WhatTheyThink’s sources for this two-part report on the KBA Rapida 205 ownership experience are Joe Ostreicher, COO, Edison Lithograph & Printing Corp. (North Bergen, NJ); Ed Garvey, president, The Garvey Group (Niles, IL); George Wolden, vice president of manufacturing, Lithographix (Hawthorne, CA); Mark Dillon, vice president, Meyers (Minneapolis, MN); and Randy Vautravers, president, Rand Graphics (Wichita, KS).

Force Multiplier in the Pressroom

Fast makereadies—“fast,” that is, for a press of this exceptional size—are key to the Rapida 205’s suitability as a quick-turnaround press when the workload calls upon it to function in this way.

With makereadies on the old Harrises taking three to four hours, says Ostreicher, completing two or three jobs per day was the rule at Edison Litho before the arrival of the Rapidas. Because getting the KBA presses ready to print is so much faster, five, six, or even seven jobs are the norm for daily throughput at Edison Litho now. Ostreicher says that having a pair of Rapida 205s in the pressroom is a force multiplier: when they are on the job, he says, “One plus one is not two—one plus one is 10.”

Something else besides the speed of makeready increases job throughput at Edison Litho: the relative shortness of the runs. Although jobs in the 70,000- to 80,000-impression range sometimes come in, says Ostreicher, “we’re not geared for really long runs” on the Rapida 205s. More common are runs of 20,000 to 25,000, and Ostreicher says that the range can extend backward from there all the way to quantities as small as 2,000.

At The Garvey Group, says Garvey, makeready typically takes one to one and a half hours “from scratch.” Average quantities range from 2,500 and 7,500, but Garvey says that signage display routinely are run in volumes as low as 500 and as high as 30,000.  Makeready on the Rapida 205 at Lithographix can take about two hours, according to Wolden, but the run lengths are relatively short: 4,000 to 5,000 impressions. Depending on substrate cost, they can go even lower—as few as 1,200 impressions—and still be economical, Wolden says.

Scalable Print Quality

Common to all of these runs, say the managers, is clean, sharp printing at whatever sheet size the job calls for. If VLF printing prompts concerns about holding register, controlling dot gain, or maintaining color consistency across the entire surface of an oversized sheet, these plants aren’t troubled by them.

When a pair of Rapida 205s is on the job, “One plus one is not two—one plus one is 10.”

“We’re doing it now,” says Vautravers of printing without problems on large sheets, thanks to the VLF experience that Rand Graphics gained in running its old Harris 78" five-color. He expects to reprise the experience on the Rapida 205, which he admires for its many similarities to other high-performance litho presses from KBA. “Nobody else makes a press this large,” he says, saluting the manufacturer for filling a quality gap at the peak of VLF offset with the Rapida 205.

At Meyers, says Dillon, there’ll be no worries about getting good results on big sheets thanks to the quality-assurance features that KBA has engineered into the Rapida 205. He notes that the press, fully assembled and test-run at the factory in Germany prior to shipment, has already demonstrated the kinds of printing it’s capable of—to the complete satisfaction of the purchaser.

Ostreicher says that Edison Litho can print with confidence on its Rapida 205s because sheets produced on these Densitronic-equipped presses are scanned for accurate color and registration. Deviations, when detected, can be corrected on the fly at the press console.

“We think that our 205s print every bit as good as our 40” presses,” declares Garvey. “We are commonly asked to lay down huge amounts of ink on a sheet, and any imperfection can be easily seen.” Given the realities of working with sheets as large as the Rapida 205 can handle, the company limits its paper purchases to a small number of stocks that are known to run successfully on it. “However, the presses have remained consistent even when the material has been a problem,” Garvey says.

If VLF printing prompts concerns about holding register or maintaining color consistency across the entire surface of an oversized sheet, these plants aren’t troubled by them.

Wolden says that laying down a good print on a VLF sheet “is all about the weight of the paper,” explaining that a sheet heavy enough to run successfully on a 40" press won’t necessarily work as well on a VLF platform like the Rapida 205. For example, he says, a job that prints satisfactorily on a 40" press using 100-lb. paper might have to be re-spec’d for 8- or 10-point stock to get comparable results on a VLF machine.

According to Wolden, sheets larger than 54" x 77" can be more challenging to obtain than 40" sheets. “The variety just isn’t there,” he says, adding that this makes it more incumbent on printers with VLF presses to be certain of their sources of supply.

Yes and Yes

The bottom-line question about any press leaves aside talk of specs and speeds and cuts straight to the business essentials: does the equipment enable its owner to enter new markets? Is the press instrumental in gaining a greater share of current customers? The answer is a documented yes on both counts from the three present owners of the Rapida 205, and a speculative but confident yes from the two plants where the big press soon will be installed.

Signage, retail displays, POP, and packaging are among the specialties at Edison Litho, and Ostreicher says that the twin Rapida 205s have helped the company to expand its business in all of these applications. Edison Litho, he says, has become well known not just for its fast turnarounds, but for its production flexibility—a customer benefit leveraged by the addition of a second Rapida 205 about three years ago.

