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Halfsize presses: one size fits many

Aug 1, 2002 12:00 AM


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The halfsize-sheetfed-press market has shown more growth potential than that of the larger iron, and it's no wonder: Pressroom efficiencies and cost savings make the four- and six-up formats ideal for the industry's burgeoning short-run, fast-turnaround jobs. But although these applications may share common run lengths, they can differ greatly in production terms. The halfsize press has risen to the challenge, however. Following are four case studies illustrating the versatility of this format, and some of the more innovative ways printers are utilizing four- and six-up presses to deliver the goods.

COMMERCIAL SIX-UP FITS JUST RIGHT

According to Rob Hasson, president of midsize commercial printer Fidelity Printing Co. (St. Petersburg, FL), the Tampa Bay print market is all about short and medium runs, and quick turnarounds. So when it came time to replace the printer's 28-inch, four-color press, Hasson was keenly interested in the latest halfsize offering from Fidelity's press vendor, MAN Roland Inc. (Westmont, IL). The new 23¼ × 29⅛-inch Roland 500 certainly fit into the halfsize press category and offered many of the same features as the fullsize Roland 700, but vendors thought the 23 × 29-inch Roland 300 was a better fit for Fidelity's high-speed, fast-makeready requirements.

“They designed the 500 for packaging,” explains Hasson. “Well, we really don't do packaging — we specialize in commercial, direct mail and corporate marketing — so most of our jobs are on paper and cover stock.” After a demo of the Roland 300 and some consultation, the printer agreed on a five-color perfecting model.

The press, which was installed in January, is networked via MAN Roland's PECOM system with Fidelity's Roland 700 six-color perfector. “Perfecting was pretty important to us, and we've had good success with the 700,” Hasson relates. The exec says the Roland 300's perfecting unit is fairly easy to set up. “You don't have to give a lot of planning in your production workload,” he notes. “In the old days, it took 45 minutes to an hour to set the press up and get the perfector in gear. Now, it takes a minute or two.”

At the PECOM control console, operators have access to all major printing functions, and can store and retrieve jobs. Printing units are connected to the console via fiber optics for instant communication, as well as accurate registration control. Automation includes format setting, sheet-thickness adjustment, washup for inking units and plate, impression and transfer cylinders, and automated plate changes.

Another capability high on Fidelity's list is reliable inking and dampening. “We do a lot of solid ink coverages,” Hasson notes. “We very rarely see white paper.” He says that the Roland 300 puts down large ink volumes without ghosting. Marking is also not a problem; operators have run stock from 16-pt. board to 50-lb. offset on the press. The Roland 300 is rated at 15,000 sph in straight and perfecting modes.

Run lengths on the halfsize press are from 10,000 to only 500 sheets. “Where we really wanted to position ourselves in the marketplace with the Roland 300 is the short-run, quick-turnaround market,” Hasson says. “There are applications for digital color and copy machines, but we do more high-end work — we're not looking to do 100 color pieces for a sale.”

One example of Fidelity's high-end work is exhibit collateral for the New York City Metropolitan Museum of Art. The printer produces art posters advertising new exhibits and background literature on artists for docents to use during tours. Hasson cites the Roland 300's CCI color-control system in the success of the art reproductions.

“When you're trying to print a reproduction, you have to deal with subtle midtones, highlights and shadow areas, so you really need to be in control of the inker and dampener,” Hasson notes. “CCI lets you control ink coverage by halftone screen densities — so it's a more refined, or finite, way of controlling your inker.”

Fidelity would like to eventually invest in a new press, and, as Hasson admits, until recently, the printer was considering a fullsize four-color unit. “But because of the speed and makeready efficiencies of the 300, the sales department and I are wondering if another halfsize press isn't the way to go.” The exec adds that as shorter runs increase in popularity among Fidelity's customers, halfsize equipment will become even more integral to success.

HALFSIZE OFFSET MEETS DIGITAL

When Alpha Beta Press (Tinley Park, IL) moved from its 19,000-sq.-ft. plant to a 47,000-sq.-ft. facility in March 2000, it held to the adage, “out with the old, in with the new.” In addition to new fullsize four- and six-color Model 3F-16 presses from Mitsubishi Lithographic Presses U.S.A., Inc. (Lincolnshire, IL), the printer added a new six-color Model 1F-15 20 × 28-inch press. The printer was a veteran of the halfsize market, having purchased its first press of that format in 1985; it had ventured into fullsize printing 11 years later.

