When thinking about industry, innovation, and manufacturing process perfection, one company will now stand out the most to me: Heidelberg. Sure, I may have been a bit biased with this as we currently have five different Heidelberg printing presses in our plant, but the thought was cemented after I took a tour of their factory in Heidelberg, Germany.
This past week I jetted over to Germany for a little vacation and to visit family I’ve never met before. When they told me months ago that they lived in Heidelberg, the excitement grew. I knew I just had to take a tour of the Heidelberg factory and see where our machines were born. After several jam-packed days in various cities in Germany, I finally arrived in Heidelberg. As soon as I stepped out into the brisk and somewhat gloomy daylight, this is what I saw:
Nothing says “leader of industry and thought” like a giant horse sculpture standing guard of their newly (2000) built Print Media Academy. The “S-Printing Horse” represents the printing press and process by incorporating different elements into its design. For example, the holes in the neck allude to the holes drilled in the side panels of a press to receive the bearings for the cylinders.
The building itself is enormous, with 11 floors and huge open space in the middle that is said to encourage thought and give space to let ideas grow. The Print Media Academy was built as a home for training classrooms, exhibition rooms, and conference rooms. It is here that people from all over the world discuss where print has been and where print is going. The Print Media Academy also encourages other companies to come and use their modern and spacious building to hold their own seminars and conferences.
My tour, however, was not at the Print Media Academy or even the Heidelberg headquarters situated next to the academy. Rather, I was to rendevous with a tour guide in the campus-like Wiesloch-Walldorf manufacturing facility. My contact at Heidelberg, Ulrich Boerger, was nothing but welcoming and informative. Once we met, he drove me off in his German-made car to the newest location for Heidelberg manufacturing.
We drove through the beautiful countryside of Heidelberg through slush and sleet, until we saw the beaming “Heidelberg” lettering standing proudly on the largest manufacturing facility I have ever seen.
The Heidelberg system has three main locations in Germany: the headquarters are in the city of Heidelberg, the largest and most modern printing press factory lives in Wiesloch, and a foundry where small parts are made functions in Brandenburg. Here are some quick details about the factory I toured:
- Production, assembly and international shipment of all sheetfed offset printing presses
- Production of small hardware parts and electronics
- Training center
- Production commenced in 1957
- Opening of a new global spare parts center in 1999
- Certified to ISO 9001 and ISO 14001
- approx. 5,050 employees
My tour guide spoke excellent English and was a retired Heidelberg worker. We started off in the training center, which also exhibited the original Heidelberg printing press.
Due to their specialized process and industry secrets, I wasn’t able to take many photos inside the factory. To see the level of production blew my mind, and my tour guide took great pride on how precise the Heidelberg manufacturing process is. Heidelberg knows that to make a perfect printed piece, it takes painstaking detail and perfection at the very beginning of the process. This is why they have their own small parts manufacturing facility. This ensures that all small pieces are up to their very rigid standards.
Even though the tour was highly technical, I was able to see XXL Heidelberg printing presses. These bad boys are so big that it takes 5-6 months to assemble them. One of the assembly facilities was nearly half a mile long! I also enjoyed seeing so many young people training and working. Heidelberg is forward-thinking, and knows that training is critical to the continuing future success of their company.
At the end of the tour, my feet were tired and my mind was inundated with process engineering details. To see the painstaking care Heidelberg takes in making a perfect printing press makes me appreciate even more the details of each of our printing jobs. While many think of the automobile as the sign of German engineering, I will argue that Heidelberg really stands as the shining symbol of engineering perfection.