Expanding the Sheetfed Operation?More Than the Metal
There are certain rules in the commercial printing industry commonly referred to as sacred—meaning, DO NOT TOUCH, DO NOT REINVENT, DO NOT DEGRADE, DO NOT MANGLE.
In other words...
If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Once upon a time, that was the popular view of sheetfed printing.
Today, sheetfed offset presses allow users to print high-quality work more easily than ever before. But with ease, with productivity, comes a high and mighty cost.
Without question, the sheetfed marketplace is demanding greater productivity through the application of technological enhancements, which result in improved print quality, increased equipment flexibility, improved integration of prepress, press and postpress functions, and an acceptance of a wider variety of materials.
Sure, you've heard all this before, but it's imperative to remember that these trends are continuing to accelerate—at an alarming rate— forcing sheetfed commercial printers to allocate considerable resources to enhance their traditional sheetfed operations.
Left little choice, sheetfed printers are seeking out new ways to differentiate themselves from the competition and increase market share.
Today's automated sheetfed presses sport plate changers, quality perfecting—with improved perfector transfer mechanics—as well as advanced press accessories such as continuous dampeners, blanket coaters and ultraviolet, infrared and hot-air dryers.
Taking it one step further, sheetfed printers now do more than ponder the benefits of computer-to-plate (CTP) and advanced digital workflows. Implementation is on the rise as the sheetfed market moves into the digital age.
One progressive sheetfed operation is Long Island City, NY-based Cosmos Communications, a full-service sheetfed printer doing mostly agency and commercial work. Cosmos is heavily involved in digital production: Digital cameras and digital proofing are staples for this company.
At Cosmos, where Fuji's LPY digital plates have been in service for more than a year, CTP has been embraced. LPY plates offer a digital sensitivity covering 488nm and 532nm and possess medium-run length capability, with baking extending the range to long run.
To date, the LPY plate is delivering for Cosmos Communications, which specializes in the printing of coin and stamp catalogs.
So, why did Cosmos go CTP?
Tom Ayala, general manager, explains this printer's position on electronic prepress.
"Competition was our catalyst to CTP," Ayala explains. "CTP paves the way for quicker makeready, faster turnaround and more competitive pricing. It was the logical move. CTP has been an invaluable step forward for this sheetfed operation."
Currently, the facility operates at 90-percent CTP, and, thanks to its investment in digital prepress technology, has reduced its film consumption by up to 20 percent. Ayala reports that CTP has allowed Cosmos to bid for—and win—print jobs the company otherwise would have passed up.
Cosmos is just one example.
For many sheetfed printers, the move to CTP is simply the implementation of a smart business plan. The sheetfed printer's desire to move to CTP is based on the company's marketing objectives, as well as customer demands and anticipated customer needs.
Some industry experts believe a CTP workflow fits best in a sheetfed site that already has a strong server and digital workflow in process or, at least, in the planning. It also helps if the printer's customers are already sold on the concept of digital proofing.
Carqueville Printing of Streamwood, IL, is one such digitally minded sheetfed printer looking to make the move to CTP. Jim Ericksen, prepress manager at Carqueville Graphics, explains: "We have invested a substantial amount of time researching CTP and a total digital workflow. In our search we have gleaned many attractive reasons for investing in CTP. The obvious reasons would be the elimination of several existing variables, such as film processing, film exposure and changes in film sensitivity, all of which will affect dot gain and color control.
"Also, misregistration can occur in stripping, and other variables in conventional platemaking can affect the process, such as contact vacuum and misregistration of frame or stepped films."
CTP, Ericksen contends, reduces the amount of machine and labor time necessary to produce certain stages of the job, such as high-volume step-and-repeat platemaking, along with make-ready and plate makeover time in the pressroom by providing plates imaged with laser accuracy and tighter dot control.
Before the end of 1998, Carqueville Graphics plans to have a digital platesetter in operation. John Nowicki, general manager at the operation, reports the company is moving in the thermal direction because, looking to the future, thermal CTP will enable Carqueville to provide its customers with more consistent, higher-quality production.
Even without the platesetter, Carqueville still delivers a value-added punch with a pressroom full a Mitsubishis. The site sports a seven-color 51˝ press loaded with a tower coater and both ultraviolet and infrared lightsources.
Eagle Printing, a Cold Water, MI-based division of Fort Dearborn Litho, also relies on Mitsubishi press technology. Just-in-time production pressures have resulted in investments in advanced drying and curing systems, including infrared drying and ultraviolet curing systems from Wm. Fuchs-Jac. DeVries of Chicago.
"Drying systems give you an edge in moving faster to the finishing phase, which gets the job out the door faster and to the customer—which, in this competitive business, can be the difference between success and failure," explains Mickey Hicks, president and general manager at Eagle Printing.
And the prospect of failure is all too real nowadays, particularly for independent sheetfed operations trying to staying afloat in an industry replete with acquisitions, mergers and market-driven pressures.
"The competition in the sheetfed marketplace is fierce—and it isn't going to diminish anytime soon," Hicks projects. "The market itself is driven today by the demands of the customer—demands for fast turnaround—and only the implementation of new technologies, such as CTP and advanced drying and curing systems, will allow for the faster production schedules we have to meet."
In New Berlin, WI, The Printery—a sheetfed operation with Heidelberg presses and prepress investments that include Scitex Brisque and IRIS Realist digital proofing technology—may see CTP in its future. But not its immediate future.
"We are in the final stages of putting our digital infrastructure into place," reports Dennis Muraro, senior vice president of operations at The Printery, which does a large volume of financial work. "If we decide to go to CTP, we'll simply add a platesetter to the mix, although, for now, we're quite happy doing eight-up imagesetting."
One area The Printery is concentrating on is postpress. Finishing, Muraro explains, is the hot area of interest at this company—and will be greatly enhanced with new technologies later this year.
"For us, the next frontier will be the bindery because, with the high output of today's sheetfed presses, you can easily bury the bindery and create bottlenecks in production," Muraro says.
"We believe there is just as much energy and potential for improvement in the postpress area for sheetfed printing as we're seeing in the prepress area."
Don't ask Muraro for details. He's cautious about sharing. However, he assures all those interested that the upgrades will be formidable.
"We don't buy technology for the sake of buying technology," Muraro emphasizes. "We invest in an advanced technology because we believe our customers will appreciate the new value and production flexibility we'll be able to deliver to the print process."
—Marie Ranoia Alonso
Ask An Expert
Q: Why Does My Sheetfed Offset Press Need An Exhaust?
Here's the answer, as supplied by William Fuchs, president at Wm. Fuchs-Jac. DeVries.
An exhaust system will remove and filter the spray powder particles that contaminate the press and surrounding area. Press operators do not want to inhale spray powder.
An exhaust system will evacuate unwanted heat caused by infrared dryers. This will help protect the press and operator from intolerable temperatures, especially during warm weather.
Ammonia fumes must be evacuated from the press delivery system and surrounding area, not only for the operator's health, but also to remove the moisture-saturated air when drying water-based coatings.
The application of infrared drying leads to considerable improvement in the results obtained with sheetfed offset and web offset machines.
The selection of the most suitable drying method can be determined by the composition of the inks and coatings to be dried. Ink that does not contain water can be dried using an infrared drying system, while water-based inks and coatings are best dried using hot-air dryers.
Dispersion coatings are formulated with 40-percent film forming components and close to 60-percent water. Warm, dry air enhances evaporation of the water. A separate drying system for water-based coatings is the best tool for effective drying.