Web Offset Presses -- Spinning a Better Web
by chris bauer
The demand for technology that allows web printers to efficiently produce shorter, versioned runs continues to increase. Print becomes a more attractive option for media buyers when they can combine the impact of highly targeted pieces with the advantages of the web offset process, including faster turnaround times and lower costs. As a result, web press manufacturers are designing machines able to satisfy the ever-changing needs of web printers.
"The playing field for web offset is expanding," assesses Greg Norris, manager of marketing communications for Goss International. "Innovations in areas like automation, waste reduction and makeready speed are pushing the profitability threshold down into run lengths that were formerly the exclusive domain of sheetfed printers."
Web printers continue to see more and more steps in the printing process becoming fully automated—the ease-of-use, precision and reliability of automation technologies continues to improve. As a result, press crew sizes and waste levels are decreasing while productivity is increasing.
"Web offset printers are finding ways—through technology and creativity—to produce more sophisticated and effective printed products for their customers," Norris adds. "Advances in productivity, efficiency, versioning, in-line finishing, postpress product personalization and hybrid products, to name just a few areas, continue to create new opportunities that improve the value proposition of web offset printing."
The Goss Sunday 3000/32, with its 72˝ web width, is able to print 32 magazine-size pages per revolution at speeds of up to 100,000 impressions per hour (iph). Gapless blanket Goss Sunday technology is vital to the new 2x8 format. The tubular blankets eliminate vibrations that would otherwise compromise speed and print quality with the wider, eight-pages-across cylinders. The first Sunday 3000/32 press systems in the U.S. went into production at Quad/Graphics and Arandell Corp. in 2004. Several additional presses will reportedly be installed this year.
Paul Pirkle, MAN Roland's vice president of commercial web sales, says that the web printing market is steadily rebounding for both press manufacturers and printers. But since competition in this segment is becoming more sophisticated, press technology has to be able to give printers a competitive edge.
"Commercial web printers are faced with shorter runs, requiring that they slash their already tight makeready times even further," Pirkle notes. "So we've been developing and introducing tools that printers can use to streamline their workflows through computer-integrated manufacturing (CIM)."
MAN Roland provides interfaces to MIS systems like PECOM-Web, which deliver real-time analysis of production data via remote Internet access from virtually anywhere. This is fundamental for advanced production management decision making, Pirkle says, which results in cost savings.
"With printnet—developed by subsidiary PPI Media—and PECOM, MAN Roland integrates not only the handling of print in media production, but also provides solutions to control and manage every aspect of the print production process," he states. "This is more important than ever in web facilities, because the volumes are so much higher and economies of scale can be so much greater."
MAN Roland's 16-page Rotoman press provides a host of innovations designed to help printers provide more cost-effective solutions to their customers. Rotoman's PECOM system is now available with QuickStart, which speeds makeready, ramp-up and ramp-down, and also cuts paper waste. Power Plate Loading (PPL) reduces the time it takes to exchange plates to under a minute per print couple. Automatic web-up takes time out of restocking the press. And direct shaftless drives deliver smoother and faster operation, even allowing for on-the-fly plate changes.
"In the current rapidly changing environment amid diversifying needs, the development of a machine with enhanced short-run performance is critically important," adds Kazuyoshi "Kosh" Miyao, executive vice president of Komori America. "The industry requires a next-generation machine that meets a whole host of requirements—consistent quality at maximum operating speed, exceptional productivity, improved cost performance and environmentally responsive performance."
To address this situation, Komori has concentrated its resources to develop the System 38S, its new 16-page web offset press. The System 38S affords the quality of a single-diameter design, offers a full job changeover time of less than seven minutes and boasts 50,000 iph maximum printing speed.
The System 38S is equipped with Komori's high-performance inking system with advanced interface. In addition to one-step register adjustment, color matching and fold adjustment, KHS-AI self-learns user data, allowing it to function as a total control system.
A number of features have almost become standard requirements on today's web offset presses, points out George Sanchez, director of sales and marketing, web presses, for Mitsubishi Lithographic Presses (MLP U.S.A.) These include shaftless drives; fully automatic or semi-automatic plate changers; fully automatic folder changeovers; CIP3/4 interface between the press, prepress and postpress operations; and faster and easier format changeovers, such as tabloid to magazine to digest to flat sheets.
