By: Heidi Kulicke
The past several years have brought numerous developments to the forefront of press efficiency and optimization. As publishers search for ways to cut costs without compromising quality, a serious investigation of production practices could lead to increased revenue opportunities. By examining areas of workflow, energy output, operating materials, and the technical equipment itself, solutions to reduce costs and increase revenue might be more feasible than imagined.
Digital and Thermal Technology
As technology evolves, it’s imperative that publishers stay informed about the rapidly changing industry and apply the knowledge to their business. Over the years, printing companies have engineered presses capable of higher speeds, wider format presses for more page output, and closed loop controls for items such as registration and ink adjustments, which take less physical labor and allow for more consistent print quality. Other technological advancements include automatic plate loading and unloading, automated material handling for roll transportation and preparation, higher speeds for presses, jaw folders for better product delivery, variable web-width capability for a wider range of printing products, and upgrades to existing press control systems with updated options and presets.
New technology from TKS includes a digital inkjet press called the JetLeader 1500. “We spent two years testing and developing it before bringing it to market in 2011,” said Mike Shafer, director of sales and marketing with TKS. The technology has been around for the last few years in transactional, financial, and direct mail markets, as well as the document and book industry. Shafer said TKS is working with multiple ink and paper companies that can be sources for its customers. “We don’t think the owner of a JetLeader should be tied to the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) for ink and paper,” he said.
Improving productivity and reducing capital costs are at the forefront of any successful business strategy. At the IFRA Expo in October, Kodak showcased the advantages of thermal technology. Thermal systems have been proven to address common environmental issues and enhance sustainability through low and chemical-free production.
The benefits of non-process thermal technology include the elimination of chemistry and all associated costs and processing steps such as chemicals and cleaning solutions. It eliminates the need for additional energy to run processors and cleanout units, and remove debris. The improved technology eliminates disposal of contaminated water, waste, and containers, and is compatible with most thermal platesetters, offering screening capabilities at up to 200,000 impressions in typical coldset web applications.
New technology known as hybrid printing offered through manroland allows newspapers the ability to increase revenue streams by printing weekly newspapers or inserts and other commercial products throughout the day, while reserving the prime operating window for the flagship product — the newspaper.
Hybrid printing allows papers to print both coldset along with heatset, UV-cured, or RFI-cured inks on the same equipment. This allows newspaper printers the flexibility to change between a variety of formats that substantially drive down labor costs and duration.
Quebecor Media owns several manroland hybrid presses with both heatset and coldset capabilities at plants in Montreal and Toronto. One of these, operating consistently at 90,000 copies per hour, was the first in the newspaper printing industry capable of printing newspapers, retail inserts, and phone directories on a single machine. This press is also capable of printing variable web widths.
Although manroland offers several available models as part of the autoprint portfolio, the most widely used is autoprint APL (Automatic Plate Loading), which won the 2011 InterTech Technology Award from Printing Industries of America. “This system reduces typical newspaper plate changes from about 30 minutes to three. This is an enormous breakthrough for newspapers looking to consolidate and print back-to-back editions in their prime operating window,” said Ron Sams, vice president of newspaper sales for manroland, Inc., in a release.
Saving on costs associated with production processes is directly dependent on how the system is serviced. Systematic plant upkeep with regular preventive maintenance reveals the general condition of a system. “Lack of maintenance will result in press downtime, higher waste, and poor print quality. No matter how busy you keep a press, there should always be some scheduled maintenance time,” Shafer said.
Maintaining productivity and avoiding the need to resort to technical personnel for costly repairs leads to quantifiable savings. With proper maintenance, press owners can expect their presses to last 20 to 30 years, Shafer said.
Equipment manufacturers always have a recommended maintenance program for mechanical and electrical items, and some third-party computer programs have been introduced, which takes this preventative approach even further. “Having a business partner that understands the importance of uptime is key to the newspaper business. Production deadlines must be met, and that can only be done when the equipment is actually performing, and performing at its best,” said Chad Skelton, transactional and direct mail segment marketing manager for Océ North America.
Paper and ink
Consumables such as paper and ink are another way newspapers can lower costs; however, lower cost could mean lower quality. “You may end up paying for it in the end with lower print quality and additional web breaks, which causes press downtime, increasing your running waste cost because additional press startups are needed. There is a balance,” said Shafer, adding that the best options vary on a case-by-case basis.
With the rise in newsprint prices, minimal paper consumption is ideal. Improved automation, intelligent systems architecture, and quality controls will secure more square inches of quality print per reel used, while generating savings through more efficient energy consumption and reduced manpower.
For some publishers the best way to reduce paper costs might be to rethink product formats altogether. A different size or total length could be all that is needed to save on paper costs. Goss International launched its cutoff modification service, called Triliner, in 2008. The service involves the conversion of the publisher’s current press to a threearound production and continues to gain attention as the prices of newsprint, ink, and other consumables continue to rise. The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch has converted its press to three-around production printing on a press cylinder, reducing paper costs through a smaller cutoff while increasing color.
At the IFRA Expo in October, Kodak promoted its Colorflow Pro Software with ink optimizing option for use with the Kodak Prinergy Workflow System. The software is capable of significantly reducing ink consumption while improving print quality through greater press stability. The software can be implemented in any operation, providing newspapers with a complete color management solution.
“Due to the nature of newsprint, a very low volume of ink per drop must be applied in order to maintain image quality,” Skelton said. An Océ innovation that addresses the issue is the Digi Dot inkjet head, compatible with the Océ JetStream inkjet press. Digi Dot technology is capable of modulating ink drop sizes, which allows operators to change the size — and consequently the volume — of the ink drop: a crucial component for the printing of newspapers, he added.
