Big boy offset

Big boy offsetThe old Walt Disney song may say “It’s a small world after all,” but for a few Canadian printers, “the world is wide, and I will not waste my life in friction when it could be turned into momentum.”

When one thinks of big presses, one immediately thinks about the huge web presses used for newspapers, publications, books, magazines, catalogues or directories. These presses get bigger and bigger, with manroland and Goss both introducing at drupa 96-page presses with a 112-inch web width. The sheetfed world isn’t being left behind, however, as there is increasing interest in larger formats – defined as a press larger than a typical 40-inch configuration (102cm or 105cm) here as well.

But, even so, the world of large format offset is rarified indeed. According to State Street Consultants in Boston, there are only about three dozen printers in Canada with large heatset web presses, and even fewer commercial printers have large format sheetfed presses. Less than a handful are sold in Canada each year, even in the best of circumstances.

But that doesn’t mean this part of the market is stagnant. Both major sheetfed suppliers, KBA and the newly renamed manroland, each with more than 75 years of experience in the category, have introduced new presses and new features. And, there is a new player as well, as Heidelberg launched its first large format presses at drupa last year.

Large format sheetfed presses are most typically used for packaging applications, including folding carton, labels, point-of-purchase and displays. For the commercial printer, they have long been a staple for book printing, and, of course, they are used for oversized work, such as maps and posters. They are, however, increasingly used in bread-and-butter commercial work. By providing a larger sheet, a printer can double the productivity. For example, a 56-inch or 57-inch press is able to print two 28” x 40” forms on one sheet, or six pocket folders versus two folders. With the availability of alternative layouts to optimize the sheet, these larger presses can be two to three times more productive. So, not only does a larger press open up new markets, but it enhances productivity.

Annan & Bird Lithographers has grown to $40 million in revenue by specializing on the large format market. They have a variety of presses in their new 110,000 square foot Mississauga, Ontario facility, including a pair of KBAs, the 59- by 81-inch Rapida 205 and 47- by 64-inch Rapida 162, a 55- by 78-inch Harris, and two 41- by 57-inch Mitsubishis, all of which are 6-colour except for one of the Mitsubishis.

A trade printer, Annan & Bird meets the needs of commercial printers, packaging converters, and the point-of-purchase market for work that can’t be produced on a 40-inch press. Typical jobs include labels, displays and “top sheets” or single faceboard to be laminated to corrugated flutes. Mike Pillo, sales manager, says the company’s greatest assets are its experience and knowledge, in addition to the quality and dependability that customers expect.

Pillo notes that large format work has a unique set of demands. One is that there are always new substrates, particularly plastics, film and synthetics. Another is that large format presses generally require more staff, both to handle plates, but also to operate the press. Of course, larger output also means more prepress and postpress equipment, both larger, which would be true for both commercial and packaging-type work, as well as for more specialized equipment, such as die cutters.

Because 40-inch sheeted or web presses are faster, run with fewer people and have lower overhead, the economics often favour them for much commercial work. Even though large format presses can run more forms, other formats can be more economical, especially for longer runs. With the typically higher speed of 40-inch presses and their lower labour requirements, larger runs are sometimes still better suited to the smaller commercial press, according to Pillo.

KBA Rapida 205Nevertheless, large presses provide some unique advantages. Annan & Bird’s 81-inch KBA Rapida 205 is the largest sheetfed press available today. Pillo says it not only allows them to print interesting and unique oversized applications, but it also gives them the ability to do things differently.

“The ability to print multiple forms at the same time means there are fewer [forms] to match…On a large sheet it is one sheet and once you have the colour balance across the sheet, colour is consistent to all pieces…that enables us to go after markets that no one else can,” says Pillo.

Pillo is quite enthusiastic about the new KBA Rapidas. “It’s state-of-the-art, everything one would want. What I’m most impressed about is the quality of print they produce, combined with state-of-the-art technology that accompanies these presses.” In addition to the new inking system and automatic registration, the foil and plastics package enables Annan & Bird to print on a variety of synthetic substrates.

