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Swiss firm prints newspapers by the million

Wifag's printing presses have always been custom built (Wifag) Le rotative Wifag sono considerate come le Rolls Royce delle stampatrici (Wifag)

People who read the “Dallas Morning News” in the United States, “Le Monde” in France or “La Nacion” in Buenos Aires will probably have never heard of Wifag.

This content was published on August 26, 2003 - 09:33

Readers in Switzerland of the tabloid “Blick” and other daily Swiss newspapers will no doubt be in the dark too.

But behind that name is a discreet Bern company that has made the presses that print those newspapers.

Known in the newspaper publishing business for producing the Mercedes or Rolls Royce of the trade, Wifag is the world’s fourth-largest manufacturer of printing presses.

“We’re not very well known by the general public because we don’t offer consumer goods. Our business is business to business,” Wifag marketing and sales director Noel McEvoy told swissinfo.

“On the other hand, we are a privately held company and quite discreet, so we don’t need to be that well known either. What’s important is what we do and sticking with it,” he added.

The manufacture and selling of such giant machines that can take up more space than a football field is a highly complex process.

You won’t find be able to find a newspaper printing press in any catalogue or visit Wifag and see machines in stock. There aren’t any.

The presses have to be custom-built by a veritable army of specialists working in different fields.

Computers that print

“We could say in a nutshell that we make computers that print. Before, we used to make mechanical press systems.

“They needed electronic controls and drives so we added them,” McEvoy told swissinfo.

“Today, we have fully integrated electronic, mechanical, electrical systems, which are computer-controlled, and they print high volume, very colourful multi-page newspapers,” he added.

The life expectancy of the presses is around 30 years. After serving its life cycle in one publishing house, a press may well be refurbished and continue to run in another country which is not so developed.

Selling a new machine is a painstaking exercise that requires patience because of the huge sums of money involved.

“The selling process is quite complex, simply because it’s a very large investment. And when a multi-million dollar investment has to be made, a lot of people get involved,” McEvoy said.

Centenary

With a staff of about 800, including some 100 apprentices, the company will be celebrating its centenary in 2004.

The Wifag group, which includes companies also in the graphic industry, employs a total of 1,400 worldwide.

Although the company has enough work on hand to see it into the first half of 2006 thanks to an order last year for 17 presses from the “Westdeutsche Allgemeine” in Germany, the current economic climate is harsh.

“Business is not very good. It’s particularly bad in the newspaper business because our customers are newspaper publishers and they are suffering, with advertising revenues and circulation down,” McEvoy explained.

“Obviously they’re not very keen to make investments. We’re in a waiting game,” he added.

Anchored in Bern

Although there might be a temptation to be more competitive by producing outside Switzerland where costs are lower, Wifag is sticking to its guns.

“We’re anchored very much in Bern. In the discussions we’ve had in the directors’ board, there is no way that a move would be considered,” McEvoy commented.

“We’re here and we’re here to stay,” he added.

As a privately held company, Wifag typically does not disclose its financial figures.

“But I think it’s important to say that we are healthy and we have a future. We’ll be celebrating that next year,” McEvoy told swissinfo.

swissinfo, Robert Brookes

Key facts

The Wifag company started life in 1904 producing bicycles.
The name Wifag is derived from the two founders – Winkler and Fallert.
The upmarket “Neue Zürcher Zeitung” is modernising its printing facility near Zurich with Wifag machines.

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Wifag summary

Wifag machines print millions of newspapers worldwide every day.

The Bern company is discreet and does not disclose its financial figures.

Wifag is celebrating its centenary in 2004.

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