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WEB OFFSET REPORT -- Make Ready for Change

May 2003
By Mark Smith

Mature used to be a polite way of saying old and on the brink of decline, if not already sliding down the hill. By introducing a culture of healthier eating, regular exercise and improved medical care, the baby boom generation has shattered perceptions about aging. Consider that 40ish baseball and football players now are being given multi-year contract extensions.

So what should one read into the fact that web offset printing often is referred to as a mature technology and industry? For the technology, it's a testament to the quality, strength and relative stability of the process. Still, it is possible to teach an old dog new tricks—and not just rolling over and playing dead.

Raymond Prince has witnessed the industry undergo many changes in his more than 40 years of experience. He has spent the majority of those years as a senior technical consultant with the Graphic Arts Technical Foundation (GATF) in Sewickley, PA. In that capacity, Prince has completed hundreds of Technical Plant Assessments of printers' production facilities, along with testing materials and processes in GATF's on-site labs.

According to the process expert, "the best way to see where things are headed technologically is to look at what the industry's needs are today. Although it is a mature segment of the lithographic process, web offset still does have quite a number of needs. Since manufacturers will look to fill those needs, we can be moderately accurate projecting developments five years out."

In that time frame, long-run production will continue to be in demand, Prince says, despite all the hype about a trend toward short runs. "But, we do need greater immediacy in production," he adds. "That means being able to move from creative to on-press even faster." The most obvious consequence will be a continuing focus on reducing makeready times, the GATF consultant asserts.

At the intersection of these needs is the growth in large-format web offset presses, with 64- and 72-page models now available, Prince notes. He expects the segment to grow in terms of the width and diameter of cylinders, as well as the installed base. The motivation behind the trend is to drive down the number of makereadies required to complete existing work, but not to enable shops to go after even longer runs and potentially compete with gravure.

Wider in Europe

The trend toward wider presses has been more pronounced in Europe, reports Erik Rehmann, marketing manager for commercial and rotogravure presses at Koenig & Bauer AG (KBA) in Frankenthal, Germany. "In the United States, 16- and 24-page presses dominate the market," he says. "In Europe, the trend is toward wider presses for 48- and 64-page A4 products with web widths greater than 1,900mm."


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