Established in 1956, Alpha Beta offers short-run printing to customers in the health-care, manufacturing and financial industries. Jobs run the gamut from brochures and marketing material to customer-communication jobs, and run lengths vary on the Model 1F between 2,000 and 20,000 sheets. With such tight runs, the printer was adamant about certain must-have features.

“Certainly the automatic blanket washup was key — you do a lot of makereadies on that press,” says owner Steven Smits. “Also, we get CIP4 data from our Creo Brisque prepress workflow, which can be sent right out to the press console to help us improve our makeready times.” And, because most of its forms are “work-and-turn,” as the exec explains, Alpha Beta doesn't want to wait before it can turn the sheet. “There are a lot of cases where we'll print on the third shift and deliver the next morning — you can do that with an aqueous coater.”

Alpha Beta's halfsize press takes on work that would be too uneconomical printed on the fullsize presses. This includes sell sheets, book covers and six-page brochures. “One of the benefits of a six-page brochure is you can buy 28 × 40-inch stock and get three sheets from it — so you save about 15 percent on paper cost,” Smits notes. “Although you have a sheetwise form vs. a work-and-turn on the big press, you reduce your paper costs in the run and paper spoilage is significantly less than that of a 40-inch press.”

The Model 1F-15 is networked with the two Model 3F-16s via Mitsubishi's CIP4 DiamondLink System. After a file is RIPed by the Brisque workstation, a color profile is taken and transferred to the press. Smits explains, “It's given a footprint, and adjusts the ink keys to where the target densities should be.” The exec notes that the CIP4 link enables the press to come up to color 10 percent faster than if an operator was manually setting the densities.

Another feature that stands out on the Model 1F-15 is automatic register control. Recently, Alpha Beta ran a 1,200-run partnership-opportunities brochure for the Chicago Bulls basketball team. It was printed on silver-foil stock and had to be run through the halfsize press three times. “It was difficult to hold register, but we were able to do it successfully,” Smits recounts. “With automatic register control, press operators can change register on the fly.” Operators have also run substrates ranging from clear vinyl plastic to transparent label stock, and weights ranging from 50-lb. offset to 18-pt. board.

The Model 1F-15 recently entered into a new application: versioning. Alpha Beta purchased an HP TurboStream 12 × 18-inch digital press so it could get into variable-data printing. “We print tax and financial planning guides, and the customer may have 10 different covers,” Smits explains. Alpha Beta prints large runs on the Model 1F, then cuts those down and digitally prints them on the TurboStream. Customers often request runs of only 10,000 to 20,000 one-sided covers to avoid excess inventory. Alpha Beta is able to comfortably meet those size constraints with the halfsize press, since it's more cost effective.

Currently the Model 1F-16 is running 24 hours a day, six days a week. With regard to future acquisitions in this format, the printer is keeping its eyes on press trends. For now, digital equipment is cost-prohibitive for Alpha Beta, and Smits expects it will be a long time before digital eats into the offset market significantly. Until then, the exec is happy to keep his Model 1F constantly busy.

EXTRA INCHES REALLY ADD UP

Patsons Media Group (Sunnyvale, CA) started out as a copy-shop franchisee in the late 1960s. After the company's franchise organization went out of business, Patsons persisted, moving from black-and-white document printing into color work. Now, with about $6.5 million in sales and full prepress, printing and bindery services, the midsize printer is tackling jobs for a wide range of industries, from health insurance to high tech.

Patsons certainly didn't lack for iron in October 2001, when it made an investment in a new press. A five-color, 14 × 20-inch Heidelberg Speedmaster (SM) 52, a 40-inch SM 102 perfector and an assortment of halfsize and quarter-web presses ran in its pressroom. As vice president of operations John Dellamano explains, however, Patsons still had to turn down an increasing number of jobs that fell between the capabilities of the printer's smaller and larger presses. “We were missing out on some of the larger jobs — presentation folders wouldn't fit on our SM 52,” he recalls.

Patsons didn't need another 20 × 29-inch press — that format was just shy of the sheet-width capabilities required to take on the larger work. Instead, the printer decided on a six-color, 23½ × 29-inch Heidelberg CD 74. John notes that ordinarily, Patsons would have considered an SM 74, “but that's only a 20 × 28-inch sheet size — the CD 74's extra three and a half inches makes a huge difference.”

