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SPECIAL REPORT -- The State of Web Printing - Web Printing At Mid-Decade

April 2005
by Dennis E. Mason

Halfway through the first decade of the 21st century seems a good time to step back and assess the status of web offset printing and what the future may hold. The web printing industry is five years beyond the Y2K scare, and has largely recovered from the downturn that followed the 2001 terrorist attacks.

So where do we go from here? For answers to this key question, Printing Impressions went to a number of web industry observers and printers. Here is what they had to say about a number of important issues:

How are JDF and Computer-integrated Manufacturing (CIM) affecting the web industry?

According to Peter Doyle, operations manager at Action Printing in Fond du Lac, WI, the principal benefits of JDF (Job Definition Format) and CIM to web printers come with the ability to set ink keys automatically, set folder ribbons and angle bars, automatically position web handling equipment to the correct roll size and set cameras to read registration marks. In-line color control, Doyle says, is more difficult because of problems in precisely positioning cameras.

Binderies benefit from automation, as well. Doyle, who runs both web and sheetfed equipment, notes that he is already using JDF data to set up buckle folders, flatbed cutters and saddlestitchers.

But the real payoff, he feels, lies in getting information back from the machinery. With a modern print business management information system, printers can monitor manufacturing operations such as run time and impressions, as well as those as diverse as web and ribbon alignment and registration, gathering data throughout the press run and determining the nature of problems or the reasons for profitability.

Printers often fail to effectively use the automation features available on modern presses and the detailed management information that is available. Doyle attributes this to the general reluctance of printers (and their operating personnel) to change their operating methods.

He points out that, today, only a small percentage of printers use CIP3/4 data to automatically set ink keys, despite that feature having been available on most presses for more than a decade.

Several industry observers note that data and automation have effectively reduced startup waste to as few as 1,000 impressions for those printers who diligently use the features available on modern presses. But on a long press run—such as those encountered by publication printers—it may be necessary to fine tune settings to accommodate roll-to-roll paper differences.
 

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