NEWSPAPER PRESSES -- Pressing Issues
BY MARK SMITH
It's the nature of the business for newspaper editorial departments to move from one crisis to the next. Unfortunately, market factors in recent years have forced their back offices to regularly function in crisis management mode, as well.
Declining readership, drops in advertising revenues, the Internet threat (or opportunity), industry consolidation, volatility in newsprint prices, and more have made it a challenging business environment. The one bright spot has been the ability to maintain healthy profit margins.
These business pressures have translated into an ever-greater need for flexibility on the production side. Newspaper plants can provide a competitive edge by enabling increased use of color, supporting more versioning of editions, pushing back ad deadlines and reducing newsprint consumption.
The trend in recent years of converting to printing 50" webs is a good example of the responsiveness being demanded of newspaper production operations. A survey done by the Newspaper Association of America in 2000 found that 145 newspapers had already made the conversion, with 144 additional papers committed to making the change and 127 more considering it. On the other side, only 137 news-papers said they were not considering converting to a 50" web.
Not Just Black-and-White
Color, by far, remains the number one production trend. Even though it has been almost two decades since the push to add four-color to news-papers began, press manufacturers report that the demand for more color still is the primary driver of unit sales. Buyers are particularly interested in having greater flexibility when it comes to placing color pages throughout their papers, the manufacturers say. The need to maximize print quality goes hand-in-hand with color printing, of course.
"Today's market trends are a further refinement of what we've seen unfolding over the past five years, which includes the drive for color, color and more color—both for advertising and editorial content," says Barbara Gora, vice president of marketing and communications at Goss Graphic Systems, Westmont, IL.
"Newspapers are looking to improve the quality of their products in order to compete with other media, as well as with competitive papers in their markets," asserts Dave Moreland, vice president of sales and marketing at Dauphin Graphic Machines in Elizabethville, PA. As a result, the typical buyer's "must have" feature is the ability to support high-quality, four-color placement anywhere in the printed product, Moreland says.
"For the past two years or so we've been selling more four-color units than ever, and the demand is continuing," adds Charles Gath, vice president of sales at Web Press Corp. in Kent, WA.
Color is just one of four key press capabilities that newspaper publishers are demanding in order to withstand the challenge from the Internet and other media—both print and electronic, says Greg Norris, manager of marketing communications for Heidelberg Web Systems in Dover, NH. To remain competitive, he believes news-paper presses also must provide:
- Faster productivity to reduce print windows and improve the timeliness of the news;
- Enhanced targeting and versioning capabilities; and
- Greater production economy to reduce costs.
With the move to greater use of color, newspapers are having to follow more in the footsteps of their commercial printing brethren, says Roger Kaughman, manager of marketing administration at King Press, Joplin, MO. "That means adding or upgrading their automated systems—including ink and register control—to increase color quality and reduce waste," he explains.
Also fueling newspaper press purchases is the acquisition of smaller independent papers by newspaper groups, Kaughman continues. As a result, local printing facilities are shut down in favor of regional production plants producing several newspapers, he explains. "The combined volume justifies the purchase of new presses, which are more versatile and efficient."
Another factor driving newspaper publishers to upgrade their printing capabilities is the industry trend toward expanding into the printing of advertising circulars, free-standing inserts (FSIs), supplements and the like, says Richard Kerns, president of Solna Web in Lenexa, KS.
Newspapers may upgrade their existing press equipment or take the plunge and purchase new presses better suited for the so-called "semi-commercial" market, Kerns adds. Typical upgrades, he says, include the addition of motorized plate cylinder register, remote ink fountain control, automatic color-to-color register guidance and spray dampening systems.
"The concept of printing insert type work themselves allows newspapers to offer 'one-stop-printing' to their customers, rather than the customer finding an insert printer and having the product drop-shipped," Kerns explains. "We've long been aware of this trend in Europe, particularly in Scandinavia (Solna's home market)."
Characterizing it as a "universal soldier," Vince Lipinski, vice president of sales and marketing at MAN Roland in Westmont, IL, agrees that the newspaper press of today also must be versatile enough to produce commercial work. He points out that the folder is a key component in meeting these requirements, since it must be able to deliver the desired products.