"Web printers are very focused on systems that fit within their plant workflow in order to maximize productivity and profitability," Sanchez contends. "For the foreseeable future, return-on-investment (ROI) and value-added services will dominate equipment decisions. Material waste, time on press and system integration will continue to be critical issues that new technology must address."
To meet the demands for computer integration and networked production, Mitsubishi Diamond Series web presses are designed to be a seamless component in a digital workflow, Sanchez says. For instance, the ability to use CIP3/4 data allows for faster color settings and reduced color correction during makeready. The Diamond 16 MAX (short for Multiple Advantages and Expertise) series commercial web press can print heatset signatures up to 16 pages in a single-web configuration at speeds up to 1,700 fpm.
Another issue, brought up by Erik Rehmann, KBA North America's marketing manager for commercial and rotogravure presses, is that price competition among printers and pressure to reduce costs are becoming more acute.
"Price competition between printers necessitates ever higher productivity and press availability in order to further enhance operating efficiency," says Rehmann, adding that KBA's newest commercial press, the Compacta 217, was introduced during Drupa 2004. "Large sheetfed printers are enhancing their fleets with 16-page commercial web presses."
On another front, RDP Marathon's focus has always been variable-size presses and combination printing. While variable-size inserts provide printers with the ability to achieve exact cutoffs, significantly minimizing waste—explains Eric Short, president and CEO of RDP Marathon—these can also be upsized or downsized according to customer needs. This can further minimize waste and provide the functionality of several presses in a single press.
RDP Marathon's SmartSet press control system, which integrates with a CIP4 digital workflow, was engineered with touchscreen technology to store and retrieve job parameters, position the print gap, pre-set tension and automatically set register without web movement. Running concurrently with the SmartSet press control system is the recently released Optim+P2, a real-time press and job performance data collection system.
"Inserts continue to provide a very cost-effective advertising option for many different retail markets," adds Don Gustafson, president of the Tensor Group. "As we continue to see more targeted advertising strategies, we will see targeted inserts that will continue to drive the need for more (automated press) features."
Paper costs will also have an impact on this printing segment, Gustafson predicts, and there could be a shift in cutoff sizes in the future, as well.
"We started seeing this several years ago when some large gravure pieces were converted to heatset offset," Gustafson recalls. "We should continue to see more, since much of the 21˝ cutoff equipment in the U.S. is more than 20 years old. A lot of this equipment was stretched from 46˝ to 54˝ and rebuilt one or two times already, so the life cycle is getting near its practical end, in some cases."
The Model T-400BE web offset press is Tensor's newest one-around offering. The entire gear train is a 100 percent helical drive design that is said to virtually eliminate any dot distortion. It prints at speeds of 45,000 pph and provides rapid makereadies and quick plate change characteristics.
These applications are available for obvious reasons.
"Printers cannot afford to be down for hours making press and folder adjustments between jobs," observes Steve Kukla, Midwest/West Coast sales manager for Timsons Inc., which markets the Timsons ZMR printing unit.
To deal with this issue, Timsons has developed an automatic web-up device, minimizing the time needed to change out roll stocks. This, in conjunction with electronically automated changes within the folder, makes changing from one book size to another faster and easier.
Meanwhile, Dave Moreland, vice president of marketing and sales of Dauphin Graphic Machines (DGM), states that his company has been experiencing strong sales of the DGM 440 press equipped with UV curing capabilities.
The DGM 440 is a three form, three oscillator press rated up to 45,000 iph. The UV model produces heatset-level results on coated stocks and allows a lower investment level, as well as increased flexibility in markets served, he says.
"The (UV) ink costs have been the major hold back until recently," Moreland admits. "But the prices of UV (materials) are substantially lower now and lend themselves to a variety of short-run work and press-finished products to offset the higher ink pricing."
Mirroring the UV printing theme, Gary Palmer, president of Web Press Corp., is also seeing a trend towards more coated stock usage. "They all want to look like the Victoria's Secret ad pieces," Palmer contends. "We are seeing an increase in UV curing technology being used with coated stock applications. This is due to a combination of environmental issues associated with traditional gas-fired drying, and with a decrease in UV costs relative to gas."
Palmer feels that the future of the web printing market in particular and the printing industry in general remains bright.
"Just as television did not kill radio, and home video did not kill movie theaters, the Internet will not kill our industry," Palmer predicts. "A balance will be achieved with the elements of the Internet complementing offset printing and vice versa. Some market niches will disappear and new niches will open up."