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Sheetfed Presses--Getting Connected

September 1999
With automation reaching or nearing its peak, manufacturers look for ways to bring prepress and the pressroom closer together.


BY ERIK CAGLE


Want to see all of the neat, new sheetfed offset press models that will be unveiled at DRUPA 2000? If the answer is yes, go renew your passport because we're not going to show you.

Sorry, we'd show you if we could, but Germany will be the place to be next May, as the printing industry's top manufacturers will use the exhibition to wage a battle of one-upsmanship in the sheetfed press division. Building the better mousetrap is becoming increasingly more difficult; however, most of the industry's heavy hitters are finding that, rather than searching for yet another new innovation for increased automation, other improvements can enhance productivity.

Andy Katz, product manager at Komori Imaging Systems, says Komori is extending its concept of pressroom automation by looking upstream in the production process.

"Today, virtually every function of the press is fully automated and digitally controlled," he says. "For example, our new-generation press console—the PQC-IV, integrated with the Komori Management System (KMS-IV)—is the industry's most comprehensive, real-time process control system.

"With few remaining on-press tasks to be automated, we are exploiting the digital link between prepress and press to increase productivity," Katz adds. "For more than five years, Komori Lithrone presses have accepted ink key fountain data in digital form; now that data can be passed to the press console via the Komori K-LAN system. In addition to ink key data,

K-LAN's open architecture allows for tight integration with job management and tracking systems."

He says it's important to note that Komori products are fully CIP3 compliant. As a result, the Lithrone press control system accepts ink key data from any prepress system manufacturer that is also compliant.

Another manufacturer looking to improve the connection between prepress and the pressroom is industry powerhouse Heidelberg USA. According to Cai von Rumohr, Speedmaster 52 product manager, that connection is being made with the new generation of CP2000 presses. CIP3 information can be sent with the help of the CPC32 prepress interface, which gives information on ink key profiles directly to the CP2000 presses, thus, makeready time can be reduced.

"The Windows NT-based CP2000 allows users to select modules and add on certain features that enhance the productivity of the press itself and the link to the press by exchanging information directly with production planning, estimating and scheduling systems or with CIP3 digital prepress data," he says. "It's an open, upgradable system that users can complement at any time."

Quality control devices is another issue that's being addressed, according to von Rumohr. New spectrophotometric quality devices, based on an independent color space like CIELAB, help to reduce makeready time and waste; shorten press checks; ensure color consistency over a long run; standardize the color produced on multiple presses and multiple shifts; and provide more standardized procedures to ensure document consistency and quality day in, day out.

Heidelberg has been marketing its CPC 21 spectrophotometer as an answer to that growing need for quality control, but has only recently added the CPC 24 ImageControl as the new high-end brother, which goes a step further by reading the entire sheet in seconds.

To address the need to link the press back to the entire prepress area, KBA North America, Sheetfed Press Div., has developed the CIPtronic Work Station.

"The objective still remains to cut every bit of time that the press is not producing sellable work between one job and the next, and to make the workflow as automated as possible—from prepress all the way to the pressroom," states Robert McKinney, director of sales and marketing.

Likewise, Shinohara is striving to help customers reduce the time lost during makeready or production due to errors in plate mounting or color variations while printing. One step toward that goal was accomplished shortly after DRUPA 1995, when Shinohara joined the CIP3 consortium, according to Leo F. Caproni III, general manager of Shinohara USA West. Ultimately, that led to the release of its CIP3 workstation and the SCCS (Shinohara Color Control Station).

The CIP3 workstation accepts PPF files via LAN from the customer's prepress department, converts the PPF file format into ink key settings and then sends the data to the ink fountains on each unit of the press. During the print run, the SCCS monitors the color density of each unit on the press and automatically makes adjustments to correct for any color variation that is caused by viscosity and ink temperature changes. The results are time savings during ink key makereadies and predictable color quality throughout the run, with minimal operator intervention.

Perfecting capabilities rank fairly high on printers' wish lists, and press manufacturers have taken notice. Akiyama Corp. of America recently came out with the J Print, which prints on both sides of the sheet in one pass without actually turning the sheet, according to Martin Petersen, marketing manager.

"This press is more cost-effective than many others, and it is more efficient for the printer's workflow," Petersen contends.

Computer-to-plate interfacing is another "hot button" discussion, adds John Santie, product manager for Mitsubishi Lithographic Presses (MLP U.S.A.). Santie reveals that there have been many requests from clients interested in interfacing CIP3 with their press, marrying the pair to bring ink key information to the press.

"More and more people are interested in what can be done from a CIP3 standpoint," Santie remarks. "We provide that with what we call an Intelligent Press Control system, which can accept any type of prepress platesetting system and bring that information over."

With qualified operators at a premium, ease of operation is also a valuable commodity. That prompts manufacturers for companies such as A.B.Dick to make presses that are not only easier to operate, but more consistent as well.

The company did a preliminary unveiling of its two-color, two-tower press at last year's GRAPH EXPO and will do the same this year. Among its features, says Ken Newton, senior vice president of sales and marketing, is a dual dampening system that provides (with the flip of a switch) either integrated or segregated dampening.

Another issue, Newton says, is the need to keep polyester plates damp to avoid adhesion. A.B.Dick is adding a dampening system that keeps the cylinders rolling at a slow pace to steer clear of such problems.

Don Trytten, vice president of xpedx Import Group, sees direct-to-plate as an area of growth, which is prodding Ryobi into automation features to complement the progression in the prepress area.

Among the company's offerings is the HXX series, which features a console, automatic plate loading and cocking, and a vacuum belt on the feed board. The ink volume control setter allows the data to be automatically sent to the press for the preset ink keys. Also available is the AAC System, an automatic dampening system that, once set, can adjust for speed changes.

