gdz AG Installs a Ten-Colour KBA Rapida 106 Perfector
Thursday, March 08, 2012
Press release from the issuing company
gdz AG is the last of the big commercial printing companies holding its ground in the Swiss financial centre Zurich. The secrets of success: Tight organisational structures, high quality standards and proximity to the customer. With this philosophy, it also survived as a major player on the fiercely competitive web offset market. Shifts in the print markets, however, moved the company to venture a bold step: Replacement of its web press with a ten-colour KBA Rapida 106 perfector for the 70 x 100 cm format.
Spindelstrasse 2, Zurich-Manegg: The headquarters of gdz AG, a company with 70 employees and at the same time one of the oldest active print businesses in Zurich. A cooperative printshop was founded as far back as 1898 to support the local labour movement. At that time, the expanding industrial and trade location Zurich had just cracked the threshold of 100,000 inhabitants and was now officially classed a city. At the same time, the labour movement and its political organisations were gaining increasing influence; “Red Zurich” became an important symbol within an otherwise rather conservative Swiss society in the 1920s and 30s. As years passed, however, less and less significance was attached to political strivings. The main concern was alignment to the demands of modern print markets: The first web offset press in Switzerland was taken into operation in 1964, and gdz signed a 10-year print contract with the “International Herald Tribune” in 1977. In 1988, finally, the company moved out of the city centre to its present premises in Zurich-Manegg.
The past 25 years have seen dramatic changes: The traditional labour movement has disappeared, and with it the links between publishers, printers and the left-wing oriented political groups. The former cooperative has been a regular joint-stock company since 1996 and operates under the name “gdz AG”. Zurich itself has experienced a similar transformation: Practically all the major industrial companies have gone, and the city has evolved into a global centre of the financial and service sectors. This has brought constantly rising rents and property prices, and an upsurge in road traffic. It has become increasingly difficult for industrial businesses to retain their foothold in the city. Many traditional print companies have also set up new facilities out in the greenbelt. gdz is in the meantime the only big commercial printer left in the city itself: The last bastion, so to speak.
Changing print markets
gdz's decision to replace its web equipment with a ten-colour sheetfed press sent quite a ripple through the Swiss print industry. It was not taken on the spur of the moment, however. Head of technology Urs Zieri explains that the final go-ahead was preceded by a long evaluation process: “The past years were very good years for us in terms of earnings. With our optimised processes and quality standards geared to customer satisfaction, we achieved above-average profit margins and were able to build up the necessary financial cushion for future investments. One important factor was our old 16-page web press. With corresponding efforts, we were able to keep pace with our competitors, even though they were often using much newer presses. But it was clear that we would have to think about replacement sooner or later. And so we started to look more closely at the modern 16-page models.”
A number of uncertainties remained, however. Urs Zieri: “We had already been observing a trend to greater flexibility among print customers for some time. They were tending to print fewer copies, but that more often; jobs were becoming ever more complex. But at the same time, we still had our long runs with 100,000 copies or more. The decisive task for our evaluation was thus to predict the future split between long and short runs, and to determine whether the concentration on mass business was still a viable strategy.”
Urs Zieri openly admits that the management discussions were on occasions rather heated. A 16-page web press seemed ideal for the market situation as it was up to 2008. But then everything changed. Urs Zieri: “We coped quite well with the immediate effects of the financial crisis. But what worried us more was the increasingly obvious shift in the commercial print market. We realised that we needed to pay greater attention to product value and specialisation.” That led to a fundamental policy decision: The switch from web to sheetfed offset.
The decision in favour of sheetfed offset was certainly not taken lightly. But it was made easier for gdz by the indisputable technical advances of recent years, which have established modern medium-format sheetfed presses as genuine alternatives to 16-page web presses. The positive experience already gained with a five-colour sheetfed press from a Japanese manufacturer was a further contributing factor. Urs Zieri and his team conducted an exhaustive analysis of the various options. Their conclusion: “If we are honest, all the sheetfed presses on the market today are good presses. Each has its strengths and weaknesses. At the end of the day, it is not the pure production speed, the attainable print quality or the makeready time which counts, but rather the combination with many other 'soft' factors.”
It was this wider perspective which enabled KBA to emerge the winner. Urs Zieri: “The KBA Rapida 106 is without doubt an outstanding platform. But that can be said of other presses, too. What appealed to us, alongside the technical benefits such as dedicated plate cylinder drives (SPC) and inline colour measurement (QualiTronic ColorControl), was the way KBA tackles things. In Radebeul, we always had the feeling that a product was being tailored to our specific needs. We had some very good technical discussions and the people at KBA listened very carefully to our demands. The philosophy we experienced at KBA seems to match our own business mentality.”
