The presses remain the key attraction at drupa and in 2008 printers are not going to be disappointed by the range of developments on show, says Gareth Ward.For more than fifty years printers have been coming to drupa to see the latest developments in presses. It will be no different at next spring when the world’s printers will head for Düsseldorf to see what technical developments Heidelberg, MAN Roland, KBA, Komori or Mitsubishi, as the big five providers of sheetfed presses, have to show. While the demonstrations will certainly impress, there will be a change in emphasis. At previous drupas manufacturers have come up with advances in technology to impress visitors, this time the technologies are going to be about offering solutions to the problems that today's printers face.
This will mean a stress on efficiency through improved networking and reducing make ready times; on improving the versatility of the printing press through offering the possibility for adding coatings and other in line processes and on product-ivity through printing at higher speeds and on larger format sheets. Throughout there will be an increased use of automation in order to reduce the manning levels required to operate a press. All this is necessary because the nature of printing is changing. Print has to justify its place against other media and printers have to deal with highly professional buyers looking to plan purchasing on a world scale. Talking about drupa, Heidelberg CEO Bernhard Schreier has pointed out that competition for non-time sensitive products is now global, meaning that in order to compete printers in the developed world have to change. He describes it thus: “Print service providers
will only remain competitive and profitable over the long term if they systematically progress from predominantly manual processes to industrialised technologies. Print shops must be equipped with the latest generation of presses and systematically integrate and network the full range of processes.”
The drupa president and KBA CEO Albrecht Bolza-Schünemann agrees. Looking forward to drupa 08, he says: “What you can count on is even higher performance from digital printing systems and complete workflow solutions covering the entire print production process as well as developments in terms of automation and integrated processes (inline finishing, inline quality control, etc) from the secret stars of the event - conventional sheet-fed and web printing systems.”
At previous drupas the potential benefits of networking through CIP3 and JDF has been discussed. At the next drupa, this potential will become reality, as each manufacturer has acquired experience with pilot installations and has the real data to prove that this is a more productive and efficient way of working. And gaps in the data are being filled as the impact of JDF spreads. Information from prepress to set ink ducts is now being joined by set up information about paper formats and grades provided by mills and paper merchants.
Maximising production efficiency
THE attention at Heidelberg will be split between its new family of large format presses on the one hand and the Anicolor inking system on the other. Both respond to the changing environment that printers find themselves having to cope with. The key attraction will be the launch of the large format Speedmaster XL145 and XL162 sheetfed presses. These are based on the successful 18,000 sheets per hour Speedmaster XL105 design and will be ready to ship from the show. The larger format enables commercial printers to lay down more pages, more labels, carton blanks or mixed products on a sheet than on a 40in (B1) press. Developments in impositioning software, computer to plate imaging and automated set up means that these presses are as easy to operate as full sheet and half sheet presses. Heidelberg has talked about offering a perfecting option on these machines and while perfecting will certainly be offered on the Speedmaster XL105, the larger format presses may be introduced as straight machines, though will full coating and UV capability as options.
KBA has, with MAN Roland, the most experience of the large format sector, and it will stress the value of perfecting the larger sheet size over running a 40in long perfector. The Japanese manufacturers continue to ponder whether the market for the larger format press is large enough for them to offer the increased format, rather than concentrate on reducing make-ready and increasing automation on the size of machines the currently have. Neil Sutton, managing director of Komori UK, one of Komori's key markets, says: “We all live in a very competitive world and maximising production efficiency is what it as all about, because it is very difficult to face low cost competition. Komori has been a pioneer of automation and we are constantly looking to improve on that. I’m sure that this will be clear at drupa.”
For MAN Roland and KBA that next step is about running set up processes in parallel through placing individual motors on plate cylinders to allow these to turn independently of the press. This means that all plates can be changed simultaneously and that several steps - blanket wash and plate change for example - can take place at the same time rather than in sequence.
Dr Markus Rall, MAN Roland sheetfed press director, says that with DirectDrive, plate change time is no longer relevant. “We can cut down make ready time by making processes like blanket washing and pre-inking happen in parallel. A plate change time of one minute is not a relevant factor any longer. DirectDrive gives us the highest productivity to cope with short run printing.”
Value through added services
RALL says, “All printers have demanding customers so need faster make ready, they need to deliver the quality and to produce the job more cheaply. Printers also have to be more than just printing houses and have to differentiate themselves through becoming service providers.”
