Operations: Running Wide and Betting Long

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By: Jim Rosenberg

The old presses are still there, silent in their darkened hall. Of the New York Daily News Libertyview plant’s original equipment, only prepress and post-press systems still operate, albeit with substantial modification.

Those original presses went up with the $150 million plant — and though not really so old, together they represent newspapers’ last, pre-digital stand: more modern machinery in bigger, better buildings to move more papers with more color more cost-effectively.

With new presses, inserters and more automation, it looks as though that vision may be realized, years after and in spite of the advent of digitally distributed news — and not just because the equipment is different or faster (which it certainly is) or because the Daily News eschews electronic enterprise (which it certainly hasn’t). In fact, last fall its Website was No. 6 among U.S. papers, at over 7.1 million uniques — up 6% over a year earlier — while its million-plus daily online-and-print readership came in at No. 7.

It’s a tab, after all — not the flat, rigid, $700 pound of sleekly encased circuitry you wouldn’t dare lose or leave with the commuter next to you and couldn’t jam into your back pocket or even your coat pocket, but rather the four-bit pound of printed paper a reader can roll up, fold over, tear or share. In a big city or throughout its metro area, all kinds of readers — some of the Kindle-d, Blackberry-ed and iPadd-ed among them — will have recourse to the familiar resource at a bus stop or lunch counter, in an elevator or washroom.

In other words, in a market like New York, where until very recently most of the real newspaper competition has been between tabloids, there seems every reason to keep printing newspapers, just so long as a publisher can satisfy advertisers’ increasing demands while keeping costs well under control.

It’s what owner Mort Zuckerman was betting on: a more colorful daily produced more economically to attract more advertising, while using the same investment to attract and produce contract work for others. The economies seem in place and the Daily News already is the most colorful, but meaningful measure of advertising may await the recession’s end. As for semi-commercial printing, two major changes in the competitive landscape occurred during the project: North Jersey Media Group halted, then resumed taking business for its four presses an hour to the west, while newspaper printer AFL Web Printing opened a new plant a half-hour to the north.

Starting over in place
Conversion of the old Clorox plant, near the Jersey City waterfront looking out on the Statue of Liberty, dates from the mid-1990s when it housed the first Goss keyless Newsliner presses. Like it, the plant’s year-old second press hall houses a new press, but not new in the way of that first-generation Newsliner. Adapting design elements of German pressmaker KBA’s compact Cortina waterless-offset press to its longstanding top-of-the-line traditional newspaper offset model, the Commander CT already was running in two European plants.

The first presses never worked to management’s full satisfaction. But the new, all-tower presses deliver fine color on every page every day.

It was a big investment – believed to be some $100 million — when few others were buying and building. The project moved swiftly. After construction make-ready, demolition of the old newsprint warehouse and part of the receiving docks began in November 2008. A month later, the press foundation’s pit was excavated. Right after New Year’s Day, “we were already starting to drive piles,” recalls Manufacturing Vice President Christopher Baker.

Soon after, the slab was poured, followed by the real concrete base. In all, 150 continuous truckloads of concrete made a single pour. “We started at 5 in the morning and we were done at midday,” Baker says. Three days later, the re-bar went in for the columns. The building and its phasing were “all designed around the concrete table for the presses,” he adds.

With rebar and formwork in place, 110 trucks emptied 970 cubic yards of concrete on the last day of March 2009 to create what became the table after 56 days of curing. The basic enclosure went up in April and May, and the pressroom pits and floor slab went in June.

Eleven months after demolition, says Baker, “We fired up the first press on October 16th.” The second press was ready in a few weeks, and the third by Dec. 4.

All the while, the original pressroom was still in production, requiring newsprint rolls entering on the far side of the new press hall and sending newspapers to a recently modified mailroom. “We left a very small area of the existing building to continue to serve as a receiving dock,” says Baker, referring to the side of the structure with an old rail siding. During construction, newsprint rolls had to be taken across the new press pad “every night ’til we were done,” he says, explaining that a telescoping tunnel was employed to protect the tons of costly raw material in inclement weather.

