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Web Offset -- Turning Up the Heat

May 1999

But what good are advanced web presses without technically competent press operators to run them?

North America suffers from a lack of skilled lithographers to run the presses, according to Dennis Stotts, marketing manager for Didde Web Press. In response to this shortcoming, Didde is designing its presses to utilize software that provides ample artificial intelligence for troubleshooting and productivity monitoring.

"The benefit of internal design is our ability to customize the software based on customer and operator preferences in format and performance measurements," Stotts remarks. "We can also utilize remote diagnostic capabilities via built-in modems to optimize both service response and overall productivity."

According to Stotts, Didde has also developed a new level of electronic press controls that allow operators to easily migrate from the "old mechanical" technology. The control levels reduce the skill level required to operate a web press, reduce makeready time, cut down on waste and improve profit margins, even on short runs.

Will Train, Will Travel
He contends that Didde's national service organization provides one of the most extensive operator training programs in the industry. Training is provided at the Didde plant and on-site at the printer's plant. This phased approach to training, Stotts adds, has proven to be very successful in quickly aligning the equipment complexities with an operator's current skill level.

Another company addressing the issue of scarcity in skilled workers is Solna Web USA. President Rich Kerns believes the Solna C-800 is a viable solution for the demand of closed-loop controls. He says printers are seeking closed-loop color control and more yielding dampening choices, such as spray dampening, where maintenance is not as important as increased control.

A movement toward increased automation is a hot-button topic to George Sanchez, director of sales and marketing for Mitsubishi. He sees the movement on two fronts: One, mechanical and electronic press functions, with manufacturers doing more semiautomatic and automatic plateloading and folder changeovers, tension presets and web-width presets. The second front, Sanchez feels, is the process control side, where ancillary vendors are providing closed-loop register and ink-control systems. Sanchez says these systems allow the printer to reduce makeready setup waste, and they also serve as a tool to reduce running waste.

Dick Prentice, director of sales for Graphic Systems Services (GSS), notes that requests for more color are being heard. He says newer trends include the integration of different printing processes, such as offset, flexo, gravure, letterpress and digital technologies, in various combination configurations to meet specific needs or serve in special market niches.

"To address these trends, we're making presses with a multipurpose chassis. This allows the printer to outfit the press with features needed to fit diverse markets," Prentice remarks. "Also, presses are more automated and are designed with fast changeover and quick make-ready features. More labor saving convenience and features to reduce waste are common offerings.

"More automation and programmed systems make the presses smarter today, helping offset the shortage of experienced operators," he adds. "Such features—on-line diagnostics, help screens, on-line documentation, network capabilities, job save and recall—are now offered to help with this important need."

Inker design is another movement afoot to answer the need for better print quality and increased color requirements, according to Prentice. He says that presses such as the VS-1020 are designed with the automation, ink trains and flexibility needed to address current trends.

Dave Maret, regional sales manager for Komori America, echoes his contemporaries' viewpoints: "Shorter runs, quicker makereadies, lower waste—they seem like the watch words of the last 20 years. We're constantly doing more things—we've added an automatic platechanger. We are continuing to concentrate on the commercial end and not publications."

Wanted: More Color
Some printers are tinkering with existing press configurations to gain the desired results, according to Jerry Clark, vice president of sales/commercial web at MAN Roland. He cites the example of

Anderson Lithograph, which installed an eight-unit, 38˝-wide Rotoman heatset press equipped with only one web. Although eight-unit models tend to be two-web presses for the desired 32 pages, Clark says that Anderson chose to go with eight units instead of six to gain the benefits of extra color, along with special color requirements.

Clark believes the trend that started several years ago with eight-color sheetfed presses will also apply to the high-end web offset market. "The question of whether [Anderson Litho's] competitors will see this as a threat and follow suit remains to be seen," he states. "But there's no question that a lot of attention is being focused on what this eight-unit approach might do in that market."

Tim Klee, director of marketing for Heidelberg Web Systems, believes that capacity expansion—closely related to the strength of the overall economy—is a force driving the market. The need for printers to invest in new equipment that increases efficiency and drives down the unit cost of their products is another focal point.

"Modest growth in the economy should continue to result in equally modest increases in the print market over the next few years," Klee remarks. "However, because modern presses, like our Sunday Presses, are so much more productive, fewer machines will be needed to accommodate increased demand.

"We expect that sales of new presses will be relatively flat and that the need to increase production efficiency in order to remain competitive will be the most important factor in the decision to purchase new presses," he adds.

In order to generate shorter runs, more personalization and faster turnaround cycles, Klee says that heatset web printers are demanding faster presses with faster makereadies, as well as more sophisticated finishing equipment that allows for enhanced customization.

According to Roger Hollando, president of Hantish International, one of the most noteworthy events in the past three to four years is the rebirth of the eight-page machine.

Press Rebounds
"The incredible high price for sheetfed presses in the 40˝ size—with all the possible sophistication and the enormous competition in that field—have resulted in more and more purchases of half-size webs," he states. "They are producing work of the highest quality level, rivaling head-on with sheetfed quality with much higher productivity and with a price very similar to sheetfed presses.

"Hantish/Zirkon has been extremely successful in selling the eight-page 6611 machine, and the continuous interest and amount of sales obtained is definitely confirming this trend."

Some of the latest presses with individual drives are completely shaftless—the motors are located on each unit, such as reelstand, infeed, individual printing units, chillstand and folder—and customers are intrigued, according to Alwin Stoeckl, sales director for KBA North America.

"You increase the quality level with these types of presses and drive systems," Stoeckl remarks. "Downtime is lowered, and users have lower maintenance and energy costs due to the fact that gears and shafts are eliminated. But the biggest advantage is quality improvement. Registration is much better. In terms of dot gain, there's also a big improvement."

