The Man Who Can
Former Heidelberg Product Manager, Hans-Dieter Gauert, is still
active at 70. As a "Senior Expert," he supports print
shops around the world with his expertise. And if need be, he'll
even lay a water pipe from time to time, all on a voluntary basis,
It all began when Gauert's wife discovered the magazine
Senioren Ratgeber (senior guidebook) at the pharmacy and brought it
home. Inside was an article about the SES (Senior Expert Service).
The non-profit-making organization arranges for retirees with work
experience to carry out aid projects in newly industrializing
countries. Gauert was immediately excited at the opportunity to
pursue his greatest passions - printing and traveling - during
retirement as well. During his days at Heidelberg, he and his
family lived abroad for a long time - including eleven years in
South Africa. By now, Gauert has several assignments as Senior
Expert already behind him, for example in Lithuania, Indonesia,
Azerbaijan, Ghana, Cambodia, Zambia, Thailand, Romania and in the
Mr. Gauert, one of your last assignments was in the Philippines.
What did you do there?
Gauert: I was in Manila. The Catholic Salesian Order,
Don Bosco, maintains a school there with a vocational training
center for about 4,000 youth. The order wanted to improve the
availability of the machines in the in-house print shop where the
textbooks are printed. There were often production downtimes. I was
also supposed to train the personnel.
How do you approach projects like these?
Gauert: First I take stock of things: What condition are
the machines in, what is the infrastructure like - for example,
water, electricity, paper and plates, how does the operation work?
In Manila, for example, the Speedmasters from Heidelberg, an SM 74
and an SM 102, both a good 10 years old, still ran quite well. The
reel-fed offset machine and old KOAD, which was used for coating,
were in a terrible condition, however. In addition, there wasn't
any kind of lubrication or maintenance chart for the machines. I
therefore created a file for the SM 102 with exact directions on
which parts were to be lubricated, cleaned or serviced. The
printers then had to use this as a model in creating plans for the
So you helped them help themselves - but the locals could have
solved the problem alone, too…
Gauert: The point is that nobody did solve the problem.
Many of my clients can only afford used machines and work with
run-down machines or platen presses from a wide range of
manufacturers. Usually the operating manual is missing at the time
of purchase. And even when it is included, it is rarely read. That
is why the most effective way to present tasks, like cleaning an
impression cylinder, is by personal demonstrations on the machine
rather than PowerPoint presentations.
What do you do when the necessary spare or service parts are
either difficult or impossible to obtain on site?
Gauert: During my years in Africa, I learned how to deal
with shortcomings. Perfectionists would be appalled at how I
sometimes get things running. But when a business can't afford
expensive spare parts or mechanics, then there are times when you
resort to rubber bands to balance out unevenness on the impression
cylinder. Sometimes I even lay an electric cable or water pipe
myself, like in Zambia. The print shop there didn't have any
running water. The people always had to run across the courtyard
with the printing plates to an old bathroom. When it rained, the
plates got wet already beforehand. So we got what we needed at the
market and then installed a supply and escape pipe as well as a
shower and bath.
What are the most frequent drawbacks?
Gauert: The budget often doesn't last until the end of
the year. There isn't enough money for paper or plates. Then I have
to find out what's not working right. Sometimes there are also
problems with quality, like at a carton print shop in Indonesia.
They were constantly receiving returns from customers. The problem
was in the postpress workflow. The locations of the machines for
punching, folding, gluing and packaging weren't ideally chosen.
That made transportation paths too long and the finished printed
products became scuffed.
So you don't just support non-profit operations?
Gauert: No, but I give preference to them. Before I make
a decision, I first find out more about the customers from the
Heidelberg representative responsible: What equipment do they have?
Do they deserve voluntary aid work?
How long do your assignments last?
Gauert: I usually do two to three trips lasting two to
four weeks each. I think that's better than staying for a long
time. The first time you go there, there are often things missing,
like spare parts. I then procure them so that they're available for
the next visit and so that I can show how a certain process works.
What is the most important skill to have?
Gauert: Being able to forget the comfort of home and get
involved with the people there. You also have to be patient and
able to improvise.