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Heatset Web Presses -- War Heats Up

May 2003
by chris bauer

According to heatset web press manufacturers, an intense war is raging—and they aren't talking about Iraq. The war they speak of is a pricing war—and it is being fought among commercial printers. This economic conflict is necessitating higher productivity and press availability to increase efficiency and, in turn, generate profits.

"This calls for higher production speeds with higher circulations and a reduction in makeready times and waste due to a higher degree of automation," says Erik Rehmann of Koenig & Bauer AG (KBA). "Additional paper savings are achieved by reducing the size of the cylinder circumference—with mini-gap technology and the use of gripper folders."

Many large printers with sheetfed presses are now broadening their pressroom capability to include eight- and 16-page commercial web presses, Rehmann says. Vendors feel that technology continues to increase the overlap between sheetfed and web printing.

"The print quality of modern web presses now makes it possible to combine web and sheetfed signatures within a single job," points out Mark Levin, Heidelberg's senior vice president for web sales in North America. "Web printers are maintaining profitability at lower and lower run lengths through automation and other fast makeready features."

New equipment capabilities can also drive industry trends, Levin notes. Press automation, he offers as an example, has lowered the run length threshold at which it becomes profitable to print jobs on a web press instead of a sheetfed press.

"One trend is shorter and shorter run lengths," observes Don Gustafson, president of the Tensor Group. "Most printers are able to obtain large print contracts, but most of the jobs have many versions built into the run length, resulting in multiple stops/starts and frequent plate changes. The norm now is full version changes, and not the traditional black-only type, as seen in the past."

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Printers not only have these issues, which are driven from the customer side, to contend with, Gustafson says, but also a weak ad market that is driving the competitive side of the pricing equation toward the lower end.

"The result is a major squeeze effect on the operating margins of most commercial printers in today's market. In order to survive and ultimately grow their bottom lines, most printers have resorted to reducing operating costs by reducing manpower, reducing waste and increasing throughput of the press in the same operating window."

Since most printers are now running leaner operations, retention and recurrent training of key press operators is becoming paramount. "With less and less personnel on board, those remaining must be razor sharp," asserts Rich Kerns, of Solna Web. "The use of today's technology allows printing firms to keep up the output with fewer employees. The new technologies relieve operators of tedious and repetitious jobs, while allowing them to concentrate on quality and throughput."

To remain competitive, web printers must choose new pressroom gear with the tools that allow them to get by with fewer operators, while improving quality and production, Kerns believes.

To that end, heatset web offset printers seek, if not demand, several key features for their presses. "First, the ability of the press to allow precise control throughout the speed range is critical," advises Bob Pitel, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Sanden Machine. "Full programmability of the press is necessary to turn an otherwise daunting task of controlling print quality into a relatively simple and manageable process. The second key, no different from all press technology, is fast make-ready and low waste. The third criterion is the increased need for a powerful ink train to allow for the heavy coverage requirements of commercial applications."

With the economy continuing to be sluggish, printing facilities require equipment that can attract more business, reports Anton Bauer, technical director for MAN Roland. That means printers want presses that can do it all. "Commercial printers need to print shorter runs because their customers want their work segmented into different versions, to better appeal to different targeted audiences," he maintains. "Printers also want to move the occasional job from their sheetfed presses onto their webs. Those demands require web systems that can deliver lightening-quick make-readies.

"On the other side of the coin, the commercial shops don't want to turn down high-volume work, so their heatset webs have to run fast and efficiently. We have one customer, Progress Printing, that's running jobs as small as 2,500 units and projects that require multimillion-piece production—all on the same press."

Gaining Control

On the control side, in terms of current trends, the ability of manufacturers to provide servo technology ranks high. The reason this is more relevant in the heatset market, advises Eric Short, RDP Marathon's president and CEO, is that the press configurations tend to be somewhat complex in terms of the drive layout and the ratios.

"Servo technology is offered as an option on our heatset presses, but it's not for everybody—it depends on the configuration," Short councils. "There are costs involved. There are certain heatset printers out there that have seen the benefits of that technology and want to go servo across-the-board. It's not an expenditure that is necessary or justifiable in all cases—but there is a proven home for that technology and most anufacturers offer servo technology where it is relevant."

George Sanchez, director of sales and marketing for commercial web presses at Mitsubishi Lithographic Presses (MLP U.S.A.), adds that waste and time on-press will continue to be critical issues that new technology must address. "We can expect that the pressure to reduce turnaround times, materials waste and the cost of the finished printed product to continue," Sanchez suggests. "Future technology in the commercial web press industry will eventually incorporate digital imaging directly to the plate cylinders themselves, thereby optimizing the imaging process and minimizing the time required for changing job formats.

"Furthermore, the need to complete the digital workflow process will transcend traditional plant functions, creating the need for computer-integrated manufacturing across prepress, pressroom and bindery operations."

