October 11, 2005 -- When there's a downturn in global business, and commercial web offset capacity everywhere is being underutilized, most commercial printers aren't thinking about investing in more equipment. But Ripon Community Printers, one of the leading coldset facilities in the U.S., saw it as an ideal time to expand into the heatset market. “Business had gotten so competitive, our sales were flat,” said Russ Welch, Ripon's lead web press supervisor. “We're always looking ahead, and we think heatset will be important for us. But, to stand out in that market, we need to be exceptional at it…and that requires the best equipment available.”
Typical of its family-owned culture, Ripon drew on the input and insight of its employees to spearhead the expansion. It formed a well-rounded team, including pressroom operators, maintenance people and other press crew members. First on the team's list was to decide what they expected from the new technology. Their list of goals was developed with an eye toward achieving higher efficiencies, improved quality and the ability to differentiate the company in an increasingly competitive marketplace. They decided the new technology must give Ripon the capability to:
Run the press with a three-person crew
Perform first makeready on a new job in as low as 1,500 impressions in a 32-page, two-web format
Eliminate control issues, providing more focus on the printing process
Achieve quality color through gray balance
Analyzing a World of Technology Options.
Ripon's team spent months traveling around the world to view first-hand its technology options. Their many frequent flyer miles culminated in what is now the centerpiece of Ripon's new 24,727 square foot annex to its main 210,000 square foot facility: the first stacked conventional MAN Roland ROTOMAN N heatset press in North America.
Ripon's 8-unit two-web ROTOMAN system incorporates the QuadTech Color Control System with Instrument Flight. The QuadTech Ribbon Control System 4000 and QuadTech Register Guidance System V reside on QuadTech's ICON™ integrated platform. Also included are the QuadTech 3000 Series Vertical Stacker Bundler and QuadTech 5000 Series Palletizer.
Installed and running three shifts a day since spring of 2004, Ripon is more than satisfied with its technology choices. And, according to Mr. Welch, most of the team's goals are already being met.
The ability to move quickly into color and register control plays a large role in keeping the crew small, according to Mr. Welch. “This press set-up is so automated that we can run smoothly with only three operators,” he said. “One operator can handle two webs and control color – even with customer proofs. And one person manages register cut-off. I couldn't imagine running this press with only three people without a closed loop color or register systems.”
“With digital presetting and closed-loop color, we've been able to do first makeready on a new job in about 2,000 impressions,” Mr. Welch said. “Then, we've seen consecutive form changes on the same job as low as 200. So, I believe we have the potential – when the variables are right – to hit our goal of 1,500 impressions.”
Ripon president Andy Lyke says waste reduction numbers for the new equipment are similar to those of the company's coldset numbers. “We expected more makeready waste with the new press in the beginning, he noted. “The fact that we're nearing our 1,500 goal faster than we thought is largely due to the fact that our QuadTech auxiliaries get us into color and register so quickly.”
Focus on Printing
As part of upgrading their coldest skills to the heatset paradigm, Ripon's press crew underwent auxiliary training at QuadTech's headquarters in Sussex, Wisconsin, U.S. “Since only a few of our operators could participate in the training sessions, QuadTech let us bring back modules to share with other crew members,” Mr. Welch said. “They also designed and created a ‘sample section' for us. It gives us the flexibility of doing samples offline and can even accommodate different skid sizes. I think that's representative of QuadTech's goal to help us succeed on every level.”
Mr. Welch noted that the familiarity with the equipment made the transition much easier. “Plus, with the best equipment sitting on our floor, we eliminated a lot of control problems that could have become issues.”
Gray balance control provides the most pleasing color to the eye and generates the most consistent product, according to Mr. Welch. “We reviewed several vendors, but at that time QuadTech was the only one with a proven system that could control to gray balance.”
Featuring patented technology pioneered by color specialist System Brunner, the QuadTech Color Control System with Instrument Flight automatically measures and controls more than 30 color attributes and calculates optimum inking. The closed loop system controls with priority to midtone dot gain and three-color gray balance, critical in the types of heatset printing Ripon does daily.
“One of our larger clients was very concerned and cautious about turning over heatset business to us at first,” Mr. Welch remembers. “For the first project, they had lots of people here checking color. Now, they rarely send anyone. They have confidence that we can deliver the color quality they want.”
New Market Appeal
The new equipment is already proving its worth by luring back past customers who went elsewhere for heatset printing. It's also attracting new business, according to Mr. Welch. “We've had customers come to us because they've seen our website and were impressed by both our equipment and the training we've had,” he said. “It's a compelling indication that we're serious about doing good work.”
Ripon has already earned seven awards from the Printing Industries of Wisconsin for its heatset work. “That speaks volumes about the quality of our print,” Mr. Welch noted.
While Mr. Welch feels Ripon is able to deliver a better product than much of its competition, he says price can still be the bottom line. “Anything we can do to reduce pricing is going to help bring in the work. We're convinced that the efficiencies this technology affords us will give us that extra edge we're going after.”
WhatTheyThink is the global printing industry's leading independent media organization with both print and digital offerings, including WhatTheyThink.com, PrintingNews.com and WhatTheyThink magazine versioned with a Printing News and Wide-Format & Signage edition. Our mission is to provide cogent news and analysis about trends, technologies, operations, and events in all the markets that comprise today’s printing and sign industries including commercial, in-plant, mailing, finishing, sign, display, textile, industrial, finishing, labels, packaging, marketing technology, software and workflow.