, and a general sense that “it’s business time again”. How have the last 12 months been for Bobst, and how do you see the next 12 months pan out?
Jean-Pascal Bobst  (JPB):
PrintPack has always been a nice show for us. It’s an opportunity to meet clients, and after almost three years of ‘no show’, ‘no exhibitions’, it was great to participate and get together.

After the Covid-19 pandemic, starting end of 2020, or early 2021, we have enjoyed quite strong bookings and activities in the four areas of our operations we serve – labels, film, corrugated and folding cartons. This is also true with India or the Southeast Asia region.

So, all in all, we are very pleased with what we see today.

NMD: Do you see the upward trend continuing?
The future trends are quite challenging to evaluate due to the slowdowns and closures in China, and of course the tension between Russia and Ukraine. But overall, the spirit is still good worldwide. And we don’t see a short-term recession coming in the packaging industry.

NMD: On 8 June 2022 Bobst revealed new solutions for the fast-changing packaging industry...
Every year, Bobst hosts this big event to announce what it is bringing to the packaging industry. It’s Bobst’s vision of shaping the packaging world. And shaping the packaging world means, it’s a journey, an evolution.

Bobst is developing new solutions in every segment of its activities, new solutions for sustainability, for digitisation, for connectivity. These new solutions will amplify and enable the packaging industry to become more competitive, contributing more to sustainable packaging.

NMD: You have had a good 2021 and financially solid. Do you have any acquisition on your mind?
Merger and acquisition (M&A) is part of the company’s life, and yes, we do look for acquisition in two fields, one in technology we don’t have, breakthroughs and so on, and the second for market penetration or increasing our presence, especially when we are still making some product lines. But as we speak, we have nothing to announce.

NMD: Where do you see a surge in sales for Bobst in the next 12 to 24 months? Which of the segments you’d be more inclined towards – cartons, corrugated, labels or flexibles?
Corrugated, that’s the number one. Next, I would say folding carton in the large-format. It’s interesting enough to see that we have a lot of demand for Mastercut and Expercut in the 145-format. Label is growing at a robust rate for 12 months for us and film continues to find its way amid sustainability constraints.

On the service side, we see that remanufacturing and upgrading equipment is a true vector of growth.

NMD: Everyone is talking about automation, and one of your vision’s pillars is automation. What is your definition of automation?
Absolutely. Automation is not only about robotics and making things automated to and from conveyors or moving pallets. It’s really about making the production process easy. For example, automating the machine to enable it to process a PDF file to setting up the machine automatically for production up to have the end product ready to be shipped to the client.

For me, and of course Bobst, automation means automating the set-ups of the machine, making production for our clients easier, more reliable and therefore more efficient.

NMD: Is it a workflow?
Yes, and the production workflow starts with PDF. It’s a philosophy, which I had explained 18 months ago when we launched the Bobst vision for the print and packaging industry. It’s a big evolution for Bobst. Why? Because at Bobst we used to produce strong, reliable machines, and our clients had to integrate these machines within their workflow.

Today, that Bobst vision has given birth to Bobst Connect, which integrates the production workflow, as I said, from PDF to production of the end product, which is ready to be shipped to the client. And it will take time to build the proper solution in each industry

NMD: A little away from technology and automation, six years ago in an interview, you said, “A man consists of three entities: body, soul, and spirit...” In your view, what impact do values and a “human” culture have on an organisation?
Values and human dimensions bring the full competitiveness of a company because the base, and the most important asset of a company, is the people. The values and human dimension, which I mentioned – body, soul and spirit – need to be developed every day, across the border, across region and religion. Values define behaviours, which help develop a strong culture. I hope to be able to develop the proper culture, which will allow Bobst to be more resilient and competitive.

NMD: What’s Bobst’s mantra, for example?
What we did is to set the values we have, which are trust, respect, passion and performance. We don’t just take that as a motto, but we tried to live those values daily or in every activity we do.
It’s an ongoing effort from the leadership team and from the human resources community. We do focus on these values, as well as we can. We are all humble, we are all humans, and we make mistakes. But we really try hard to strive for these values every day so that we can develop a culture of transparency, respect, and fulfilling the requirements of the people as individuals, as well as the expectation of the Bobst business.

NMD: There’s a lot happening in the realm of technology – digital, AI and AR. How is Bobst applying the three in its products and services? Can you share an example of something at Bobst that is ground-breaking?
These are technology, and we are developing more and more in the realm of connectivity. When we say connectivity, it means data or exchanging data, to be more specific. We use this data to learn. So, for example, if I take the die-cutter, we are developing systems to learn why the die-cutter can run at a speed of X based on vibrations or temperature or jobs or dies, pressure on the dies and so on. We use the data out of our research to make our machines smarter.

