Offset printing update

Sometimes, as the old expression goes, we can’t see the forest for the trees. You can apply this to our current digital versus offset industry landscape. For example, though digital is exciting, growing and presenting us with some amazing options in terms of packaging, short runs and finishing, offset still rules – by a long shot! According to Smithers Pira, in 2017 digital should account for about 16.4% of global print and printed packaging in terms of value – but just 3.9% in terms of volume. By 2022, digital will be 19.1% of value but still just 4.3% of volume.

The fact is that the world’s leading offset OEMs continue to impress with technology, efficiency and quality upgrades to their sophisticated machines, backed by ever-increasing collaborations to help their clients achieve success – helping their clients re-examine their own systems in an engaging and proactive manner. Today’s offset presses are performance oriented, focusing not just on high-volume output, but also on improved workflow, reduced waste and downtime, sustainability, drying options and dramatically reduced makeready times. Today’s offset printers are also more educated about what their equipment is capable of. Bottom line: While digital may be growing, offset will continue to rule for quite some time. Here’s a glimpse of five of of the world’s offset leaders. I genuinely wish I could include all of them. For this article, I selected one flagship model from each OEM.

Heidelberg Speedmaster XL-106

One of Heidelberg’s key focuses on sheetfed presses this year and into the future will be its “Push to Stop” philosophy, ideally suited for the OEM’s peak-performance presses – the VLF, XL-106, XL 75 and CX-102. This approach can also be termed “Navigated Printing.” “Heidelberg believes that its customers want to be shown how to improve their business through process integration and streamlined production, as opposed to ‘nuts and bolts’ conversations,” said Ray Fagan, PM/Sales Specialist for Sheetfed, Digital & Postpress at Heidelberg Canada. “Heidelberg’s Push to Stop concept takes print manufacturing to a new level of productivity that was impossible to achieve before.”

A Speedmaster press operating in Push to Stop mode is virtually autonomous. This means that it takes all job parameters into account, presets all functions of the press, initiates the run, adjusts registration and colour, and even starts the good-sheet counter while inserting a tab into the pile. All this occurs while the press continues to print – unless the operator steps in to interrupt. Jobs are autonomously changed over without operator intervention. Using Prinect as the key integration component that ties multiple production process together (i.e. MIS, workflow, ink key data, substrates specs and press setting, together within the Press Center XL 2 console or more specifically, the Intellistart 2 program), Push to Stop executes the fastest changeover sequence possible. “With manufacturing this close to seamless, job throughput is dramatically improved,” Fagan added. By the way, in the final quarter of its financial year 2016/2017 (Jan. 1 – Mar. 31, 2017), Heidelberg recorded its best sales since 2008.

The first U.S. adopter of Heidelberg’s Push to Stop technology was Moquin Press, a trade and packaging printer near San Francisco, who recently installed a Speedmaster XL 106-6+L. The technology is fully integrated with Heidelberg’s Prinect workflow, Inpress Control 2 and Inspection Control 2. “Bringing Industry 4.0 level automation into our pressroom; Push to Stop has been a total game-changer. The unprecedented level of integration of the machine with our workflow has made a tremendous impact to our productivity, and has already driven our costs down,” said Greg Moquin, President and owner. For example, just 150 sheets into a recent 30,000-sheet job, a small piece of paper hit the blanket. Prinect Inspection Control 2 immediately identified the error, saving the company from a costly mistake – which would not previously have been caught by the press operator.

KBA Rapida 106

KBA (Koenig & Bauer, Würzburg, Germany) is dominant in sheetfed automation, allowing customers to select specific features that drastically reduce makeready times and have the greatest financial impact on their bottom line. The other huge benefit is consistent colour throughout the run and written reports of the actual press run for clients. KBA’s medium-format Rapida presses have set benchmarks in makeready times, print performance, new processes and user-orientated configurations. Here are a few features of its flagship Rapida 106.

New FastInkUp allows the operator to deactivate the ink vibrator up to 20 sheets before the end of a job, reducing the volume of ink in the inking unit. After the plate change, ink run-up for the new job starts automatically with the building of the new ink profile. KBA LogoTronic provides for company-wide digital data exchange. Additional modules such as LogoTronic Cockpit, PressWatch and SpeedWatch also permit live evaluation of current production. ErgoTronic ColorControl is an automatic colour measuring system able to scan control strips at any position on the printed sheet. Its QualiTronic/ErgoTronic Instrument Flight solution is based on System Brunner colour/gray balance control that provides the highest level of colour consistency by taking into account more than 30 print-influencing variables in every ink slide zone. Simultaneous Plate Change on all printing units and Plate Ident, a system for plate identification directly on the press, uses two cameras to identify the location of printing plates using registration marks. Whether conventional UV, HR UV or LED UV – KBA Rapida sheetfed offset presses accept any type of curing system. The Rapida 106 press has been the makeready world champion in medium-format offset since 2008. With production speeds up to 20,000 sph, it’s also the fastest in its format class.

So how does all this play out in the pressroom? One example is Ohio’s Sandusky Packaging, who’ll be installing a Rapida 106 41” 7-colour later this summer. “We’re dedicated to responding to fast-moving trends in our industry,” said Jim Longer, President. “These trends – speed, precision and service – dictate the need to make internal changes to our facility, which include faster setups, spot-on colour, faster press speeds, more intuitive software, and a wide variety of substrates.”

