Commentary & Analysis
FREE: Why Press Progress Trumps Head Count at Print 05 (With Updates from KBA, Muller Martini, Mitsubishi, and Heidelberg)
A moderately well attended show so far,
By Patrick Henry
Published: September 15, 2005
A moderately well attended show so far, Print 05 doesn’t need to play to massed crowds in order to make an essential point about progress in offset lithographic press technology—still the bedrock of the industry and the strongest motif of this quadrennial event.
Those who have attended the show are but the first whose businesses and careers will be changed by what is on display here.
Whether they come in hordes or in handfuls, visitors to McCormick Place will find ample evidence of that progress at every stand showcasing litho presses or the auxiliary equipment that supports them. What the show makes abundantly clear is how hard the manufacturers of these systems have been working to overcome the traditional limitations of the process.
If certain compromises in quality and limitations in productivity once were taken for granted, they are vanishing as the vendors’ collective R&D effort continues to transform offset lithography into a defect-free, stable process that is as amenable to precision control as any other 21st-century manufacturing method.
As these improvements change the nature of graphic communication technology, they inevitably will force change in the ways that printers operate their businesses.
There is, for example, no longer any practical reason to refrain from running a new press as fast as it can be run. Its digital color control and online inspection systems can cope with maintaining image quality at top speed even if the members of the press crew fear that they cannot.
Presses that makeready rapidly enough to double or triple the number of jobs that can be completed in one shift put obvious pressure on the sales department to feed this ultra-efficient equipment accordingly.
Paid-off warhorses in the pressroom finally will have go to the glue factory, figuratively speaking, when their owners realize that one new press can do the work of two old machines with better quality, more reliability, and less cost.
The trade’s vocabulary will change as improvements in press design shovel words like “hickeys,” “marking,” and “scuffing” into the dustbin of quaint catchphrases for the kinds of problems that lithographers used to have. Crowding out these fast-obsolescing terms of art is the more scientific-sounding jargon of “workflow,” “hybrid printing” and “computer integrated manufacturing.”
With press technology advancing at its present rate, attendance probably has ceased to be the most meaningful indicator of the success of a show like Print.
Its profusion of solutions can’t be contained even in a venue as spacious as McCormick Place, and seven days isn’t nearly enough time to grasp the show’s implications for what’s suddenly become difficult to think of as “conventional” lithographic printing.
Even if its three halls had been filled to lawful capacity from last Friday’s opening to this Thursday’s final lights-out, Print would have only just begun to make its impact felt throughout the industry as a whole. Whatever the final registration headcount, those who have attended the show are but the first whose businesses and careers will be changed by what is on display here.
Clearly, Print’s chief merit is its ability to concentrate a of wealth technology in one place long enough to let word of mouth, editorial attention, and marketing promotion do the rest. The resulting giant ripple effect will rock all boats, raising some and swamping others as all powerful technological currents do.
The tidal sweep of Print is already gathering force: witness the vendors’ numerous announcements of sales at the show—duly reported here at WhatTheyThink.com—as well as the excitement surrounding products that have caught the limelight as recipients of PIA/GATF InterTech Awards or as items designated “Must See’ems” by the Graphic Arts Show Company.
Our coverage of developments in offset lithography at Print continues with the following updates from the press briefing room and the show floor.
KBA North America
KBA North America claims to be the fastest growing press manufacturer in North America; it indisputably is the vendor quickest to assert its growth in terms of captured market share. At Print, KBA executives described the company as “the world market leader” in large-format sheetfed; second in North America for sheetfed offset and newspaper web; and third (for the moment) in newspaper web. Much of this growth was achieved, said CEO Ralf Sammeck, “by taking a lot of business away from our friends.”
The present year, noted Sammeck, has been a good one for KBA, including an InterTech Award for the super-large format (81") Rapida 205 sheetfed and the sale of the 10th such press in North America. Although KBA also builds smaller equipment, it specializes in sheetfed presses larger than 41" and is counting on sales of large-format sheetfed machines to help it sustain the 42 percent growth rate it says it has achieved so far this year.
The five presses on display at the KBA stand are a 41" Rapida 105 six-color plus coater; a 56" Rapida 142 six-color plus coater; the 29" Performa 74 five-color plus coater; the 20 ½" Genius 52, a five-color waterless, UV press; and the 29" 74 Karat, a DI waterless offset press.
Sammeck also reported that KBA has expanded its capabilities in workflow/MIS integration and parts/service support, the latter bolstered by the recent hiring of 28 service technicians.
