By: Mark Vruno
Attention, print production managers and operations vice presidents: Do you know what percentage of total ownership cost your press blankets represent? Make an educated guess: 5 percent, 3 percent, 1 percent of overall printing costs? In many cases, consumable blankets account for less than half a percentage point (0.3 to 0.4 percent), according to research compiled by Italian manufacturer Trelleborg.
That $30 or $40 for every $10,000 spent to produce a printed newspaper may seem nominal. But consider that when it comes to press downtime, more than 60 minutes of every 10 hours (11 percent) is in some way related to those layered, polymer-coated composite fabric blankets, whether it’s a setup challenge or a web break. Some 80 percent of the time, it’s a feeding-unit problem. Every printer knows that idle press time costs money, and blanket performance has a definite impact on the bottom line. But for those pinching pennies, opting for a “cheaper” or less expensive blanket may not necessarily save money in the long run. It’s the classic price-vs.-value debate.
“They don’t put inferior tires on Formula One race cars, do they?” Thomas Linkenheil, managing director of Trelleborg Printing Blankets, asked rhetorically. In other words, why put inferior blankets on a multimillion-dollar press investment?
“With the challenging economic climate putting increasing pressure on the industry to control costs and improve efficiency, the need to match the right printing blanket solution to the right application has never been more important,” Linkenheil said. “It is vital that the industry understands that different printing methods, such as heatset, coldset, [and] sheetfed UV … all require different approaches when it comes to specifying a printing blanket. Therefore, if careful thought and consideration isn’t given to selecting the right blanket to do the job at the outset, and just a standard blanket is installed, the effect on the quality of print, as well as the issues that may arise later down the line, can be extremely detrimental.” (See “White Paper” below.)
Higher-quality blankets can help reduce overhead, Linkenheil added. And now, there is a convenient way for printers to calculate how much money they can save by using Trelleborg Printing Blankets as opposed to standard blankets. The positioning of a Trelleborg blanket’s compressed layer plays a major role in ensuring better tension between paper and press, contributing to improved print quality. As one observer put it: “Considering a blanket’s minimal share of cost base, yet major effect on quality of print, paper waste, and downtime, printers’ focus on blanket price rather than TCO (total cost of ownership) is, frankly speaking, completely wrong.”
Taking down downtime
At Gannett Publishing Services’ commercial printing facility in Minneapolis, press downtime has been significantly reduced following the installation of Trelleborg’s high-performance printing blankets. Publishing and printing under the USA Today corporate umbrella, the heatset and coldset publication, newspaper, insert, and catalog manufacturer was experiencing problems with its printing blankets, which needed frequent replacement, causing high levels of downtime on its Goss C500 and Goss C250 presses.
“To try and reduce the level of downtime we were experiencing and improve efficiency on the site, we turned to Trelleborg to help provide an efficient and reliable printing blanket solution that as well as improving our process efficiency, would still deliver the high standard of quality and reproduction that we are renowned for,” said Gannett general manager Doug Wilson. “Since installing the new Vulcan Alto Plus blankets we have seen a significant improvement over the previous blankets we were using.
“We are seeing a noticeable increase in the number of impressions between blanket changes, which is fantastic news, and to top it all off, the reproduction quality has been outstanding. For me, another one of many positive aspects of the Alto Plus blankets is their ability to maintain proper gauge to the many variable stock widths we run here,” he said. “Not having to frequently change blankets has significantly reduced our downtime in this area.”
Trelleborg’s Vulcan Alto Plus has been specifically designed for use on high-speed heatset web offset presses. In addition to providing long life and excellent print quality, it is a stable and versatile blanket that performs across a wide range of applications, according to the manufacturer. Constructed with low-stretch fabrics to form a highly stable carcass, as well as a buffed surface and a closed cell compressible layer, the blanket has robust resistance against smashes and sinking.
Trelleborg launched a metal-backed version for newspaper printers at last year’s IFRA Expo. Designed to improve efficiency and print quality, the Vulcan Metal Aqueous blanket features a unique chemical compound on the top layer that is more hydrophilic than typical rubber compounds, providing a high-quality finish throughout the long lifetime of the blanket. It is suitable for use with conventional inks.
“Reproduction quality has traditionally proven problematic in coldest printing, with problems such as low-quality ink transfer and poor registration of colors,” Linkenheil said. “We wanted to develop a solution that would help our customers deliver consistent quality, time and time again. In addition, its specialist design results in less ink accumulation on the blanket, keeping it cleaner and therefore providing a better ink transfer from the blanket to the paper.” To facilitate higher speeds and longer press runs, the New York Daily News has completed a successful metal-back installation, Linkenheil said.
