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Midsize sheetfeds: just right

Jan 1, 2001 12:00 AM


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Full-sized press features at half-size prices Good things come in small packages, and even medium-sized ones, especially when it comes to half-size presses.

Printers and press manufacturers seem to have recognized that bigger isn't always better - sales of half-size presses continue to rise and manufacturers are sinking considerable funds into developing and advancing them.

"The medium-format press (26 inches to 29 inches) has evolved from little brother to the full-size 40-inch format to near market-leader for several press manufacturers in terms of new units sold or installed," reports consultant C. Clint Bolte of C. Clint Bolte and Associates (Chambersburg, PA). "These presses offer the same full automation of their larger sibling with comparable configurations of five to six units, perfector and inline dryer."

Manufacturers cite various factors to explain the increased sales levels in the half-size market, but most concur that numbers are up compared to prior years. Many echoed an industry-wide contention that overall run lengths are dropping and printers are purchasing the smaller equipment to better accommodate shorter press runs.

HOT MARKET "With everything changing so quickly, people don't want old printed material hanging around on the shelf," says Rudy Valenta, manager of corporate sales for MAN Roland (Westmont, IL). "The 28-inch market is hot."

Agrees Douglas Schardt, assistant product manager at Komori (Rolling Meadows, IL), "There is no sense in putting a short run on a 40-inch press if you don't have to. If you're going to makeready longer than you're going to run your press, then you're not making any money."

The strength and affordability of this press size is also evidenced by its performance in the previously owned market. Akiyama (Pine Brook, NJ) marketing manager Martin Petersen says that the company's used 28-inch presses are sold immediately. "We don't hang on to them for very long," he reports.

28-INCH ADVANTAGES Some believe that the half-size press' rising popularity has to do with the quality of product that it generates. According to Heidelberg (Kennesaw, GA) product manager Bruno Asmann, "For certain applications and products, it is easier to control register and color on a half-size sheet."

Much of the automation developed for 40-inch presses (such as plate changing, blanket and press cylinder cleaning, press control systems, ink-key presets, etc.) is also available on half-size models, enabling the half-size market to achieve the same level of quality as its larger counterpart. "All of the new automation has been proven on 40-inch presses," observes Bolte. "As the automation has gravitated down to half-size presses, the learning curve is quicker."

Polly USA (Jacksonville, FL) national sales manager Dan Macke says that the quality of the printed products is indeed an important consideration for buyers of half-size presses. "Ultimate capacity is not the issue. It's mostly about print quality," he says.

Heidelberg's Asmann says that in general, half-size presses require less manning than the 40-inch models. He points out that the largest overhead for most printing companies is their staff, and presses that require less human maintenance ultimately reduce overhead for the company.

And, "if you don't run at least two - and usually three - shifts on a 40-inch press, you can't make any money," insists Leo Caproni, general manager of Shinohara USA (Elk Grove Village, IL). "The half-size press is smaller, but with all of the automation options, it is almost as productive as a 40-inch press."

All things being equal, many printers don't really see a staffing difference between four-up and eight-up presses, says press operator Sam Weaver (Valdosta, GA). "The larger presses require more work and the staff should be compensated accordingly," he says. "The steps, however, are the same regardless of the size of the press. If the two presses were side-by-side, the staff would be doing exactly the same things to produce the same results."

MORE VOLUME "The workload is heavier on the larger presses. More coverage means more ink will have to be replaced in the ink fountains, more dampening solution in the dampening fountains, etc.," Weaver says. "You are not doing this more often - the larger press' components have a higher capacity - it's more volume at basically the same intervals."

Print shops that run mostly text would do well to avoid the larger presses, advises Weaver. "Makeready times can increase dramatically with heavy ink coverage due to sheet stretch, causing the press operator to reduce ink tack or sequence, whereas the smaller presses will produce acceptable results most of the time without the need for changing or altering inks. With cover and board stocks this is hardly a concern, since sheet stretch is minimal or excluded."

STEPPING STONE TO MULTICOLOR General commercial printers are the primary buyers of half-size presses. Manufacturers report that from year to year, without fluctuation, commercial shops comprise between 75 percent and 85 percent of 28-inch sales.

Within this segment, there are two main types of businesses adding 26-inch to 29-inch presses to their equipment capabilities: large commercial printers and smaller mom-and-pop shops.