“We never missed a beat,” insists Baker, citing “absolutely no disruption to existing operations.”

If the original Goss presses and PPSI color units added later are removed, the area will be given over to storage, helping restore some preprinted insert space lost to the project, according to Senior Vice President/Operations James R. Brill.

Mailroom makeover
Besides the truck dock, the mailroom was the only area not relocated. But it hardly went unchanged. It was readied for the new workflow in the spring of 2008.

What was once “a wide-open mailroom [with] no mid-week inserting,” says Brill, not only soon had inserters but also bore the brunt of managing output from two pressrooms as printing transitioned from one to the other. Whereas the old pressroom and mailroom are a plant-wide wall apart, the new press hall runs the length of the plant, next to but separated from the old pressroom and abutting the mailroom at a right angle only at one end.

“Everything from the stackers to the loading docks was existing,” Baker said last May, standing in the spacious packaging center. “Everything behind us is all brand new,” added Brill, indicating inserting lines between the old pressroom and the stackers.

With Muller Martini’s Pennsylvania operation handling Daily News Sunday inserts, the mailroom had been a strictly ROP operation. Its bay still receives supplies and complete Sunday packages, but now also FSIs for midweek (or more) inserting on six Ferag MultiSertDrum lines with RollStream precollecting systems, each with six hoppers, gripper conveyor and DiscPool buffering.

The arrangement accommodates online and offline inserting, with two 45,000-copy-per-hour inserters for each of the three 90,000-copy presses, as well as ROP-only runs to the bank of stacker/strapper lines.

The equipment and its configuration prepare post-press for most any operating combination. “We can wind and unwind a main jacket, we can preprint a section and wind to a disc,” says Baker. A preprinted section can be unwound, he says, and inserted via one conveyor, while six FSIs are inserted via another conveyor.

The conveyors allow the equipment’s potential to be realized. But if a map is needed to fully appreciate what’s possible now, imagine designing and using the same suspended highway in such a way that it would support a changing product flow, as nine parallel, comparatively short presses just across the wall were, in stages, shut down while each of the three bigger, faster, inline presses at another side of the building fed copies into the same post-press systems.

With the help of color-coded conveying lines for the new and old presses, Daily News and Ferag personnel mastered the “complexity of disconnecting the old and connecting the new,” says Baker, “because there was no way we could shut anything down.”

Nearer the business end of inserting, the feeders are quick to set up and easy to feed because they are high enough and do not sit at right angles — “the hopper is right in front of the operator,” Baker says.

In addition to its enhanced color capabilities and weekday inserting, the Daily News offers application of advertisers’ sticky notes to its pages — in the same zoning available for inserts, according to a spokesman.

Inline and automated
“The old set-up wasn’t streamlined, as it is now,” says Baker. The floor plan is fairly straightforward. Cleaner and quieter than the old presses, the compact but triplewide Commander CT presses occupy the central part of the plant’s rebuilt portion.

Stretching the length of the presses and separating them from the old pressroom are three inline Krause-Biagosch LS-Jet platesetters and Bluefin processors, one for each press. Purchased in 2007, the relocated computer-to-plate imagers (their former space now a plate-storage area) deliver 2D-barcoded plates to Nela Evolution vision trim/punch/bend devices and then into Nela’s sortation system.

Wobe JetNet software runs the CTP system using an interface from the EAE production planning system supplied with the press to the Krause platesetters. The file name from the front end brings in the required information (e.g., zone, edition, page number), and the CTP system, aware of how the press is set up, knows where the plates must go on each tower.

Outside the image area, each plate is imprinted with press number, tower number, color, printing couple and position across the plate cylinder. To further aid operators, a simple icon consisting of two rows of squares (with a dot that always indicates the same side of the press) shows a plate’s on-press location.

Press-ready plates are conveyed from the CTP room to bins in the quiet room that runs along the presses. “We sort by printing tower, and we have to double up for storage. We stack up to 24 plates per bin,” says Baker. Sorting is “all based on the barcode,” which carries the same location information imaged along the plate.

