Commentary & Analysis
FREE: High, Wide, and Handsome: Heidelberg's New 32-Page Sunday 3000 Web Press
by Patrick Henry September 22,
By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: September 22, 2003
by Patrick Henry September 22, 2003 -- As a showcase for press hardware, Graph Expo is by no means a venue for sheetfed equipment only. But because the show is relatively brief, exhibitors of web equipment can't count on having as much setup and teardown time as they would get at a longer Print, drupa, IPEX, or IFRA event. The Chicago show's compressed timeframe makes it difficult to present running webs, and Graph Expo, as a result, tends to be identified mostly with advancements in sheetfed. Nevertheless, web technology may cut a bolder figure than usual at this year's show thanks to an exhibit to be mounted by Heidelberg's web division in booth #1000. The division has a new press to unveil, and it doesn't want to wait until drupa to lift the curtain on what it regards as a breakthrough machine: the world's first single-circumference web press with an eight-pages-across cylinder configuration. Because of time constraints, the division won't attempt to erect a fully operational Sunday 3000/32 in McCormick Place. It will, however, give the machine its world premier at Graph Expo as a single press unit in a static display aimed at convincing showgoers of the advantages of the 3000/32's wider, more productive format. Christopher E. Clement, a Heidelberg product manager for commercial web presses, gave WhatTheyThink.com an exclusive preshow interview about the development, features, and benefits of the only web system that the company will present at Graph Expo. An engineer with Heidelberg for 15 years, Clement says that the 3000/32 is a logical extension—but not necessarily the final iteration—of the Sunday press concept. First introduced in 1993, the Sunday 3000 press represented Heidelberg's bid to bring new capabilities to high-quality, high-volume catalog and publication printing—markets in which it was already well entrenched thanks to the popularity of its M1000 web. The Sunday press's gapless blankets, shaftless drives, and 16- and 24-page cylinder configurations set new benchmarks for commercial web productivity, according to Heidelberg, which has installed about 200 Sunday presses over the last 10 years. “To the Edge of the Cliff” Still, says Clement, “When we introduced the Sunday press, we thought even then that some customers eventually would want a longer, wider format. The idea of building a 32-page press has been around for some time.” He says that Heidelberg studied the 24-page format, which wraps two rows of six pages each around the circumference of the plate cylinder, to see “how far could we go to the edge of the cliff on width.” The 3000/32 widens the format to a two-around-by-eight-across configuration that can print 32 A4 page impressions per cylinder rotation. That gives the 3000/32 a 72" web width that can print magazine-size pages at speeds up to 100,000 impressions per hour. The 32-page version of Heidelberg's Sunday 3000 commercial web press will have its world premiere at Graph Expo. Its two-pages-around-by-eight-pages -across cylinder configuration can print up to 100,000 magazine-size page impressions per hour. The new press is the fruit of a three-year R&D effort in Heidelberg Web's Dover and Durham, N.H., manufacturing facilities, where all production models will be built. About 40 engineers and designers took part in the project, including experts whom Clement calls the “core” of the developmental group for the original Sunday 3000. The engineers who worked on the first 3000's formers and folders are the same people who designed the new high-speed pinless former and combination folders on the 3000/32, Clement adds. Close to completion is the first running example: a test press that Clement says should be operational in Durham before Graph Expo opens. According to Clement, Heidelberg Web has already sold one 3000/32 to a customer in Europe and another to a buyer in North America, where quotes for three more presses have been submitted. The division expects to be able to show a 3000/32 in live operation at the European customer during drupa and plans to offer visits to the site as a side trip from the Düssseldorf fairgrounds. The North American installation should be up and running by late spring, says Clement, who notes that the division is accepting orders “absolutely now.” Buyers can anticipate delivery six months from order date, he says, with an additional six to eight weeks for setup. Clement says that although the 3000/32 is aimed primarily at long-run publications and inserts, its choice of cutoffs (21"-24.4") and its ability to handle a wide range of pagination options make it “multipurpose press” for almost any high-volume commercial application. He notes that the 3000/32 not a replacement for the Sunday's 24-page model but “a bigger brother to the two-by-six” configuration, which Heidelberg Web will continue to market. An 8 Unit Stacked M3000 Stallion Nudges War Horse The machine that the 3000/32 presumably will sunset is the M1000, Heidelberg's premier commercial web press for 30 years until the introduction of the Sunday line in 1993. Not only is the 3000/32's throughput higher, its efficiency is greater: a four-unit, single-web 3000/32 prints as many pages in one cylinder rotation as an eight-unit, double-web M1000. The older machine, notes Clement, is a larger, more complicated press than its heir apparent, with twice as many auxiliary systems, a larger manning requirement, and “more places where things can go wrong.” Although a double-web M1000 once was the “standard” for publication printing, the 3000/32 is its “very logical replacement,” according to Clement. He says, for example, that Heidelberg Web was able to show a customer in the Midwest how it could replace two double-web M1000s with one eight-unit, double-web 3000/32. “The 32-page concept is a no-brainer,” says Clement, adding that its two-by-eight-across format “puts us back in that 16-page world that so many printers