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State of Web Printing : Web Offset: Still on a Roll?

May 2010 By Erik Cagle
Senior Editor
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A WISE sage once suggested "We don't know (what) we don't know." It's been suggested that the wise man in question was Donald Rumsfeld. It's a less-than-elegant turn of phrase, but clear and simple in its delivery. We will be applying this mantra to the state of web offset printing.

Understanding change is realizing that not every revolution will leave a trail of victims, or technology, in its wake. Some movements are gradual. Yes, there have been bloody, brutalized casualties. Just ask your Smith Corona typewriter what it's been up to these days. (Answer: it went to Dr. 90210, had a processor installed and is now an HP Compaq Presario.)

We've learned from the past enough to know we cannot predict the future with reasonable certainty. Still, that doesn't mean we can't or shouldn't plan according to trends; some are more of a slave to them than others.

Consider the current and future state of web offset printing. How do we gauge its current performance in relation to where it is heading, when factoring in change variables such as digital printing and shorter run lengths? Let's ask the pros.

Michael Murphy, president of St. Louis Park, MN-based Japs-Olson and the industry keynote speaker at this month's Web Offset Association (WOA) Offset & Beyond Conference, feels web offset provides a number of advantages in his company's markets. "Makeready times have improved over the past decade due to the integrated register and closed-loop color systems," he says. "Though not competing directly with sheetfed, we find that new web press technology makes web printing cost competitive as low as 10,000 impressions.

"Also, folding off the web press dramatically reduces turn times and production costs. This is a production cost often overlooked when comparing sheetfed to web."

The balance between capacity and productivity is a challenge for Japs-Olson. Its new generation web press boasts more firepower and cost-effectiveness than its elder brethren, printing wider, faster and more efficiently. In order to cost-justify the purchase, however, output must be increased "somewhere in the range of three to four times," according to Murphy.

"However, volume is not increasing," he adds. "As a result, we find that the ROI must include the retirement of older equipment to cost-justify the new equipment. This level of workload balancing is very difficult."

 

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