Hinterkopf: Shaping the Future of Direct to Cylinder Printing

Hinterkopf is one of the 60 or so new exhibitors for InPrint 2015 and visiting them was both an interesting and inspiring experience.

Located close to Stuttgart, this family owned business makes highly sophisticated mechanical machinery for cylinder decoration principally for plastic tubes and aerosol cans. The sheer scale and complexity of the machinery involved in this industrial scale process suggests that a wealth of knowledge and expertise over the years has been invested into enhancing and improving this manufacturing operation for Hinterkopf's customer base. 

Their specialism is providing end to end solutions for complete manufacturing lines of machinery for decorating tubes on an industrial scale.

The business was established by Alexander Hinterkopf's father, Kurt Hinterkopf back in 1954, when he visited Asia and returned to Germany inspired to invent a robotic arm system designed to help increase manufacturing efficiency for the production and decoration of cosmetic cylinders. A highly skilled engineer with experience of building jet engines - Kurt G Hinterkopf established his own business for creating the robotic system which automated a part of the printing process, eventually leading to the lines of machinery that we see today.

Hinterkopf has continued the tradition of engineering innovation and 5 years ago set about developing a digital system for direct to shape printing. Direct to shape digital printing is one of revolutions taking place within industrial print. It is debatable whether the term 'revolution' itself is accurate, but the potential is very significant indeed.

I visited Hinterkopf on a sunny spring day, the week the German government formally announced its strategic plan for Industrie 4.0, which is designed to progress the next stage of development for industrial automation.

Industrie 4.0 is something that Alexander Hinterkopf believes will continue to transform the manufacturing sector.

Alexander Hinterkopf explains, "Industrie 4.0 is a reality. It is happening - the shift towards digitisation of manufacture, increased automation and integration with IT is taking place. Hinterkopf is the perfect example of that. The whole model for how consumers buy products has changed completely. So it is logical that consumer brands and retailers require new ways to package and communicate their product. The packaging sector has been reducing runs for a number of years and now the economic argument for digital has become impossible to ignore. Hinterkopf technology utilises the long experience we have of mechanical engineering for direct to cylinder production lines with a new approach with digital print technology. It has been quite a journey but now we have arrived and have achieved some results we are happy with. More importantly our customers are happy. This means that we can easily integrate our digital machines to blend with the new technology creating logical production options for customers."

Hinterkopf is a great example of how a business has the vision to evolve with new technology as a key to future production possibilities and the confidence and enthusiasm from the leadership team is infectious. As with any new product launch I would say that this commitment is required as convincing a traditional industry to try something new is not easy, requiring both patience and determination.

The fact remains that the packaging sector has for years been entirely structured around the traditional industrial model and this has meant the core focus has been efficiency, lowering print price and increasing productivity. Latterly the focus from analogue printer has been to improve turnaround time and automation for the preparation of jobs as the run length get shorter. This down time becomes more of an issue as Alexander Hinterkopf explains.

"Digital doesn't have any of these downtime or shorter run problems. Yes there is a point at which digital becomes economic to use, just like there is with traditional paper printing but the intersection is now far more normal and digital will be used more and more as the economic argument for using it is more compelling. By using digital printing customers reduce their risk as there is no need to print more of the same product by either anticipating demand or guessing the amount that print customers might want.

In terms of adoption it only takes one or two companies to try the system, see how well it works, have success with a campaign and then the sector will start tip over to integrating digital. Not in a way that means it substitutes mechanical and analogue engineering - but in a way that delivers new possibilities that were not available before."

Digital Direct to Shape is set to take centre stage at InPrint as inkjet and digital technologies become robust enough to be integrated into the production process for direct to shape printing. The future is being shown at InPrint, so if you are interested in seeing the most innovative technologies then make plans to be in Munich in November. 

You can meet HinterKopf at InPrint 2015 Hall A6, booth number F44.

Check out website www.hinterkopf.de