Automation, ease of operation and touchscreen control of all sheetfed press functions are some of the enhancements being made by Sakurai USA, according to Jon Surch, national sales manager.

"We're turning the old iron offset press into a software-based, easily upgradable and diagnostic tool," Surch remarks. "Sakurai's ability to take someone from prepress to the pressroom with our CTP system and our computer-to-proof system is essential. We offer a package solution: digital workflow, digital control presses and automation on the presses. It's a very sleek and versatile system for printers."

Sakurai recently updated all of its multicolor models; the pre-DRUPA releases including a 29˝, two-over-two perfector and the 28˝ series (in one through six colors) with coating and extended delivery.

Digital presses have become quite popular, and that's a development Omni-Adast has tried to stay ahead of, according to Rich McKenna, marketing coordinator.

"We have the DI press that goes directly from computer-to-press," McKenna says. "That's a trend more and more press manufacturers and shops are taking a look at. It gets away from the printing problems associated with water and chemicals, as well as the environmental aspects where there are fewer rules and regulations to which they have to conform. I think it will really change the way the traditional color separator and type shop do business."

Some manufacturers are sticking with the quick printing market, which they believe will remain viable over the long run. Swaneck Graphic Equipment, which distributes the Toko/ProPrint Offset brands, caters to these types of printers. Walter Gierlach, vice president of sales, says his products are gearing up in preparation for the new millennium.

"Most vendors are looking to the large-format presses, but we believe there is still a market for an appropriately priced, single-color press with a T-51AE second color head attached to them or the True Two color presses," he states "Both versions are coming out with new automation to keep up with the quick, quality work needed."

Faster makereadies, quality and ease of operation are three keys stressed by Hamada of America.

According to Mike Dighton, vice president of marketing and service, the company's B452A offering is in response to those demands. Its features include easy platesetting, blanket washers, stream feeder, running register and optional remote ink key control.

"Because of the lack of high-skilled personnel, Hamada designed the B452A to be easy to operate, easy to achieve ink and water balance, but still print with the highest quality in our market," he explains.

Dr. Hans Grandin, vice president for sheetfed sales and marketing at MAN Roland, believes customers are looking for greater productivity through increased automation, faster production speeds and shorter makereadies. One example of a specific need being addressed by the company is printing on the backside—or inside—of packaging.

"Our backprinter unit allows single-color coupons to be printed quickly on the inside of a package, while up to eight colors are printed on the outside of the package to attract buyers," he says.

The backprinter unit, which is in its final stage of testing, is designed for the Roland 900 series of sheetfed presses, which can handle board and paper up to 56˝.


Remote Ink Control: Making Life Easier for Sheetfed Printers

By Peter Griffin, EPG president

What printer does not want to cut makeready time and increase productivity? The same holds true for reducing paper and ink waste and improving color control. Sheetfed printers can accomplish these goals without the huge capital investment of a new press by upgrading their press with a current remote ink control system.

Retrofitting a remote ink control system on an older press will provide many of the capabilities of a new one—at only a fraction of the cost. Moreover, a remote ink control system equipped with proper software enables a printer to take advantage of additional options like remote ink sweep, water and registration controls, as well as complete closed loop color control.

Advanced remote ink control systems also allow printers to link prepress systems to the press for automatic preset of ink fountain keys. By automating the setting of fountain ink keys, auto preset capabilities enable the printer to achieve additional reductions in both makeready time and associated waste.

Very simply, remote ink control systems work by automating the adjustment of fountain ink keys. The principle is the same as on conventional presses, but instead of adjusting the screws manually, the press operator remains at the remote computer console and adjusts the keys electronically. Once set, the settings can be saved on the computer and recalled for automatic ink key setting of repeat runs.

Although time savings will be affected by the condition of the equipment, skill of the operator and other factors, experience shows that printers can use remote ink control to achieve time savings of 30 percent to 50 percent. For example, if makeready takes 15 minutes per fountain, a printer doing four makereadies per day on a four-color sheetfed press should save 28 hours per month. Six makereadies per day could save more than 42 hours per month.

Achieving closed loop color control is also a primary concern of today's sheetfed printer. Essex Products Group (EPG) has worked with color measurement system manufacturers so that users of the company's KeyColor remote ink control systems can close the loop on color. The KeyColor AutoKey system is a complete, remote ink control system coupled with an automatic scanning densitometer for closed loop operation. It reads colorbars and automatically adjusts the ink key settings as required to maintain the desired density in each zone.

The EPG AutoKey system further reduces makeready time, saves materials and keeps a tight control on color quality. Statistical data are automatically collected and stored for recall as evidence of color control throughout the press run. The system boasts rapid investment payback, usually within a year of purchase.

For example, Spectrum Printing, of Tecumseh, MI, was able to achieve a significant quality improvement and savings in cost and time by closing the loop between the KeyColor system and a Tobias SDT 40 scanning densitometer. According to Andy van Staveren, president of Spectrum Printing, "With the time savings that it has helped me achieve, the system paid for itself within six months. Plus, the productivity savings were incredible."

Additionally, Spectrum's quality improvements were so great that the company considered its productivity savings as a secondary benefit. The $3.5 million printer purchased a KeyColorC for its four-color Komori Lithrone press in order to answer customers' demands for increased quality.

With the benefits of using a remote ink control system, a printer can count on being more productive with less frustration and keeping customers satisfied. And isn't technology supposed to be about making life a little bit easier for everyone involved?

For more information about EPG KeyColor systems or remote ink control technology, contact Pete Alfano, product and sales manager, at (800) 394-7130; fax: (860) 767-9137. EPG can also be reached at its Website: epg-inc.com.
 

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