Happy Birthday KBA (now rebranded to Koenig & Bauer)

Ralf Schlozer
Sep 27, 2017

The oldest press manufacturer celebrated its 200th anniversary on the 21st of September 2017 at the founding site in Würzburg, Germany.

In November 1814, the first newspaper was printed utilising machine power, using a steam-powered press invented by Friedrich Koenig for The London Times. Not willing to grant exclusivity rights for the printing press to The Times, Koenig relocated to Germany and found a new factory site in a disused monastery in the Bavarian town of Würzburg. In 1817 the company was finally founded by Koenig, as the world’s first printing press factory. To this day the company is partially family owned and is headed by Claus Bolza-Schünemann. He assumed a leadership role in the company in 1989, as the sixth generation of the family to lead the company.

In contrast to the other major German offset press manufacturers, Koenig & Bauer stayed profitable in most years since 2000. Through organic growth and acquisitions a revenue high of around €1.7 billion was reached in 2006 and 2007. In the aftermath of the financial crisis and within two years revenues dropped by 40% and hovered just above the €1 billion mark since, with a slight upward trend recently. More consequently than other press manufacturers, Koenig & Bauer exited unprofitable markets and focussed on new areas. For example, the once leading web offset press business has been scaled down a lot as demand and prices (and profits) plummeted. Koenig & Bauer is also active in many niches that larger offset press companies were not able to address profitably. This includes presses for currency printing (almost all are Koenig & Bauer built), presses for metal print, glass and container print as well as the largest format sheet-fed offset presses.

Taking the anniversary as a starting point KBA rebranded back into Koenig & Bauer. The company assumed the name KBA in 1990 to reflect the acquisition of gravure press manufacturer Albert-Frankenthal. In recent years the company divested its gravure press manufacturing activities – making the “A” in KBA essentially defunct.

Koenig & Bauer stated some more reasons for the rebrand: today Koenig & Bauer has 33 subsidiaries frequently with unique branding. Acquisitions since 2000 included Flexotecnica (flexo presses), Iberica (die cutter), Grafitec (small format offset), Metronic (specialty print), Kammann (glass and container printing) and LTG Mailander (metal print). The intention of the rebrand is that the customer should see one brand only, instead of multitude brands. While the factory buildings already display the new rebranding, it will take some time to trickle into all corners, and it is planned to have the rebrand complete by drupa 2020.

Despite reverting to the old name, Koenig & Bauer sports a new logo. A special function is intended for the ampersand in “Koenig & Bauer” – it will serve as a short-form logo for the group. The new branding has the tag line ‘we’re on it’, leaving some room for interpretations. The firm has also updated the design of its presses with a new look that will be rolled out gradually over the next three years.

Koenig & Bauer – new Logo

Despite its heritage in conventional print, Koenig & Bauer invested heavily into digital print. The company does not see digital printing technologies as any kind of threat to its business, but rather as a complement. To enter the market it does not only rely on internal developments, but also on partnerships with other manufacturers.

Koenig & Bauer manufacturers the press base for the HP T1100S, the world’s largest inkjet printing press – sold exclusively by HP and designed for pre-printing of corrugated liner paper. Flipping the cooperation model, Koenig & Bauer plans to manufacture the press base for a B1 cut sheet folding carton printer sold as Koenig & Bauer Varypress 106, with the inkjet imaging components delivered by Xerox. The press is not on the market yet and its first presentation is about half a year away still. Koenig & Bauer also develops its own digital presses with the RotaJet line. The roll-fed inkjet press got a complete overhaul at drupa 2016 with 5 presses installed by now in book and decorative printing. Less known is the MetalDecojet, a digital press for metal decorating using inkjet technology, launched in April this year.

It seems fitting that the German association of printing engineers (VDD) held their annual meeting and conference in Würzburg one day after the anniversary celebrations and under the theme of industry 4.0 in print. It underscored how the printing industry keeps on changing, and how digital print, software and networking infrastructure will play an ever-larger role. It also seems that Koenig & Bauer is in a good position to extend its history into the next century of existence. Happy birthday.

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