It should come as no surprise that individual manufacturers have different takes on what press configurations are best suited to meet these production trends. One area where there is a degree of consensus, though, is on the advantages of shaftless drive designs.
No More Getting the Shaft
Shaftless engineering has been the most significant technological advancement in recent time and continues to be a strong factor in press sales, asserts Gary Owen, director of marketing/newspaper sales at KBA North America's Web Press Division in York, PA. "Shaftless technology is having an impact on users in the newspaper market because of the flexibility it offers in terms of press arrangement, productivity (with flying plate/edition changes), color registration and controls." All KBA presses come standard with shaftless drives in the one motor per couple format, Owen adds.
According to Owen, KBA brought another commercial printing innovation to the newspaper market with the DRUPA 2000 introduction of its waterless and keyless offset press—the Cortina. He expects the press to starting having an impact on the market beginning next year when it is slated to go into commercial production.
The Cortina features a four-high tower design that is only about 11 feet tall, thereby reducing space requirements and the demands on the press crew, Owen notes. It has dedicated drives for each cylinder and inking unit, so no oil is used in the press. Other features include a maximum rated output of 80,000 cph (singe or double width), semi-automatic plate changing with pneumatic plate clamping, self-adjusting blanket clamps, and roller locks with automatic preset function.
In its own literature, KBA points out the challenges in bringing waterless technology to the newspaper market, which is why the Cortina won't be commercialized until 2002. However, the press manufacturer believes the technology offers compelling advantages for the printing of split editions because of the reduction in makeready times and waste. It is targeting the press for runs of 120,000 copies or less, where KBA claims the per-copy costs of waterless will be cheaper than conventional offset.
Shaftless drives are continuing to gain in popularity, Heidelberg's Norris agrees. But, he touts the benefits of going a step farther—to gapless printing, especially in combination with the 1x4 straight printing format.
"The one-page-around by four-pages-across format offers the economic advantage of a 50 percent reduction in plates when compared to a traditional 2x4 double-width press," Norris explains. "It also offers the layout versatility advantages of two-page jumps and sections with unequal page counts. Because our exclusive gapless blanket technology eliminates gap-related vibration, Heidelberg's Mainstream press is the only 1x4 newspaper press that can deliver high-quality printing at up to 80,000 cph with a 1:1 plate-to-blanket cylinder ratio."
The Mainstream features a shaftless design and handles web widths from 50" to 63", with cutoffs from 181⁄2" to 231⁄2". Available rotary and jaw folders accommodate page counts from eight to 96 pages in two-page increments.
According to Norris, the stability of gapless technology enables higher quality printing, at faster running speeds and on wider webs. Therefore, it will be the platform for a range of models, he reveals. "This will include the 2x6 Tristream, which will make high-speed, triple-width production a practical reality for the first time."
MAN Roland's Lapinski sees the one-around, four-across configuration as answering the need for regionalization or zoned editions in newspapers, and enabling target marketing programs by advertisers. That's because only single plates must be changed, he explains.
The manufacturer's newest offering in this arena is the Regioman shaftless drive press that prints 70,000 cph, in widths to 60" and cutoffs from 181⁄2" to 221⁄2". Its design enables printing of odd- and even-number sections and two-page jumps in spot or four-color. Features that help maximize the press' productivity include PECOM networking for centralized operation, AUROSYS paper handling, WEBSYS auto webbing and TECOSYS closed-loop tension control system. The "tool-less" plate lockup and narrow "Micro-Gap" blanket are said to provide a larger image area, with an undershot inker and Turbo dampener boosting image quality.
According to Lapinski, MAN Roland supports versioning on its other press models with technologies such as DynaChange, which enables flying page changeover. In the longer term, he expects the manufacturer's DICOweb digital on-press imaging technology to afford opportunities for individualized city-, district- or street-related newspapers with even smaller circulations.
When it comes to the "semi-commercial" segment he identified earlier, Solna's Kerns says a newspaper plant's double-width presses usually are not flexible enough to handle this work. Solna has responded to this demand for higher quality by introducing the D400, a single-width, four-high vertical tower design that is just as suitable for heatset work as it is for printing on newsprint, he claims.