One of Océ’s newest inkjet presses, the ColorStream 3500, features the ability to print the same high-quality output during ramp-up, full-production, and ramp-down speeds. This drastically reduces paper waste, production time, and costs.
More cost-cutting measures
Changing web widths is one way to save money, yet many newspapers have already made the switch to 44 inches or less. Therefore, publishers are looking for additional ways to benefit from multiple web widths.
TKS is one company that offers broadsheet papers the option to convert to a tabloid that is stitched but still retains its sections. The modification allows newsprint consumption to be reduced by as much as a third and increases the amount of color produced by 50 percent. In addition, Shafer recommends add-ons through automation such as upgraded press controls and other auxiliary press items such as registration and cutoff, blanket wash systems, and roll preparation devices.
Another way to cut costs is to combine several functions into one processing system. Top-level process integration options combine collecting, inserting, folding, stitching, trimming, and polybagging in one system. The added efficiency for newspapers translates into lower waste and an economical use of resources.
How user-friendly a system is also impacts overall production time and use of manpower. The more intuitively a user interface is designed to work, the more owners will benefit from a higher level of efficiency.
In September, The Pueblo (Colo.) Chieftain completed an upgrade to its 1996 manroland UNISET press with modern controls and the latest PECOM console-control technology. manroland technicians and Chieftain staff were able to work together to complete the upgrade in just two weeks, without the two-shift, sevenday- a-week operation losing any production time.
The upgrade entailed replacing the controls on each press unit with a touchscreen unit control. The main goal was to create a more reliable electronic press operation, but the Chieftain has discovered other benefits, including waste reduction, which equate to cost savings.
The new controls allow the newspaper to achieve register at much slower speeds, resulting in an immediate waste reduction of about 1.5 percent, said Ned Sutton, production director for the Chieftain, in a release. He said he anticipates savings to reach 2 percent by the end of the year. “When you spend a couple million dollars on paper every year, that amounts to a considerable repeat savings,” he said. The reliability of modern electronics has also proven to be of immediate benefit, allowing Chieftain staff to better troubleshoot the press and further minimize downtime.
A serious cash-saving consideration for some newspapers is outsourcing. Several factors must be taken into consideration when deciding whether or not to outsource. Some questions include: “What is the age of the existing press? Does it need to be upgraded? If so, what are the costs? Is my existing press lacking sufficient color capacity? Am I able to print within the time frame I need?” And, of course, “How far away would the new printing site be?”
Over the last few years dozens of daily newspapers have shut down their existing presses in favor of outsourcing printing. There are, of course, downsides to outsourcing, such as “distribution times, inclement weather, and loss of control by not running your own press,” Shafer said.
Depending on a newspaper’s proximity to other publications, publishers could have the opportunity to become a regional production center by printing other newspapers and publications. One example is the recent deal made between two Chicago publications.
In July, Chicago Tribune Media Group began managing the printing and packaging of the Chicago Sun- Times, the flagship product of Sun-Times Media Productions LLC, along with seven suburban newspapers also owned by the company. Chicago Tribune Media Group is now solely responsible for all production and distribution of Sun-Times Media Productions print products, except its Pioneer Press titles.
Both companies benefit from the decision. With this change, the Sun-Times is no longer involved in the printing and distribution business, ultimately freeing up resources for other areas of growth. Chicago Tribune Media Group is able to bring in more revenue using its existing equipment.
The Pueblo Chieftain is one of a handful of small papers in the United States that has earned SNAP certification (specifications for newsprint advertising production). The certification process involves printing test forms and sending print samples to a panel of judges, and the paper has held the certification for about eight years. The consistent print quality of its products has attracted the attention of weekly, biweekly, and monthly publications from as far away as Denver, allowing the Chieftain to pursue revenue opportunities through commercial printing operations. “This has really helped the paper stay on top of the financial problems that all newspapers are facing right now,” Sutton said.
To adapt to the changing needs of North American newspapers, manroland Inc. unveiled its Newspaper PressUpdate initiative at GRAPH EXPO in September to help newspapers use their existing resources to become more relevant, competitive, and profitable in today’s marketplace. The goal of the initiative is to provide publishers with the expertise, engineering services, and modular technology needed to upgrade their facilities in an effort to reduce costs and improve productivity. In addition, manroland offers assistance to newspapers looking to change formats or add additional color capabilities.
“Because of sweeping structural changes in the industry over the past five years, newspaper printers currently need a different kind of support. That is why manroland has formed a global PressUpdate task force to focus its newspaper division on helping customers take the best advantage of facilities they already have while they are revamping their own business models,” Vince Lapinski, chief executive officer of manroland, Inc., said in a release. “Newspapers will be able to buy exactly what they need to capitalize on existing opportunities to expand their revenue stream and operate more profitably,” he added.
Perhaps the future of newspaper production will include fewer pages, smaller circulations, more color, different formats, more personalization, more decentralized printing centers, and more niche products. In some areas, a commercial printer might print the newspaper, and in other areas a newspaper will take on more commercial printing. Whatever the future brings, newspapers are poised to weather the myriad changes with unwavering determination.
Benefits of Digital Printing
Océ’s Chad Skelton is an outspoken proponent of digital printing. Here are his top four benefits that newspapers can realize by embracing the technology.
1. Postal costs can be reduced by utilizing distributed printing enabled by smaller digital systems, such as the Océ JetStream inkjet press.
2. Faster turnaround time with digital output.
3. Headcount can be reduced because fewer people are required to operate digital systems, and a digital operator does not require the skill and training of a press operator.
4. Because each piece produced by a digital press can be unique, multiple titles can be printed during the same print run. When different titles are comingled, postal savings can be realized.