‘FT’ Inkjet Messages Lead to Custom Solution

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By: Jim Rosenberg

For subscriber and retail copies, the Financial Times of London prints inkjet messages to readers across the top of its front page. The communications range from the promotional and informative to apologies for missed issues and alerts to non-publishing dates — recently Christmas, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day.

“Really, our flexibility is endless with this,” said Doug Morrow, the daily’s distribution and printer-relations vice president in the U.S. The FT contracts with nine U.S. print sites and “we have inkjetting at all of them,” said Morrow. (Worldwide, 12 plants print the paper in 12 other countries.)

Headquartered in Hackensack, N.J., North Jersey Media Group became one of those print sites late last year. Publisher of The Record and Herald News dailies and several nondaily publications and printer of newspapers for many other publishers, ranging from The Jersey Journal for Advance Publications to USA Today for Gannett, North Jersey Media relies on efficiency to manage its heavy volume.

The company considered inkjet labeling and perhaps inserting on the Kirk-Rudy equipment used at other sites. It wanted to be able to sort copies by ZIP code or zone and needed to move them directly to a stacker or through an inserter. But that would have meant manually stacking down onto pallets as copies rolled off the press, then transporting the pallets to feed copies into the Kirk-Rudy machines.

To eliminate the extra steps and time, the operation not only required a faster machine, but also “wanted to do everything on line” from its 60,000-copy-per-hour press, said Charlie Whitehead, production director at North Jersey Media’s remote plant in Rockaway, site of the company’s commercial operations. The problem, said Whitehead, was that “we had no experience on line.”

The challenge lay in the fact that the inkjet messages are printed across the width of the page, requiring that copies be conveyed side by side rather than in the typical shingled lapstream. A project engineer noted that the Kirk-Rudy machines do “feed in that direction to start,” but said their throughput was an issue.

Furthermore, the top half of page one also had to be facing up, but copies headed to stackers in Rockaway ordinarily have the headline facing the floor, said the plant’s post-press manager, John Savarese.
White and Savarese “went outside the industry,” looking to cosmetics and packaged foods to see if any businesses were able to do inverted inkjet printing. Savarese said they found nothing would do the job “as wide as we needed it.”

North Jersey Media eventually became the FT’s only site with automated inkjet printing after it approached K&M Newspaper Services. Located about 40 miles north of Hackensack, in Monroe, N.Y., the designer and manufacturer of inserting and conveying equipment built a system that unshingles copies coming off Rockaway’s “D” press — a doublewide Mitsubishi running 55-inch webs, rotates them 90 degrees, turns them over, runs them through an inkjet printer, restores them to a lapstream, and sends them to a stacker, according to K&M President Mark Jacobs.

Though begun as a custom project, “they bought four of these. So it was worth our while to develop it,” said K&M Engineering Manager Andrew Klopfenstein, who sees likely application in others’ plants.

K&M devised its large but portable Printstand unit around a Scitex inkjet printing engine. Its vertical conveyor section lowers copies from the inserter several feet to a bump turner. After inkjetting, they are turned again and sent to a stacker. Where no inserting is required, a Printstand can be rolled up to a run-of-paper line and put in the place of (and accept copies at the same height as) a stacker, which is relocated farther downstream. “That way, we can take papers directly off the press,” said Klopfenstein.

Though essentially a prototype, “It’s performing great,” added Whitehead. “We got it two days before we started the FT.” That was about a week before Thanksgiving. “We started working on it about four months earlier,” Klopfenstein said, adding that about a month was spent on design and most of the other three months on building the Printstand. The fourth Printstand was delivered early last month.

The gripper conveyor carrying copies from the press splits to four Printstands. “Two will get us to where we need to be,” with “redundancy” supplied by the other two, Whitehead said.

“We use two off the inserters and we’re about to use two off the press,” Savarese said, explaining that inserting depends on the FT’s mail file — for instance, the mail subscription card that goes into some copies. (The project included installation of a remanufactured Harris 1472 inserter, which Whitehead said was bought to replace a scrapped machine.) Occasionally, copies also are inserted because a preprinted section was run the night before, generally owing to color-volume requirements, though the press capacity is usually sufficient to avoid preprinting.

At 10,000 to 12,000 copies per hour, “right now, our speed is basically limited by” turning capability, Klopfenstein said. “We’ll run the inserter dual-out … so that each delivery gives you [up to] 12,000 per hour,” he said. With total output averaging about 20,000 per hour, Klopfenstein said, the K&M set-up requires less equipment. To achieve that throughput, he said, other sites would need four Kirk-Rudy machines and four print heads.

Printstand relies on an inkjet system from Scitex Digital Printing Inc. Just as North Jersey Media began printing the FT, however, Eastman Kodak Co. announced that it reached agreement to buy back that business from Scitex Corp. for $250 million in cash and $12 million of the business unit’s cash balance. Kodak sold the business — its Dayton (Ohio) Operations — to Scitex 10 years ago for $35 million in cash and as much as another $35 million in future payments.

Scitex had a technician in Rockaway for equipment training, said Whitehead, and “we have been assured that it will be supported by Kodak.” The business now operates as Kodak Versamark Inc.

North Jersey Media may be the only site that has automated the inkjet printing on Financial Times copies, but several other sites use the Scitex equipment, “which is what I prefer,” said the FT’s Morrow. Other print sites’ inkjet systems include a Domino printer at The Telegraph, Nashua, N.H., Videojet systems at sites in Chicago and Washington, D.C., and the Texas site’s Prism Mail Jet, which Morrow said goes for “about a seventh the price” of other systems.

There’s been some talk of using K&M’s solution at other FT print sites, but Morrow said no one has called him, and he has “not made it a requirement.” Such expenditures, he said, are decided by each site. In any event, Morrow said Printstand will be discussed at the FT’s next annual “Printer Summit,” which it will hold in Washington in conjunction with Nexpo 2004.

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