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Exclusive: Voices of drupa 2024

In this series, Alex Jahanbani, Editor-in-Chief at ME Printer, brings you exclusive showfloor interviews with industry stalwarts representing some of the major exhibitors at drupa 2024, the world’s largest trade show for printing technologies.

In conversation with Jean-Pascal Bobst, CEO, Bobst Group

It was rather unexpected during your press conference at drupa to hear you mention that BOBST will become a software company. Can you explain?

Yes, absolutely. BOBST will become a software company because data is becoming so integral to our industry. In the future, everything will be driven by data, and using data requires software. As part of our 2030 vision, we aim to shape the future of the packaging world, starting with the digitalization of the PDF at the prepress stage (PDF to TWIN PDF). This transformation will touch every element of the supply chain, from brand owners to consumers. Enhancing productivity through data is the way for BOBST to continue to lead during this revolution.

Is all the software independently manufactured by BOBST or through collaborations?

It’s both. The core is BOBST Connect, our all-in-one cloud-based digital platform that enables overview and orchestration of the production process, enhancing and improving the packaging productivity of our equipment.

We have also announced a strategic partnership with PACKITOO, a French company developing digital solutions in the packaging industry. We are planning to develop additional solutions with other companies too. The goal is to use the right data for optimal production. For example, a customer who visited our stand at drupa, saw the BOBST Connect demo, and realized it would address his pain points, leading to a new project with them. BOBST Connect is constantly evolving, and regularly introducing new functionalities helps secure investments and enhance productivity.

Jean-Pascal Bobst, CEO, Bobst Group
Jean-Pascal Bobst, CEO, Bobst Group

People in the Middle East, compared to those in Western countries, are a bit skeptical about BOBST’s high-level automation. They prefer simpler machines. Does BOBST offer options for this market?

One of our strengths at BOBST, with our wide portfolio, is that we have solutions that suit every need. But we believe the appetite for advanced technology is growing in every region. Let’s take smartphones as an example. In India, millions have smartphones, and some areas are more advanced than Switzerland. In China, Alipay is ubiquitous in restaurants. We can always invite our clients to join this technological evolution, whatever stage they are currently at. Several clients of ours in the region are looking to enhance their capabilities. Some of these countries will require state-of-the-art technology as well, maybe even before Europe in some cases.

What are your impressions of drupa 2024?

drupa this year has been very good. Our stand is very busy with excellent attendance. Overall, the quality of the show is very high.

What are the highlights showcased by BOBST at this year’s drupa?

We have presented a range of solutions for corrugated, folding cartons, flexible packaging, and labels that enhance productivity and open up opportunities for our clients.  For example, our new machine for folding carton – the DIGITAL MASTER 55 – opens up new possibilities for short-to-mid-size runs and allows us to enter new segments, such as general packaging for tobacco and pharma. Notably, the “Zero patching novelty” on our die-cutters has achieved an 80% to 90% reduction in set up time, which is remarkable and never seen before in the industry

BOBST stand@drupa 2024

What about those using older-generation BOBST machines? Is it possible to add further automation?

For machines sold after 2005, it is easier to upgrade. We focus on enabling retrofits so that our customers can upgrade previous BOBST machines with more recent developments to aid productivity and sustainability. For those manufactured before 2005, it is more challenging.

Looking at the future, do you see a shift from flexible packaging to paper-based packaging?

We have seen significant moves in this area. However, flexible packaging will remain strong as it is one of the most sustainable forms of packaging for food applications mainly. The materials used today for flexible packaging are becoming highly recyclable, and with new materials emerging, flexible packaging will continue to grow.

Are you offering solutions to help your clients be more sustainable?

Yes, sustainability is an integral part of the BOBST industry vision. We are supporting our customers in multiple ways, for example through improving equipment sustainability through reduction of ink, waste, and substrate.  In addition, together with leading industry partners, BOBST has pioneered a range of innovative, environmentally improved packaging solutions as alternatives to non-recyclable metallized polyester film.

Image Courtesy- Messe Düsseldorf/ctillmann
Image Courtesy- Messe Düsseldorf/ctillmann

Everybody is talking about artificial intelligence (AI). Are you integrating AI into your manufacturing process?

AI is rapidly evolving. Currently, we use AI in our vacuum metallizing novelty, called the BOBST AI driven intelligent Metallizing Assistant. We have a machine with software-driven capabilities and a unique camera system with software that controls the size of the aluminum on the boat, optimizing production through a self-learning algorithm.

BOBST is still offering gravure printing presses, what can you say about its current market?

In Europe and America, the market for gravure printing presses has declined, but demand remains high in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and China. We have developed oneECG using water-based ink capabilities and have automated our machines to enhance productivity and efficiency.

How does BOBST see the growing competition from Chinese companies?

Competition from China is aggressive. They often take technology from Europe or the US and manufacture it cheaply in China. This is a significant challenge for us, especially since the Chinese government heavily subsidizes sectors like packaging.

BOBST stand@drupa 2024

Where do you see BOBST in the next five to ten years?

In line with our vision, BOBST will continue optimizing productivity through digitalization. Our product portfolio will expand into the entry-level segment, particularly in corrugated applications. In the next four years, we will offer a full range of products to cater to various budgets and requirements

In the Middle East, there is a shortage of qualified technicians for BOBST machines. Is it possible to train people locally instead of relying on technicians traveling from Europe?

We can enhance local training. We have a Competence Center in Atlanta for the Americas, a center in Pune and multiple in Europe. Digitalization will facilitate online training, but we can also provide small training packages and utilize our production centers for high quality training.

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