John Santie, product manager of sheetfed presses, Mitsubishi Lithographic Presses U.S.A., Inc. (Lincolnshire, IL), says that most of the printers he works with already own 40-inch equipment and are looking for a press to handle smaller jobs. "The 28-inch press gives printers a lot of flexibility; they no longer have to tie up their 40-inch press with smaller sheet sizes and shorter runs," he reports.

At the other end, mom-and-pop establishments purchase half-size presses as a stepping stone into multicolor markets, according to Joe Komoras, Adast America (Arvada, CO) board member.

And then there are in-plant printers. Steve Bruno, Sakurai (Schaumburg, IL) national sales manager, reports several in-plant customers have purchased half-size presses to not only better serve their respective institutions, but also to accept more outside work.

THE IMPACT OF DIGITAL Pundits believe that digital presses, both toner and ink-based, have been a key factor in enabling shorter run lengths, and have thus inadvertently driven the demand for 28-inch presses. But because they are designed for short runs, direct-imaging (DI) presses also are a natural competitor for conventional half-size presses, and could eventually eat into the market share.

"We expect all printing presses to become DI presses in the future," relates Sandy Fuhs, Presstek Inc. (Hudson, NH), marketing manager, DI products. "This won't happen overnight and we doubt it will happen in the next five years, but we do expect that in the future, four-up DI presses will overtake [conventional four-up presses] and eventually replace them."

Presstek's ProFire imaging technology integrates lasers, laser drivers, digital electronics and motion control into a single package for CTP devices or DI presses. On the four-up side, this imaging technology can be found on presses from Adast, Sakurai and Shinohara and an Akiyama press still under development.

Other four-up DI presses are offered by Karat Digital Press (74 Karat) and Heidelberg (Speedmaster 74 DI), which both feature CreoScitex's SquareSpot imaging technology, and Screen (TruePress 744). On-press platemaking is particularly attractive when it comes to makeready times - most four-up DI manufacturers claim makeready can be done in 10 to 15 minutes. With the base price for four-up DI presses ranging from $850,000 to $1.24 million, some smaller printers have opted to go with a two-up DI (ranging from $350,000 to $425,000) with the goal of buying a four-up DI within a year or so (see sidebar below).

As with most technology, the price of DI presses is expected to come down as the technology evolves. In 1995, for example, there were two, two-up DI press models priced at $640,000.

"As digital presses [mature], they will eat into the market that four-up conventional presses currently serve," according to Mitsubishi's Santie. "But for high-quality color reproduction and fast press runs, half-size presses will be around for a long time."

Komoras, for example, says that while Adast's 26-inch DI presses are selling, conventional units continue to dominate. He attributes the slower digital sales to the notion that the majority of printers are still burning plates using conventional methods.

Nonetheless, the four-up press manufacturers don't believe that digital printing will render conventional half-size presses obsolete. Polly USA's Macke is optimistic that 26- and 29-inch presses will continue to be competitive because of digital solutions that are compatible with conventional lithography. "Computer-to-plate technology allows a printer to purchase a platemaker for $100,000 to $200,000 and make the entire pressroom digital," he says. "Digital presses, on the other hand, are much more expensive."

If you have recently purchased a new four-up press, we'd like to hear from you.

Tell us what you bought and why; e-mail us at: allison_mclean@intertec.com.

Here's a look at major vendors' product offerings in the half-size format.

26- and 29-inch perfectors Adast America has two half-size conventional press models, the 26-inch 700 series and the 29-inch 800 series. The 700s are available in one- to five-color configurations with optional inline coating. Each press comes with standard perfector, and reportedly runs at a maximum production speed of 10,000 sph.

The 800s are offered in two- to six-color configurations with perfector. Tower inline coating is optional. The 800s can be fitted with automatic blanket washers and semiautomatic plate hangers. Press functions are controlled by a programmable control system. The presses are manufactured with low or high delivery, can be equipped with an alcohol dampening system, a circulation and cooling device for dampening solution, IR-dryer in delivery and a perforating device for the plate registration system. The 800 series presses also can be equipped for waterless offset printing. Maximum production speed is 12,000 iph. Every Adast press has an inkflow color console to control register ink settings.