The DGM 850 from Dauphin Graphic Machines is an eight-page perfecting unit with a rated speed of 50,000 iph straight, or 25,000 iph collect. The DGM 850 is available in 22˝ and 22.75˝ cutoffs. Standalone floor unit or stacked two- and three-high for maximum printing flexibility. All rollers and cylinders are balanced to ensure smooth operation. Maximum web width of 36˝.

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The Heidelberg Sunday 2000 gapless press is available in a traditional 16-page format, as well as a wider 24-page format. Makeready features, including automatic or semi-automatic plate changing and the Prinect Prepress Interface, make the Sunday 2000 well suited for shorter runs and fast changeovers. Heidelberg offers a complete range of auxiliary options to support the Sunday 2000, including zero-speed or flying splicers, Ecocool or conventional dryers, and pinless combination and former folders.

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The KBA Compacta 215 is a 16-page commercial web offset press with new developments in press engineering such as individual shaftless drives, decentralized intelligent control systems, paper-saving minigaps on plate and blanket cylinders, and the automatically adjustable gripper folder. A wide choice of configurations from the simple straight-on press to two-level presses are available. Automation modules to enhance productivity include automatic plate changing, automatic web infeed, automatic reel logistics with KBA PATRAS A, digital link to prepress via CIP3 interface and KBA LOGOTRONIC multilevel production management system.

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The Komori System 20 is a long-grain, eight-page web offset press with a maximum printing speed of 45,000 iph. Its rugged frame and bed structure and new inker alignment system create high printing quality. The folder outputs a wide variety of products. All units, from the printing unit to the folder, are designed to handle short-run production. Maintenance needs are said to have been reduced to lighten the load on the operator.

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MAN Roland's Rotoman S web press can print at speeds of up to 85,000 cph, thanks to an array of innovations led by its sleeve-offset technology. The advancement virtually eliminates gap bump and the vibrations that go with it. The smoother-running results also improve print quality, as does Rotoman's 1:1 cylinder configuration. The format is made possible by the press' no-gap blankets. Conventional plates are used on the Rotoman S with narrow-gap plate lockup. The press can print heatset signatures of up to 24 pages in a single-web configuration.

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Mitsubishi Lithographic Presses' (MLP U.S.A.) Diamond Series web presses are available in eight-page to 128-page formats. All Diamond Series web presses feature a totally shaftless drive, which contributes to greater stability during high-speed operation. Mitsubishi's Diamond 8 is an eight-page, half-web press with a long-grain format. The Diamond 8 features a 23˝ cutoff, with a 20˝ web width. It is rated at a maximum speed of 1,500 fpm (47,000 iph) and incorporates such features as the DiamondLink computerized press control system, auto-register control and CIP3 digital interface, which allows the operators to set the ink keys automatically through the PPC server.

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Available in 381⁄2˝ widths, and operating at speeds up to 1,500 fpm, the RDP 380P perfecting press from RDP Marathon features the Maraflo V four-form roll design, with an integrated dampener to ensure superior ink laydown at all production speeds. Drive train precision ensures exact register and reliable performance at high speeds—a capability vital to commercial markets.

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The Sanden USA 1500SP incorporates all of the advanced printing technologies found in the Quantum XP line. The result is a commercial blanket-to-blanket, variable-size perfector press that can utilize either heatset or UV drying systems. The versatility of this press, including five models in widths from 21˝ to 381⁄2˝, variable print repeats from 17˝ to 36˝, line shaft or shaftless configurations, and variable size finishing units (such as signature folders, gluers, etc.), provides a flexible print solution.

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The C800 is Solna Web's new 16-page commercial heatset press intended for medium or long runs. The Solna C800 is available in two cutoff dimensions: 578mm (Format B) and 630mm (Format D) with a non-printing area of 10mm. Maximum web width for both formats is 965mm. The Solna C800 is designed for a running speed of 40,000 rph. The press has several new features: a new ergonomic design, box type frames for increased stability, new blanket and plate cylinders with narrow gap and an improved HydraLoc system.

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The Supercom 900 from Super Web gives flexibility and profit opportunity due to its wider 201⁄2˝ web width. For use with roll-to-sheet, roll-to-fold and roll-to-roll printing, in up to 12 colors, this shear-type sheeter provides quality control at speeds up to 900 fpm. It can handle paper stocks as light as 8-lb. bond or as heavy as 110-lb. index.

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The Tensor Model T-400BE web offset press is the company's newest one-around offering. Using the technology found in its 1400 series, additional features have been developed to further enhance print quality for the more demanding commercial and heatset marketplace. The maximum printing speed of 40,000 pph, combined with the rapid makeready and quick "no tool" plate change characteristics inherent in the design, encourage versatility of product mix.

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The Timsons T48A ZMR offset press with its vertical web line delivers one-color books. While one unit prints at speeds up to 400 m/min., the press operator is changing plates on the other unit. At the appropriate time, the new unit is accelerated and synchronized at web speed. As soon as the last signature is produced, the new unit starts to print. The T48A ZMR's design with a blanket-to-blanket distance of less than 40˝, gives greater control for tight register two-color work.

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