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Supersize it!

Mar 1, 2005 12:00 AM

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KBA North America (Williston, VT) can claim several pressroom bragging rights. Founded 188 years ago, the world's oldest press vendor now offers the world's biggest sheetfed press: the 81-inch Rapida 205. "You have to see it to believe the size," said Ralf Sammeck, president and CEO, KBA USA. Speaking at a recent open house held at KBA's Radebeul,Germany facility, Sammeck reported that of the seven machines the company has sold in the U.S., two already have been installed at Challenge Printing (Minneapolis) and Amerigraph (Columbus, OH).

With models ranging from 20 to 81 inches, KBA also claims the widest ranges of presses. As seen at Drupa 2004, the company's bread-and-butter large-format machines (Rapida 130-162a in 52-, 56-, and 64 inches) boast speed upgrades and new operating systems. Since their Drupa 1995 launch, these presses have helped reinvigorate the format—the 500th large-format press, a Rapida 162 with coater can be found at Graphic Packaging (Lumberton, NC).

Competitive realities are contributing to the format's popularity. "If I have a 40-inch press and my competition has the same, going to a 56-inch press with a slitter is like two 40-inch sheets," said Sammeck. "I can run bigger sheets with less competition and higher margins." Sammeck added that there's no tradeoff between 40-inch and large-format in terms of quality or productivity.

On the packaging side, KBA's 64-inch press in an eight-color perfecting and coating configuration is a popular choice. And, according to Eric Frank, vice president marketing, there's a significant trend of printers seeking to break into packaging and other markets with the company's 56-inch press.

For decades, the only option for printers seeking 77- or 78-inch presses were used machines, some of which dated back to the Eisenhower era and had four-hour makereadies. The new 205 is offered with six or more units and an inline slitter running at up to 11,000 sph. On a wide range of paper, board and metallized stocks, applications include point-of-purchase displays, posters, labels, books and packaging.

Breaking out of an overcrowded market
An overcrowded 40-inch market prompted Ed Garvey & Co. (Niles, IL) a 90-employee, 130,000-sq.-ft. printer, to add a six-color, 64-inch KBA Rapida 162 last year. The company is a member of the Garvey Group, a network of seven companies in Wisconsin and Illinois with sheetfed, web and digital equipment that produce commercial printing, business forms, direct mail and large format.

According to Joe Kulis, chief operating officer, the company acquired a large-format printer several years ago with some older and leased equipment. Although Ed Garvey & Co. had no prior large-format experience, "we saw there was some potential and made the investment," says Kulis.

As the company evaluated its press options, it found only KBA offered the sheet size it wanted. "The makeready is a marked improvement over our other presses," adds Kulis. "In general, we thought the technology was well beyond what we had seen even in the 40-inch market."

Today the Rapida 162 is used for packaging and POP work. "We do a fair amount of printing on paper that gets applied to the board and converted to a package," Kulis explains. "In many cases, our customer is the box manufacturer—we ship the job to them and they apply the board or paper to cardboard, convert it and ship to their customer."

Whereas a commercial printer typically is producing a finished product, Ed Garvey & Co. is supplying its packaging customers with raw materials. "Beyond the graphic art component of getting the color right and so on, we’re dealing with mundane things such as how the job will be packaged—how the skid is wrapped and documented—so that it’s ready for the customer’s manufacturing process," says Kulis.

Moving beyond the 40-inch format also has required the company to work more closely with its paper supplier." Most vendors don’t keep a lot of large-format paper in their warehouse," says Kulis. "Our supplier doesn’t stock a lot, but we’ve worked out some specific large-format programs." On the packaging side, the printer has been working directly with some U.S. and foreign mills. "It’s a real learning curve," he comments.

Ed Garvey & Co. also produces a variety of signs. "We’re printing on polystyrene, vinyl, foil sheets—things that often require UV inks," reports Kulis.

To step up to the 64-inch format, Ed Garvey & Co. completely upgraded its prepress and postpress departments with a large-format Screen platesetter, Hewlett-Packard inkjet proofer, Kodak Approval and a Polar cutter. To avoid problems with specialty substrates, the company also added air conditioning and humidity controls to the pressroom.

Although the company had several salespeople from its large-format acquisition, it has added four, all with extensive large-format experience. While the new press isn’t yet at capacity, the company is busier than ever and confident in its future. "Large-format continues to be a bigger part of what we do," say Kulis. "It’s opened doors to customers we wouldn’t have reached with just a 40-inch press."

