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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."


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