Those convinced that offset lithography is not a printing technology for the 21st century should be ready to confront much evidence to the contrary at Graph Expo 2007. This sold-out show is the setting for a long string of announcements from most of the major press manufacturers, including the premieres of several new platforms that take the process to new levels of efficiency.

Encouraged by sales upturns in recent years, the manufacturers clearly have been plowing a good deal of the profit back into R&D as they pursue ever-higher levels of productivity in all aspects of press operation. The result is a happy dilemma for printers.

On the one hand, they enjoy a broader range of choices for offset litho equipment than they have ever enjoyed before. On the other, it has never been more challenging to distinguish one press from another on the basis of performance. The various offerings are so closely matched within their categories that the risk of making the wrong choice on the basis of press capability has almost been eliminated.

    The various offerings are so closely matched within their categories that the risk of making the wrong choice on the basis of press capability has almost been eliminated.

This doesn't mean that a printer can no longer err by selecting a press that isn't well-matched to his customers' requirements or by installing one that gives him productive capacity that his order intake isn't sufficient to fill. Nor does it keep the manufacturers from claiming, as they certainly are doing at Graph Expo, that brand should still matter to printers when they plan investments in capital equipment.

The vendors are correct: brand still matters, and the proof is the deep brand loyalty that each manufacturer has inspired in its customers. But today, the strength of a press maker's brand depends on more than mechanical specifications. The manufacturer must also demonstrate competence in workflow, technical support, service, and "green" compliance—brand attributes that go beyond well beyond the simple running of the press.

Today, the strength of a press maker's brand depends on more than mechanical specifications. The manufacturer must also demonstrate competence in workflow, technical support, service, and "green" compliance.

Graph Expo is the perfect laboratory for studying the evolution of brands in the market for offset equipment, and this year's edition is one of the richest displays of brand virtues in years. Following are some of the highlights from trade media briefings on Saturday and Sunday.

Komori (booth 629) is conducting daily demonstrations of its newest half-size press in the Lithrone S series, the LSX29. Built for fast changeovers and environmental friendliness, the 16,000-sph press features a larger (24" x 291/2") half-size sheet with space for gripper margins on each side for optimized performance in work-and-tumble and gang-run printing. According to Komori, its makeready-accelerating features can reduce the intervals between some short-run jobs to as little as six minutes. Configurable in up to eight colors, the LSX29 is equipped with the Komorimatic dampening system and other features said to minimize its environmental impact.

Another kind of efficiency is provided by the integration of EFI's Auto-Count 1000 job data collection technology into the press's Komori Management System (KMS). The integration does away with the need for a separate workstation to enter data for jobs into the MIS system.

Komori also is holding daily demonstrations of a four-color Spica 29P. In these demos, the 20 7/8" x 29 1/2" press makes an environmental statement by running with Fujifilm processless plates, eco-friendly from Toyo, and a Sappi stock (Lustro Offset Environmental) made with 30% post-consumer waste. The paper holds chain-of-custody certification from the Forest Stewardship Council.

Heidelberg (booth 1200) has filled more than 31,000 square feet of booth space with five sheetfed presses, 10 postpress devices, and an array of CTP equipment, all of it networked through its Prinect suite of workflow products. No new production machinery will be unveiled at this show as Heidelberg saves most of its new-product thunder for drupa next May.

The announcement that received the most buildup at Heidelberg's Sunday morning press briefing was eCall, an extension of the systemservice 36plus support program for new equipment. It was described as a remote-diagnostic solution that continuously monitors equipment on which it has been installed, automatically generating alerts when problems arise. As now being tested, eCall must obtain the operator's permission to transmit the alert to Heidelberg, but in the future, the notification could be fully automatic. According to Heidelberg, eCall is a breakthrough technology that as no equivalent among other remote-diagnostic solutions.

Prinect Scheduler, also announced for the first time at the show, is a job-scheduling tool that can run on a laptop and integrate via JDF to MIS. It was described as a point-and-click interactive tool that permits jobs to be moved around on the digital equivalent of a scheduling board. It will not be released until drupa, but more information is available in the Prinect area of the Heidelberg booth.

MAN Roland (booth 646) has no presses in its booth, but it does have a printing unit from one of three new platforms it is introducing in North America at Graph Expo: two 41" sheetfeds, the Roland 700 HiPrint and the Roland 700 Direct Drive; and Euroman, a new web press for the commercial print market.

The printing unit belongs to the Roland 700 Direct Drive, which MAN Roland calls the world's first sheetfed press with direct drive technology to improve pressroom productivity. The direct-drive feature powers each printing unit's plate cylinder with its own high torque motor, isolating the plate cylinder from the press's main drive.

According to MAN Roland, this allows makeready chores to be completed simultaneously. It enables, for example, all plates to be changed at the same time while washup takes place, effectively reducing plate-changing time to zero. In some applications, says MAN Roland, these efficiencies can cut makeready times by up to 60%

The Roland 700 HiPrint is built to be customized with a variety of MAN Roland options, such as the special-effects InlineFoiler Prindor, for a wide range of uses in packaging, books, and other mass market applications. Its sheet size is said by MAN Roland to be 9% larger than that of other presses in its range. The press runs at 17,000 sph as a straight printer and at 13,000 sph in perfecting mode.

The new web entry, the Euroman, is intended to replace double-web 38" commercial web presses with a single-web, four-unit design and a four-around/four across cylinder configuration. MAN Roland says that six Euroman presses have been ordered ( for installation in North America this year.

Equipped with a 2:3:3 folder, the Euroman can produce 16-page quarter-folded products, 32-page quarter-folded product, 16-page tabloid product, 32-page digest products, as well as products with lower page counts. In collect mode, it can produce periodicals mode at the rate of 35,000 copies per hour. The press can run at 60,000 cph with a quarter folder and at up to 70,000 cph with an optional double quarter folder.

Muller Martini (booth 3863) comes to Graph Expo with an exhibit that focuses mainly on its strengths in its primary specialties: press delivery systems, saddlestitchers, hard- and softcover bookbinding, and newspaper mailroom systems. But the company also is a manufacturer of special-purpose presses, and a unit of one of these, the Alprinta-V, may be seen at the show.

The Alprinta-V is a size-variable web offset press aimed at the packaging and label markets. Thanks to an insert that remains in the press while the variably sized parts—the blanket cylinder and the plate cylinder—are exchanged, the press can be changed over to a new size in less than five minutes. The Alprinta-V achieves speeds up to 1,200 fpm while delivering, says Muller Martini, high-quality printing results that rival sheetfed. During Graph Expo, Muller Martini will display an Alprinta-V print module along with several print samples produced by the Alprinta-V on various substrates popular in the packaging market.

Our coverage of Graph Expo will continue with more news from the press manufacturers and with show highlights in prepress and postpress.