‘Comparing apples to pumpkins’
Huston Patterson Printers (Decatur, IL) transformed itself into a packaging printer in the late 1990s. The $25 million, 65-employee company had previously specialized in greeting cards and stationery, but was forced to regroup after its card customer was sold. Huston Patterson put in its first KBA Rapida 162a in 2001 and recently added a second one.

The company, which started down the packaging road in the mid-1980s with some varnishing and aqueous coating, now specializes in printing multiple colored carton labels and top sheets.

"We’ve always been large format," says Tom Kowa, executive vice president. "We had two Planeta Royal Zeniths and a 55-inch press. We knew had to stay on top of equipment, though, and in 2001, KBA was the only game in town."

Kowa said the difference between the old Zeniths and the new KBAs "is like comparing apples to pumpkins. Makeready takes about 70 percent less time."

Kowa is also a fan of the Denistronic S closed-loop color system, as well as the ACR Control, which uses a camera to determine any register differences and transmit the necessary correction values for lateral, circumferential and diagonal register systems into the individual printing units.

After buying the first 471⁄4 x 633⁄4-sheet press, Huston Patterson thought it would be another six to eight years before it added another one, but its business has justified it. "Print revenues are going through the roof," says Kowa.

CIM levels the makeready field
"Advanced press design, powered by digital technology, has revitalized large format productivity and print quality," says Christian Cerfontaine, MAN Roland Inc.’s director of marketing. He notes that the PECOM press operating system for computer-integrated manufacturing and other automated features mean that a makeready on a 73-inch press can be just as fast as on a 40-inch machine. "That’s a stunning achievement when you realize you’re generating 328 percent more product on the larger machine," he says. "That widens a printer’s profit margins and allows for customer savings. It means there’s no downside to going large."

MAN Roland offers three large-format presses in its Roland 900 series. The largest handles sheet sizes up to 51 x 73 inches and produces 10,000 sph. The second largest provides a 47 x 64-inch maximum sheet size and reaches 12,000 sph; the third is a 43 x 64-inch press that runs at 13,000 sph. MAN Roland’s three other Roland 900 models are a 32 x 45-inch, 38 x 51-inch and 40 x 56-inch press.

Cerfontaine cites advancements like non-stop deliveries and dual roll sheeters as more than making up the difference in output speed between a 40-inch and a large-format sheetfed press. MAN Roland is partnering with sheeter producer Maxson to become its exclusive distributor of large-format sheeters in North America. "Connect a sheeter to a Roland 900XXL, and suddenly your paper costs are reduced by 15-20 percent," says Cerfontaine, "because the rolled stock is that much less expensive than cut sheets."

All Roland 900 XXL models have double-diameter impression cylinders and transferter, automatic settings and pneumatic side guides. The largest can run 64 A4 pages work-and-turn on a sheet. Optional inline coating can include one or two coating modules, and with the optional InlineSlitter, the sheet can be center cut inline and then processed in a folding machine.

The Roland 900XXL can handle board thicknesses up to 1.6 mm or 63 pt., positioning it as an E-flute, F-flute and G-flute solution for packaging printers. Also known as micro-flute and mini-flute, this new breed of corrugated is durable enough to withstand shipping yet has a high-quality look.

Print sales gone crazy
Vision Graphics, a commercial printer in Loveland, CO, installed a six-color Roland 900 with inline aqueous anilox coater in July 1999. Vision also has two 40-inch Roland 700s: a Roland 706 perfector 4/2 with inline aqueous coater and a 702 two-color with perfector; as well as a 29-inch, six-color, hybrid UV Roland 500 with inline coater.

"In adding the 706, our sales took off like crazy," says vice president Monte C. Kelly. "We were growing at a rate of over 60 percent and realized that we were going to need more capacity. We had considered another 700, but we had asked print buyers in the marketplace, ‘What is it you do that you can’t get done in the local market, and why?’ and we found that the market was flooded with 40-inch presses and nothing larger."

Vision Graphics uses the Roland 900 for top-sheet work for the box industry, the high-end catalog market—which also responds to the company’s high-definition Creo Staccato screening—and for oversized maps.

Kelly says the shop installed a Trendsetter VLF from Creo to feed the Roland 900XXL, as well as a new Wohlenberg 185 cutting system and a pile turner.

Kelly adds, "Unlike most of the companies who have an eight-color perfector, I can offer an additional two colors, yield the same number of pages per hour and offer aqueous coating, as well. It’s fulfilled our needs, and if we were to need a new press, we just might buy another 900."