The keynote of Muller Martini’s exhibit at Print is postpress, but its capability in commercial web presses also can be seen in its Alprinta and Concepta machines.
Muller Martini says that the Alprinta delivers quality close to that of sheetfed printing, but at the faster speed of a half-web (1,500 fpm). In this variable-size press, cutoff can be adjusted without removing the printing insert by changing the blanket and plate cylinders.
Heidelberg Announces “systemservice 36plus” Protection
Three years is a long time. With bad luck, it could be long enough to encounter mechanical problems in a press that has passed out of the 12-month warranty period that accompanies most printing equipment purchases.
But, any printing company that buys an eligible Heidelberg press during or after Print 05 can run the machine for the next 36 months without worrying about paying for covered repairs—repairs that oughtn’t to be necessary anyway, thanks to a comprehensive package of services that wraps the warranty in a security blanket of preventive maintenance.
That, according to Heidelberg president Jim Dunn, is the net benefit of “systemservice 36 plus,” an incentive that he says stirred interest “beyond expectations” when it was announced at the show.
Available for all new Heidelberg presses except the Printmaster QM 46 and GTO models, systemservice 36plus trebles the duration of the services—repairs, travel costs, parts, and software updates—that are covered under Heidelberg’s basic 12-month warranty.
It then adds 36 months’ worth supplemental services designed to help press owners maximize uptime by minimizing the difficulty of whatever problems might arise in that time: an “eSelfhelp” Internet portal; direct priority access to technical experts in Heidelberg’s U.S. headquarters in Kennesaw, GA, through a special 800 number; the same access, on a 24/7 basis, to the company’s global expert network; Web-based remote diagnostics; and operator training.
The preventive maintenance component is the customer’s agreement to perform weekly and monthly equipment checks specified by Heidelberg and to undergo maintenance inspections by its technicians at 10-, 20-, and 30-month intervals.
According to Dunn, this preventive partnership is the essence of systemservice 36plus.
“A one-year warranty typically means, ‘Who pays?’ We thought, ‘Let’s find a way to keep it from breaking in the first place.’”
The Alprinta features a varnish cassette that can be mounted on any printing unit for spot and continuous varnishing. Available in widths of 20 ½" and 29 1/ 8" , the press also can be equipped for in-line finishing functions such as die cutting and perforating.
To see the Concepta, walk not to Muller Martini’s booth but to Kodak, where the 20 ½", variable-cutoff web can be seen running in hybrid configuration with Kodak’s Versamark continuous inkjet printing system. In this setup, static four-color offset printing from the Concepta will be imprinted inline with two-color variable messaging from the Versamark.
The Concepta can delivered with up to 12 offset printing units and can be integrated with flexo and digital printing as demonstrated by the hybridization with Versamark. Muller Martini says that its automatic makeready system uses “artificial intelligence” to learn and store job setups and handle other basic tasks.
Mitsubishi Lithographic Presses
The expression “cynosure of all eyes” means center of attention, and the piece of equipment holding that distinction at the Mitsubishi Lithographic Presses (MLP) booth is a sheetfed machine called the Diamond 3000TP Tandem Perfector. Mitch Dudek, business development coordinator for MLP, says that about 80 of the machines have captured the fancy of printers around the world, including six sold in the U.S. since the press’s debut in that market last year.
One of the things that makes the 5/5, 28" x 40" Diamond 3000TP an attention-getter is its dedicated perfecting mechanism, which MLP says makes it possible to print back-then-front in one pass at 13,000 sph without tumbling the sheet.
The three-cylinder Translink transfer unit passes backside-printed sheets to the front-side units without flipping, thus permitting the tail of the sheet to serve as the subsequent gripper edge. MLP says the benefits are accurate printing at high speeds and, because stock doesn’t have to be back-trimmed as it would for the sheet-reversing units of convertible perfectors, paper savings: one sheet for every 70 printed, or 1,428 sheets in a run of 100,000.
The Diamond 3000TP can be purchased either as commercial press or as a carton printer. In the latter configuration it is the only dedicated perfector that can two-side print carton stock in one pass, according to MLP.
Mitsubishi offers other sheetfed equipment in 28", 40", 51", and 56" sizes. Dudek says that the company has renewed its stake in the commercial web market by taking several orders for the Diamond 16 Max, a variable-cutoff press featuring replaceable cylinder sleeves and a shaftless drive design.
These and many other orders helped MLP achieved a 130 percent sales increase in the first six months of this year, according to Dudek, who ascribed the improvement to economic rebound, pent-up demand for press replacement, and consolidation: “More printing going on, but less printers.”