Operating platforms at the 15 towers lift personnel to the required print couples, where plates slide into two slots for mounting by the KBA PlateTronic automatic loader. Removed plates exit through a third, bottom slot.

The only stairs on the press lead to the superstructure, and the elevators don’t travel far thanks to the towers’ under-13-foot height. Beside convenience, their shorter stature meant not only building a lower press hall, but also less fan-out of the wetted web owing to the shorter distance it must travel between the four color couples. As Baker points out, it is especially beneficial for the triplewide web, on which the ill effect can be magnified. One set of bustle wheels per tower further counters any fan-out.

Baker says plating is much faster on the new presses, and the new presses are faster in part because of how those plates, and blankets, are secured by cylinder minigaps, which maintain a more nearly equal distribution of mass around the cylinders. The Commander CT “is spec’d for 90,000 copies per hour, and we run it at 90,000,” he declares.

Outside the CTP rooms and upstairs offices are glass-enclosed quiet rooms with operator control consoles with soft-proofing screens and uniform standard illumination for copy checking. Prepress data is imported by the EAE system, which creates soft proofs and presets inking, then passes all imposition information back into JetNet. The soft-proof display is regularly calibrated and matched to those in Manhattan.

Glass-enclosed conveyors run overhead and through the ceiling of the fire-protected, hurricane-resistant adjoining computer room and down into the mailroom, using existing waste chutes.

Consoles include Daily News design modifications — including small but important changes like moving the on-panel buttons farther part — that are part of the pressmaker’s current standard, according to Baker. Each press has two consoles, the main one equipped with register control from Q.I. Press Controls, which uses microdots for color register, though the paper prints no larger dots or bars to measure density. Above and between the consoles is a large video display taking multiple feeds from cameras showing everything happening in different parts of the pressroom.

The shaftless presses, each with a KF 7 jaw folder and ribbon stitcher, rely on Indramat Rexroth motors at the print couples. The towers’ design affords easy access for maintenance. Printing units are equipped with fully automatic blanket washers, and their plate and blanket cylinders, ink oscillating drums, ink and dampening water are all water cooled, with the water held to a constant temperature.

With KBA’s NipTronic cylinder bearings on a Commander CT, the best printing pressure for a given paper stock or blanket can be set automatically to defined reference values from a console. The press also features KBA RollerTronic roller locks to set ink and dampener rollers according to defined throw-on pressure rather than the travel distance recognized by mechanical systems. Rollers in each section can be set individually or together faster than by making manual adjustment.

The Daily News equipped its plant 15 years ago to take the lead in color among the city’s broadsheets and tabloids. But before the decade was out, so was its keyless color — even as the others invested to add or improve color. Now, however, in fewer months, with a smaller crew and less iron, the tabloid recaptured the color-capacity lead with the quality it sought to satisfy, what Marc Z. Kramer called “advertisers’ demands for high-quality color in daily newspapers.” Announcing the project in early 20087, the paper’s CEO added, “nowhere is it in more demand than in New York.”

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Sidebar: Making it All Work

Early on, selected Daily News personnel were sent to train on Commander CT presses in production in Würzburg, Germany, and Zaragoza, Spain. But fewer, more-automated presses required less labor. Expiration of the pressmen’s contract at the end of last March was unrelated to the project’s planning but, with so many issues to discuss, its timing was fortuitous, according to Senior VP/Operations James R. Brill.

Buyouts for voluntary separations were negotiated. Operators and press maintenance workers who remained were retrained, as their work requires knowledge of electronics and software than in the old pressroom.

The same was true in prepress and post-press, with some staffers sent to Germany to train on Krause and Nela systems and to Switzerland to use the new Ferag equipment. As on the new presses, on-site training followed.

Prepress came first. CTP planning the full design — the layout and the system itself — took more than a year, with training commencing about six months before installation. Although Philadelphia Newspapers already had ordered similar Krause equipment, “We were up and running first,” says Brill.

