By: MARK FITZGERALD and JIM ROSENBERG
NOW THAT NEWSPAPERS no longer think of themselves as unique Daily Miracles, the manufacturing processes they have adopted from other industries are beginning to pay off in ever-increasing throughput.
This year’s Newspaper Operations SuperConference in Miami documented how far the industry has come in smashing through bottlenecks that once strangled productivity throughout the newspaper building. And it held out the prospect of more gains in the near future.
Greater bandwidth is speeding ever larger graphics files through the advertising department and newsroom. Shaftless presses allow more frequent zone changes on the fly. And the packaging center ? once a virtual brake on throughput ? is becoming increasingly efficient, thanks to smart technology and smart recruiting.
Even regulatory bottlenecks are easing, as the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) and its state counterparts eliminate paperwork and bureaucratic diktat in favor of common-sense regulation tailored to particular industries.
It was only natural that prepress discussion occasionally soared into talk of an ethereal future where, for instance, newspapers could reach subscribers through “palmtop” computers that deliver text, voice and animation.
In the here and now, however, the conference delivered mostly progress that was incremental ? but not insubstantial.
Foundry Networks’ Randy Kauk described how a new gigabit Ethernet is overcoming bottlenecks during peak network traffic at the Miami Herald. This network uses application-specific integrated circuits to support 1.25 gigabytes for handling network overhead.
There also was considerable interest in intranets to speed information internally. Beyond e-mail, newspapers can use intranets to view text and images available from sister publications or tap into pagination databases to check on page rasterization, noted Chris Gulker of Apple Computer.
The Times of Munster, Ind., is going into intranet just as it did into front-end systems in 1980 and pagination in 1989: It is building its own system using Lotus Notes-based NewsEngin applications, said Larry Maas, Howard Publications’ production director.
Processing of pages for output also is improving raster image processing software developer Harlequin Inc. described how Adobe’s Portable Document Format (PDF), a stripped-down PostScript derivative, allows faster file transfers without line-ending and font problems, according to business development manager Paul Hagen. While Harlequin is committed to supporting full PostScript for some years to come, PDF is gaining ground, even as RIPs now handle trapping and imposition well, give display list access, and accept TIFF/IT files for digital delivery of display ads.
Next up for PDF, Hagen says: an extension that handles color for making CMYK plates, recognizing and optimizing vignettes, reducing file size, and improving color matching.
PostScript 3, Hagen continued, promises even greater speed, more gray levels and better printing of shadow detail and vignettes. Looking farther ahead, Harlequin sees still-faster RIPs and platforms, better color tools for proofing and printing, better resource, and distributed workflow management. Intelligent software agents that evaluate job complexity could route work accordingly, choosing when and how jobs are processed and whether work such as trapping and imposition can be done along the way.
Speed of throughput also figured prominently in computer-to-plate (CTP) discussions. Howard Publications’ Maas, for instance, urged papers to consider machine differences, the plate’s big effect on output speed, and that changing expensive plates means having to change platesetters.
Platemakers, however, are geared up for CTP, said Richard Littrell, senior production line manager of Agfa Corp. More than 30 firms making 67 models of metal platesetters have installed about 1,500 metal-capable engines across all applications and plate sizes.
Before newspapers can implement CTP, however, Littrell says they have work to do: Get paginated, give advertisers an incentive to send all ads digitally and deal with digital proofing. In addition to creating a direct-platesetting infrastructure, newspapers have to settle on a digital plate. Littrell argues CTP is well worth the effort, however, since CTP users can capture more ad dollars and get better color and more zoned color.
And while many newspapers use CTP’s time savings to push back deadlines, Littrell said some publishers find if they give the time to the pressroom, they can delay buying new presses for as long as five years.
Of course, the Internet has opened many more possibilities of publishing without a plate at all. In Japan, Mainichi Newspapers offers, in addition to its condensed news for mobile phone LCDs, a full-text Web (news-only) edition and a text-and-image daily e-mail newspaper with ads.
And from the American Press Institute Media Center came a “digital avatar” named Merlin, an animated image that speaks and responds to speech. API Media Center director Chris Feola said Merlin could be programmed to read news from a palmtop computer while a user showers or drives to work. The idea may not be that far-off: Feola noted that new Lincoln automobiles include a palmtop socket with wireless Internet connection.
PRESS AND MATERIALS
Productivity was a recurrent theme in the pressroom as well. By creating a three-dimensional digital model of every element of the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Colorliner press, Peregrine Technology Inc. can run its imposition software to determine possible web leads in order of difficulty for any number of sections and pages and placement of colors. It creates and stores press profiles of user-preferred web leads for given size and color requirements, allows hypothetical disabling of web paths and changing of couples’ colors, offers visual comparison of alternative leads in different screen colors and will print each lead’s angle bar usage, compensator settings, former assignments, color locations, etc.
Similarly, shaftless drives bring choice and efficiency to press operation. Jim Hulman of Rexroth Corp.’s Indramat unit explained that the servo motor drive at the heart of the shaftless press is a closed-loop control system constantly checking motor position and responding to external inputs like load sensing for continuous adjustment. Whereas all units of a main-shaft press are mechanically connected and therefore subject to gear wear and backlash, rotating elements of a shaftless press can be separately driven and synchronized with other units via motion control card clock signals on a standard redundant network to motor-positioning drives. Feedback at 4 million pulses per cylinder revolution finely tunes synchronization. Plug-and-play Indramat cards are interchangeable. Should a drive fail, its personality module can be attached to another drive, said Hulman.