KBA have seven different offerings in the large format market, all of which are used in packaging, book and commercial markets, from the 51-inch Rapida 130 through the super-large 185 and 205 for high-productivity and oversized commercial work. Chris Travis, KBA North America’s director of technology, says that although KBA have “dominated the large format market for many years, we continue to be innovative, adding new features” tmo the presses. With printing speeds of 15,000 sheets per hour standard, all Rapida presses have similar features, which, says Travis, is unusual in the large format market. KBA is addressing the need for greater productivity, especially for shorter run lengths, through improvements, such as the QualiTronic inline colour control, automatic blanket, plate and impression cylinder washing and the QualiTronic inline sheet-inspection system. Video-based automatic colour register control and closed-loop densitometry/spectrometry systems help minimize waste, make-ready times and quality deviations, according to Travis. Similarly, the presses are becoming more intelligent as well, from job and press setup steps to running controls, prepress interfaces and delivery stack identification. Additional new features include perfecting (except the very largest) and inline slitting, which can deliver two 40-inch sheets, a feature that is particularly useful for the commercial shop with only a 40-inch bindery.

Travis says that a typical press, for both packaging and commercial applications, is six or seven colours with one or two coating units. Travis notes that the coating unit is more than just a coater but a “utility” that can be used for raised UV, soft touch, scent, foils, gold, wipes as well as traditional gloss or water coating. With the coating unit so versatile, this leads to a number of possible configurations, with coaters placed in the front, middle or end of the press, providing flexibility for a variety of stock, jobs and widths.

Michael MugaveroThe newly renamed manroland is a worldwide leader in large presses for both the heat set and cold set web markets as well as sheetfed. At drupa, they introduced a 96-page LITHOMAN web press. But, they haven’t been sitting still in the sheetfed area either, introducing a number of new features for their lineup of large format presses, the Roland 900, which comes in 126cm and 140cm sizes, and four models of the Roland 900 XXL, for the larger 162cm and 185cm widths. At speeds up to 14,000 sheets per hour, depending on press and configuration, presses offer “high productivity with excellent quality, with short make-ready times,” says Michael Mugavero, vice-president of sales for manroland Canada. The 900 series presses have flexibility in using different substrates and offer double coating and inline backprinting, particularly useful in the packaging markets.

Manroland has a strong position in the large format market, and, says Mugavero, “we are totally focused on growing our large format market share in Canada. The entire manroland Canada team is inspired to become the high performance business partner by being reliable, inspirational, groundbreaking and determined.”

At drupa, manroland improved upon their already impressive features. For example, they announced perfecting versions on all their XXL large format presses. They also increased the automation and throughput of the presses through such features as the InlineColorPilot that measures and regulates ink density during production, the InlineCoater, the InlineSlitter and InlineFoiler as well as a new automated plate change system.

Roland 900 XXL 300

“The newer machines – the 64 and 73 [inch wide] – are awesome technology,” says Mugavero. For example, he notes the gripper to tail dimension on the 162cm machine in a 7B Plus format delivers a length of 49 ¼”. Although the press is 64” wide, the longer gripper can add up to three inches of image to the sheet. The press will print 48 instead of 40 pages as well as provide packaging, point of purchasing, top cover printers and additional square inches. “That means you don’t have to invest in a larger format machine or change plate sizes” to do larger jobs or to be more productive. “Further, the manroland size 8 press [73 inches] can produce four up 25” x 38” sheets or a 4’ x 6’ top sheet,” continues Mugavero.

Mugavero emphasizes the importance of looking at the complete print value chain. “What makes the manroland large format equipment amazingly productive is the high level of automation, networking capability, user friendliness and robust construction, which is all supported by the excellent manroland Printservices organization. Make-ready times on the manroland large format presses are more akin to those of a 40-inch, and how better to separate from the over-populated 40-inch presses, than to invest in a press capable of two or more times that of a mid-size press?” With their long-standing history with large format, “We know very well how to assist a 40-inch customer make a successful move to large format,” notes Mugavero.

David Smith, one of the owners of Toronto’s TI Group, is impressed with his 6-colour 73-inch ROLAND 900 XXL, installed last year. In business since 1984, TI Group primarily serves the retail market. Although TI Group found its 40-inch presses to be satisfactory, Smith felt that they couldn’t take their business to the next level.

“We needed large format equipment to go after the business we wanted.” They were meeting much of their customers’ large format requirements with digital equipment, but found they were losing longer run business to screen printers. “There was a part of this market we didn’t service before. With the 73-inch 906, we have the opportunity now. We’re already doing very well, and it’s new business,” Smith says. “We had the contacts and knew the work was there, but we didn’t have the capability before.” 