Their new press will be equipped with System Brunner’s Instrument Flight print quality measuring with KBA inline QualiTronic Color Control. The system notifies press operators of the print quality achieved under selected standards and can ensure compliance with different specifications each day. “Our key is efficient, quick setups using 10 pt. to 34 pt. substrates, and now even higher with ever-changing jobs,” said Randy Johnson, VP of Operations. “We’re projecting a 50% gain in productivity due to the speed and automation of the new press – and expect that our turnaround will drop from weeks to days.”

Komori Lithrone GLX-40

The Komori Lithrone GLX brings automation to a new level with a running speed of 18,000 iph. Some of the automation available includes PQA-S close-looped colour control and inspection, automatic non-stop feeder and delivery, AAPC plate changers (that change as many print units as the press is equipped with in one minute) as well as optional logistics. The Komori GL is the GLX’s “little brother” that also offers the same features as the GLX with a running speed of 16,500 iph. The GLX-40 delivers significantly improved print quality and enhanced agility for colour changeovers. Extraordinary productivity can also be realized through optional automatic non-stop devices for long runs at high speed, control systems, automatic mechanisms and new cleaning/washing systems. KHS-AI, its core system for meeting diverse printing needs, is combined with new features that provide powerful support for package printing, resulting in immense power for high print quality and high productivity. The GLX’s energy conserving and space-saving design, along with reduced heat emissions, also benefit the environment while reducing costs. Komcan (Georgetown, ON) is the sole authorized agent for Komori printing presses and auxiliary equipment in Canada. It offers the complete line of Komori solutions including factory-approved service, OEM parts and consumables.

One in-shop example of Komori technology that caught my eye was a recent install at Ohio-based Baesman Group Printing. Its new Komori G40-P 8-colour perfecting press with HUV is expected to increase printing capacity by 50%. CEO Rod Baesman explained: “Previous technology required the ink to dry for 24 hours before further processing and now, with HUV, the ink is dry immediately. Since the press can print both sides in a single pass, it cuts our production time in half. We invested in this equipment to keep pace with client expectations of lower costs and faster speed to market. As clients are making their marketing decisions closer to the date of promotion, faster speed to market allows them more time to maximize the effectiveness of their campaigns.” The new press can print on paper, plastic, vinyl, foil, and many other synthetic materials.

Ryobi RMGT 9 Series

“RMGT had a record year in 2016 with press sales up significantly over 2015’s record-setting results. “We think this is a result of our customers considering the RMGT 9 Series presses to be a 37” ‘digital press’ because of how efficient it is with short runs between 1,500 and 10,000 sheets,” said Karl Belafi Jr., VP of KBR Graphics Canada. “The compact size of the press also allows jobs to be set on 8-up sheets without having to go with a full 40” press,” he added. KBR Graphics is the authorized distributor for RMGT – Ryobi MHI Graphic Technology sheetfed offset presses in Canada. RMGT recently expanded its product lines to a complete range of presses from smaller units, all the way up to 44” models. The RMGT 9 Series A1-size offset press handles 8-up A4-size printing at a 6-up price, said the OEM. The 9 Series features maximum speeds of 16,200 sph, varnish coating, offset quality with short-run quantities, and a maximum sheet size of 25.20” x 37.01”. The press is available with LED-UV technology and convertible perfector.

Hueneye, a Montreal online trade printer, currently runs 8-up with a Ryobi RMGT 9 Series Press. This allows them to expand their business by tackling eight-up projects, and not be limited to a six-up format. “We serve ‘jobbers,’ so we’re always looking to fill in holes on the press sheet,” said Hueneye’s Michael Green. “The larger format is particularly convenient for running book work more efficiently,” he added. More cost savings are realized by reducing the amount of outsourced work. The press also consumes less electricity than larger models. With significantly lower plate costs and power consumption than a B1-size press, and a much smaller footprint, the RMGT 9 Series offers key cost advantages. “Plates for this press are roughly 30% cheaper than for a 28” x 40” press because their pricing is based on square inches,” Green added. Hueneye is saving on labour as well. “We can run the 9 Series Press with one operator, which we couldn’t do on a 40” press. This makes the overall cost of ownership much lower.”

Roland 700 Evolution

Manroland Sheetfed’s Roland 700 Evolution supersedes both the Roland 700 HS and the ROLAND 700 Direct Drive on an all-new platform. Designed from the ground up and incorporating a sleek, futuristic look, the latest generation Roland 700 incorporates many new technological developments that give printers unprecedented levels of efficiency, productivity, operation and quality. Among these new developments are a newly designed central console with touchscreen control, a new feeder pile transport that reduces waste, Manroland’s new suction belt sheet-handling technology for a more even pile contour, all-new dampening units in the press, axial bearings in the impression and  transferter  positions that significantly reduce start-up torque and, when used with the sophisticated software for practice-oriented roller washing cycles, further reduces downtime. The result is enhanced productivity and print quality alongside a further lowering of production costs.

Other features include print speeds of 18,000 sph, optional 750 x 1,050 mm sheet size for maximum multiple-up images, delivery and dampening units specially designed for high-speed production, and other unique features including TripleFlow inking unit, intelligent speed compensation for inking and dampening units, effective anti-ghosting solutions, and more.

Across the board, I’ve noticed that users of Manroland Sheetfed technology have invariably pointed to its InlineColorPilot system that significantly reduces waste sheets. With this unique colour measurement system, ink-water balance is precisely preserved. There’s no need to stop the press during the makeready process during measuring. And, the world’s fastest inline colour measurement system needs only three sheets to read the colour bar for all ink zones. There are no moving parts in the system, and up to ten colours can be measured inline.

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Tony Curcio is the editor of Graphic Arts Magazine.