Michael Ulverich, COO Koenig & Bauer (left), in conversation with Dagmar Ringel, Director Corporate Communications & Marketing (right)

A Sneak Peek Ahead of drupa: Modularity

An interview with Michael Ulverich, COO of Koenig & Bauer, takes a closer look at the topic of modularity. Dagmar Ringel, Director of Corporate Communications, wanted to learn more about how modularity influences current strategies and activities, and what role it is expected to play at drupa 2024.

Read time: approx. 4 minutes

Mr Ulverich, as Chief Operating Officer, your responsibilities include the central areas of process optimisation and quality assurance, among others. Why is modularity a key topic for Koenig & Bauer and the entire print industry?

Michael Ulverich: If we look at the positioning of particular products in their respective markets, individualisation is gaining ever greater importance. Modularity allows us to implement structured variant management. We can react faster to market demands, and the time-to-market is then significantly shorter. In addition, solutions become scalable.

Let me try to explain: if you imagine our product portfolio as a collection of building blocks, we can pick and mix individual combinations of these building blocks to match the specific needs of a customer. And precisely that is the greatest benefit of modularity. When we standardise our machines, it becomes easier and easier to configure a machine for a very specific purpose within a very short time. It’s not necessarily about using identical parts – though that tends to follow automatically, because the fields of application are often similar.

With our centuries of experience and our comprehensive expertise in almost all market segments, we at Koenig & Bauer possess all the necessary tools to bring together even the most diverse requirements and to tailor an ideal solution. Proven concepts and technologies can be transferred to new modules – and that, in turn, adds a further layer of know-how and experience, which enables us to respond even faster next time. So many aspects of today’s world are both fast-moving and closely integrated, which means that time savings are an important advantage – and modularity is a decisive factor in this context.

Which measures has Koenig & Bauer already implemented in terms of modularity? And what else is planned?

Michael Ulverich: Uniform software programming for all machines is our top priority in this respect. It is a prerequisite for optimum use of the data produced, and for the development of new business models. Another benefit for us and our customers is that automated processes serve to boost efficiency and are a particularly important factor for businesses in times of skill shortages.

We already began implementing cloud technologies some years ago. Enormous amounts of data can be collected from the print production process, and we took this as the starting point for the development of new analytic tools. We will shortly be presenting a what is called a ‘large language model’ on the basis of a Google technology. We can therefore state with a certain pride that we have already come quite a long way at the interface of digitalisation and modularity. But there is no real end to digitalisation – on the contrary. Technologies are changing at an incredible pace, as are the needs and demands of our customers.

Through the cooperation with technology partners like Google, we have the opportunity to look beyond the printing process and to gain valuable insights into other branches of industry. Even if it is not always obvious at first glance, there is a lot of relevant information that can be transferred to our own field.

The value of thinking outside the box was demonstrated with our successful introduction of authentication solutions. Our focus on modularity is of enormous importance here. Every product exhibits certain features on its surface, comparable to a fingerprint or facial biometrics. If we can extract and use these properties, this opens up a whole new realm of possibilities – for example counterfeit-proof brand protection, innovative solutions for customer interaction with the product, non-invasive methods for supply chain and product tracking, or implementation of the vision of a digital product passport and new forensic authentication standards. The challenge is to optimise all our different machines so that every substrate or product can be verified at the time of printing, without affecting the product design and without disturbing the production process. As an expression of our inherent pioneering spirit, to mention one example, we are currently developing solutions to guarantee the secure protection of highly sensitive print products and documents with the aid of steganography.

If you had a glass ball, what would it tell us about where all this progress on modularity will lead in the future?

Michael Ulverich: We will make enormous gains in terms of flexibility. Modularity can essentially be equated with digitalisation, because machine configurations can be customised to meet individual requirements by adding specific software modules to a kind of basic program. Tested program modules for service, data analysis and interfaces – in conjunction with AI – offer our customers endless possibilities to access the appropriate tool for an individual case, regardless of whether that involves services or the performance-relevant components of their machines. The use of an app is also possible to further optimise handling and to increase flexibility. At drupa, we will be presenting all this in much more detail – together with our renowned premium partners. So I hope to be able to welcome everyone to our stand A31 in Hall 16 in Düsseldorf.

We look forward to seeing you at our stand A31 in Hall 16. Interesting events by and with Koenig & Bauer can be found here.