Anyone stuck on the idea that future improvements in sheetfed offset lithographic press performance can be only incremental should keep a close eye on developments at drupa, where news from the outset has more than proved that the traditional printing press still has a technologically rich future ahead of it.

The first and second largest press manufacturers, Heidelberg and MAN Roland, generated excitement with spates of sheetfed announcements in their respective media briefings on Wednesday (May 5) and Thursday (May 6). Their portfolios of new and revamped sheetfed products signaled a new level of competition between the two manufacturing giants and lent a keynote of innovation to drupa as a whole.

For Heidelberg, the product debuts helped to clarify the company's intentions and redefine its market position in the wake of yesterday's announcement that RWE, Heidelberg's corporate parent, intends to sell half the press maker's share capital in an offer covering nearly 43 million shares of Heidelberg stock. The product news, highlighted strongly by developments in sheetfed, bolstered Heidelberg's contentions that it is ready to stand on its own principally by building on its traditional renown as a supplier of sheetfed equipment. Heidelberg CEO Bernhard Schreier said that RWE's decision came at the start of drupa as gift because it removes uncertainty about Heidelberg's status and outlook.

Not to be outdone, MAN Roland used its introductions to further press its claim to leadership in computer integrated manufacturing and JDF-based workflow, technologies that are being pursued with comparable vigor by Heidelberg. However, with both manufacturers touting scores of new solutions (Heidelberg 50, MAN Roland 70) in all aspects of press operation, it was clear that the two remain focused on speed, mechanical efficiency, and value-adding production features as the attributes that actually will make printers want to buy new sheetfed equipment from them.

Citing a combination of advice, workflow expertise and products covering the entire sheetfed offset process, Schreier made it clear that pragmatism would be both the goal and the reward of the company's new strategic direction. Our aim is to give customers the highest possible investment security, he said, noting that continuing doubt about economic prospects in many of Heidelberg's markets means that customers are once again toning down their forecasts. By using drupa to showcase press solutions that will rebuild printers' confidence, Heidelberg can use the show as an opportunity to lay foundations for the medium-term future, Schreier said.

Leading the MAN Roland briefing, board chairman Gerd Finkbeiner took care to depict workflow as the handmaiden of the press, not the other way around. Spending far more time on equipment-related announcements than on developments on the JDF front, he called the technology nothing but a tool intended to add value beyond the hardware. He likened workflow to a subway map, where you line up all of the stations to increase the quality of the existing service while reducing the cost of getting from one station, or piece of equipment, to another.

The rivals will use remainder of drupa, which runs at Messe Düsseldorf through May 19, to reassert their prowess in the conventional press technologies that have earned them their reputations in tens of thousands of pressrooms around the world. Following are their sheetfed highlights, starting with some of the innovations that Heidelberg is presenting in Hall 1:

 Speedmaster XL 105. Premiering at drupa, this 70 x 105 cm (27.5" x 41.3") press is said to be suitable for highly industrialized offset applications such as packaging and labels at speeds up to 18,000 sph. The Speedmaster XL 105 features a new generation of feeder and delivery generation as well as the newly released Air-Transfer aerodynamic sheet transport system. The capabilities of its new Hycolor integrated inking/dampening system include adjustable oscillator strokes, the opportunity to switch between the standard and short inking units, and remotely adjustable lateral distribution of the inking form rollers for the effective printing of jobs with solids, thick ink coatings, or low ink consumption. All register settings are remote-controlled from the Prinect CP2000 Center press control system.

 Speedmaster CD 102 series. Seen in public for the first time at drupa, the 70 x 100 cm (27.5" x 39.4") perfectors incorporate new feeder and delivery systems, an entirely new design, and several coating unit innovations. The Preset Plus feeder and delivery, which stem from the development of the XL 105, have enabled field-test users of the CD 102 to achieve significant gains in productivity and quality, according to Heidelberg.

 Speedmaster CD 74. This press can be seen with an optional perfecting system that enables printing on both sides of the sheet with short changeover times between paper and board and from the straight printing mode to the perfecting mode. Its features include a newly developed three-drum transfer system enabling the printing of stocks up to a maximum thickness of 0.8 mm in perfecting mode. The maximum print speed both in straight and perfecting mode is 15,000 sheets per hour. The CD 74 with a convertible sheet reversing device will be available in four- to six-color models, with or without a coating system and extended delivery.

 Coating capability on the Speedmaster SM 102-10P. This solution allows the fifth and tenth printing units to be used for either printing or dispersion coating. It enables commercial printers using a ten-color press to print either 5/5 color or 4/4 color with double-sided dispersion coating in a single pass. According to Heidelberg, double-sided dispersion coating gives printed products a higher-quality appearance, improves the feel of the product, lets the product dry faster, eliminates yellowing, and enhances scratch and scuff resistance.

As one of the anchors of PrintCity, the integrated production factory in Hall 6, MAN Roland will introduce a number of new or improved sheetfed solutions, including the following:

 ROLAND 900 in XXL Format 8. Making its debut at drupa is the largest-format version of MAN Roland's press series for books, posters, package printing, and a range of other jobs in paper and board. With a maximum speed of 10,000 sph, the press offers a sheet size of 1,300 x 1,850 mm (51.1" x 72.8") and is available in coating and double coating configurations.

 Enhanced ROLAND 700. The ROLAND 700 can have up to nine printing units and has been speed-boosted to 16,000 sheets per hour in straight printing mode. The model being shown in the packaging workflow at PrintCity is equipped with a double coating module, UV interdeck dryers, and an IR/hot-air/UV end-of-press dryer. Its QuickChangeCoating system with separated coating circuits is said to speed changeover between UV and dispersion coatings. The drupa press is also serving as a platform for the ROLAND InlineSheeter; EagleEye sheet inspection system; InlineSorter for waste-free pile delivery; and InlineObserver, a system of flexibly locatable cameras that enables sheet travel to be monitored on a separate screen to determine the optimal sheet guide settings and prevent sheet travel problems.

 ROLAND InlineFoiler Prindor. MAN Roland hopes that this innovation will make printers who think of foil laminating strictly as a trade specialty think of doing it themselves. Prindor is a cold foil laminating system designed for use on sheetfed offset presses. It offers, according to MAN Roland, quality close to that of hot foil stamping and gloss higher than that achievable with metallic inks or coatings. The system requires two printing units of a sheetfed press. In the first unit, the areas of the substrate where foil is to be applied are printed with special glue by a conventional plate. The foil then is laminated to these areas in the second printing unit. Thus, the only laminating tools needed are the printing plates.

ROLAND DirectDrive. Derived from technology in use on newspaper and commercial web presses, this system is being shown for the first in application to sheetfed equipment in a demonstration on a printing unit of a ROLAND 700. Direct drive of the plate cylinder, says MAN Roland, makes parallel plate changing possible on all printing units at the same time and permits washup to take place during the plate-changing operation. The mechanically decoupled unit is driven by a high-torque motor mounted on the cylinder journal. Its 360° circumferential register makes its host press variable for using different plates from presses of other makes, says MAN Roland.

Heidelberg and MAN Roland have as much to show and tell in web presses and workflow as they do in sheetfed, and the other major press manufacturers have their own news and debuts in these areas that are as worthy of attention as anything from the Big Two. Watch this space for more reports from the drupa fairgrounds about progress in offset lithography.