With large format sheetfed added to their other capabilities, Smith says they now can “cover the gamut of projects from inserts and literature to multiple POP and display configurations.” He notes that their “run lengths are fairly short with this larger format press. Fast turnaround with the 900’s speed, efficiency and output quality lets us be very competitive.”

Smith notes that, when running at 12,000 sheets per hour, the ROLAND 900’s 64-page signature capability translates into an impressive 64,000. “Registration, colour and make-ready have all met or exceeded our initial expectations.”

Bob Marcotte, plant manager, loves the print quality. He also likes the fact that “you don’t need to bend the plate. You just burn, punch and put it on. It’s great for shorter runs.” Nevertheless, Marcotte, who has years of experience running large format presses, warns that large format is more work than smaller presses. “Everything’s larger…there’s a bigger fountain, more sheet area to look after. There’s a lot more walking involved.”

Total Graphics in Vaughan Ontario, and its sister company, Forest City Graphics in London, are commercial and trade printers with a variety of presses, including a 64-inch 6-colour KBA Rapida 162A, a 51-inch 5-colour Mitsubishi, a 50-inch 6-colour Komori Lithrone and a 40-inch 4-colour KBA. They also have a screen printing department. Before consolidating manufacturing operations in Vaughan, Forest City principally focused on commercial work, including children’s books, magazines and greeting cards, while Total Graphics specialized in large format, primarily for the trade. 

President James Caldwell says they have been doing large format offset work for more than 10 years. Doing a lot of children’s books, with fairly long run lengths they found that by going to a 51-inch press they could get more on a sheet. Going from 20 forms to 10 forms saved both time and money. That naturally led to folding carton, labels, and other packaging work as well as POP, banners, maps and diverse large format jobs. As the work grew, they added more presses. With the installation of the KBA 162A, Total Graphics moved into printing labels for the trade. Today, about 75% of the work on the large format presses is labels and cartons, with the balance being oversized jobs, such as maps and commercial work.

With a variety of presses and capabilities, Total can decide which press is most suited for the job. Caldwell says “it’s purely a matter of productivity, looking at the number of forms, the layout and makeup of the job and working out the price. Where does it make sense to run it?” With presses from three manufacturers, the job may be more suited to the capabilities of one press over another. “I’m a big fan of all the presses we have. They each have their differences.”

Caldwell notes the market is currently very tight, with only a hand full of large format printers in the GTA competing for work. Nevertheless, Caldwell says “it’s an exciting industry and business. We’re printing on lots of different substrates [such as] plastic, UV; it’s a challenging art form. Everyday is exciting.”

Pazazz PrintingOne company that hasn’t been afraid to take the plunge into UV large format offset is Pazazz Printing of Montreal. Last year, Pazazz invested more than $7 million in a new KBA Rapida 142 56-inch 6-colour UV press, a Fujifilm large format platesetter, Busch pile turner and Perfecta large format cutting system.

Pazazz founder and chief executive Warren Werbitt – internationally known for his YouTube video “Printing’s Alive” – views the move as a way of “differentiating ourselves from the 40-inch sector.” The 80-employee company, founded in 1992, was in the process of consolidating its offset, digital and flexo operations in a new 65,000 sq.ft facility. Werbitt realized they needed a new offset press. “We recognized the 40-inch market is saturated. We were already doing oversized work and farming it out for existing clients. So, we thought about getting a big press. There are no large format presses in eastern Canada doing commercial work, so I began to think ‘Wow! I’d be the only guy in eastern Canada doing plastic packaging and commercial!’ We now have the newest large KBA 6-colour UV press in Canada, the first of its kind, and are offering solutions that no other printer can, under one roof.”

The KBA provides Pazazz with more flexibility and is capablse of producing a variety of high-quality print effects and textures in a single pass, including “unique finishes and coatings such as strike-through, soft touch and gator truly enhance the final product, and it’s all in-line promoting perfect register between effects and superior quality. No need to outsource special coatings and effects, which means clients save time and money,” explains Werbitt. “Not only do we print UV and BIG, we print on paper, board, foil, flute and plastics, such as PVC, APET, rigid plastics, cling plastics, polypropylenes, multi-polymers, vinyl and styrene up to 48 points.”

