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Large-Format Sheetfed Perfectors -- Seeking Perfection

August 2004
by chris bauer

Managing Editor

Printers live by the mantra that time is money. As more steps can be cut out of the prepress, printing and binding processes, more profit can be achieved. Large-format (40˝ and larger) perfecting presses ensure faster printing results by printing both sides of the sheet in one pass through the press. Many printers have put two and two together, and like the sum that sheetfed perfectors provide.

"The drive towards large-format perfectors is stimulated in a large degree by the need for process time reduction," explains Doug Schardt, product manager, Komori America. "In other words, why do in two passes on a press what can be done in one?"

Schardt admits this rhetorical question seems self-evident—if it was that simple, all printers would have moved to perfecting presses years ago. But perfectors of the past brought with them a host of issues that slowed the process down to the point that it actually was more efficient to run two passes, he says.

"Today's perfectors have many of those issues beat—and the quality is outstanding—so one pass versus two is the ideal workflow in certain circumstances," Schardt points out. The key elements are fully automated plate changers, fully automatic paper size adjustments, fully automatic perfector changeover and fully automatic washups, he says.

"Furthermore, perfectors must have the ability to run a wide range of work and not become a marking monster," Schardt adds. "The more marking that is inherent in a press, the longer the makereadies until it actually becomes more efficient on a straight press."

A Perfect Fit

One company that has found perfecting presses to be effective for its workload is the Jerome Group in Maryland Heights, MO, which recently installed an eight-color Komori Lithrone S40 sheetfed perfector with coater and extended delivery.

Jerome Group specializes in direct mail work and produces a lot of 4/4 work that requires personalization on both sides. The company often preprints shells on the LS40 and then does personalization using its arsenal of digital presses.

"The interesting thing is that the mix of traditional and digital presses complement each other very well," says Andy Kohn, Jerome Group president. "We have two Indigos and six sheetfed black-and-white digital presses that do personalization." The addition of perfecting presses has also opened the door to short- to medium-run catalog work, Kohn reveals.

Trying to peg the typical large-format perfecting press user can be tough. According to John Dowey, vice president of sheetfed product management for Heidelberg, the typical profile for printers buying 40˝ perfecting machines include industrial commercial sheetfed or combination sheetfed/web printers. Most are looking for ways to cope with several factors: increased competition; shorter lead times; price erosion; the need for added capacity; and a desire to improve the output/labor ratio.

"Very often it is a printer who already has two or three 40˝ straight printing presses and is at or near capacity," Dowey notes. "Replacing one or two of those older straight presses with one long perfector can add the needed capacity without the need for additional staff—a huge advantage in our recovering economy." Heidelberg customers often look for machines with eight colors or more, and with 4/4 perfecting as a minimum, he states.

"Stepping up to 10 colors allows the use of a varnish or PMS color on both sides of the sheet, and provides additional creative possibilities," Dowey concludes. "The machines have high automation and very frequently include roll-to-sheet feeding capabilities, so printers can take advantage of lower paper purchasing prices available with web-grade papers."

Double-sided printing in a single pass with high print quality illustrates the potential of the Speedmaster SM 102. Extended preset functions reduce setup work to a minimum. Integration into the print shop's digital workflow reduces makeready times and results in fast job throughput.

Vancouver-area printer Rhino Print Solutions recently announced the acquisition of an eight-color Heidelberg Speedmaster SM 102 perfector. Its ability to print both sides of the sheet in one pass, as well as its extensive array of automation, provides Rhino with flexibility for fast job turnarounds and additional capacity to handle larger projects.

"Our year-over-year sales growth continues to be in excess of 25 percent. It was imperative for us to provide our existing and new clients with additional capacity capable of producing the very highest quality," reports David Allan, president of Rhino Print Solutions. "We feel that we have chosen the best and most efficient technology available."

Bugs Worked Out

Christian Cerfontaine, director of marketing for MAN Roland, recalls that the use of perfecting technology was once limited by technical factors like the amount of ink coverage required on a given job. That, in turn, limited the number of printers who would opt for a perfector on their full-size press. But he says that press manufacturers have improved the perfecting process tremendously.

"That significantly opens up the range of jobs that can be perfected," Cerfontaine states. "Given that, any printer who is buying a full-size press must seriously consider perfecting."

Cerfontaine feels that long perfectors are blurring the line between what can be printed on a sheetfed press and what needs to be produced on a web offset press. "That means the sheetfed printer with a new generation perfector can win work that used to be the property of web-equipped facilities."

The Roland 700, MAN Roland's 41˝ press line, is fully CIM-compatible, thanks to its PECOM operating and automation system. With PECOM JobPilot, virtually all makeready adjustments can be performed off-press, while the 700 keeps producing. Productivity can be enhanced with the 700's Automatic Plate Loading (APL) system.

