Who dares, wins
Stiebel Eltron uses digital printing innovation from Schumacher Packaging
It is generally accepted that first impressions are crucial. This message is now also becoming increasingly important for packaging. Product packaging has long since been recognised as a fixed component of marketing. It increases the attractiveness of a product and often provides both retailers and consumers with important product information at a glance. The highest quality and most attractively printed packaging possible: Stiebel Eltron, a company from the electronics industry that specialises in the heating and ventilation segment, is also pursuing this objective. Stiebel Eltron used to rely on offset printing to produce the packaging for its various instantaneous water heaters. However, there was potential for improvement here due to the many different versions. With Schumacher Packaging and its innovative digital printing, Stiebel Eltron has now found a high-grade alternative. Schumacher Packaging is the very first German packaging manufacturer to offer this kind of innovative digital printing process. Stiebel Eltron thereby benefits from previously unknown flexibility for its packaging printing and can even produce commercially viable small batches.
The Stiebel Eltron Group is an international company that ranks among the global market leaders in the sectors of building technology and renewable energies. The company was founded in 1924 by Dr Theodor Stiebel and remains family-owned to this day. The main location and also the largest production site is in the Lower Saxony town of Holzminden. Many millions of electric hot water heaters and heating appliances, as well as systems for use of renewable energies, are produced here. Compact heaters, water boilers and hand dryers for the worldwide market, as well as all thermoplastic components that the corporate group requires, are produced at the Eschwege location.
Offset requires longer runs
Stiebel Eltron in particular markets its products via wholesalers, who then sell on the products to electrical, heating, gas and water installers. In some cases, overseas customers also include small businesses or DIY stores. End customers obviously also see the packaging at the point of sale here before buying a product. For many consumers, attractive packaging represents an important selling point. Packaging should therefore be visually appealing and also include further product information. Stiebel Eltron used to use packaging printed on offset presses for this. However, producing standard packaging with multiple print images in offset printing can quickly become quite cost-intensive. For example, the company requires a different print image for deliveries to the USA than for the DACH market (Germany, Austria and Switzerland) – and therefore also different printing plates. Offset printing only really makes economic sense for long print runs and making changes to the print image is very costly and time-consuming in the offset printing process. This was therefore not a satisfactory long-term solution. Yet despite this, Stiebel Eltron was keen to maintain the high quality offered by offset printing. Artjom Gladkich, Strategic Purchaser at Stiebel Eltron, explains: "We also looked at other printing processes at the time and considered, for example, flexographic printing as a possible alternative. However, this was unable to meet our quality standards."
A trade fair visit awakens curiosity
A visit to the FachPack trade fair in Nuremberg in 2015 was what signalled the change. Stiebel Eltron met Schumacher Packaging, one of the largest owner-managed manufacturers of corrugated and solid board packaging, at this event. The headquarters of the family business is in the Upper Franconian municipality of Ebersdorf bei Coburg. The Schumacher Packaging Group today operates thirteen production sites, in Germany, Poland, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic. At FachPack 2015, the packaging specialist presented a world first: State-of-the-art high-speed digital printing technology. Operating at a speed of up to 200 metres per minute and a width of up to 130 centimetres, it can be used to apply high-quality photos, graphics and copy to packaging. "When we saw this, it immediately attracted our interest," explains Gladkich. "Digital printing seemed like an excellent alternative to expensive offset printing and low-quality flexographic printing." Schumacher Packaging demonstrated the capabilities of the new digital printing technology at the trade fair. "We viewed sample prints produced by Schumacher Packaging directly on-site and then compared these with specimens from the companies with which we were holding discussions at the time," remembers Gladkich. "Our idea of investing in digital printing was initially dismissed. But when they then saw the results, they were genuinely surprised by the quality." Digital printing technology for packaging is actually ground-breaking. There are currently only very few machines of this type worldwide, and Schumacher Packaging is the German pioneer in handling the new printing technology.
A challenge for both partners
With their cooperation on digital printing, both companies broke new ground. "We knew that the project would also represent a challenge for Schumacher Packaging," reports Gladkich. "The decision to go with digital printing was therefore also a risk for us. However, it is a risk that we have never once regretted to this day." The key was to weigh up the various factors, such as what would happen if the machine broke down? After all, it is not possible to make a replacement available immediately when using a prototype. By making the switchover to digital printing, Stiebel also tied itself to a single packaging manufacturer. One challenge with the new digital printing was finding the precise colour shade. For Stiebel, the typical "Stiebel red" was key and this needed to be matched as accurately as possible. To this end, one of the first tasks was to mix and try out various colours. However, it quickly became clear to the key persons involved at Stiebel Eltron that they really needed to work together in order to drive the project forward – especially since both partners were family businesses that had worked hard to establish themselves in their respective sectors. In the end, it was clear to Stiebel Eltron that the results of the digital printing process offered almost the same high quality as offset printing.
Fast progress with digital printing
Tests performed at the end of 2015 were followed by the start of production in March 2016. Schumacher Packaging then delivered its first packaging to Stiebel Eltron. "We collaborated very closely with Schumacher Packaging during this phase," comments Mario Peters, Advertising Project Manager at Stiebel Eltron. "This made sense in terms of quality control, as the process was still completely new back then." The two partners have now been working together successfully for more than two years and have, where necessary, implemented various optimisations to processes and procedures. "We have, for example, collaborated to produce a data transfer guideline," reports Peters. The print data needs to be prepared rather differently for digital printing, so corresponding steps also needed to be established here. "We benefited greatly from the expertise of the employees at Schumacher Packaging," remembers Gladkich. "We were able to rely completely on Schumacher Packaging – in particular with regard to the way that data needs to be prepared so that the required quality can actually be achieved." At the start of the project, the Marketing and Purchasing departments at Stiebel Eltron worked very closely with and were in constant communication with the Pre-press and Lithography departments at Schumacher Packaging. There were therefore also various visits to the Ebersdorf site, during which the employees of Stiebel were able to check the quality of the packaging for their instantaneous water heaters. The benefits of digital printing were compelling. "Our Marketing department was delighted that we were able to realise the corporate design of our company without any loss of quality using digital printing," comments Gladkich.
Stiebel Eltron now benefits not only from excellent print quality, but also from markedly lower financial costs. Digital printing reduces costs compared to offset printing, as there is no need for new printing plates for each small print run. It makes it possible to print small series, so Stiebel Eltron no longer needs to order minimum batch sizes. In addition, Schumacher Packaging stores the packaging in its high-bay storage facilities. This ensures efficient just-in-time delivery of the products. A total of 20 different boxes are now available for Stiebel Eltron to process in small series using digital printing. The digital printing process upgrades the appearance of the packaging even further, as the printing ink contains special highlights that produce a particularly high-grade print image – without the need for additional gloss varnish.
The required flexibility
Today, Stiebel Eltron is able to react very flexibly to new market requirements. If the company taps into a new market, it can now adapt the packaging to match the application. Stiebel Eltron can also make changes to the small print on the packaging at any time. Stiebel Eltron and Schumacher Packaging are both keen to continue their cooperation in terms of digital printing. In particular, the marketing department at Stiebel Eltron and the pre-press department at Schumacher Packaging are in constant contact so as to continuously expand the packaging portfolio and make even better use of the huge potential offered by this ground-breaking digital printing.