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Valassis Ramps Up Third LITHOMAN; Fourth LITHOMAN on the Agenda

Press release from the issuing company

November 17, 2003 -- It was a hectic summer at the Durham, North Carolina plant of Valassis, with the installation of their third MAN Roland LITHOMAN IV web press, without any let up in the 24/7 pace of production at the facility. Headquartered in Livonia, Michigan, with locations throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico and Europe, Valassis offers a wide range of promotional and advertising products to companies in a broad range of industries in North America and Europe. One of the main products of the company’s Durham facility is the co-op free standing insert — a multi-color multi-page advertising section that is distributed by newspapers all over North America. “It’s an incredibly competitive market,” says William F. Hogg Jr., President of the Valassis Manufacturing Company. “That’s why we’ve installed three LITHOMAN IV web presses and we plan on a fourth in the future.” Valassis purchased and configured the four-around MAN Roland presses for the sole purpose of high volume, high quality printing. Each four-unit press is mated to a single combination folder. The configuration makes them ideal for the production of FSIs — an ad format that George F. Valassis based his company on back in 1971. “These are the fastest combination folders in North America, if not the world,” notes Blaine Gerber, Division Vice President. “Our 57-inch LITHOMAN has already set a new four-around press record of 1,080,000 impressions in a 24-hour period. That’s equivalent to 60,480,000 pages or 733 miles of paper.” Valassis’ first two LITHOMAN IVs have been standing up “amazingly well” to the around-the-clock rigors of FSI production, according to the company. “We are fanatical about preventative maintenance and follow MAN Roland’s recommendations to the letter,” Gerber says. “After two years of running at full speed, our first press shows no signs of premature wear.” But speed and durability mean nothing if they come with too high a manpower cost. Such is not the case with Valassis’ LITHOMAN systems. “Output per man has more than doubled,” Hogg states. Each press is staffed with three pressmen and an operator who handles the robotics, controlling the system’s automated material handling equipment. The arrangement lets Valassis operate each LITHOMAN at full speed, while achieving fast, low waste makereadies. “We routinely complete changeovers in less than 10 minutes,” Hogg says. “LITHOMAN’s PECOM press operating system plays a big part in that.” PECOM is centrally coordinated by Gerber’s pressroom supervisors. The system loads ink preset information from the company’s Creo prepress workflow. But PECOM goes beyond ink fountain adjustments. It also automates settings for angle bars, slitters, compensators, the main folder and web guides. “Once minor color adjustments are made, ink key settings are sent back to the system,” Gerber explains. “That way, PECOM continually learns what operator adjustments were required. It uses the knowledge to optimize ink key and component presetting on future jobs.” Valassis’ pressroom supervisors also use PECOM data as a diagnostic tool. Referring back to settings when a format was produced in the past helps them troubleshoot any potential problems that they might face in a recurring project. The large format, one-web configuration of the LITHOMAN IVs is also helping to make Valassis more competitive. “We place high value on makeready efficiency, low overall waste and the ability to produce high page counts as an in-line product of the press,” Hogg observes. “The four around, one web format helps us in each of these areas. Our job is to be a very efficient print manufacturing facility and MAN Roland helps us do that.” Reducing waste is also a primary mission at Valassis. “Running waste, makeready waste and total waste are extremely low with LITHOMAN,” says Gerber. “We always felt our waste rates beat any other facility in the world. And now we’re down over another percentage point with our LITHOMAN IV presses.” Component presetting means the format and fold can be on as soon as the press starts up. PECOM’s ink presetting and register systems also play roles in achieving saleable copies that much quicker. “The typical scenario is that once the impressions come on, a cursory check is all that is required before books are saved,” Gerber reports. “We start up at 15,000 impressions per hour in order to save waste. Fold, color register and ink key settings are very consistent. That allows us to speed up the press after books are being saved.” “The result is an average makeready of 930 books,” Hogg adds. “A simple changeover of eight plates with no component changes is even more efficient.” With two LITHOMAN IV running successfully, a third recently installed and a fourth on the way, Valassis is in a unique position to evaluate MAN Roland’s installation and support capabilities. “They’re excellent,” says Hogg. “The organization has an incredible amount of resources behind the scenes and is very sophisticated in the way it approaches the installation process. They stick to the schedule. Press components are assembled and pre-tested before shipment to us. MAN worked very well with our in-house press and maintenance people. It has been very effective.” Gerber provides a similar assessment on how MAN Roland helps Valassis operators make the most of the automated benefits of the LITHOMAN IV. “Factory training takes place shortly before the final stages of press installation,” he says. “That way, press operators can participate in activities like roller installation and setting.” Those are skills that are a must for proper in-house maintenance. During the start-up phase, separate mechanical and printing training is conducted. “It goes well beyond explaining what happens when a button is pushed on the press console,” says Hogg. “A lot of time is spent explaining the philosophy behind the automation that has been incorporated into LITHOMAN. After the start-up is completed, training continues with follow-up visits.” MAN Roland service support also continues in the form of the pressmaker’s Tele Support Center (TSC). The program connects Valassis press crews with MAN Roland technical experts via phone to expedite service and maintenance procedures. By linking up to the modem connections that are built into the LITHOMAN presses, the TSC technicians can download both live and archival data so they can virtually look over the press operator’s shoulder. That way senior service engineers can diagnose problems as if they were on the scene, eliminating the time and expense associated with an on-site service call. “The 24-hour Tele Support Center service is very helpful,” Gerber says. As to the installation of the third LITHOMAN IV at Valassis, the press is well on its way to joining its predecessors as a market maker and a record breaker. “We developed an aggressive schedule for our third LITHOMAN based on the very successful start up of our second press,” Hogg notes. “We began in September with a four-week start-up cycle. We then initiated a six-month ramp-up period, which will allow us to increase our speed job-by-job. After six months, we expect the press to produce at full capacity. Then we’ll be ready for our fourth LITHOMAN VI.”