live in.” Clement says that a double-web version of the 3000/32 most likely would be stacked, with four units below for the bottom web, four units above for the top web, and a “mezzanine” or floor between them (figure 2). Also possible is a side-by-side configuration with the webs running parallel to each other on the same level (figure 3). Clement says that both configurations eliminate “air turns”—compressed-air routing of the web—that can lead to print-quality problems. A fair question to ask about almost any new web press is whether it can operate economically in sheetfed run lengths as well as in high volumes. Clement says that the answer in the 3000/32's case is yes, thanks to efficiency-enhancing features such as semi-automatic plate lockup and Omnicom makeready waste reduction and color control. “If you use the full width of the machine with a well-versed press crew,” says Clement, the 3000/32 is suitable for versioning and other comparatively small-run work. Gapless Is More The 3000/32's gapless offset blanket cylinders are not new, but they continue to stand among Heidelberg's strongest claims for the Sunday line's productivity. A “gapless” blanket is a seamless sleeve of blanket material that does not have to clamped at each end into the gap of a conventional blanket cylinder. The conventional blanket gap creates a non-printable area of about .5" with every cylinder rotation, leading to an expensive accumulation of wasted paper by the end of the run. By eliminating the non-printable area, the gapless blanket sleeve makes it possible to print pages of the desired size with a smaller cutoff for a significant savings of paper. Gapless blankets also eliminate the vibrations and print defects that can occur in web presses with flat blankets when opposing blanket gaps meet. On wider webs, gapless technology permits higher print quality at faster speeds. Many variables—size of the finished product, press speeds, paper stocks, etc.—determine how substantial the paper savings from gapless blankets will be. According to one e xample furnished by Heidelberg, printing standard North American catalog or magazine pages typically requires a 22.75" cutoff on a conventional web press. In contrast, a 22.25" cutoff on a Sunday press could net paper savings in the 2 percent range, thanks to the smaller non-print area and additional savings made possible by the press's pinless folding unit. In publication runs on a typical Sunday 3000 press, says Heidelberg, these efficiencies could translate to paper savings of $100,000 to $200,000 annually. According to Clement, the 3000/32's pinless combination and double-former folders enhance the performance of the press as impressively as any other component. Although the 3000/32 is among Heidelberg's fastest-running webs at 100,000 impressions per hour (3,000 feet per minute, or 15 meters per second), Clement says that what really “breaks the speed barrier” is the ability of its PCF-3 pinless combination folder to operate at full press speed. He describes the PCF-3 as “a brand new folder from the ground up,” developed specifically for the 3000/32 and for the high-output, four-around Sunday 4000. The PFF-3 double-former folder, also capable of operating at full press speed, is a next-generation version of the equipment on the 24-page version of the 3000, with optimized features for increased operating efficiency. According to Clement, both folders epitomize Heidelberg's “platform strategy approach” to system development, incorporating the best features of proven systems and supporting manufacturing efficiency through the use of common components. The Invisible Advantage A less apparent but equally noteworthy feature of the 3000/3 is its readiness for computer integrated manufacturing—a common characteristic of presses in the Sunday line. The Omnicon controls of the Sunday 2000 press introduced at drupa 2000 conformed to the systems-integration guidelines advocated by CIP3, as the international consortium for print workflows, now CIP4, then was known. All Sunday presses manufactured since then have adopted the same CIP3-compliant press and ink control systems. The goal, Clement says, is to make certain 2000 and 3000 presses in all widths support the XML-based JDF (job definition format) specifications that are at the heart of the consortium's campaign for the open exchange of production data among prepress, press, and postpress equipment from all of the major manufacturers. Clement has dedicated a large part of his energies to realizing this objective in the 3000/32. He says, “I wrote the spec, two inches thick” that will be used to insure that “any motor on the press will be able to be preset, at some point in the future, by a CIP3 or a CIP4 file.” The presetting requirement covers the functions of the splicer, paster, inkers, dampening units, dryer, angle bars, compensator, and silicone applicators, among other components. As Clement puts it, “There are a lot of motors and a lot of presets on a press.” But pushing the effort to this minute degree of detail of is essential, according to Clement, because it ultimately will determine how attainable the agenda of CIP4 and its members (including Heidelberg) will be. He says that he shares the late Harry Quadracci's dream of “the lights-out pressroom of the future”: a manufacturing environment filled with equipment that is data driven, fully automated, and remotely controlled. In the meantime, he can continue to pursue the challenge of finding “the edge of the cliff” in terms of practicable web width for the Sunday 3000 press. “We don't look at 72" like it's the end,” he says, noting that directory and catalog printers work in 75" and 80" web width and that future versions of the Sunday press could be contemplated for these large-format applications as well. But for now, he's happy to promote the 3000/32 as the acme of Heidelberg's achievement s in single-circumference web presses. Showgoers can evaluate the 3000/32 for themselves by inspecting the static but thought-stimulating specimen they will find in the company's bustling stand at Graph Expo.