Bobst reorganises itself

Bobst has restructured its various divisions in a bid to make the company more responsive to customers, and more agile. This has involved reorganising the company into two business units but also sees a bigger role for digital printing. 

Jean-Pascal Bobst, CEO of the Bobst Group

Bobst first talked about this reorganisation back in July when it released its financial results for the first half of 2020 and the new reorganisation took effect at the start of 2021. It’s a sensible move given that the half year results up until the end of June 2020 made for unhappy reading with a net loss of CHF30 million, down from a net profit of CHF7.4 million in June 2019. Sales were down, from CHF736.8 million by June 2019 to CHF523.8 million in June 2020.

The web-fed business was the worst hit. Sales in the first half for the years from 2016 to 2019 have been in the CHF100-134 million range but for 2020 this halved to CHF49.7 million. The sheetfed business fared better. In the years 2016 to 2018 sales have been steadily rising from CHF289 to CHF 391 million, a slight fall to CHF377.5 million in 2019 and down to CHF245.7 million for June 2020.

The bright point has been the Services business, rising steadily from CHF210.1 million in June 2016 to CHF243.6 million by June 2019, falling back only slightly to CHF228.3 million in June 2020. Bobst noted that its spare parts supply chain had proved reasonably robust, which helped the services unit figures. In addition, exchange rates knocked CHF23.9 million off the total figures while the acquisitions of Yancheng Hongling Machinery and Cito System added CHF10.1 million to the results.

Most of these problems are down to the pandemic, which have continued throughout the year though we’ll have to wait till next month to see the final figures for the year ended 31 December 2020. Nonetheless, a lot of vendors will be thinking about how they can trim their organisations, to cope with the immediate effects of the pandemic and the likely economic slowdown that will follow.

Thus, Bobst’s new Printing & Converting Business Unit, combines the old Sheet Fed and Web Fed divisions and is now led by Stephan März, previously head of Web-fed printing at Bobst. The second unit, Services & Performance is the old Services division and will continue to be headed by Julien Laran. The main change here seems to be an ongoing commitment to use an Internet of Things approach to help converters optimise their performance, giving Bobst’s Connect service a bigger role.

Stefan März, heads up Bobst’s new Printing and Converting business unit.

Both of these business units will cover all of the different types of equipment that Bobst makes, including narrow web labels, wide web packaging, folding carton and corrugated board. Bobst says that this restructuring will lead to more synergies between machines and services but that depends on how well Bobst manages to integrate all of its different parts. Up to now the different technologies have mostly been kept separate. So for example, narrow web label has been handled from Bobst Firenze, which is the old Nuova Gidue based in Florence, Italy acquired by Bobst in 2015, while much of the wide web flexible packaging has come from Bobst Bielefeld, the old Fischer & Krecke, which Bobst acquired in 2008.

According to Bobst “Decisions will be made faster. Processes will be simplified. Cultural diversity will be reinforced, and customer proximity will be increased” all of which sounds good in a press release but is much harder to achieve in reality. That said, I’ve always found Bobst’s management team to be well-coordinated and CEO Jean-Pascal Bobst has generally opted for a pragmatic lean manufacturing approach, eliminating any overlap where possible.

In addition, Bobst has acquired the outstanding 49.9% of Mouvent AG from Radex. Mouvent, which has functioned as a subsidiary of Bobst, was set up in 2017 when Bobst bought 50.1 percent of Radex, a start-up company dedicated to developing inkjet printers. The heart of this technology is the creation of modular printhead clusters, which involves buying in actuators and components of the Dimatix Samba printheads from Fujifilm, and then assembling them to create a complete module compromising four heads with all the necessary electronics and ink piping. 

Mouvent has created a range of narrow web label presses, as well as a couple of inkjet textile printers, and the inkjet component of the Master DM5 hybrid flexo press. Bobst says that Mouvent has sold more than 20 presses in Europe and the USA during 2020, despite the pandemic.

More importantly, Bobst has also been quietly working with Mouvent to add inkjet options for its wide web presses, notably around folding carton. Indeed, Bobst had been working with Kodak to use its Prosper Stream modules, and showed me some quite impressive folding carton samples at Drupa 2016, so it’s inevitable that this work has continued with the Mouvent clusters. 

Under the covers of the Mouvent LB701 UV press – the black boxes at the top are the printhead clusters.

Bobst has just opened a new inkjet Demonstration Centre in Barcelona, which currently houses two Mouvent label presses, the LB701-UV and the wider LB702-UV. Bobst has said that it plans to add a Master DM5 hybrid flexo press in the future. Naturally, given the current restrictions on travel, the new centre is also equipped for virtual demos.

Bobst has also partnered with the Italian company SEI Laser, to jointly develop laser cutting solutions for the packaging, labeling, folding carton and corrugated board industries. The aim is to further digitalise the manufacturing processes, introducing new systems exploiting laser technology as well as software platforms and tailor-made services to a market that will grow in the coming years.

Ettore Colico, converting director for SEI Laser, commented: “The enthusiasm for the potential of this project is tangible. Our laser knowledge combines with the strength and experience of Bobst group. They perfectly complement each other. This partnership will open up new markets and will enable not only to strengthen what has already been achieved but also to “write the history of digital converting”.  It is about creating value innovation as well as new market spaces.”

SEI Laser, which is based in Bergamo, sells and installs around 200 systems per year, with a turnover of 35 million euros in 2019. Bobst concluded its press release with a mysterious promise to share more information on this “Once all required approvals will have been obtained.” Strangely, Bobst explicitly made this statement as part of the same announcement regarding its acquisition of the remaining Mouvent capital, suggesting that it is hoping to acquire a least a part of SEI Laser. It would certainly make sense to have a digital finishing capability alongside its digital printing, especially in the label market.

Essentially, with this restructuring Bobst has split its business equally between selling hardware and the servicing of that hardware, which continues a trend that we first saw emerge following the recession of 2007-8. Up until that point most vendors were focussed on selling hardware, with recurring revenue coming mainly from persuading customers to regularly replace their machinery. But the earlier recession forced customers to freeze their spending, leading to crisis and restructuring across all the press vendors as they put more emphasis on service contracts to look after the installed machines. 

The pandemic has led to delays in selling and installing machinery, and forced the press vendors to accelerate their remote diagnostic and training programs. It seems clear from Bobst’s current set-up that the company is planning for its servicing to generate more income in the future, and for digital to play a bigger role as customers look for the flexibility to pivot to different markets quickly.


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