A packaging press geared for high productivity
"The large-format press fits well with large-format carton and label printing companies," says John Santie, Mitsubishi Lithographic Presses (MLP)’s manager of sheetfed products. "The D6000 basically is a two-up 28 x 40-inch format. So not only does the sheet size offer printers square inches for carton and label, but it also can be used to print two-up, two-out signatures if the printer wants to do book work."

MLP offers a 41 x 56-inch press, the Diamond 6000, in two models. Diamond 6000LS and Diamond 6000LX presses print at speeds up to 14,000 sph and boast Mitsubishi’s full range automation features. These include remote control of frontlay register, an ink clutch remote-control system and remote-controlled adjustment of oscillating roller dead point. Inline UV or aqueous coating is available.

Both models have double-size impression cylinders, multi-mode dampening and multi-temperature inking control. The Diamond 6000LX’s skeleton transfer cylinders facilitate markless printing. Both presses accommodate stocks sized from 235⁄8 x 3315⁄32 inches to 4015⁄16 x 5611⁄16 inches. The LX is designed to run heavier stock from 0.004- to 0.04-inch thick; the LS handles 0.0016- to 0.036-inch-thick stock. The MHI Delta automatic dampening system is available as an option, as is the DiamondLink III automated makeready system.

Staying ahead of the curve
Gary Moore, owner of commercial printer J.W. Moore (Memphis), installed a seven-unit VLF Mitsubishi press with inline aqueous coater four years ago.

This year, J.W. Moore installed an MLP Diamond 40-inch, six-unit press with aqueous coater. The shop also runs two small-format presses.

"Both of our MLP presses work in a closed- loop workflow, now," says Moore. "It’s just been wonderful—it’s doing jobs on the fly at phenomenal speeds. The auto presets and closed-loop color monitoring are very helpful."

The company has put its large-format press to work producing packaging, displays and top-sheet jobs, which Moore notes are vulnerable to off-shore competition. "But, the market in the commercial world is very volatile," he adds. "Everybody puts ink on paper. By going into the larger format, you can open up doors with packaging applications." He says installing the large-format press marked a shift in the company’s business model to commercial printing and packaging. "We had 15 years’ expertise in label printing, but now we’ve installed technology that is received very well in the commercial market."

Moore says installing this big press was a big challenge, but he notes, "It’s given us the opportunity to get to the customers that we were not able to even talk to before. I don’t know if we’d still be in business had we not made the move into large format, because the 40-inch market is so competitive." Moore concludes, "Here’s the ROI: It gave us the ability to increase our volume by 30 percent or more, and with the same people."

Heidelberg and the extra inch
Heidelberg’s (Kennesaw, GA) newest press, the Speedmaster XL 105, is rated at 18,000 sph and has a sheet size of 29.52 x 41.34 inches. John Dowey, Heidelberg’s vice president product management, sheetfed, says the XL 105 is targeted for the "highly industrialized commercial, label and packaging printers—operations that run 24/7 and whose customers demand speed, fast turnarounds and the highest possible quality."

Dowey says it’s a good choice for a variety of consumer goods, pharmaceutical and food packaging jobs. Posters are another potential application. "It’s a good size for printers doing movie posters," says Dowey. "The so-called one-sheet, a 28 x 41-inch poster for movie marquees, has room to spare on this press—it’s not squeezed to the edges as it would be on a typical 40-inch press."

Dowey explains that the XL 105 is about an inch bigger around and across the cylinder than the company’s 40-inch Speedmaster 102. "That doesn’t seem like a lot," concedes Dowey. "But when you look at how a lot of different products break on the sheet, in many cases that additional inch in both directions could mean a 30 percent increase in the number of boxes that are actually run on the sheet. It’s not a huge increase compared to an 80-inch press, but when you compare it to 40-inch presses, it can really mean added productivity."

Beyond its larger sheet size, Dowey says the XL 105 offers net output advantages. In field tests vs. a circa 2000, 15,000-sph press, the 18,000 sph XL 105 reportedly is showing up to 30 percent increased net output.

Top quality at high speed
Dowey notes that all components of the 62-ton XL 105 press, such as sideframes, cylinders, gears and bearings, were designed to deliver top quality at high speeds. Key features of the XL 105 include automated sheet travel; new feeder and delivery; a coating unit said to streamline makereadies and a high performance inking/dampening system.

