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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, of course.

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 Philippines.
Mr. Gauert, one of your last assignments was in the Philippines. What did you do there?
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?
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 other machines.

So you helped them help themselves - but the locals could have solved the problem alone, too…
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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.

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The Senior Expert Service (SES) in Bonn, part of the German Industry for International Cooperation association, helps people help themselves with more than 7,300 retired volunteer experts. More

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