UMI president Bob MacKenzie promoted home-grown and imported productivity products in the form of Web Saver Tape invented by Knoxville News-Sentinel pressroom manager Harold Wells and a new color register system from Japan. Instead of using white paper, Web Saver Tape premarked for various cutoffs saved the News-Sentinel over $250,000 a year in waste (San Francisco Newspaper Agency expects to save $2.5 million based on six months’ use).
Nireco’s Calgraph, already integrated with press controls at the Washington Post and sold to New York’s Daily News, uses a strobe and track-mounted CCD cameras monitoring patterned multicolor dots on the web to minimize waste and produce better quality, with more efficient use of personnel, according to Nireco rep Steve Gold. The system registers three color dots within a thousandth of an inch to a fourth, usually black, reference dot. The strong circular strobe reflects enough light without ambient-light shielding and allows camera positioning for greater depth of field, thereby reducing the optical effect of web flutter. An on-press sensor prevents premature compensation during a paster.
Also helping hold register at several sites is Bill Rudder’s not-so-new Super Surface Tensioner, a tubular design from the early 1990s that smoothes web tension spikes while remaining unaffected by roll-expiration tensioning. “You don’t have to wait to go through a curve to get the tension you set on your gauge,” said Rudder.
Meanwhile, back at the reelstand, Green Sleeve plastic cores cut the amount of newsprint left after a paster by 80%, according to user Donald Kay, Palm Springs Desert Sun production manager. Packaged as a thin-walled core with two end pieces, Green Sleeves is reusable and resellable to the manufacturer. It stays straighter for better high-speed rotation, absorbs flutter, and reduces damage to a core’s inner lip which is magnified as run speed increases. Kay said Green Sleeves eliminates the need for conical chucks, pneumatic axial pressure, bevel-end and metal-capped cores.
Productivity issues emerged in other talks: Kodak Polychrome Graphics technical manager Balfe C. Bradley outlined the move to subtractive offset plates and the advantages of thermal offset plates for CTP applications. Washington Post marketing vice president William Tompkins Jr. noted that reducing ads from standard advertising units (SAUs) to accommodate narrower web widths required little extra work because the paper already had been resizing most ads by 4% to 7%.
Plant manager Paul Spiers related plans of five small dailies to consolidate and upgrade their own production and to take in outside work at jointly owned Premier Printing of central Ohio. Charlotte Observer operations vice president Bob Burns described single-type platemaking and better, cleaner, faster, more-colorful and less-wasteful printing since converting from five mixed letterpress-flexo presses to four all-flexo presses.
At the far end of productivity enhancement, Goss Graphic Systems vice president Al Sheng reviewed the earlier-reported ADOPT/CP, a digitally reimageable, single-fluid, shaftless, gearless, gapless, platelesss press with few start-up waste copies. While its variable cutoff may be of little interest to most newspapers, said Sheng, the same air-cushioned cylinder shell changing technology will make for easier, faster zone changes in a press that needs no ink presetting, ink-water balancing, or leaky gear oil and has less noise and wear, fewer imperfections owing to gapless cylinders’ dynamic balance, fewer mechanical parts, faster makeready and built-in registration.
While the separate technologies will soon roll out in various products, Goss said it will not have a newspaper-size press until the next century. “What we need, obviously, is a pinless folder,” said Sheng, that can manage the unit’s cutoff changes. Such presses will feature workflow management front ends from software developer Dalim, in which Goss has a stake and to whose board Goss chairman and CEO Robert M. Kuhn was recently elected.
Press manufacturers’ executives cited productivity benefits flowing from shaftless drives, keyless inkers, semicommercial printing, RIPping to press controls rather than scanning plates and an increasing emphasis on training.
It’s in the mailroom where newspapers are probably borrowing the most from other industries ? and from the other side of the wall in their own paper.
One good example is the development of shaftless post-press equipment (see story, p. 30). The key to shaftless is an already proven technology: the electric servo driver. “They have been applied in industrial manufacturing for years. The application is new in newspapers, however,” said Pat Dvorak, national original equipment manufacturer account manager for Indramat.
Bursting the post-press bottleneck, however, is more than a technological task. Newspapers have come to realize that their traditional approach to mailroom labor ? too often, by simply rounding up the most marginal unskilled workers ? must change.
“What I am fearful of is some of the new technology is coming on at a time when it is not being optimized because of this skills gap,” said Randy Seidel, GMA Inc. president and CEO.
Seidel’s company is establishing the “GMA Academy” in Germany to teach not only post-press technology, but processes to increase productivity throughout the printing process.
Newspapers also are emphasizing more rigorous recruitment: At the Seattle Times, applicants are closely questioned about attendance and punctuality habits and whether they like working in a noisy environment, said operations vice president Frank M. Paiva.
The Seattle Times asks a question not often asked of prospective employees at other newspaper mailrooms: “Have you ever worked at a job that required repetitive lifting of 35 pounds?”
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