A large cylinder diameter reportedly enables smooth sheet travel, while the Air Transfer System offers material-specific presetting of sheet guide plates and blowing air in the printing unit.

Developed specifically for the XL 105, the Preset Plus feeder features a suction tape feeder with central suction tape. On the other end of the press, the Preset Plus delivery features patented blast-air supported sheet guide plates for use with the newest generation of Dry Star 3000 dryers. From one end to the other, the press enables job-specific air settings to be stored for reprint jobs.

The chambered doctor blade coating system incorporates an innovative MultiLoader System which provides motor-driven storage for four screen rollers with automated roller changing. Dowey says the Ferris-wheel-like configuration slashes the time needed for roller changes and is particularly suited for printers who frequently need to change coating application weights. The XL 105 also features Hycolor, a combined inking/dampening unit with variable inking unit geometry. This reportedly allows excellent inking, regardless of the overall coverage of the job.

"With Hycolor, the stability window is very wide," explains Dowey, "This lets users run higher densities for more pop, while still being able to quickly and accurately control light-coverage jobs or inks that tend to emulsify. Hycolor ties in perfectly with the ultra-ridgid printing units to deliver a very sharp dot and a smooth solid."

Coming soon to a printer near you
The Speedmaster XL 105 made its debut at Drupa and is slated for installation in a few months at Sandy Alexander (Clifton, NJ), Williamson Printing (Dallas) and Moquin Press, a Belmont, CA-based trade printer.

Jon Fogel, senior vice president, Sandy Alexander, cites the 18,000-sph running speed, more efficient operation, technological improvement and slightly increased size as key factors behind the company’s decision to go with the XL 105. Technical highlights on the eight-color press include Heidelberg’s new Image Control Scanner, advanced coating technology, automated anilox three-roller changing and an inline inking system.

Noting that Sandy Alexander is all Heidelberg on the sheetfed side, Fogel says the printer will be able to maximize training as well as operational and consumable efficiencies. The printer, which also is adding a new Heidelberg CD 102 press, has retired an older 40-inch Speedmaster Classic.

Champ’s wide-format book scores a TKO
Although larger-format presses might seem like a recent phenomenon here, other countries have been quick to embrace this trend. KBA reports book printers in Italy and China have long enjoyed large format’s cost and margin advantages.

Two Italian printers, Arti Grafiche LEVA and Canale, recently used their 633⁄4-inch Rapida 162a presses to produce a book a prestigious German magazine calls "the biggest, heaviest, most radiant thing ever printed in the history of civilization." Published by Taschen, the 792-page book, a biography of Muhammad Ali called "The Greatest of All Time" ("GOAT"), weighs 75 lbs. and is 20 x 20 inches. It consists of 66 signatures printed in nine colors plus gold-metallic coating on Zanders Xeramix coated stock. Nine gold-metallic, double-page silkscreened spreads open each chapter.

Although it took three years to collect and prepare the book’s more than 3,000 images, the printers had only six weeks to produce the 10,000 run job. GOAT is offered in two versions: the $10,000 Champ’s Edition, a limited run of 1,000; and the $3,000 Champ’s edition. Both are bound in pink leather, the color of Ali’s first Cadillac.

Kubin-Nicholson adds an 81-inch press
Founded in 1926 as a silkscreen printer, Kubin-Nicholson (Milwaukee, WI) now serves three market sectors: litho outdoor, litho commercial and grand-format digital (see p. 84). The company, which currently has five 77-inch Harris presses and one 50-inch press, will soon install a six-unit, 81-inch KBA Rapida 205 press equipped with a coater, UV and automatic color and registration control. We asked Mark Popp, vice president of manufacturing, to tell us more about Kubin-Nicholson.

How does the new 205 compare to your older presses?

Our presses were made mostly in the 1950s and 1960s. We’ve consistently upgraded our Harris presses as technology was ported over from smaller sized presses. This includes upgrades like Graphic Microsystems consoles for automating ink and water control, and Delta dampeners.

We do most, if not all, the repair work. We also have consistently purchased used 77-inch presses just for parts. The 205 press will impact makready the most. Much of its automation previously was available only on smaller presses.

What type of jobs do you anticipate running on the 205?

We expect that everything we currently produce can and will be run on the 205. For current products this includes outdoor papers, self-adhesive vinyl, 70- to 100-lb. C1S, board stocks up to 24-pt., static cling, Yupo, and many others. We plan on making full use of the substrates the 205 can run, from 60-lb. to 48-pt. paper and synthetics as well as corrugated stock.