Widasla celebrates twenty years of excellence at drupa 2024

For the past two decades, Widasla Technologies has been demonstrating the value of opting for refurbished pre-owned printing equipment, so much so that it is recognised around the world as the go-to for second-hand printing and packaging machinery. Not only will the company be celebrating 20-years of excellence later this year, but it will also take to the global stage as an exhibitor at drupa 2024.

Widasla Technologies was founded in 2004 by Dou Fourie. As an energetic and driven entrepreneur, Dou was determined to make a success of this new venture, which operated predominantly as an engineering company for the first eight years.

Referred to as the “Olympics of Print”, drupa is the largest printing equipment exhibition in the world, where the largest OEMs in this sector showcase their latest technologies, competing for the attention of the hundreds of thousands of attendees who descend on Düsseldorf, Germany, every four years.

As a driving force for innovation, visitors have the opportunity to experience and compare technology trends and discover new synergies at drupa, which compelled Dou to attend the 2012 event. It was at this show that he met John Worsley, Sales Director at BBR Graphics, one of the largest suppliers of globally sourced second-hand printing equipment in the world.

This chance meeting led to both companies coming to an agreement, where Widasla would be BBR Graphics’ exclusive supplier in South Africa, by purchasing preowned machines from the local market and then supplying them to BBR Graphics for resale in markets such as China and India.

‘At the time of partnering with BBR Graphics, the local market was not in a position to purchase new equipment, with a number of print operations either closing down or selling off their oldest equipment. This presented us with the opportunity to gain experience in stripping and packing the machines for shipping, whereby we learnt the best way to do things to ensure that they arrive safely at their destination,’ reminisced Dou Fourie, Managing Director at Widasla Technologies.

Four years passed and with it came drupa 2016, which Dou attended. He continued: ‘In the ensuing years, the dwindling economic climate in South Africa created a demand for preowned presses to be brought into the country. Much as we initially established ourselves as second-hand sheetfed press specialists, the environment was ripe with opportunities for our expansion into other sectors of the printing industry,’

The COVID-19 pandemic reared its ugly head in December 2019, when the first identified human case of the coronavirus was reported in Wuhan, China. This eventually led to hard lockdowns being implemented in most of the world, sending shockwaves to the global economy for subsequent years thereafter.

Set to take place on 16-26 June 2020, drupa 2020 was cancelled due to travel restrictions and budget constraints resulting from the pandemic. In an attempt to maintain the momentum until the 2024 edition, the organisers held a four-day digital event titled “virtual.drupa” from 20-23 April 2021. Albeit it replicating the exhibition’s impetus, selling power and unique atmosphere, the online format still had limitations i.e. information was gathered via supplied data and not through experiences.

Closer to home, the pandemic prompted Widasla to reinvent its business strategies and diversify its offering. In October 2020, Dou partnered with Antony Breddy, to establish a print finishing division – Widasla Finishing Systems. This was followed by the opening of a Cape Town branch in March 2021.

Dou shared, ‘In spite of it being in one of the most difficult markets in the country, our Cape Town branch has seen significant growth over the past three years. Where it initially occupied 460 square metres of floor space, so great has been its growth that we needed to move into bigger premises last year.’

He explained, ‘There has been significant change in the company since Antony and I started up Widasla Finishing Systems. After predominantly refurbishing second-hand Heidelberg equipment, the opening of Widasla Finishing Systems has enabled us to now offer our clients Kolbus, Müller Martini, MBO’s and Polar-Mohr finishing solutions.’

With the way that the industry has shifted direction into the packaging space, Dou stated that Widasla’s decision to follow suit was the obvious, which was done by adding die-cutters and box folder-gluers to its offering.

‘Where litho printers initially evolved into becoming commercial printers, through incorporating digital printing into their businesses, they have now shifted into providing packaging printing to their customers, which is the direction that Widasla Technologies and Widasla Finishing Systems have also taken,’ he observed.

‘We expanded our company according to the changes that the industry has undergone so as to assist print shops as they embark upon the diversification of their businesses, most especially with capital outlay being challenging during the tough economic climate that we have been experiencing over recent years,’ Dou stated.

The company celebrated another milestone in November 2022, when it opened its Durban branch. While the Durban office was initially established as more of an engineering office and spare parts supplier, as is the case with the Johannesburg and Cape Town offices, it has also seen steady growth that necessitated its relocation into larger premises.

Widasla’s Johannesburg branch has its own success stories to tell, with there being so much growth and expansion over the last three years, that it eventually needed to double its floor space to 1 000 square metres, giving it the capacity to refurbish up to 12 pieces of equipment in a year – something that was achieved in 2023.

‘Widasla Finishing Systems has also seen exponential growth, with it being the first time in history that the best Heidelberg engineer, the best Müller Martini engineer and the best Kolbus engineer all work for the same company. With this being said, through their desire to learn and grow, they opted not to be restricted to their respective specialities by sharing knowledge and integrating expertise with one another.’

The company’s proficiency extends beyond the sourcing, refurbishment and installation of pre-owned equipment. It also assists with factory layouts, specialised architectural drawings and factory planning, flooring, controlled environment requirements, cable routings and workflow systems.

So outstanding is the calibre of its service and workmanship that Widasla has made a name for itself around the world. This has led to equipment being exported beyond the African continent, to countries such as the USA, China and Israel as well as in South America. Dou stated that the company does a lot of work in America, which has proven to be a very lucrative market for the business.

‘We pride ourselves on the fact that as an African company, we have a reputation that has made it possible for us to buy and sell equipment all over the world because through doing so, we are giving access to the best available options for pre-owned equipment, with the capacity to sell anywhere on the globe.’

Dou explained that this expansion was five years in the making, as part of Widasla’s strategy to guarantee the sustainability of the company in South Africa – where the market is not always busy. Supporting the international market has helped ensure its future growth, as well as to provide on-site training and create opportunities for its engineers to work on newer models of machinery.

‘It is the reputation that we have made for ourselves in the States and in other countries that has allowed for it to be a more constant market for us.  It also means that when you buy from us, you have the assurance that the quality of our workmanship is so exceptional that it has international recognition,’ he added.

From a two-man start-up engineering company, Widasla now has 30 employees, which includes 12 engineers; it has four factories set up in Johannesburg, one in Cape Town and one in Durban, with plans underway to provide countrywide rebuilds through establishing rebuilding facilities in Cape Town and Durban later this year.

The company is also a confirmed exhibitor at drupa 2024, which will take place on 28 May until 7 June in Düsseldorf, Germany. After an 8 year wait, this year’s event is set to be a melting pot of ideas about the direction that the industry is taking and what to expect in coming years, with thousands of industry experts in attendance and numerous OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) preparing to launch new technologies during the show.

‘2024 is a bumper year for us. We have 20 years of success and continued growth to celebrate – and we will be doing it at the largest printing exhibition in the world,’ Dou exclaimed. ‘In the past, South African companies would be on their agency stands at drupa; but we’ll be doing it differently because we will have our own stand at the show. Aside from us reaching another milestone, we are exhibiting because we want to bring the right partners to South Africa. We want to ensure that printers in this country are supported – not only for 2024 but also for the future.’

Widasla and BBR Graphics will share an 8m x 5.5m corner stand with entrances on both sides, which has been designed in such a way that it will showcase both companies while also reflecting their longstanding relationship.

Dou concluded, ‘Come and visit us at Hall 13 Stand B90 at the show. We are having a South Africa/Africa themed day on 1 June, where we would like people from South Africa as well as from the rest of the African continent to join us; to share in how our partnership with BBR Graphics will help support businesses in Africa and grow our market to be sustainable in the coming years.’