Pioneers of Printing: Johann Friedrich Gottlob Koenig + 200 years of KBA

Johann Friedrich Gottlob Koenig invented the first steam-powered printing machine and revolutionized the letterpress printing. The basic principle is still the same, even though you cannot compare the machines nowadays with the printing machines from 200 years ago.

Koenig & Bauer 200 years anniversary

Image Credit: KBA

The research of the high-speed printing machine ranked Johann Koenig among the pioneers of printing in 1812. According to the principle “Necessity is the mother of invention”, Koenig, who was a wispy person, invented the first steam-powered machine because the manually operated machine was too heavy for him.

As a professional in the printing industry, you probably know Koenig & Bauer. They are one of the oldest printing manufacturers in the world, celebrating their 200th anniversary this year. Johann Friedrich Gottlob Koenig was one of the founders in 1817. Five years prior to this, he invented the first steam-powered printing machine and the first mechanical print of a book succeeded. With this, he revolutionized the letterpress printing. We talked to KBA to find out more about letterpresses in the past and the future, nosey? Go on reading!

As the inventor of the fast press, Johann Friedrich Gottlob Koenig can be called a Pioneer of Printing. To what extent has the invention from 1812 changed the printing industry or revolutionized and influenced it even today?

Following the 360-year invention of the Gutenberg hand-held press, Friedrich Koenig has speeded up the production of printed products by a factor of five and has also reduced the price significantly, thereby creating a prerequisite for its distribution to a wider population as well as to a better-informed society.

Do your machines still work on the same principle as before and/or where did the biggest change take place?

The basic principle of the cylinder printing machine by Friedrich Koenig and Andreas Bauer to transfer the image and the color to the printing substrate via rotating cylinders has remained the same for all analog printing machines – whether they work with the high, flexographic or offset printing process. One exception is digital inkjet printing. There, the print is transferred without contact to the substrate by nozzles, but the substrate, as in the case of the ancillary machines, continues to be guided over rotating cylinders or rollers.

Koenig & Bauer AG is an innovator and market leader in many areas of printing technology. Which of these segments will grow even more in the coming years?

Over the last few years, our portfolio has been focused on growth markets such as packaging printing in its entire spectrum, the still young digital inkjet printing with its completely new possibilities in the production of individual print products and the industrial printing outside the classic printing industry. The last one includes, for example, the digital decoupage and in the future probably also printed electronics. Packaging print, in particular, continues to provide considerable growth potential alongside the growth of the world’s population, global prosperity, online commerce and the growing number of single households with their preference for ready-to-serve foods. In contrast to the print media (newspapers, magazines, books, catalogs …), which are under pressure by online alternatives, packaging cannot be replaced by flat screens, tablets or smartphones.

What do you think, how will the printing industry change until the next drupa in 4 years?

It will become even more industrial, more diverse and more digitized. Classic, media-oriented print markets will continue to lose moderate shares through online media, the importance of packaging pressure for the industry will continue to increase, new print markets in the private sector (example: photobooks, textiles and all sorts of accessories in small quantities) by the societal trend towards individualization, and new print applications (e.g. printed solar cells or electronics) are being developed as a result of technical progress. At the same time, the combination of print and online in communications and advertising will continue to grow. The industry has to face this challenge and offer solutions.

What innovations in the printing industry are forward-looking, in your eyes?

For sure digital printing but also the permanent technical advances in conventional printing machines and printing processes (such as: LED UV printing), the consumption materials paper, paint, varnish etc. (especially in the direction of eco-friendly) and in the crosslinking of communication, production and business processes (keywords: Internet of Things, Industry 4.0). In this area, the printing industry is already much more developed than other industries.

What do you think: What would be the most exciting new technology in the eyes of Johann Friedrich Gottlob Koenig?

He lived in another time and died 184 years ago. But since he was a bit ahead of his time, I think that the development of the digital printing technologies that are only 25 years old in professional printing applications, future-oriented print applications in the area of electronics or sensor technology, and the topics of sustainability would probably excite him most.

We are very proud to have them at drupa for many years and looking forward to having them for the next 200! Have a look at our greeting card we made for them. Click here to create one yourself and celebrate their anniversary.

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Exciting answers to our questions, what do you think is the most inciting new technology in the printing industry?