Jeff Rex, vice president of sales and marketing for King Press, believes manufacturers are churning out the electronic automation equipment—register controls, remote ink key setting, scanning equipment—that reduces waste on startup and reduces startup times, particularly for shorter runs. Paper waste is also reduced by minimizing gaps in the cylinder.

Waste Not . . .
"Everybody is trying to come up with their approach on that issue, which will ultimately save the customer paper rather than having to trim off the pinholes and throwing that all away," Rex remarks.

Some traditional coldset press manufacturers are also gravitating toward the heatset market for the first time. Web Press Corp.'s line of machines did not lend itself to heatset work until the Quad-Stack was unveiled in June of 1998. The Quad-Stack features four perfecting units arranged in a very unique stack configuration. According to Chuck Gath, vice president of sales, it is only the beginning for heatset units from Web Press.

"We're getting a lot of requests, both domestically and internationally, for heatset wraps on coldset web publications," Gath says. "Our current product line, as well as what we will be introducing through 2000, lends itself to heatset. By doing this, we're satisfying the needs of customers both domestically and internationally."

A blanket-to-blanket perfector, capable of either heatset or UV printing, will be introduced by Sanden Machine during DRUPA in May 2000, according to Doug Justus, president of Sanden's North American and international sales.

"We're trying to expand into vertical markets, where customers require a more traditional blanket-to-blanket application but want the flexibility of variable size print repeats," Justus states.

Web Market Forecast:
Sunshine Mixed With Rain

The old saying is that you have to take the good with the bad. Some of the leading web press manufacturers know this to be true.

What follows are their thoughts on the positive and negative influences on the market and how large a role they're playing.

On the plus side...

Barbara Gora, Goss Graphic Systems: The recognition that a movement to the digital world and technological change within the industry is upon us. It's too soon to forecast how this will play out since the digital presses we see today are only the beginning efforts of change—the eventual digital press technology that will revolutionize the mainstream printing industry is not yet apparent.

What does seem to be understood is that print—and how it blends into the multimedia landscape of tomorrow—will involve digital printing and multiple media platform choices for advertisers and consumers. This offers opportunities for today's printers to recreate themselves as print itself changes.

Dennis Stotts, Didde Web Press: A very positive aspect of the industry today is its overall health. Our customers are very positive about their financial results and are confident in their ability to continually improve. This is particularly evident in fast-growing applications like direct mail and specialty printing.

Rich Kerns, Solna Web USA: Run lengths are coming down in quantity, which is good news to us. Our equipment is tailored to short-run, short-makeready work, particularly on a wide variety of stocks and stock finishes.

Dave Maret, Komori America: Business certainly appears to be reasonably strong. Paper costs are at historic lows, which is very positive for the printer.

Jerry Clark, MAN Roland: The implementation of electronic controls—open architecture design—is increasing reliability of the product that's being produced from a consistency standpoint. With things like automatic platechanging, obviously, the trend is to lower your makereadies, because run lengths are going down. The web offset people are taking on that challenge very well in terms of getting better reliability, stroke repeatability, better operating performance (in terms of up time) and much better makereadies. That's a major positive, because the pressure here is the printer cannot arbitrarily raise his prices every year, even with inflation. It puts more pressure on the manufacturing end of the business to not let his cost get out of hand.

Tim Klee, Heidelberg Web Systems: Increasingly, our customers are taking a manufacturing approach to high-volume printing. They are intensifying their efforts to control production processes and optimize workflows; they are investing in technology, such as our Sunday Press systems, which increase efficiency and productivity; and they are integrating that technology into systems in order to deliver the highest quality product at the lowest possible unit cost.

This is a positive trend for the industry because it drives down the cost of printed products, making print a more competitive medium.

Jeff Rex, King Press: I never cease to be amazed at the resilience of the American marketplace and how it really does create jobs. We're looking at customers who, 10 years ago, didn't exist. Now they are prospects for process color presses. In such a competitive environment, you don't think there would be room for little guys to grow and sprout.

On the minus side . . .

Kenneth DeVito, Timsons: There's a lack of training in the pressroom area. I see and understand the reasons for training in prepress; why this does not filter to the press area is beyond me. In many instances, it appears that the industry is expecting advances in equipment technology to make up for a lack of understanding of basic lithography.

I have spoken with other press manufacturers, and we shake our heads as to what we see out there. Printers expect the press manufacturer to do everything, including teaching the press operators how to print. We have picked up the ball and are training on every detail of the press, including auxiliaries. We tell our suppliers during the commissioning of their equipment, that after installation, we want teachers, not just a mechanic.

Barbara Gora, Goss Graphic Systems: It's difficult to attract and keep good employees. Printing in the United States has the image of being a mature industry with a work environment that's dirty and boring, and with limited technological evolution. The integration of today's early digital presses into niche applications of traditional press operations is giving us a glimpse of how the industry may change when digital press designs hit the mainstream markets.

Dennis Stotts, Didde Web Press: It's a challenge to find skilled lithographers. Today, younger people are choosing to pursue other fields. We strongly believe that this issue can be addressed through a partnership of printers, suppliers and associations working together with technology and training.

Tim Klee, Heidelberg Web Systems: With web press and bindery technologies becoming more sophisticated, our customers are experiencing difficulty in finding qualified operators. To ensure that printers can fully realize the production benefits of this modern equipment, we're increasing our efforts to design highly automated systems that require less operator input while, at the same time, we're expanding our customer training opportunities.

Jeff Rex, King Press: The market keeps getting more and more crowded. The big boys—Heidelberg, MAN Roland, Mitsubishi—are coming out with multiple models. It's becoming a confused market.



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