SHEETFED PRESSES -- Sizing Up the Options
Automating the Big Dogs
This trend is being driven by the productivity a shop can get out of a large-format press today that it couldn't get five years ago, McKinney continues. "Five years ago, a 60˝-plus press had none of the automation features or speed of a current model. Developments have now gotten to the point where, if you compare a 64˝ to a 40˝ sheetfed, the running speeds are almost the same, the print quality is the same, the manning requirement is basically the same because of automation, and you are pumping out double the page production of a 40˝ press."
Productivity gains with larger printing formats can extend beyond the pressroom, points out MAN Roland's Cerfontaine. "A key advantage of larger format presses is that they accelerate the finishing process, which is still very labor-intensive and expensive," he explains. "Folding one 73˝ sheet into a signature in a single operation, adding a cover and stitching it is faster and more profitable than printing, folding and gathering eight signatures of 29˝ or four signatures of 40˝. Thanks to the high level of automation, the makeready times are the same for all formats."
Cerfontaine concedes that such a workflow scenario might require a printer to invest in larger bindery and finishing machines to handle a bigger printed sheet, but he says the productivity gains still provide a payoff. Equipping the press with a slitter is another way to address this concern.
Most of the large press buyers that KBA is seeing are equipping the machines with slitters, McKinney says. "They are slitting the sheet at the end of the run so they don't have to buy new binding equipment to support the 64˝ format," he explains. "Sheetfeds are now competing against the low end of the web market."
Other issues for potential buyers to consider are the need for large-format platemaking capabilities and the floor space required to fit an oversized press, Mullen points out. "With the larger presses we sell, seven-color configurations have been the more popular option. Label and carton printing are still the dominant applications, but there has been a bit of a trend toward 51˝ presses being installed by commercial shops."