“We think that our Rapida 205s print every bit as good as our 40" presses. We are commonly asked to lay down huge amounts of ink on a sheet, and any imperfection can be easily seen.”

Ostreicher calls this press “a different beast completely” from the company’s first Rapida 205, chiefly because of its inline UV capability and its plastics option. Used for jobs on vinyl, styrene, and plastic, the press protects these materials from the heat of UV printing with cylinder chillers that prevent stretch and help to maintain tight registration.

Edison Litho reserves the other Rapida 205, which has aqueous coating, for printing on standard paper stocks. The Rapida 162 pitches in as well, enabling the pressroom to rise to whatever opportunity comes its way. With three Rapidas to allocate the workload among, “we’re not rigid,” Ostreicher says

“The Rapida 205 allowed us to move further into our primary markets of display, box wraps, and signage,” says Garvey. “We have large clients and, as a result, we needed the depth and redundancy that the second 81" press provided. We added interdeck UV on the second machine, which further expanded our capabilities.”

Lithographix specializes in printing for the automotive and entertainment industries, and the addition of the Rapida 205 has enabled the company to increase its share of these markets, Wolden says. He adds that expansion into printing for retail clients also has been made possible with the help of the 81" press.

As for the newcomers, Dillon believes that with the Rapida 205 as its mainstay for retail products, Meyers should be able to grow share of current accounts as it adds new clientele among marketers of national brands. Vautravers understands that investing in an 81” press gives Rand Graphics a mandate as well as an opportunity to open new markets and expand existing ones. “We’d better do both,” he says.

The Broad View of Wide-Format

But, even the press at the top of the sheetfed pyramid isn’t immune to competition from other platforms. Wide-format inkjet printing, for example, is an increasingly popular digital alternative to VLF offset in applications like out-of-home advertising. Screen printing continues to stake a claim in large-format production as well. The five Rapida 205 owners acknowledge the rival technologies and—with one exception—embrace them as companion processes that supplement what they can do for their customers with VLF.

Edison Litho does not have wide-format inkjet capability, and in Ostreicher’s view, the difference in reproduction quality between that process and VLF offset lithography is “day vs. night” in offset’s favor. Another drawback to inkjet, he says, is its limited ability to handle spot colors, a task that Edison Litho’s six-color Rapidas can perform with ease.

Laying down a good print on a VLF sheet “is all about the weight of the paper.” a sheet heavy enough to run successfully on a 40" press won’t necessarily work as well on a VLF platform.

At the other plants, however, large-format digital is seen as wholly complementary to conventional VLF. “We operate in both disciplines and frequently counsel customers on the best option for the job,” says Garvey, who has equipped The Garvey Group for digital with a 98.4" wide Screen Truepress Jet2500UV board and roll inkjet printing system. Paired with this device for finishing is a Zund G3 2XL-1600 die-free router/cutter/plotter.

The Rapida 205 at Rand Graphics will be equipped for inline UV curing, a feature also found on some of the plant’s screen printing presses. In Vautravers’s view, screen printing, digital large-format, and VLF offset can and should coexist in the markets they’re intended for. “There’s room for all three of them,” he says, and that’s why Rand Graphics uses them synergistically. “It’s good to give the customer a choice,” Vautravers says.

A media announcement from Meyers about its pending installation of the Durst RHO 900 also mentions the Rapida 205 as another part of the company's $10 million investment in technology for retail marketing solutions. Dillon says that Meyers regards the two processes as complementary, but he acknowledges that the question of how to divide work between them isn’t as straightforward as it used to be.

He says that although large-format inkjet’s variable-data capability and other advantages could let it “eat into” VLF offset, the conventional process has a healthy appetite of its own for the kinds of work that big inkjet printers typically do. The electronics on the Rapida 205 are so good, he says, that the big press is becoming attractive for shorter runs—just as wide-format inkjet devices are beginning to prove themselves as suitable platforms for high-volume work. Dillon agrees that printers who wish to think big in support of their customers should equip for both methods.

Read It in the Paper

At most of the plants, large-format digital is seen as wholly complementary to conventional VLF.

Wolden returns to his point about the cost of substrates to explain why Lithographix doesn’t see a threat to its Rapida 205 in wide-format inkjet, a process in which the company has invested heavily. He says that if the stock is really expensive, inkjet—which produces no makeready waste—probably will be the most economical way to produce the job. On the other hand, according to Wolden, a job calling for regular litho-grade stock could run cost-competitively with inkjet on the Rapida 205 in quantities down to 1,200—a tribute to the high efficiency of the VLF press.

As Wolden sees it, the persistently high cost of inkjet ink will keep the process from elbowing presses like the Rapida 205 out of VLF production. Inkjet printers also depreciate in value more rapidly and have to be replaced more frequently than offset equipment—another reason why Wolden foresees a long and profitable role in VLF production for Lithographix’s Rapida 205.