NMD: Like?
If you look at our label portfolio, take for example, the new Digital Master series presses, DM 340 and DM 510, these machines are fully automated and smart, because, with the Accucheck full accuracy system on the machine, we have 100% closed-loop from jet compensation for printing or die-cutting adjustment, linearisation, colour management, data management, and so on.

This is one of the first fully automated solution we bring to the market with intelligence inside, and this is what we call artificial intelligence or learning.

Our next step will be in the area of predictive maintenance, with which we will be able to anticipate breakdowns or issues on the equipment resulting from the wear and tear while in use. For such analysis, you need a lot of connected machines and data to become reliable.

NMD: What happened to the digital project in corrugated printing?
As you know, Bobst’s journey in digital began with Kodak in 2015 and ended in 2017. We started a new journey with Mouvent where we acquired the competencies, which we did not have, that is, mastering the integration of heads, ink and software. We brought the Mouvent press for label applications before the Covid-19 pandemic, and recently we launched the Digital Master series all-in-one 350 and 510 digital presses. We prioritised label as our first application in digital printing.

This year, we are targeting the same Mouvent technology for folding cartons with 510mm width press, and then in the larger format 850mm wide press. We already have multiple orders for these presses.

In the sheet-to-sheet corrugated segment, that’s something which is work-in-progress, but I can say that we will be using the same Mouvent digital platform. We may go with water-based ink or UV depending on the applications and the market demand. 

NMD: Sustainable packaging is expected to be the next big thing. During the PrintWeek-hosted InkWeek webinar, two things came up during discussions – One, the industry needs to relook at the Just-in-Time approach, and two, it needs to re-examine packaging structure (substrates and material sciences). What is Bobst’s role in driving sustainability? What is Bobst’s sustainability plan?
Our sustainability strategy is based on three pillars. One, is the operations internally; how we run the business with our suppliers, the way we insulate our equipment and so on. The second pillar is on the machine side, the installed base with our clients, where we are launching solutions to reduce waste and energy consumption.

And the third pillar is the end of life of packaging, where we need to work more with the recyclability of the packaging itself. In the third pillar, we are working with large suppliers, for example in film, where we are helping film producers to produce films designed for recyclability using water-based ink and other substrates.

NMD: Industry 4.0 will create a lot of opportunities for packaging converters and industry. How are you helping your customers to build smart factories?
That goes with the previous question of automation and connectivity. 

We no longer want to sell just the machine, but a machine that is embedded with solutions and connectivity or data exchange with multiple pieces of equipment, not only from Bobst, but also its competitors. Bobst is developing solutions to have an open platform called Bobst Connect to ease the client’s operation and optimise it in the best possible way.

NMD: Bobst won’t be participating in any shows. That’s perhaps the Covid-19 pandemic-triggered strategy. What changes did Bobst make, and which are the permanent changes in them, because of Covid-19?
Bobst has become more flexible. For example, even internal meetings meant travel for people, but post-Covid-19 that has changed. The teams now meet virtually, and this increases life balance as well… but don’t abuse of meetings!
Likewise, we have formalised hybrid office work, while manufacturing remains unchanged.

From an exhibition standpoint, we want to meet people, but not moving tonnes of machines anymore. It’s so vital to meet people. We will go to exhibitions in Western countries, Europe and North America, with technology lounge strategy and in Asia we will continue to exhibit a few products on the show.

Our responsibility for the planet is clear, “Save the planet” is part of our mission and therefore we have to change our habits. We will show to our clients most of our technology in our Packaging
Centers across the regions and continue promoting virtual life demos.

NMD: There are commercial printers who are looking to move into packaging. That perhaps would be good news for Bobst because they’d be investing in your machines. What would you advise such commercial printers?
Each time a company has to enter a new field, it means new operations for your business. It’s a new paradigm shift. And to be successful in the paradigm shift or in the new venture, there are three business components one needs to watch. One, you need a very strong business case, that is an understanding of the requirements of producing packaging versus your current core business. Second, you need the right leadership, meaning you need the right skills and competencies to drive this change. And third, you need to combine and get the right partners to make you successful.

NMD: But, is moving to packaging easy?
It may seem easy, but it’s not. We know that and we are more than happy to support these future or current clients to make their journey simpler, but that requires a major transformation in their own business models today to become competitive in packaging tomorrow.

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