The printer dedicates the CD 74 to long-run CD-ROM sleeve jobs as well as presentation folders. Run lengths vary from 200 up to 600,000 — larger run lengths are attainable with Patsons' strength in long-run folding. The press is able to accommodate substrates ranging from label stock to 32-pt. board. “When it's running board, it sounds like it's running paper — 24-pt. board sounds like 100-lb. gloss book,” John notes. Patsons has run up to 24-pt. stock on the press.

An option the printer especially enjoys is the press' ImageControl CPC 24 online spectrophotometer, which works in conjunction with the CPC 32 prepress interface for automatic setting of ink fountains. Ink profiles are sent through CPC 32 to the press; CPC 24 scans the sheet and maintains the color throughout the run, making ink-key adjustments on the fly. John's brother and Patsons plant manager Joe Dellamano notes, “We find CPC 32 very useful, especially during setup where the ink-key profiles are sent right to the press. With CPC 24, you save data from the previous run. It stores settings in the press, so an exact reprint comes right up to color.”

Both tools help the printer take on jobs that may have previously been impossible. One particularly challenging job involved a 51-form project composed of extremely short, varying runs. “It was pretty intense — it basically had a crossover on every page,” John recalls. “From form to form, the color had to match.” The job may have seemed a veritable nightmare, but the CPC 32 system ensured quick form-to-form color matching.

Another “ridiculously short run” involved a one-to-one fit on 24-pt. board. “It was four-color process plus a spot of warm-gray flood PMS, and the designer was worried about any sort of trap against the four-color process, because she had originally called it out as one big screen build,” John recollects. But, after press operators did separations and ran flood PMS one-to-one fit, it held perfectly. “The CD 74 will lay out any solid you can throw at it — you won't see a bump on that press,” John says.

Patsons is considering installing interdeck UV in the future, since the CD 74 is UV-ready. For now, however, the printer is satisfied testing the press' limits.

AFFORDABLE IMPROVEMENT

When it comes to equipment, Southern Press (Gainsville, FL), a $2.5 million sheetfed printer, believes in continuous improvement. “Trading up seems to work for us,” says owner Rick Nesbit, who adds that Southern Press also prefers to get the latest options on its new press purchases. “We get any option that we think we'll be able to use — we find that it'll pay off. The increase in productivity is pretty dramatic.”

So when it came time to trade in Southern's five-color halfsize sheetfed press, Nesbit was eager to replace it with a machine that could increase productivity and perform challenging jobs easily. He also wanted to get as much automation as possible for the money, although he acknowledges, “there just aren't that many options in that price range in the market.”

The exec ultimately decided on a Prestige 574 from Polly USA, Inc. (Jacksonville, FL). Nesbit cites the press' automation and size as major selling points, as well as its $650,000 price tag. The five-color, 20½ × 29⅛-inch Prestige 574 features double-diameter impression and transfer cylinders. “With the double-diameter transfer cylinders, you pull the sheet completely off the blanket,” he explains. “The sheet doesn't have to curve around as tight a circumference, so you have fewer marking problems and smoother solids.” The press also features an automatic inking-unit washer and blanket washer, automatic cylinder positioning, a 19-roller inking train, a refrigerated recirculator and a sheet-control system, including a vacuum slowdown mechanism and sheet decurler.

Nesbit adds that setup is also quicker — about 25 minutes for “an agency-type job,” vs. more than two hours on the older press. “With the tolerances being so tight, we don't have much variation on the positioning of the plate and thus, don't have to spend as much time there,” Nesbit says. He cites the Prestige's semiautomated cylinder adjustment.

Southern is also utilizing the press' CIP4 capability. “The RIP writes a text file that sends the computer information on the ink distribution across the sheet,” Nesbit explains. “Then those values are automatically transferred to the press, which sets the inkers directly for you. As you can imagine, that's a big timesavings, especially for repeat work.” With the ink setting, the press comes up to color in just a few sheets.

Run lengths are typically around 5,000, although Southern has run jobs up to 20,000 impressions. The printer delegates the more challenging jobs for the Prestige — those on heavy-coated paper or with high ink densities. One formerly difficult job — printing plastic templates for medical companies — is easier on the new press. Previously, press operators had to take pains to prevent marking and achieve the right ink thickness. With the Prestige, the operator feeds stack-tipped vinyl or acetate, slip-sheeted with thick paper, through the press for printing; according to Nesbit, register is perfect. Southern uses inks and fountain solutions that can dry in the stack.

Other difficult jobs include pocket folders with full solids or posters with heavy inking and no gutters. “There, the geometry of the press helps — those double-diameter cylinders will handle the heavy coverage, and you're not trying to bend the sheet around little cylinders,” Nesbit notes. The large cylinders also improve the sheets' movement through the press; operators don't have to move guides to prevent marking. And, the Prestige's IR dryer ensures quick drying.