Available in configurations of from two to 12 units, the 700 runs at 16,000 sph in the straight printing mode and 12,000 sph when perfecting. It also handles board up to 1mm thick, providing a full range of package printing capabilities.

Rapid Impressions, Broadview, IL, recently installed its second Roland 700: a new nine-color perfector complete with in-line coating and a host of additional automated advancements. "Makereadies are fast and efficient," says Jim Kosowski, vice president, of the company's newest press. "With PECOM and CCI (Computer Controlled Inking), we can break into long run jobs when required with minimal impact on total cost and time. For short-run work, we make our money on the makeready."

Production redundancy was another check in favor of the Roland 700, he remarks. "By having a second press of the same format and model, we have backup production ability should we have a problem on one press. Furthermore, there are cost savings through inventory reduction of spare parts and maintenance items and bulk purchasing of like consumable items."

Economic Decisions

The availability of 4/4 or 5/5 machines has enticed many forward-thinking printers to explore the sheer economics of a large-format perfector, contends Douglas Parker, product manager for KBA North America, Sheetfed Press Div. The national economy, however, has had an effect on printers' decisions, he says.

"The market is divided into two categories," Parker assesses. "First, the economy has them worried and any expenditures, especially progressive types, are on hold. The natural reaction is to stay conservative and wait it out. Second, current economic conditions are an opportune time to gain a competitive advantage. Knowing that many competitors will be waiting it out, the savvy printer will take this time to create a more cost-efficient operation. It was put to me as 'bury the competition before they wake up.' "

As a major printer of greeting cards, much of Concord Litho's printing requires one-color perfecting capability. The Concord, NH-based company also required large-format capability, with the ability to significantly reduce makeready times. It purchased a seven-color KBA Rapida 162 with coating capabilities, or 6/1 colors if in a perfecting configuration.

The purchase replaced three 77˝ MAN Miehle presses, a 64˝ MAN Roland 806 press, and a 40˝ MAN Roland 608.

"This was a lot of equipment to replace, and it dramatically reshaped our pressroom," recounts Peter Cook, Concord's CEO. "We were able to make such a significant change because of the extent that run lengths have shortened since we purchased the 77˝ presses decades ago. Years ago, our sheetfed production consisted of mainly long-run greeting card work. Today, our work mix is far more diverse, including point-of-purchase (POP) work with very high print quality requirements and packaging printing, in addition to our traditional base of greeting card business."

Robert Treadwell, Eastern regional sales and marketing manager at Akiyama Corp., feels that all work requiring printing on both sides of the press sheet should be printed in a one-pass process. Two examples he gives of jobs that are perfect for perfecting presses are high-end commercial and catalog work.

"It is the only way to be competitive and turn a respectable profit in today's printing market," Treadwell stresses.

The Akiyama Jprint is a fully automated perfecting press. The options that are most requested are related to CIP3 data conversions and closed-loop scanning, Treadwell says. CIP3 conversions are standard with the press and closed-loop control is an option through X-Rite.

Manufacturing Mindset

"The market for printing is being driven by three primary factors: cost, service and quality," maintains Mike Grego, marketing manager at Sakurai USA. "Printers must realize that they are manufacturers. The key to successful manufacturing is to provide your customers with the service they expect and acceptable quality—all at an affordable price."

In order to achieve the goal of affordability without sacrificing profit margins, Grego says printers must invest in equipment that will increase their productivity and lower manufacturing costs. In most cases, the equipment cost is easily justified by comparing current manufacturing costs to the cost of a new automated press, he advises.

Sakurai focuses primarily on the three-quarter size and smaller markets. The only true large-format press that Sakurai builds is the 2102EPII, a two-color, 40˝ convertible perfector. The target market for this machine is book printers that are doing high page-count books 1/1 that require 16-page signatures.

Sakurai introduced the new 75 series press at Drupa. This machine was developed to help half-size printers increase productivity and allow 40˝ printers to lower manufacturing costs. The six-up format has become increasingly attractive to both markets. The Sakurai 75 series is available in two through six colors, with perfecting and coating. The 575SD will be shown for the first time in the U.S. at Graph Expo in October.

Another press available in this space is the Mitsubishi Diamond 3000TP Tandem Perfector, which allows the printer to maintain the same gripper throughout the length of the machine, and can encompass as many as 12 printing units. The Tandem Perfector features a three-cylinder transfer design, called the Translink Unit. Backside printed sheets are able to be passed to the front-side printing units without flipping the sheets. As a result, the tail of the sheet becomes the "new" gripper. The Tandem Perfector is currently available in a single coater configuration. However, in early 2005, the Drupa model with front-side and back-side coating will be sold in the United States.
 

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