It would nevertheless be a mistake to believe that the KBA representatives convinced Urs Zieri and his evaluation team with just good discussions and hospitality. It was a hard fight through to the finish, and Urs Zieri still had a competitor press on his shortlist until the very last moment: “When we added up all the factors, the KBA Rapida 106 was simply a whisker ahead. For us, it was the best product with the greatest future and performance potential.” gdz eventually chose a ten-colour KBA Rapida 106 in a five-back-five perfector configuration.
Makeready world champion
The Rapida 106 already provided evidence of its enormous capabilities during the numerous print demonstrations. And a walk around the gdz print centre with Urs Zieri offers impressive proof that the claim “makeready world champion” is upheld also under real production conditions. It is above all the parallel processes made possible by the dedicated drives, the extremely fast-reacting inking units and the reliable ink control which reduce job and plate changes to a matter of a few minutes.
It is naturally not sufficient to install only a high-performance press. A comprehensive investment package took care of the whole production process. As the finishing now differed completely to the technology used with web offset, three MBO folders were purchased and new ordering and logistics software was implemented. The latter enables gdz customers to submit orders or stock calls via the Internet with just a few mouse clicks. Another important element of the overall setup is the K4 publishing system. This system is a priceless asset in the magazine segment: The simplification and flexibility it brings achieve significant cost savings and strengthen customer ties.
Urs Zieri points out some of the highlights of the Rapida 106: “One absolutely ingenious feature is for me the sidelay-free DriveTronic SIS infeed. Sheet alignment without operator settings speeds up makeready, and the remarkable alignment accuracy guarantees that you never have to worry about mis-pulled sheets in the delivery pile. That also helps us to handle thinner papers from around 40 g/m² - in combination with the Venturi sheet guiding system of the AirTronic delivery, another feature which I really appreciate!”
The next major plus point is DriveTronic SPC. Urs Zieri: “Direct plate cylinder drives enable plate changing and washing processes to run parallel to each other. That takes a significant slice off job changeover times.” Last but not least, Urs Zieri is visibly impressed by the colour measurement and control systems, namely DensiTronic Professional, an online system for both spectral and densitometric evaluation, and the inline control system QualiTronic ColorControl. The “brain” of the press is the server system LogoTronic Professional, with its central database for job handling and administration.
Urs Zieri explains how the operators are able to optimise production sequences with these systems: “During makeready, we take presetting data from pre-press. As soon as the first sheet is printed, QualiTronic ColorControl starts its measurements and communicates corresponding settings to the inking units on the basis of comparison with a reference. The printer then measures a sheet using DensiTronic Professional, and the data from the different measuring systems are averaged to obtain an optimum and reliable production result. At the same time, we must not forget that the inking system of the Rapida 106 is an important link in this chain. The speed of reaction is phenomenal.” Another comforting detail: KBA has provided cameras to monitor sheet travel at the critical points (perfecting unit and delivery).
Experience with the makeready world champion
The Rapida 106 perfector has been in production at gdz since August 2011. In the meantime, the transition from web to sheetfed offset has been completed and the 16-page web press now stands idle. The results from the first six months certainly command respect: Around 80% of the jobs which used to be printed on the web press are today handled by the Rapida. The only losses have been work where web offset is the only meaningful possibility. Urs Zieri: “On the other hand, if you look at the state of the Swiss web offset market today, with the effects of a weak euro and the brutal competition from abroad, we are glad not to be operating in that segment any more.”
Urs Zieri: “The Rapida is a complex industrial system, but we were already in full production barely a week after installation. We attached great importance to proper training for our operators. They all attended a one-week basic training course in Radebeul, and were then accompanied through the start-up phase by KBA instructors. After six months, an instructor visited us again to brush up the existing knowledge and to optimise press-handling skills.“
In the meantime, the whole team works a two-shift system. That is a quantum leap for all concerned. The productivity of the press is enormous and forced gdz to rethink a number of processes in Zurich-Manegg. Urs Zieri: “The switch from web to sheetfed offset was not least a logistical challenge. In web offset, the products are often already finished when they come off the press. With a sheetfed press, by contrast, you have only semi-finished products. That means providing for intermediate storage. And the operators naturally had to adjust the way they worked to exploit the full benefits of a press with direct drive technology. We all went through a certain learning phase.”
The switch has paid off
Even after just six months, Urs Zieri says that the investment in the KBA Rapida 106 has more than paid off. The switch from web offset to high-performance sheetfed has been successful. The makeready world champion in Zurich is not only fast and efficient in production, it also permits concentration on value enhancement and high-quality products. The example of gdz AG could well be a pointer to the future development of the Swiss print market. Given the shifts in the market and the massive pressure on prices for classic web products, a ten-colour sheetfed press is becoming an ever more attractive alternative for many web offset printers. But whichever way the coin falls, KBA offers cutting-edge solutions for both technologies.
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