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Digital and Offset Convergence -- Going Long on Shorter Runs

April 2009 By Mark Smith
Technology Editor
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IT’S HARD not to automatically view everything through the frame of the current economic climate. In most cases, however, the business challenges companies are struggling with were preexisting conditions that have now been greatly amplified.

The trend toward print buyers, at every level, cutting back their order quantities is a case in point. At the same time, technological advancements are enabling digital, sheetfed and web offset printing operations to be competitive over a wider range of jobs, extending the run length crossover between processes. Organizations that offer all three processes, therefore, are taking a more holistic approach to printing and developing their capabilities as a continuum rather than as discrete operations.

This means aligning and rightsizing their digital, sheetfed and web printing platforms relative to each other. As acceptance of the process and capacity grows, digital printing is extending the boundary of “short-run” work to produce more jobs that previously were done sheetfed. Meanwhile, web offset presses configured with color controls, automated plate changers and other makeready enhancements are pushing down into runs of 5,000 or even fewer impressions, depending on the product.

David Uslan, chief marketing -officer at Smith Litho in Rockville, MD, reports that his company has been seeing digital printing volumes growing rapidly, sheetfed offset work trending down, and web offset demand heading up in terms of -number of pages printed. “That’s how we’ve started to position our capabilities in the last few years,” he notes.

The Migration to Digital

In just the past few months, the printer has added a new HP Indigo 7000 digital color press and an eight-color Sanden Quantum 1500 variable cut-off, UV web press to enhance its capabilities as a general commercial printer. Uslan says the company is considering making further modifications to its heatset web platform over the next several years, such as replacing two of its three smaller webs with another full-size press.

Smith Litho has kept its existing HP Indigo 5000 digital press in production, since it was looking to boost capacity in response to growing demand. Migration of offset work to digital printing was one factor in the company’s decision to reduce its sheetfed press capacity about 18 months ago, Uslan notes. The department currently operates one six-color, 40? Heidelberg Speedmaster CD 102 with coater.

“The HP Indigo 7000 gives us more opportunity to compete on shorter-run sheetfed and variable data work, while our remaining Heidelberg provides enough capacity to run the medium- and longer-run jobs we are presented,” he says.












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