Shaft-less Is More p.16

For boosters of the various shaftless printing press drive technologies that eliminate main drives and their clutches and gear assemblies, it must seem that the future has at long last arrived.
Shaftless is winning over a still small but fast-growing number of European publishers, the first shaftless press in Asia is just a few months away from daily operation ? and now, the first U.S. newspaper has agreed to go shaftless.
The announcement at the opening of this year's Nexpo that the Tulsa World was buying two Wifag OF 370 GTD (Gearless Transmission Drive) offset presses was surely the most ballyhooed Oklahoma newspaper press order in history (see sidebar).
It was certainly well-timed for enthusiasts of shaftless, coming just as more U.S. publishers are looking into a technology that promises better web control and registration, low waste, easier maintenance ? and more.
Wifag's shaftless press, for instance, comes with optional units that permit operators to change plates, or even page counts of newspapers while the press continues to run.
Shaftless, its fans say, gives newspapers not only increased control, but unprecedented flexibility ? to stack units higher, or in a square, or in a circle.
"We talk about 'press lines.' And where does this expression 'lines' come from? It comes from the horizontal shafts and the vertical shafts and the clutches and so forth. Shaftless eliminates all that," said Dieter Koch, vice president and managing director of ABB Industrie AG, which developed the drives and controls for the Wifag press.
Koch sees an even greater urgency for shaftless, though.
"You see all the new ideas we are coming up with now because of this new technology. We need it ? it's the only chance the print media has today with television and so forth," Koch said.
ABB and Wifag, of course, have been big boosters of shaftless for years. When they unveiled the Wifag OF 370 shaftless press in a Munich exhibition two years ago, they pitched it with the provocative slogan: "Someday, all rotary printing presses will be built that way."
This sort of giddy talk is proving contagious among shaftless press vendors ? and it is also leading to the first cautions mixing in with the chorus of hosannas.
Consider, for instance, the reaction of Goss Graphics Systems.
Goss has been working on shaftless since at least 1983, its director of marketing for Europe, David Stamp, says. And the company boasts that its recent sale of five Colorliner 80 presses with a total of 88 printing units to the Norwegian newspaper chain Schibsted A/S is the largest order in the world for a "distributed drive" shaftless press.
Yet Stamp and Goss' director of marketing for newspaper and commercial printing, Barbara L. Gora, also used a Nexpo interview conducted the day after the Tulsa World/Wifag announcement to throw a little bit of cold water on the overheated topic of shaftless.
"A lot of people have been listening to the hype, but there hasn't been a lot of discussion of [drawbacks to shaftless]," Gora said. "These topics don't come out in U.S. discussions of shaftless, but they are thoughts that come out in Europe," Stamp said.
And what is the "major concern" about shaftless among potential European customers, according to Goss? Motor failure.
As it happens, Goss says it is working on a solution that would permit newspapers which experience motor failure to be back running within 30 minutes.
The solution could be ready by the fall, Goss marketer Gora said.
Other shaftless press and drive manufacturers, however, scoff at that worry, suggesting that Goss is engaging in a little hype of their own.
"These motors are extremely, extremely reliable," said Gary Owen, director of marketing and newspaper sales for KBA-Motter Corp. "These are AC motors used in drives and process controls in manufacturing where they get ramped up and down continuously, and they don't fail. With a printing press, you don't work a motor like that."
Even without this contretemps, however, it is only natural that the expanding market for shaftless press would fuel not simply elation among press manufacturers ? but competitive instincts as well.
Indeed, every major shaftless vendor asserts that it was first in some aspect of technology, whether in conducting research or landing the earliest or biggest sale or getting a press online.
A certain competition is probably inevitable, too, because there is no such thing as one shaftless technology.
Definitions of what is "true" shaftless technology differ among manufacturers ? and take on an almost theological aspect.
There are two basic approaches to shaftless.
One is typified by KBA-Motter's Comet, which the company says was the first shaftless press ever.
The single-width Comet is a modular press with H-type stackable printing units. Each printing unit and folder is driven with its own main motor. These printing units can be synchronized with a main shaft.
"Some early Comets were shipped with a [main] shaft," Owen said. "Once the operators realized [the unit and folder motors] were working OK, they removed the shafts."
KBA itself refers to the Comet's arrangement as a "decentralized drive."
Goss' Colorliner 80 works in a similar way, placing one motor on each bridge unit. Goss calls this system "distributed drive" or "unit-to-unit" shaftless.
These systems are not considered "true" or "full" shaftless, but they nevertheless offer immediate benefits for many newspapers.
For one thing, getting rid of the horizontal shaft and its related clutches immediately improves access to the press and eases maintenance. The need for straight sheet web compensators is gone, too, because cut-to-length registration can be achieved by phase drifting a printing unit relative to the folder.
Color registration improves because the elimination of gear assemblies also eliminates the torsion changes and backlash caused by tiny gaps in gear meshing, said ABB's Koch.
"You eliminate the equipment for registration. This is really a simple thing," Koch said.
Though it falls short of "true" shaftless, this system also allows enormous flexibility in stacking printing units and threading webs.
But true pagination goes the distributed or decentralized drive one better. Where distributed drives use one motor to drive each printing unit, true pagination uses one motor for each printing couple.
The Wifag/ABB system is a good example of this system. In addition to the benefits of distributed drives, this arrangement permits individual couples to be stopped for setup or cleanup, or to change plates or page counts while the press continues to run.
While there are obvious advantages for many newspapers in true shaftless, there are also some downsides.
As Goss' European marketing head Stamp puts it dryly, "That can be a lot of control opportunities for people."
"It takes entirely different skill sets," Goss' Barbara Gora added. "Something like this could be a black hole for a newspaper which is not sophisticated."
The Goss approach, its executives say, is to continue to offer both conventional shaft and distributed drive shaftless ? while continuing intense research and development on true shaftless.
"We are not going to be in the position of shoving technology at the customer, which is what Wifag is doing," Goss President Robert M. Kuhn said. "Customers hear the hype now . . . [but] they'll suddenly wake up."
If there is verbal sniping among vendors, however, it remains only background static to increasingly full-throated enthusiasm for shaftless.
Tulsa World Publishing Co. President Ken Fleming, for instance, appears very happy to be marching in the shaftless parade.
"Look, I know presses," Fleming said at the announcement of the Wifag sale to the Tulsa World. "I was on the [American Newspaper Publishers Association] Technical Committee 20 years and it takes a lot to impress me. And I was impressed."
?(Diagrams of Goss' shafless press systems) [Caption]
# Editor & Publisher n June 22, 1996


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