Printing Impressions

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50th: Long Road to Automation — From High Touch to Hi Tech

June 2008 By Mark Smith
Technology Editor
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FIFTY YEARS would constitute a long career, but it's just a flash of time for an industry that traces its roots at least back to the introduction of the Gutenberg press, circa the early 1400s. While each generation probably thinks it has seen more changes than any other, this has been a dizzying half century for the printing process.

Letterpress has given way to offset and now digital printing. Composition has gone from hot metal and manual paste-up through phototypesetting, color scanning, color electronic prepress systems and desktop publishing, then on to computer-to-plate and Web-to-print. Bindery equipment now boosts more computer power than Apollo 11.

Along the way, once venerable names have faded from the scene even as some of the technology persists. Gone are Harris, Hell, Linotype, Royal Zenith, Polychrome, Crosfield, Scitex and Compugraphic, to name just a few.

From a technology standpoint, there's an added touch of symmetry in June 2008 being the 50th anniversary edition of Printing Impressions. Volume 1 carried a story titled "Drupa (1958) Exhibit Is Successful." By the time this anniversary edition is in print, Drupa should have completed yet another successful run, the 14th in a series that was launched in 1951.

The report noted that the show featured a number of American manufacturers, but mostly European vendors. "Selling features stressed by equipment manufacturers were automation, quality and time-saving methods. American visitors discovered that the industry in Europe is moving into high-speed printing equipment at a more advanced rate, perhaps, than in the United States."

Among the products said to have grabbed the attention of visitors were:

o A line of high-speed letterpress equipment showing a new 15.5x22.5? format with extension high-pile truck delivery exhibited by Albert Frankenthal.

o The new Rotor-Binder for perfect binding from the Mueller Bindery that increases in speed from 3,000 to 3,500 books per hour.

o Dr. Ing. Rudolf Hell showed the new Vario-Klischograph for both color and black-and-white, producing electronic engravings in sizes up to 12x16?, fully automatic.

To get a further sense of the industry's state of technological development in 1958, here's a sampling of headlines and excerpts from stories published that year.

"New Photocomposing Machine for Low Cost Production of Type Matter"--A new machine, the Optype, which uses a photographic principle for copying lines of type and justifying the right hand margin. . . is said to compose type at speeds up to 16 lines per minute. . .will sell for $6,950.

"Letterpress Forum Earns Praise with New Development Program"--Nine firms showed more than 2,500 graphic arts workers a dazzling array of new developments in the application of photographic techniques to letterpress printing. . .By closed circuit television, viewed at the New Yorker and Statler hotels, the companies unveiled the fruits of their research labor for an amazed and receptive audience.
 

Companies Mentioned:

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COMMENTS

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Most Recent Comments:
Erik Nikkanen - Posted on June 21, 2008
Lots of amazing technologies have been developed over the past 50 years but the Industry has also been wearing blinders for that period of time.

Offset presses still have problems with density variation and ink water balance. The industry has long approached this problem as being a chemical problem when in fact it is a mechanical problem with the design of the ink feed of the press.

Inexpensive and simple technology could have corrected this press design problem over 50 years ago and the development of press performance and knowledge would have taken a much different path.

I hope over the next 50 years, the blinders will come off. Then things will start to make more sense and also more dollars for printers.
Click here to view archived comments...
Archived Comments:
Erik Nikkanen - Posted on June 21, 2008
Lots of amazing technologies have been developed over the past 50 years but the Industry has also been wearing blinders for that period of time.

Offset presses still have problems with density variation and ink water balance. The industry has long approached this problem as being a chemical problem when in fact it is a mechanical problem with the design of the ink feed of the press.

Inexpensive and simple technology could have corrected this press design problem over 50 years ago and the development of press performance and knowledge would have taken a much different path.

I hope over the next 50 years, the blinders will come off. Then things will start to make more sense and also more dollars for printers.