This element emerges as another key theme for drupa that of value added production. For printers that need to offer the fastest turnarounds on short run work, the automation offered by MAN Roland's DirectDrive, Mitsubishi's SimulChanger and KBA’s DriveTronic will be needed. For other printers the need is to deliver a greater choice to the print buyer through additional colours, coatings and varnishes as a means of establishing a difference between one printer and the next. And where possible the different production steps need to happen at the same time as printing. This is leading to presses with more than one coating unit and associated dryers and to presses able to print on a greater range of materials. Inline foiling is an option for adding greater value to the printed sheet that is increasingly offered. A glue is applied to the sheet in one print unit and the foil is applied by the next, adhering to the image where glue has been laid down. If a foil is too much, printing with metallic inks to create different effects to enhance litho printing is increasing in popularity. One reason may be that digital printing machines cannot offer this kind of flexibility.
Other inline options can include embossing and die cutting to remove post production steps. On larger format presses, a slitter in the delivery will deliver two jobs side by side or make a large sheet more manageable in finishing. Likewise printing with uv inks is increasing in popularity. These offer higher levels of gloss and the press delivers a perfectly dry sheet which can pass immediately into post press. This type of printing is reckoned to be growing at 10 per cent a year.
UV also extends the range of inks and coatings that can be printed. An interesting area that KBA is going to feature is the increased integration between the press and RFID tags on paper to move closer to computer integrated manufacturing, while the RFID tags themselves are another application open to sheetfed printing using UV technology. “It's about bringing processes that have been done off line into the press in order to shorten production cycles,” explains KBA’s Klaus Schmidt. Recent developments have included printing on plastics using a corona unit ahead of the printing towers to improve adhesion between ink and substrate.
This level of continuous production creates a need to ensure that quality is maintained. Live inspection systems are going to be widespread, as technologies that have been pioneered in packaging applications by MAN Roland, KBA and Mitsubishi, become a mainstream. Video inspection can check every sheet for defects and reject those that fail to match the set standard. Heidelberg has taken a different approach with a spectrophotometer mounted inside the press to measure colour on every sheet. On a Speedmaster CD74 this cuts make ready times and eliminates fluctuations during the print run. Other manufacturers offer this closed loop control through the control desk.
KBA is currently riding high on the success of large format presses, extending from the Rapida 130 to the Rapida 205, almost certain to remain the world's largest sheetfed press. This drupa will see the company demonstrate perfecting on these sheet sizes to stress the sheer productivity of printing both sides of a 16pp or 32pp sheet in a single pass. This is going to be of most interest to book and magazine printers where digital printing has yet to make
a great impact.
For smaller printers there is going to be an interesting choice in formats. Manufacturers like Sakurai and Ryobi are moving into larger press sizes as competition from digital press manufacturers encroaches on their traditional territory. But rather than go head to head with the big five manufacturers (as well as any that might come from China in future), they are producing presses printing an SRA1 sheet. They argue that for many printers the extra sheet size is unnecessary and that a 92cm format means a printer can afford to step up on an eight page format without too much expense.
However the smaller printers around the world really face the choice between going digital or remaining with litho. The DI presses from Presstek and Screen present an interesting midway point particularly as Presstek is planning to show a four page DI press. More printers will be drawn to the Heidelberg Anicolor. There is warm speculation that the 52cm format size will be joined by a larger press at drupa as the concept is proving is worth in a wide range of printers. In the Anicolor the conventional 18-roller ink train is replaced by just two rollers the same size as the plate cylinder. At every rotation the plate is fed the right amount of ink using an anilox roller rather than ink keys. There is almost no colour correction needed as the press faithfully reproduces what is on the plate. Conventional inks, plates and fount solutions are used, giving all the cost advantages that litho printers enjoy over users of toner machines.
The great advantage, however, is that make ready times are cut by around 50 per cent and waste generated is cut by 90 per cent. This makes the Anicolor highly competitive with digital presses on short run work, while much more cost effective as print runs climb. Bernhard Schreier already expects the Anicolor to be one of the key presentations at drupa, adding that “we will be presenting numerous additional offerings and solutions in Düsseldorf that are set to further improve the effectiveness, efficiency and productivity of our clients’ operations”.
This will expand the role of the press manufacturer beyond supplying presses. As printers strive to cut costs, it becomes increasingly important to maximise production time from the press and to avoid unexpected breakdowns. drupa will introduce ways of monitoring the condition of the press using the internet to connect to service centres, so identifying when a machine needs to be looked at to prevent an unscheduled breakdown.
THE other great movement at drupa, partly achieved through bringing down make ready and wastage, is going to be the steady reduction in environmental impact of the printing process. It is no longer necessary or legal in many areas, to run presses with high concentrations of IPA or to use cleaning solvents with high VOC content. All manufacturers are going to emphasise how they are reducing the environmental impact of the press and running with non-alcohol founts is going to be everywhere.
It adds up to a fascinating show for those looking at presses and ensures that drupa remains the major event worldwide for the printing industry. Printers may not see many totally new press designs, but the ideas and options presented will make the journey to Düsseldorf worth the trip.