No More 'Golden Rule' on New Presses

By: Sam Wagner After getting its start back in the late 1950s and early '60s, web offset printing has since become the preferred method of newspaper production worldwide. Over the years, many improvements have been made, but the core technology -- ink and water applied to a running web of paper -- has remained basically unchanged.

A common practice became for small dailies to buy small, singlewidth presses and large dailies to buy large doublewidth presses. This used to be a reasonable approach, but can no longer be accepted as the "golden rule" as the industry is experiencing dramatic change and transition requiring better production methods in order to meet a variety of new demands.

Newspapers can no longer justify buying a new press to support a single newspaper title. Excess press capacity is planned from the beginning to be filled with commercial or contract work to provide the required return on investment. Another trend is to combine multiple titles and print sites into a single production facility to reduce overhead and gain efficiency.

To satisfy these demands, printers need to start looking for new and better production methods, as tried and true techniques are no longer cost effective in today's changing marketplace. Many technologies are available, but their application is not always fully understood -- not by printers, because they don't design the equipment, and not by manufacturers, because they are not end users. Unless the right technology is configured and applied in the proper way, it can result in marginal, sometimes even disappointing results in a normal daily production environment.

Printers often purchase the newest versions of the same old equipment because it is comfortably familiar. It's not uncommon to see new installations of 20, 30, even 40 units of small, singlewidth presses to run the variety of products necessary. Although physically possible, this is extremely labor intensive and inefficient owing to the sheer number of units and webs that must be run, along with all the related set up and adjustment. To combat this, auxiliary equipment is added to automate parts of the process in hopes of improving quality and efficiency and reducing waste. Although small gains can be had compared with the press they replace, it is nowhere near what can be realized with other, more-advanced production methods.

Flying in the face of conventional thinking, one new concept relies on larger equipment in small to mid-sized applications so that less equipment and fewer people are required to do the same job. This type of press typically has a more-advanced control system providing greater automation and efficiency, as well as better quality and additional capacity.

As an example, instead of buying the traditional 20 units of a one-around singlewidth press running eight webs to produce a 32-page newspaper with 16 full-color pages, a single 50-inch tower of five units running just two webs can be installed. This results in a press with 75% fewer units, 75% fewer webs, 75% less auxiliary equipment equipment (splicers, register controls, rollers, blankets, etc.), even 75% fewer moving parts requiring fewer people to operate and maintain while being built to run faster and last longer than the typical singlewidth press it replaces.

Press-design and consulting company Web Offset Services undertook a project embracing this concept for Independent Newspapers Inc., Dover, Del. The goal was to take a small newspaper group producing several dailies and weeklies on two aging singlewide press lines and upgrade its production facility to prepare for the future with better quality and efficiencies and potential for growth in the commercial marketplace. Along the way, this turned out to be a radical departure in newspaper production and the first of its kind in the U.S.

Still, it was leading edge, not bleeding edge. Proven mechanical technologies from the newspaper, directory and commercial markets were utilized, coupled with relevant automation and a refined control system designed to make it simple and efficient for a printer accustomed to 30-year-old presses.

For INI, the concept relied on the KBA Colora design with an EAE control system. The installation began in fall 2005, and live production has made every edition since commencing exactly a year ago (May).

After their training, a small group of "old-school" printers fully tested the press and since have maintained a higher level of quality with more color and less waste every day since the first, with virtually no outside assistance and no "steep learning curve" so familiar to the industry. Still in its infancy, the press produces more than 130 jobs each month, with new commercial work being added on a regular basis. This is especially impressive when taking into consideration this press breaks new ground in number of ways, including:

-- The first five-high, "multiple-format," right-angle newspaper press can produce a 32-page paper with 16 pages of full color (4 pages wide, two around) or a 40-page paper with 20 pages of full color (five wide and two around) in just a single footprint and overall press area of 40' x 70'. Other formats such as 3x2 and 2x2 are possible, providing extreme commercial flexibility.The tower also features flying plate-change capability for versioning and commercial work.

-- Web widths with no limitations means more than just variable web width dedicated to a few different sizes. INI's press can run any width from 20 inches to 50 inches to produce products (page sizes) from 10 to 17 inches in a variety of formats, most all of which is done automatically, far exceeding a typical singlewide's capabilities.

-- First newspaper press with "smart" presetting goes far beyond typical presetting, most running adjustments were preinstalled in the control system, allowing the press to start up and run any job or configuration and eliminating the need for each job to be programmed and learned, which can take months and cost thousands of dollars in added waste and hours - that dreaded "steep learning curve."

-- First built-in job catalog of 475-plus preprogrammed configurations, including newspaper and commercial jobs, takes presetting to a higher level by simplifying the process for the printers, making job creation and selection a "one button choice." This same functionality serves as a sales and marketing tool, having all production specifications and product possibilities cataloged and instantly available. Further, the system is open-ended for future growth.

The project's success was a result of the combined effort of a small newspaper group willing to think and look "outside the box" for their future, a press manufacturer willing to build a 'non-standard' press and a software and controls company willing to redesign and streamline a control system for simplified yet automated operation.

All this together with a very different philosophy and process in regard to thorough testing and training during the installation and start up phases lead to an almost seamless transition. Several more very similar projects are now in the design process, both here in the U.S. as well as in Europe to give the printers the competitive advantages they will need in today's changing marketplace and for the future.


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here