At drupa 2012 this month in Düsseldorf (May 3-16, drupa.com), the Swedish industrial rubber manufacturer is launching a new blanket for its high-performance Vulcan line: The patented Vulcan Synthesis Evo is the next generation in sleeve development for the heatset sector and features an innovative new design and carrier. In addition, Trelleborg will reveal its proprietary Rollin MyCoat, a two-ply Mylar-based strippable coating blanket. Available in 1.96 mm, 1.35 mm, and 1.15 mm thicknesses, the specialist construction of this new blanket makes stripping very easy, according to Trelleborg. The compressible layer of the blanket strips down to the blue layer, allowing the user to see if knock-outs are correct and precise. A specially designed top rubber compound also makes the blanket suitable for use with both aqueous and UV coating applications.
TCO Math: The Blanket Factor
Trelleborg has launched an online Production Downtime Cost Calculator designed to highlight the importance of considering whole life costs during printing blanket selection. Using the calculator, print managers can input current requirements and “outgoings” — including elements such as how many blankets are used per month, the hourly cost of downtime, and blanket cost per unit — to reveal potential long-term savings they could be making by installing a premium, as opposed to a standard, blanket. Such a detailed breakdown is better known in business circles as a total cost of ownership, or TCO, analysis.
Thomas Linkenheil, managing director of Trelleborg Printing Blankets, said the cost calculator is part of a broader TCO awareness campaign. “With the current economic climate continuing to prove extremely difficult for everyone, there has been increasing pressure on the industry to control costs and improve efficiency,” Linkenheil said. “As such, it is vital that the industry understands that a cheaper blanket doesn’t necessarily mean that they will save money. Instead, it’s more often the case that higher-quality blankets will in fact help reduce business overheads and decrease downtime, saving printers more money in the long run.”
For example, manroland contends that the right blanket with the right feeding characteristics can reduce power consumption by up to 20 percent. How so? A compressive blanket design such as Trelleborg’s is softer and lower feeding. There also is less gauge loss and less ink and paper buildup. And the blankets can withstand more impressions, so wash cycles are less frequent, which saves on energy (and consumables) costs.
The online tool benchmarks users’ existing blanket costs and performance against a Trelleborg Printing Blanket, going so far as to highlight the significant annual savings achievable by printers using the tool to compare their existing standard blankets to premium alternatives. In one example, a hypothetical newspaper plant with a 48-page heatset press using a dozen blankets per month saved nearly $648,000 by using higher-end blankets. Blanket unit cost was $210, and the number of prints between washes was 50,000 (based on 18 million monthly prints); downtime cost per hour was factored at $1,310 (or €1,000). The higher upfront cost of the premium blankets (about $2,000 more) is offset by their extra life, which yields downtime cost savings of nearly $31,500 (after all, extra blankets translates to more hours of lost productivity). Fewer web breaks can result in savings approaching $50,000. But the biggest cost savings — more than $550,000 — comes from the fewer number of prints lost during the wash cycle, assuming an item cost of approximately $1.50 per printed impression.
“We developed our online cost calculator to measure the cost of production downtime so that our customers could see just how much they could save by opting for quality over initial cost,” Linkenheil said. You can try the cost calculator and plug in your relevant numbers at ideasforthelongrun.com.
Who Is Trelleborg?
With more than 100 global distributors, Trelleborg’s printing blanket division is based in Italy and features manufacturing facilities in Italy, France, China, Morristown, Tenn. (U.S.), and soon Brazil. Its 100-year-old, Swedish-based parent company had been flying under the printing industry’s radar until 2006, when the industrial rubber firm acquired Reeves Brothers in the U.S., making it a global leader in polymer-coated, high-precision materials — including printing blankets. Two years later, the firm also bought American blanket firm MacDermid.
In a new flexography alliance with Kodak, Trelleborg technology can compress the plate-making process from a four- or five-hour operation to 20 minutes. The firm also manufactures blankets for HP Indigo and Delphax digital presses. Despite these flexo and digital developments, however, “offset (print) is our core business,” Linkenheil said. “Newspapers, high-speed webs, and sheetfed are in our DNA.”
