Man and Machine

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Friday, October 12, 2007
— Udo Eyrich has given up family, his own birthday party and his beloved collection of vintage motorcycles in order to do his job.

Eyrich’s Job One since June has been to get The Janesville Gazette’s new press installed and running in top form. As a representative for the press’s manufacturer, he is in charge of a process called commissioning.

Koenig & Bauer AG (KBA), based in Würzburg, Germany, manufactured the 185-ton press and shipped it in pieces to Janesville. It also sent Eyrich and other specialists to put it together again.

German technicians have come and gone over the past five months, but Eyrich has lived in Janesville the whole time. He heads up the process of fine-tuning the mammoth machine so that it will perform what it was designed to do: print millions of newspapers for many years to come.

Eyrich’s is no easy job. He refers to about 1,000 documents describing the press’s intricate workings. He communicates regularly with specialists back in Germany and also with Janesville Gazette workers as they ready the press. He’s done the same thing in Latin America, Australia, Iceland and the Middle East.

Presses are not like cars, which are made one after the other, Eyrich points out. Each press is made especially for a client. Each is unique.

Communications can be difficult, not only because of the language barrier, but because even native speakers may not know certain technical terms, he said.

Eyrich can’t recall how many presses he has commissioned for KBA. As many as 35 during his quarter century with the company, he guessed.

So Eyrich is used to extended foreign visits. But he seemed to regret missing a party that KBA threw for employees with 25 years of service. He was also wistful about missing a birthday party when he turned 47 in October.

The amicable Eyrich lives in a village of about 500 in the German state of Bavaria, not far from KBA’s headquarters in Würzburg. He seems proud of his work and his company, which he said is the oldest of its kind in the world, with a 180-year history of building printing presses.

He’s also proud of his motorcycle collection, with bikes going back to the 1920s. He restores the bikes and rides them.

Eyrich usually works 52 days a week but found time to engage in his hobby. He bought a used Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail from a local man and has toured the countryside. Once he got lost, and a friendly farmer gave him directions.

Eyrich is constantly amazed by how nice everyone is here. Everywhere he goes, people tell him of their German ancestry.

In Wisconsin, “the people are friendly, very, very friendly—very good experience—and all people in this company, too,” Eyrich said of Bliss Communications.

Eyrich has driven to places as far afield as Milwaukee, Chicago and Indianapolis, where he took in a Formula 1 race.

Eyrich is a motorsports fan, and he loves vintage American cars. He positively glowed about his visit to a car show in Beloit.

Once he and a colleague left their keys 3 miles away. They went out to the road looking for a bus. A man came by and asked what they were doing. He told them no buses would be coming. But he gave them a lift to get their keys.

“And then we drink some beers together. But this is nice,” Eyrich said, fondly recalling the incident.

Eyrich will return home with fond memories and also a souvenir. He plans to ship his Harley in the container that will also bring his tools back to KBA.

Last updated: 10:17 am Friday, December 21, 2012

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