Greater technical expertise also was required of some in the mailroom, but adding inserting to its operations meant adding rather than cutting staff. The newspaper and mailers negotiated lower starting pay for a second tier of employees. In general, more-experienced staffers could qualify for more-skillful work; those in the second tier signed on mostly to feed inserts. The agreement essentially preserved union members’ jobs and pay while permitting management to create new positions.

The project’s timing coincided with a period when U.S. newspapers were busy closing plants rather than equipping new ones. But there was outside interest — “a lot of European people coming over,” Brill recalls.

But beyond the new equipment’s capabilities, almost a defining difference in this project, according to the operations executives, was that no selection was made independent of all the others — what was required and what would function properly together.

That sort of planning made the transition a success, meeting the goal of shutting down the old pressroom by year’s end. It closed Dec. 22.

“One of the pleasant surprises is how quickly we started up,” says Brill. “There’s nothing that we regret in all of our choices.”

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Sidebar: Handling the Paperwork

One level up from the quiet room and looking out on the press superstructure are conference and meeting rooms. Down below are the operators’ facilities on one side of the press and storage and maintenance areas on the other. Below that, along one wall adjacent to the reelstands, are the mechanical and electrical engineering workshops.

At this level arriving newsprint rolls are processed and prepped, stored and routed for printing.

This most muscular and now more mechanized part of newspaper printing, paper handling at the Daily News is at least as automated as prepress and printing, thanks to subcontractors’ systems all supplied by KBA, says Manufacturing Vice President Christopher Baker. The overall newsprint-management system was developed by vR Systems (Metso/vonRoll). When that company went bankrupt, KBA told the Daily News it would honor its commitment to automate newsprint handling. The delay was brief, thanks to Finnish company Pesmel, which acquired rights to the system, according to Baker.

The most striking automations are Pesmel’s six-high roll-storage system and the two KBA EcoSplice stations — the first built by KBA after acquiring the intellectual property from vR Systems, and put into use only three months ago.

Clamp trucks carry new rolls to gravity ramps, from which they can be directed right or left. Bar coded with their specifications, the rolls are inspected for mill defects before heading to the EcoSplice stations, from which they may head directly to a reelstand or to an assigned position in storage. Because the splice tape loses its tack over time, a roll left on the rack too long will return for prepping.

Two cranes serve the rack storage system, which can hold 336 rolls, all from an AbitibiBowater Canadian mill and all prepared with a splice pattern, then “fed automatically on a just-in-time basis to the press,” says Baker. Butt-roll management also can automatically send and retrieve from the rack.

The Daily News typically uses just over 100 newsprint rolls per night and stores about a 10-day supply of unprepped rolls. “With a 6-by-2 [page] press, we’re handling 50% less rolls,” says Baker. “We carry five different roll widths,” all 50 inches in diameter. The largest is 75 inches, yielding six 12.5-by-10-inch pages.

After a roll splice at a reelstand, paper automatically winds back onto a core, which moves to a bin, a safety gate closes, and a new roll enters from the other side. The 15 independent two-arm RTPs allow chucking of two different-size rolls, if needed, and each “is equipped with roll vacuum cleaners, one for each side of the sheet. Made by Baldwin and supplied with the press by KBA, the web cleaners rotate 90º to engage, and withdraw to accommodate a splice. Pulling out an 18-inch-square box of fluff, Baker remarks: “We fill a container about every four weeks.”

Automation in the reelroom and on the printing towers, combined with the fewer-but-wider presses’ unspecified lower start-up waste, have yielded substantial efficiencies, according to the Daily News. Beyond cost containment, those efficiencies can have upstream effects with possible revenue implications. With only the first new press in operation last fall, for example, the Daily News was able to print later-breaking World Series coverage for fans of the hometown winners.

To print all that paper, the Daily News uses soy- and petroleum-based inks with higher pigment strength than that run on its keyless presses. It also designed an ink farm in conjunction with supplier US Ink. “They did a fabulous job for us,” says Baker, noting the load cells and the flow meters, which tell production the weight and the gallons of ink pumped from each tank to the presses. The tanks’ location is close enough to the old ink-storage for a connection “in the event our usage increases,” he says. “We tried to think of the future and how our business may develop.”

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