The News on Features
The Solna D400 runs at 50,000 cph with a shaftless and bearerless unit design. It features on-the-run plate cylinder cocking, water-cooled oscillating rollers, remote-controlled ink fountains with presetting using RIP data, three ink form rollers, and automated lateral and circumferential register controls. The press can be equipped with three different folders for up to 12 webs.
While Goss Graphic Systems offers a full range of single- and double-width press systems to meet the varied needs of the global marketplace, its latest entry is the Uniliner press series, notes Gora. "The Uniliner series is a double-width press system with the flexibility of a single-width machine. It's based on our successful Universal series, but with the added benefits of a double-width design with heavy-duty frames and variable web capability," she says.
The Uniliner series is said to integrate proven press components from Goss' existing family of presses. It operates at 70,000 cph and has a compact "H style" tower design. The 50" press features a two-around design, but a 1x4 model is also available. Other features include undershoot ink fountains, shaftless drives, Goss controls, integrated web tension management system and core tension reels, and jaw folders.
According to King Press' Kaughman, the overriding production concern for any printer is minimizing downtime, "since a press can only generate income when it is producing product." The Print King IV answers that challenge by providing fast makereadies and holding tight color-to-color register, he says.
The vertical-web press is offered in one- to four-high configurations to provide quality color printing in a small footprint, the manufacturer asserts. Tower drives are available to make expansion of existing presses faster and less disruptive to production. A heatset unit arrangement is available as an option.
Other press features include running lateral and circumferential register control, optional remote-motorized register, cascade oil bath gear lubrication, motorized continuous ink feeding, drop-away ink fountains, and web break detectors. In addition, the Print King IV has staggered blanket cylinders to hold color-to-color register and narrow blanket gaps to maximize print-image length, Kaughman notes. Factory support is available online via modem.
Units Aimed at Color
Given the continuing push to add more color, Gath—of Web Press Corp.—says a key feature of the company's QuadStack and QuadraColor units is their compatibility with 223⁄4" cutoff presses from other manufacturers. "With those two units, we are capable of adding color to anybody's machines, as well as our own," he asserts.
The QuadStack is a low profile, single-width, single-circumference printing unit with a vertical web lead. The four-over-four-color device features bearers on all blanket cylinders, a helical cut gear train with oil bath, drop-down ink fountains, brush dampening, and running circumferential, sidelay and skewing adjustments on all plate cylinders. The units are said to not require register or fan-out controls in stacked (up to four high) configurations.
The QuadraColor four-over-one printing unit features independent shaftless drives and a common impression cylinder in a compact (5x8 foot) footprint. The unit's design is said to eliminate the need for register controls and provides running circumferential, sidelay and skewing adjustments on all plate cylinders. A plate cylinder registration pin reportedly provides quick plate changes and registration. Brush dampening is standard.
Moreland, of Dauphin Graphic Machines, says he is seeing a trend toward one-around, single-width, four-high presses in large configurations. "That approach provides the best quality four-color printing with great flexibility in color placement," he explains. "That configuration offers uneven sections and lends itself to the use of multiple folders."
Such large presses require automated features to keep down labor costs, and reduce makeready times and waste, Moreland says. He cites ink key presetting and cylinder positioning for chosen web leads as good examples of this trend.
New to the Market
Dauphin's latest market entry is the DGM 440 press that runs at 40,000 iph. It is designed with an oil lubrication system on the operator and drive side of the printing units, with a large base that holds the excess oil reservoir and has a built-in oil cooling system. The single-width machine is offered in cutoffs from 211⁄2" to 223⁄4".
The DGM 440 features drop-down ink fountains with calibrated lever keys, continuous dampeners with press speed tracking, slot-gap plate lockup with center register pin, and motorized running circumferential and sidelay register adjustment. It has a commercial inker with three oscillators and ink forms that are pneumatically controlled. Units also are available in shaftless (DGM 440S) and heatset (DGM 440H) designs.
What does the future hold for the newspaper arena? The biggest trend may be the growing European influence on the U.S. market. Although still a fledgling effort, Metro International S.A. recently announced the expansion of its "Metro" free daily commuter newspaper into a second city—Boston. The business model is a relatively recent import, but is well established in Europe. KBA's Owen also expects to see a U.S. publisher eventually adopt the 181⁄2" cutoff format, called the Euro-tab, that comes out of Europe. He says it is a very nice read, which is the bottom line, after all.