By: Mark Fitzgerald Vendors testing U.S. market for 'semi-commercial' heatset presses sp.
SINCE THIS YEAR'S Nexpo took place in Las Vegas weather approaching blast furnace temperatures, it was appropriate that the biggest news in printing presses was heatset. Press makers are hoping U.S. newspapers follow the lead of papers around the world by warming up to heatset. Three big manufacturers ? Rockwell Graphics Systems, MAN Roland Inc. and KBA-Motter Corp. ? all were offering American publishers a first look at single-width offset presses with the capability to run both heatset and coldset offset. It is a concept that has taken the world market by storm. In just the past two or three years, papers in Europe, Asia and the Middle East have snapped up these presses, which can produce color quality on a par with the low-end of commercial presses. For example, MAN Roland's MAN Plamag has sold 82 Cromoset presses, with 350 printing units, and 32 of its newer Uniset presses, with 125 units. KBA Motter's Compacta single-width press has been around for several years. Sales total more than 2,000 units, the company says. And Rockwell has sold 32 of its single-width Goss Universal presses, with 326 units, in the past 21/2 years. "All embellishment aside, that's a tremendous number of presses," said Brian LaBine, director of sales at Rockwell. Now press makers are hoping heatset fever will strike in the United States. "It's been selling like crazy in the rest of the world," LaBine said. "That's been a lot of the impetus for bringing the press here. If it's doing so well in the rest of the world, it will do well here." "We're interested in testing the waters...and showing something the American marketplace has not seen yet," said Gary Owen, KBA director of marketing and newspaper sales. "Of the 1,100 U.S. newspapers in the size range for our press, there is a lot of old equipment that has to be replaced. The potential for us in the U.S. is phenomenal," said Roland L. Ortbach, factory delegate for MAN Roland. Indeed, at Nexpo MAN announced the first North American sale of its Uniset press, to the Record in Bergen County, N.J. It bought a press line with two eight-couple printing towers, two four-couple H-type units and two 2:3:2 jaw folders, one with a quarter folder. The Record said it intends to use the press for commercial printing, beginning in December.
Opening the market
It is a sale MAN and its competitors hope will spark the kind of avalanche of sales these presses have achieved abroad. KBA's Owen, for example, notes that the Compacta 213 and Compacta 214 heatset web offset presses sell well in Mexico. The NAFTA treaty may provide "opportunities to induce some increased interest in the U.S.," he said. All the press makers acknowledge that some of the popularity of these single-width models abroad can be traced to production conditions that are very different from the United States and Canada. "Keep in mind that we're talking about [foreign] printers who do a lot of printing for many different publishers," KBA's Owen said. "In the U.S., it's exactly the opposite: Here you have publishers who happen to do printing." Indeed, at the same time MAN's Roland Ortbach hails the potential of the American market, he also concedes that U.S. publishers may need some convincing on heatset. At a lot of U.S. papers, he said, "Not only is the equipment 20 to 25 years old ? so is the mindset." Nevertheless, Ortbach and others say they are convinced the high quality of these single-widths ? plus the revenue potential ? will turn around most resistance.
'Semi-commercial' press marketing
Marketing these presses presents another complication: What do you call them? Press makers seem to have settled on "semi-commercial" ? and they are at pains to emphasize the limits as well as the capabilities of these presses. "The danger is in overselling the product and letting people think that it does commercial work, that it is a commercial press. No, it does semi-commercial work," said Claude Messager, Rockwell's sales director in France. "It does not compete with a high-end commercial press," Messager added. "If you look at [the print quality] with a magnifying glass, it's not commercial. But it's not bad. The quality is quite good." MAN's Ortbach says he believes the continuing newspaper industry emphasis on quality will help sell the presses here. "From the publisher's point of view, we are offering a product with quality that approaches commercial press quality, but we don't want to mislead anyone. . . .Newspaper printers never before thought they could have the quality of a commercial press," Ortbach said. "What we are telling publishers is, Don't lock yourself into a newspaper press. Consider the potential of commercial work," he added. That certainly is an acceptable philosophy abroad. International publishers use the single-widths in a number of ways.