The large press also provides a great deal of flexibility for commercial work. “We can setup 32-, 36- and 40-page catalogues on one 56-inch press sheet compared to 16 pages on one 40-inch press sheet. We can fit six pocket folders on the 56-inch sheet compared to two folders on the 40-inch sheet. It’s like getting 30,000 impressions [an hour] on a 40-inch press. The bigger sheet has power in the middle of the sheet; it’s more efficient and more flexible. We can also save on paper,” says Werbitt. While only a minority of press time is used for commercial work, Werbitt says they are running conventional jobs to take advantage of the higher productivity and shorter make-ready.

Werbitt is particularly enthusiastic about the press’s UV capabilities. UV inks are VOC [volatile organic compound]-free and promote a healthier environment. “With UV, we can push [the press] further. It opens the door to all kinds of opportunities. The KBA gives us full-blown UV printing, not just coating. The interdeck dryers enable us to achieve dry trapping and strike-throughs with UV inks and varnishes. We can even create a raised UV effect using the right rollers.” While the benefits are clearest in the packaging and display market, “on the commercial side, we will be running full UV as well,” Werbitt says.

In April, 2009, Pazazz received G7 Master certification. G7 is an advanced calibration methodology that focuses on standardization of ink controls from input to output to ensure consistent colour reproduction job-to-job. “Pazazz is dedicated to following the highest standards of the printing process to ensure the best quality product for our clients,” Werbitt says. “G7 Certification enables us to differentiate ourselves further and provide our clients with solutions based on leading edge methodology.”

The benefit of a “one-stop-print-shop” is that Pazazz can now achieve consistent colour matching across a range of applications, including printed marketing materials, labels, signage, boxes and POP displays. Werbitt’s goal is to be able to do whatever the customer wants. “We can do a complete campaign now.”

Pazazz has hosted more than 70 customer visits to their new facility in the first quarter of the year alone and, as a result of their new capabilities, has picked up a number of new clients who had been using printers in Toronto for their oversized work. Pazazz’s vision starts at the top and has “officially seized the large format UV specialty market.”

Heidelberg Speedmaster XL 162Finally, the “big” news out of drupa was, of course, Heidelberg’s entry into the very large format sheetfed market with two presses, the Speedmaster XL 145 and Speedmaster XL 162. (See drupa coverage in the July 2008 issue). As a company that focuses on the sheetfed production chain, the very large format segment was a logical next step in their press product portfolio, particularly considering their growth strategy for packaging. Heidelberg had been looking at the VLF market for a long time. Due to growing levels of industrialization and the pressure this puts on companies to streamline operations, Heidelberg’s renewed focus on packaging, and the less cycle nature of packaging, this segment has become a key sector for Heidelberg. The first U.S. installation is underway, and both models are available in Canada.

Joerg W. Daehnhardt, director of product management for very large format presses at Heidelberg USA, notes that “when you are the latest entrant into a market, it presents a unique opportunity, but it also makes it harder. You need a clear value proposition. We needed a press that wasn’t just a ‘me too product.’ We wanted a press that would be revolutionary and do something for the user in terms of productivity and reliability that no press can match.”

It appears that they may have succeeded. Indeed, Mike Pillo at Annan & Bird saw the press at drupa and calls it “very impressive.” With this new generation of presses, Heidelberg took their experience with the peak-performance industrial XL product line and moved it to the large format arena, particularly with user-friendliness, short make-ready times, production speeds and synchronous wash-up processes. The impressive levels of automation built into the presses mean that fewer operating personnel are needed. This new product family also boasts digital control systems and integration into Prinect. Daehnhardt says, “this enables productivity increases of 20% to 30%. This means not only running speed, [the presses can do 15,000 sheets per hour] but also reliability, up time and the operating efficiency of the press itself.”

Daehnhardt explains that the press is able to obtain a shorter and optimized make-ready through automated processes, such as Intellistart, a feature of all new Speedmasters equipped with the Prinect Press Center. Intellistart is a process-oriented user interface based on JDF data, making all the controls convenient for the operator. The press also does a number of procedures in parallel, such as washing up the blankets, impression cylinders, inking units and fountain rolls. Daehnhardt points out the presses’ feeder design, which automatically adjusts the timing and positioning of the sheet as well as their control features “to a degree that’s unmatched by any other press” and improves productivity and reduces waste.

“In a nutshell,” Daehnhardt says, “our value proposal is higher output at lower cost that yields significantly higher profit.”

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