“The thing I've been most happy about is putting a job on the press that I used to pull my hair out over, and it runs easily,” Nesbit concludes. “It just makes life so much easier.”

New halfsize presses debut

Six-up press introductions are heating up as vendors tout the ability to fit more work on the press while avoiding the fullsize investment. Packaging is the next frontier for many 23 × 29-inch press users — new and soon-to-be-introduced models will handle heavier stocks and inking with greater speed, not only opening up new markets for commercial printers, but offering halfsize printers the means to challenge their fullsize competitors head-on.

Other vendors are focusing on halfsize perfectors to help printers increase production, while engineering the presses to avoid marking problems of the past. Following is a rundown of what's new in the halfsize market, and what you'll see in October at Graph Expo.

MAN Roland

The Westmont, IL, press manufacturer is introducing the Roland 500 at Graph Expo. The six-up, 23.23 × 29.13-inch press features speeds up to 18,000 sph, and can handle substrates up to 40 pt. thick. The Roland 500 also features optional inline anilox coating, fully integrated drying for aqueous, UV or combination coatings, and inline finishing. The company reports that there are several installations in Germany, including one that recently purchased a second 500.

Heidelberg

Heidelberg's (Kennesaw, GA) 23 × 29-inch CD 74 handles substrates ranging from label stock to 32-pt. board. It offers speeds up to 15,000 sph and features oversize cylinders and air-cushion transfer to eliminate marking. The press is also equipped with Heidelberg's CP 2000 control system for automated makeready and consistent print quality. A UV version of the CD 74 was introduced at Ipex this past April; it features an ink agitator, UV-compatible roller sleeves and DryStar UV dryer.

Komori

Komori (Rolling Meadows, IL) recently introduced the Lithrone 28P 20½ × 28⅜-inch perfecting sheetfed press. With speeds of 15,000 sph for a single-sided pass and 13,000 sph in perfecting mode, the press offers fully automatic changeover between both modes. Other features include a front/back plate-register remote control, and compatibility with Komori's PQC System, which is designed to reduce the load on the operator imposed by perfecting.

Mitsubishi

Mitsubishi Lithographic Printing (MLP) U.S.A., Inc. (Lincolnshire, IL) debuted its Diamond 2000LS at Print 01. The 23½ × 29⅛-inch press is targeted at commercial printers looking to expand into six-up work. With the ability to handle stock as thick as 0.024 inch and print speeds up to 16,000 sph, the press also features remote-controlled register, preset inking and Mitsubishi's Centralized Operator Makeready and Control (COMRAC). Options include semi- and fully automatic plate changing, automatic blanket washing, closed-loop inking and a high-speed scanning spectrophotometer. The Diamond 2000LS will be shown at Graph Expo this fall.

KBA

KBA North America Inc. (Williston, VT) will show the 74 Karat halfsize direct-imaging press with an integrated aqueous coater for the first time in North America at Graph Expo. KBA had debuted the inline coater at Ipex in April.

Ryobi

Don Trytten, general manager and vice president of the import group at xpdex (Lenexa, KS), the U.S. Ryobi importer and distributor, reports that Ryobi will debut its 23 × 29-inch 754/5/6 XL press with coater at Graph Expo. The exec notes that the 755 XL has the same features as the 754/5/6 20 × 29-inch press — including standard semi-automatic plate changer, automatic ink roller, blanket and impression cylinder washing — but is larger to accommodate six-up work. The press is rated at speeds up to 15,000 sph and handles stock from 0.0016 to 0.024 inch thick. Trytten says the press is commercially available for sale in four-, five- and six-color models; special introductory pricing will be available at the show.

Sakurai

Sakurai USA, Inc. (Schaumburg, IL) is introducing the 26-inch-wide 466SIP series at Graph Expo. The fully automatic, four-color, convertible-perfector press has a compact footprint and maximum running speed of 15,000 iph. Standard features include automatic plate changers, perfector changeover, sheet preset and roller washers, as well as CIP4 capability. According to the company, there are currently three U.S. installations.

Shinohara

Japan-based Shinohara has announced that its 74 series 20 × 29-inch presses have been upgraded to the 231/32 × 2917/32-inch format. The new 75 series presses feature a larger maximum paper size of 23 × 29 inches, as well as a plate size of 25 × 2921/64 inches.