In a new white paper (ideasforthelongrun.com/topfacts.pdf), Trelleborg shares tips for specifying printing blankets. “Ideas for the Long Run” explores how using different blankets can affect print quality and efficiency. It takes a detailed look at the importance of using the correct blanket for the correct application to maximize productivity and keep maintenance costs to a minimum. “We compiled a list of our top facts and tips in a bid to highlight key areas of concern and then provide an easy-to-follow guide through the correct specification process,” said general manager Thomas Linkenheil.
More drupa Highlights
Compact press system
At drupa this month, Goss International is showing a fourhigh tower of its new Colorliner CPS compact press, featuring the latest in automatic plate-changing technology, ergonomic benefits, and high productivity for fast, efficient newspaper and semi-commercial production. The unique new double- or triple-width press platform delivers the print quality, efficiency, operability, and long-term production versatility to suit a continually changing publishing landscape.
Designed for coldset, heatset, or mixed production, with fast changeover between these print applications, Colorliner CPS is a true workhorse for high-volume production. With a maximum straight running speed of 90,000 copies per hour, it delivers key quality and operational benefits from its compact four-high tower configuration, employing the latest automation technology.
With the Colorliner CPS joining the Colorliner FPS, Goss now provides customers with two versions of the compact press platform. The CPS press incorporates many of the FPS design features, but in a smaller footprint, enabling it to be installed on existing press bridge structures.
This package is housed within a 4.5-meter frame height and benefits from a 2.7-meter first to last impression distance, minimizing fan-out and producing excellent print quality. The low-height, non-splitting design maintains excellent ergonomics for operation and maintenance through a patented and unique cylinder configuration.
Shaftless drives, with one motor per printing level, and cylinders with the bearer-to-bearer design typically seen on commercial presses, provide proven print quality. Users can select press configurations offering double- and triple-wide output, depending on their publishing requirements.
“The Colorliner CPS is compact but extremely powerful — a ‘pocket-sized’ press that packs a big punch,” said Theo Buchmeyer, managing director of Goss International-France. “Its unique design provides a shorter ‘first-to-last’ impression than most rivals, faster running speeds, and provides a level of automation that is hard to beat on speed of job changeovers. This, combined with its unique self-cooling capability, makes it a mighty contender for the title of heavyweight press at the drupa show,” Buchmeyer said. “We are delighted to be showing one of the towers being built for DC Thomson in Scotland. It will provide a good visualization of how much we can pack into a very efficient design.” (See E&P December 2011.)
New water-control capability
At drupa, QuadTech is unveiling an enhanced version of its Color Control and Web Inspection System with AccuCam, featuring automated water-control capabilities that ensure optimal water-ink balance. The new water-control feature reduces the occurrence of common newspaper printing problems, such as scumming and fan-out, by automatically adjusting ink and water levels. Traditionally, maintaining the right balance of ink and plate dampening in offset printing has been a time-consuming, labor-intensive task. AccuCam’s high sensitivity to water-balance deviations ensures these actions are fulfilled at full press speed, freeing the press operator to use time more economically.
“QuadTech’s AccuCam with Water Control provides a single solution for ensuring reliable image-based color control and water balance,” said product manager Greg Wuenstel. “This development will not only ensure optimum quality throughout the print run but will also further reduce labor, and help printers realize ink savings.”
Accurate ink and water balance is critical to prevent defects and to ensure optimal ink yields. Automating this process ensures consistency and eliminates the probability of human error, which can lead to overcompensation of ink or water settings and overuse of ink.
QuadTech’s Color Control and Web Inspection System with AccuCam is an automated, image-based, closed-loop color-control system that provides accuracy and consistency, detecting real-time defects across the entire printed web.
The AccuCam system utilizes a proprietary, six-channel spectral sensor for CIELAB image-based color control. Analyzing the entire image, AccuCam automatically compares the data to target aim point values from a high-resolution prepress file, eliminating the need for color bars or gray bars. The system makes automatic ink key adjustments for consistent high color quality and accuracy.
Vince Balistrieri, QuadTech director of engineering and general manager of commercial and newspaper, said: “The first iteration of our AccuCam system provided a new, more accurate, and consistent method of controlling color. By forming development partnerships with cuttingedge newspaper printers such as Sankei Shinbun (Osaka, Japan) and Newsprinters (Knowsley, U.K.) we’ve worked together to push the technology forward. Water control and the continuing addition of inspection capabilities are the direct result of these relationships.” The AccuCam system is also improving performance at Herold Druck (Vienna, Austria) and was recently chosen by the Chicago Tribune Co. as the foundation for the largest newspaper installation of color-control technology in the world. (See E&P, April 2012.)