WOA 50th ANNIVERSARY — Turning up The Heat

By Mark Smith

Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ . . . keep them presses rollin’. This submission to the Web Offset Association (WOA) slogan contest didn’t make the final cut, but its catchy rhythm makes it hard to get out of your head once you’ve heard it. The little ditty particularly has resonance for fans of Clint Eastwood or TV westerns who hear the echoes of the “Rawhide” theme song.

Pinpointing exactly how long web offset presses have been rolling along depends on how far one stretches the product definition. In “The Power of the Press,” a chronicle of the history of printing presses, author Paul Martin Tonsing reports that the Bigelow rotary offset press, in 1907, was the first webfed offset press to be advertised for sale.

However, the modern web press really came into its own in the 1950s, which coincidentally was the same decade that “Rawhide” debuted.

The early ’50s also saw the rise of what was to become the Web Offset Association. Some 13 companies were represented at the first formal meeting of the group in the summer of 1953, according to the minutes.

Much of the discussion centered around technology-related topics, which is not surprising given the state of developments at that time. From the outset, the members also agreed that forms presses should be considered a distinct category of technology and were not to be a focus of the industry association.

Half Century of Changes

The intervening 50 years have brought a great deal of change to WOA, the industry and the technology itself. Modern web offset presses roll along at much higher speeds, print more colors and feature an array of in-line finishing capabilities—all supported by electronic controls that simplify operation and improve quality.

To mark the 50th anniversary of the association, if not the process, we asked some of the industry’s technology experts to share their assessments of the current state of web offset’s development. We also asked them to go out on a limb by offering informed guesses as to what the next 50 years might bring (see sidebar).

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