SMALL-FORMAT PRESSES -- Small, But Powerful
BY SCOTT POLK
What do The Little Engine That Could, Allen Iverson and Vern Troyer (Mini-Me) all have in common? They're proof of the old saying that good things come in small packages.
You can add another item to that list from the printing world, specifically small-format sheetfed offset presses. For small- and mid-size commercial printers, as well as quick and franchise printers, small-format presses are ideal since they provide a quality product with fast turnaround time, while meeting the requirements of a tight budget.
Last year, A.B.Dick introduced one of these models, the 9995A-ICS, a line extension of its highly successful two-color 9995 offset press. The 9995A has a semi-automatic plate loading feature for metal and polyester plates, and the ICS (Ink Control System) allows for automatic adjusting of the ink fountains.
"The 9995A-ICS gives a printer the ability and automation to produce four-color process work in a very efficient, cost-effective manner," reports Scott MacKenzie, director of machine marketing for A.B.Dick. "Because of its automated capabilities, it helps produce work faster with less waste. We have heard many favorable comments about how easy it is to use and that's important because finding good, qualified help is certainly much tougher today than it was even five years ago."
Indeed, automation plays an important role in small-format presses, especially with the dwindling number of skilled press operators. According to John Santie, product manager for Mitsubishi Lithographic Presses (MLP USA), the trends that move the larger format presses (40˝ and larger) also affect small press manufacturing.
"Customers are looking for faster makereadies, all the automation they can get, closed-loop scanning systems—either densitometric or spectrophotometric—and interfacing to CTP devices," Santie notes. "All of our presses have these features. We offer highly automated presses in the half-size market with fast makeready times and interfacing to CTP devices utilizing CIP3 information. Our presses offer sheet size change, impression pressure change, dampener positioning, delta dampening, automatic roller rinsing, registration (all done from the console through our Press Link System), as well as semi-automatic plate changing."
Doug Schardt, assistant product manager for Komori America, shares a similar view of the industry. His company has found a way to overcome the shortage of skilled workers by making the presses easier to operate. Komori achieves that by enhancing its small-format machines to accept digital ink key data from prepress, just like large-format presses. This enhancement greatly improves color acquisition on a makeready and decreases setup time.
"It allows less experienced operators to achieve color balance quickly, negating years of experience that is typically sought," Schardt explains. "Of course, this doesn't mean poor operators become great operators overnight, but it does help tremendously in fending off the impact of larger presses in the market."
Schardt sees small-format presses moving toward faster and cheaper make-readies with a trend of polyester plates and finished formats to save costs, especially with four-color work.
This increased versatility regarding different plate materials is one of the leading trends in the market, suggests Bernd Blumberg, marketing director of Printmaster systems for Heidelberg USA. He also identifies the need for more automation to reduce the demand for skilled personnel.
"Due to the availability of inexpensive design programs such as QuarkXPress and PageMaker, the complexity of simple stationery, flyers and newsletters has increased," Blumberg notes. "Customers ask for halftones, solids and full bleeds—even in the small sheet size. This can not be produced with old duplicator technology."
Heidelberg counters these needs with the Printmaster QM 46-2, which incorporates larger press features such as bearer-to-bearer pressure, Autoplate, pneumatics and microprocessor controls to deliver excellent print quality and ease of operation.
Wayne Perk, MAN Roland's director of marketing communications, suggests there are several trends that are having a significant impact on the manufacture of small-format presses. He notes that printers are handling shorter runs, dealing with reduced turnaround times, demanding lower prices and finding it difficult to obtain qualified personnel to operate the equipment.
To offset these issues, Perk recommends three MAN Roland offerings for the 20x29˝ and 23x29˝ market: the Roland 200 for "plug-and-play"; the R300 for high-end commercial work; and the R500 for high-end packaging. He says all three presses offer full automation, high-speed production and off-line job preparation for short makeready.
Although some trends are forcing printers to look at smaller format presses, that does not mean they are willing to sacrifice any of the niceties they have become accustom to having on larger format units.
"While shorter run lengths continue to drive demand for smaller size presses, customers continue to demand that the smaller sizes have all the same automation features as the 40˝ presses to cut the impact of more makereadies per shift brought on with the shorter runs," contends Bob McKinney, director of marketing for KBA North America.
"The new Rapida 74 introduced at DRUPA is essentially a mirror image of the 40˝ Rapida 105 press in terms of automation," he explains. This includes automated washup systems, as well as automatic plate change, remote format settings, and all are CIP3/CIP4 compatible for ink settings direct from any CTP unit. On-press imaging will likely be the next step for the smaller size presses, McKinney predicts.
