‘Would you let someone else run your 42 million euro printing plant?’

This was the question Armin Elm, Technical Director at the Mittelrhein Verlag in Koblenz, Germany posed to the audience during his presentation on the second day of WAN-IFRA’s World Printers Forum in Amsterdam.

by WAN-IFRA Staff | October 16, 2014

The company publishes the regional daily newspaper Rhein-Zeitung with a circulation of about 190,000 copies.

Since 2012, Elm has also been the CEO at the Presse Zustelldienst, the logistic company from Rhein-Zeitung, and he is responsible for the new printing plant, which opened that same year.

Interestingly, when the publishing house built its new plant, it hired an external operator called TMI to run it. Why use an external print operator? Elm notes four reasons:

1) Gaining flexibility and reliability. For example, in terms of flexibility, Elm said that TMI can easily adjust staffing at the plant on short notice based on day-to-day needs.

2) Reducing external influences. “We had a lot of external influences in the past, from our works council and unions. They cost us a lot of money, working hours and management time and they were always a cause for concern,” Elm said.

3) Printing is not our core business. “Our core business is to gather and distribute information – printing is only one of many output channels,” he said.

4) Saving money. “At the end of the 1990s,” Elm said, “our publishing house started a programme to reduce the personnel costs of technical operations. Driven by our publishing director, we reduced our personnel costs from 2000 to 2012 step-by-step by 70 percent. The final step was to build the highly automated new print plant and have it operated by TMI. This step saves more than 3 million euros per year.”

‘A long-term decision’

Elm noted that it takes signficant, extensive preparation when undertaking such a large-scale project and he offered several examples of how his company did this.

“These changes cannot take place overnight,” he said. “You need a concept. You need a comprehensive available service company. We built a new plant – that took two years. … We started in the new plant with TMI.”

Furthermore, he said there are important strategic considerations for all publishers. “With decreasing circulations, more and more printing plants are getting too small for economic productions. Taking that into consideration: Does every publisher have to operate their own printing plant? I think the answer is no. Specialised service companies as an independent professional partner can be a solution,” Elm said.

In addition, he said that with the external operator, processes stay structured and defined. “Every process and almost every single step has a price,” Elm said. “You are able, and ultimately forced, to design your processes for a cost-optimised production. Once you have optimised your processes, there will always be someone who keeps them that way. If you ever leave the ‘lean way’ of your production, your external operator will remind you of the price,” he added.

Would we do it again? Elm asked. “It is a long-term decision. TMI has been running our plant for two and a half years now without any problems and with high quality and efficiency and with all the benefits that we expected to have,” he said.

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