Offset and Beyond — Great Technologies, But Tough TimesApril 2009 By Cheryl Adams
When it comes to forecasting the current sheetfed and web offset markets, the biggest threat isn’t just digital technology, it’s the state of the economy. There are some pretty exciting developments going on in the lithographic printing market this year, but that’s the problem. It’s 2009. When demand is down—with printers, like their clients, being forced to tighten budgets, reduce head counts and shut down plants to remain competitive—even the best technological advancements have problems selling when the timing is not right.
Across the board, all manufacturing industries are struggling. Printing is one of many. Minus the current economic crisis, however, both sheetfed and web offset printers would most likely be holding their own, according to industry experts.
Ray Prince, NAPL vice president and senior consultant, operations management, has observed dramatic changes in the offset market in the past four to five years, and believes that the process is now capable of competing with digital’s short run lengths and low prices. “Litho makereadies only take five to seven minutes, and washup times are much faster, so the process is now capable of cost-effective, short-run production. Mostly, offset is still going strong because litho offers very high quality and consistency, which digital production presses cannot offer yet.”
Prince maintains that there is still a tremendous market for long-run production, and that digital printing is not yet known as a competitor in the long-run market. He points out that the consistency of digital is not there, and the price for long runs is significantly higher per unit than offset.
“Major litho players invested heavily in color controls, defect controls and improved makereadies,” explains Prince. “Currently, digital can’t compete [on long runs].”
Bill Lamparter, president of the PrintCom Consulting Group, claims that today’s sheetfed offset innovations are so advanced, they’re already pushing 2004 press models toward obsolescence. “Analog press developments continue to focus on waste reduction, faster run speeds, quick changeovers, improved and automatic color control, better perfectors, improved inking systems, touchscreen controls and virtual proofing on the console,” he details. “And, there are new advancements in in-line finishing, such as cold foiling, embossing, diecutting and a variety of coating options, which enable on-press production of unique product effects.”