On-press imaging will be the wave of the future—agrees Martin Petersen, of Akiyama Corp. of America—once the cost is reduced in half from what it is today. Now, the focus is on improving workflows and on using CTP information to preset the ink keys, thus cutting makeready times, he says.
Petersen also notes a growing trend toward the use of the perfector concept in sheetfed printing. "The Akiyama Jprint perfecting press prints both sides of a sheet in one pass, without turning the sheet over or changing the gripper edge," he explains. "This leads to an improved workflow, less waste and faster makereadies."
With more customers demanding four-color work, Sakurai USA Product Manager Mike Grego points out that his company has answered the call with a fully automated, fast makeready press with a sheet size designed for the U.S. market. According to Grego, the 458EII/EPII offers twice the productivity of similarly priced 14x20˝ machines when printing 81⁄2x11˝ format work. The sheet size advantage allows for the printing of work-and-turn jobs that save a complete makeready and a set of four plates.
"In simple terms, a 14x20˝ press would need to run over 26,000 impressions per hour to match the net output of the 13,000 impressions per hour of the 458EII/EPII," Grego explains. "Sakurai sees the future of the small, single- and two-color format presses fading away to the highly competitive four-color market. The largest growth market appears to be in this short run, high-quality, quick-turnaround format. At Sakurai, we feel that we have positioned ourselves in order to deliver the most productive machine in the industry."
While two-color press sales may be dropping at Sakurai, Don Trytten, vice president of xpedx/Import Group, informs that his company's two-color Ryobi press sales are holding steady. Even so, xpedx does the bulk of its business in selling four-color machines.
"We are offering two- and four-color presses with greater degrees of automation and continuous dampeners," Trytten says. "We are also introducing our four-color DI press for the direct-to-press market. We feel that the quality of print, registration, fast imaging and ease of maintenance make this machine very desirable to the market. The Ryobi product line will continue to offer presses to meet the increasing demands of the market."
Swaneck Graphic Equipment produces a user-friendly water system for small-format presses. The Toko-R2S was recently upgraded to the Toko R2SH and will soon be renamed the Proprint-R2SH. This press has a continuous water system with three ink form rollers and one water form roller. In addition to this larger press ink and water system format, the Proprint has pin register for easy registration aligning and is leverless for ease of operation.
"Adding this together gives users a quicker makeready and a higher quality output at a faster speed," explains Vice President Walter Gierlach. "This, in turn, gives the small offset press a nice future and makes it a necessary piece of equipment to round out most print shops."
Ken Hilderhoff, vice president of sales and marketing for Diamond Press, prefers to look at small-format presses like they are larger presses. He feels that the smaller presses must live up to the same expectations as their larger cousins, specifically when it comes to flexibility, fast make-readies and high quality.
The combination of these needs has led Diamond Press to develop the Diamond two- and four-color specialty and envelope presses. They have been designed to allow the printer to run at optimum speed on a multitude of substrates—either on bond paper for letterhead or paperboard for folding cartons.
"This is accomplished by specifying the correct feeder and size format, and it gives the printer every printing option on a two-color job, especially if they are only overprinting," Hilderhoff states. "The presses also have optional drying and/or coating systems. UV has grown in importance even with the smaller presses."
Halm Industries' latest product offerings are a pair of presses: the Super Jet Plus and the EM5315, Both meet its customers' fast make-ready and quick production demands. The Super Jet Plus is the fastest press in the Halm line and has a fountain disconnect on the first head so users can run the second head as a single-color unit. This allows for shorter setup time on commonly used colors without the need to run a lubricant on the first head.
Leo Caproni III, general manager of Shinohara, predicts that small-format presses will continue to have a positive future. To wit, his company offers a wide range of presses for different printing budgets. Its high-end machines feature labor-saving devices such as CIP3/CIP4 interfaces, which allow files to be sent to the press console directly from the prepress department. Also featured on Shinohara presses are automatic plate changers, remote consoles with control of ink key opening, ink fountain roller sweep and dampening fountain roller speed.
"We believe that small offset presses have a great future because smaller sized companies will continue to provide similar services in the future and will need high-quality machines to perform those jobs," Caproni comments. "Small-format presses fit this market niche if properly equipped with the right technology. Companies with larger presses often are not profitable on short-run jobs and are investing in small-format, multicolor presses to bridge that gap.