Siegwerkers put heart and soul into ink

Siegwerkers – as those who work for Siegwerk are known – have their own way of leaving an indelible impression on the ink industry. It’s a combination of the highest quality products and adherence to health and safety standards that stands up to the closest scrutiny.


As Siegwerk celebrates 10 years of being a truly global company, its local arm is treading a new path that will see it reflecting the best of its parent company, but with a touch of local flavour that makes doing business in South Africa so exciting ... and challenging.

Jonathan Johnstone was brought in two and a half years ago to shake things up a little and bring about necessary change. The ink in his pen has actioned many improvements since.

First was the move from outdated premises on oversized grounds to new custom-designed, fit-for-purpose premises in Spartan, Kempton Park. Such a move would normally take about nine to 10 months, but Jonathan and his team dispatched it within five.

After careful consideration, the non-viable Cape Town manufacturing operation was closed. A customer service centre will be set up in 2016 to support growth in the Western Cape.

Bright young talent

The head office management team was scaled down to achieve a lean structure, and five managers selected for positions previously occupied by 11. Bright, young talent was appointed in areas such as supply chain management and process automation, and training is being provided to develop these youngsters to full potential.

The central Siegwerk team has conducted intensive training of technical staff over the last two years to ensure they were able to support the rollout of the global technology in South Africa. In a local first, Siegwerk carried out a training programme for in-house technicians based at customers’ operations to ensure they’re able to deliver the best of Siegwerk on-press. An on-press ink training programme is planned for operators.

The minimum wage was doubled and then some. ‘Our blue collar workers are the foundation on which we will build a sustainable business in South Africa,’ says Jonathan. ‘They support the walls of finance and administration, which, in turn, ensure that the roof of technology and sales is secure.’

Manufacturing, too, was brought under the spotlight, and the manufacture of colour bases was moved to one of the most modern sites in Europe, where bases could be produced more cost effectively and efficiently, then shipped in.

So advanced are the fire safety standards – a Siegwerk non-negotiable – that the new solvent-based blending centre is a vapour-free environment, which means there’s no possibility of ignition even in the presence of an open flame.

‘We aligned our business to Siegwerk Europe, but adapted functions and approaches to what we know works locally,’ Jonathan continues. ‘Some tough choices had to be made and uncertainty affected morale, but we’re now creating a formidable team built on a culture of respect and dignity from the floor up.’

Jonathan prefers to concentrate on things he can control. ‘We cannot force customers to be loyal and we can’t control government actions and the exchange rate,’ he says ‘but we can ensure efficiencies throughout our business and guarantee our customers the most cost-effective options with our global total cost approach.’

Quintessential family business

Based in Germany, Siegwerk is the quintessential family business. Founded almost two centuries ago by the Kellers, it’s now in the hands of the sixth Keller generation, operates in 35 countries and employs almost 5 000 people.

In 2005, the year in which it declared itself a global organisation, turnover was €200-million. Today, it’s more than a €1-billion.

Chairman Alfred Keller attributes this success to the company’s focus on packaging inks. ‘It was just the right step to secure our business on a sustainable basis,’ he insists. ‘The development that began in 2003 with the acquisition of Color Converting Industries in the US found its perfect continuation with the merger with Switzerland’s Sicpa in 2005. On one hand, we achieved the strategically important alignment of our product portfolio to the growing packaging industry. On the other, the move ensured we could meet our goal of offering products, solutions and services to customers around the globe.’

Siegwerk maintains that its global production and service network gives business partners what they need most: consistently good quality. The basic colours and varnishes are manufactured to a standardised process at 14 so-called ‘centres of excellence’ around the world, using raw materials and intermediate products that are as close to identical as possible. At blending centres worldwide, inks are tailored to meet individual customer requirements.

The Kellers enforce exacting standards and no operation escapes the eagle eye of the chairman and his team. If a standard, a process or a product isn’t worthy of the Siegwerk name, fur will fly and heads roll.

Against this backdrop, the rejuvenated Siegwerk South Africa stands proudly, recognised as being among the top 50% of Siegwerk sites. That’s no mean feat in an organisation whose goal is to supply the safest inks in the world and for which ‘migration’ is the dirtiest word in the dictionary, unless it relates to geographic expansion. The stringent product safety requirements for food packaging in Europe are mirrored in Johannesburg.

The journey is not over for Jonathan and the team. Revitalisation of the Durban plant in the coming months will bring it in line with the improvements made in Johannesburg. And there’s ample opportunity to grow the company’s share of the expanding packaging market and put serious energy into the digital inks business.

‘Our primary focus is to help our customers become more profitable and to do so with inks that put product safety above any other consideration,’ Jonathan sums up.


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