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Oct 1, 2008 12:00 AM
Heidelberg's (Kennesaw, GA) Print Media Demonstration Center (PMDC) has grown into a state-of-the-art facility that showcases the company's prepress, press and postpress equipment. More importantly, the PMDC is a venue that allows printers to participate in educational sessions, product demonstrations and workflows designed to increase efficiency.
“A demo room is nothing new in this industry,” observes Larry Kroll, vice president of Print Media Academy. “But as the market changes, so do the needs of our customers. Five years ago we had four major demo facilities. Today we have the PMDC in Kennesaw that showcases our larger press sizes, along with workflow solutions, prepress, postpress and packaging equipment. The other facilities are still there, but they now specialize in smaller presses below 20 inches.”
Starting with 10,000 sq. ft. of space in 2004, the PMDC grew to 30,000 sq. ft. by the time it opened in May 2005. Since then, Heidelberg has added 13,000 sq. ft. for packaging.
“Under one roof, we now have an entire product portfolio, including Prinect, computer-to-plate, presses and postpress equipment, which includes diecutters and two folder-gluers,” says Kroll. “This breadth of offerings allows Heidelberg to approach the demo center as a permanent trade show. We invite customers or potential customers to events they are most likely to be interested in. And that's been successful.”
Perhaps one of the most unique features of the PMDC is its accessibility. Associations, peer groups, training organizations and other industry alliances have access to the demo center. “Over the past three years, we've averaged 1,500 to 1,800 non-prospect guests visiting the facility,” says Kroll.
Early on, Kroll notes, an interesting situation developed at the demo center. One of the company's long-term customers had decided to purchase two presses from a competitor. However, while attending a peer group meeting at the PMDC, this same customer saw Heidelberg's presses and was so impressed that he put the other order on hold.
How busy is it at the PMDC? Director Russ Barton has a staff of 17 people in Kennesaw, with a total of 24 across the country, who are dedicated to providing training and demonstrations. “We give between two and three demos every day, on average, which comes out to about 60 a month,” says Barton. “Each and every demo involves at least 10 people who are involved in planning and facilitating the event. Because Heidelberg has such a wide product offering, demos are not just limited to one piece of equipment. They've actually become more and more complex over the years. Today, it's not uncommon to showcase integration within our workflows. In fact, one of our most popular demonstrations highlights full integration from our Prinance MIS system through prepress, press and postpress.”
According to Barton, the most popular training classes at the PMDC are for the Heidelberg XL105. “We believe it's important for press operators and production management personnel to experience running the press before it is actually installed at their facility.”
Training classes are available through the Print Media Academy, and a schedule is published online (see www.us.heidelberg.com). In addition, there are various levels of training when a customer purchases a press. The initial installation training is done through Heidelberg's engineering department, but the demo center provides follow-up training to develop higher skill levels.
“Once a new press is installed,” Kroll explains, “performance is increased immediately. Over time, production on older presses improves, and efficiency on the new press plateaus. That's where our follow-up training comes in — to change the mindset of operators. If we bring them into the demo center, for example, and have them operate the new press at its rated speed, they begin to accept that the machinery actually does run better at faster speeds.”
In addition to both custom and house demonstrations to prospective clients, the PMDC hosts at least two industry events per month. For example, events can range from a VIP president's night to Skills USA competitions, in addition to peer group meetings and association events. “Generally we have 200 visitors a month, mainly from the U.S., Canada and Mexico,” says Barton.
The equipment lineup at the PMDC is fluid. “There always is something being highlighted,” says Barton. “By the end of September, we will have 46 units of printing and coating equipment on the floor, which includes some of the newer Drupa introductions.”
Today, the demo center features the Prinance MIS system for everything from estimating to invoice generation; full prepress workflows, which include CTP; three different plate technologies (thermal, violet and chemistry-free); six presses, the largest being a 10-color XL 105 plus coater; a full complement of bindery equipment, including Pace automated cutting systems the ST450 saddlestitcher; three different diecutters; and two folder-gluers.
Barton notes on the volumes at the PMDC: “We produce 38,000 printing plates a year, all imaged onsite. And at the Kennesaw demo center, we go through 18,000 lbs. of paper per year.”
“The demo center presents its own challenges but also is very rewarding,” says Barton. “Typically, we ask for a two-week lead time for doing custom demos. We like to get the files in advance to do troubleshooting. Customers do that, but they also like to walk in the door with a disk in their pocket, which is designed to stump the operator. Often we have difficulties running the file, but the client is understanding. After all, their production people couldn't open the file, either.
“That's where having a dedicated staff pays off; they are much more prepared for last-minute challenges,” Barton concludes. “Using our workflow makes the surprise request more easy to deal with, and that can present special opportunities for us to sell more solutions.”
Jill Roth is executive editor for AMERICAN PRINTER. Contact her at email@example.com.
More than 60,000 people visit Heidelberg's Print Media Academy in Germany each year. Heidelberg also offers training programs all over the globe, including several U.S. locations. See www.print-media-academy.com.
A total of 41 graphic communications students from 32 different states competed in the 2008 SkillsUSA Championships in Kansas City earlier this year. The annual event attracted 5,000 students competing in 91 different trade, technical and leadership contests.
As a SkillsUSA sponsor, the Graphic Arts Education and Research Foundation (GAERF) provided $250 scholarships to each graphic communications contestant. Ralph Nappi, NPES/GAERF president, noted that four of the six medalists are from PrintEd accredited schools.
John Litwinowicz, a junior at Royal Oak High School (Royal Oak, MI), became the youngest student to win gold honors. Alyssa Ailion from Walton High School (Marietta, GA) won a silver medal. Chloe Grace from Autry Technology Center (Enid, OK) earned a bronze medal.
Post-secondary winners included gold medalist Mayda Salas from Riverside Community College, (Riverside, CA); silver medalist Justin K. Workman from Salt Lake Community College (Salt Lake City); and bronze medalist Michael Fleming from Ferris State University (Big Rapids, MI).
Heidelberg presented the gold medalists with $1,000 scholarships and invited them to attend Graph Expo 2008. These winners' schools will receive the use of a Heidelberg QM46 for one year. Silver medalists received $500 scholarships, and bronze medalists received $250 scholarships.