Double-sided printing Akiyama offers the Bestech 28 and the J Print series. The Bestech 28 is available in two- to eight-color configurations, although Martin Petersen, marketing manager, notes that printers rarely buy it with fewer than six units. A triple-size impression cylinder and quadruple-size transfer cylinder reduce sheet transfer to four times on a six-color unit. Because of the cylinders' large size, curvature is minimal, which is said to decrease register and marking problems. It features register control in the console, extended delivery, a continuous dampening system and Akiyama Color Control (ACC), a PC-based CPU and floppy disk drive for storage of rerun data. Additional options include automation in paper preset, impression preset, automatic plate-changing and blanket washers. It runs at 13,000 sph.

The J Print comes in 26- and 29-inch sizes and prints the sheets on both sides in a single pass. Each upper and lower unit combination has its own plate, blanket, impression and transfer cylinders. There is minimal sheet handling, which is said to result in minimal paper waste and high accuracy of register throughout the run. The compact design of the J Print reportedly makes working around the press easier, enabling faster makeready. It features many of the same presets as the Bestech. Optional automation is available on the blanket washers, paper presets, ink wash-up and plate-changing. It runs at 13,000 sph.

Specialization and efficiency KBA North America introduced the 29-inch Rapida 74 at Drupa, and has installed several units in European print shops since then. "Response has been really solid," says marketing director Bob McKinney.

The 29-inch Rapida 74 is suitable for both general commercial projects and highly specialized applications, such as packaging, or printing on plastics. Its unit-type construction allows up to 10 colors, with or without coating. It is said to offer outstanding substrate flexibility and its high level of automation enables shorter makeready times and efficient production. It also features an electronic console and Colortronic inking unit control for easier operation. The press is rated at 15,000 sph.

Two presses, two markets Komori has two presses in the half-size category, although assistant product manager Doug Schardt stresses that each targets a different market. The Lithrone series is sold mostly to established commercial printers, whereas the Sprint models are typically purchased by duplicator shops that wish to grow their business, or in-plant printers that have occasional short runs.

The Sprint series is available in 26- and 28-inch configurations, with one or two colors. Features include a semiautomatic plate changer, an automatic ink roller cleaner, an automatic blanket cleaner, a perfector, push-button control and remote register control.

The Lithrone presses in the half-size market come in 20-, 26- and 28-inch formations, from two to six colors. They feature double-sized impression and transfer cylinders, which Schardt says offer less need for gripping changes, minimal transfer points, high register accuracy, and minimized paper curl and smooth sheet path, even for thicker substrates. Automated options include plate changing, makeready and printing quality control. Other capabilities include perfector, reverse printing, double coating and multiple delivery systems. Maximum printing speeds are 10,000 sph for the Lithrone 20, and 15,000 sph on the Lithrone 26 and the Lithrone 28.

New automation on a veteran The Speedmaster 74, Heidelberg's 29-inch veteran, runs at 15,000 sph and can be outfitted in one- to 10-color models. It features Heidelberg CP 2000, a centrally operated digital control system for the press and auxiliary equipment. New features include automated plate changing, computer-controlled wash-up of rollers, blankets and impression cylinders, plus an inking system from the Speedmaster 102 and the Heidelberg Alcolor system. It is said to have fast makeready and minimal start-up waste.

The Printmaster 74, introduced to U.S. printers at Graph Expo, combines automated functions with manual solutions to provide a more cost-effective entry into the four-up format. An example of that strategy is the unit's plate- clamping device: It is said to allow quick and true-to-register plate-clamping, without complicated mechanisms or electronics. Its plate size is the same as the Speedmaster 74, allowing printers to move into larger models and still retain stripping and plate compatibility. The Printmaster 74 also features the Alcolor dampening system and laser-slit ink keys. It is available in one- and two-color configurations.

Compact or perfector presses MAN Roland has two 29-inch models: the 200 compact press and the 300 perfecting press. The 200 is available in two- and four-color configurations and accepts substrate thickness up to 32 point. The console for the machine is integrated into the delivery section of the press, rather than having a freestyle console. The JobCard feature, a bank card-type medium, allows for storage of ink-key presetting values. The press is equipped with double-size impression cylinders and a double-size transfer, but no transfer drums. It incorporates a transferter between the units, which allows it to run without a wet side down during the transfer. The remote-controlled inking standard (RCI) ensures selected inking, said to reduce makeready time. The maximum printing speed is 13,000 sph.

The Roland 300 has a maximum sheet size of 23 x 29 inches, allowing for six-up printing. The press comes standard with perfecting and the RCI console. Automation features include format setting of feeder delivery, sheet thickness and fountains. Optional features include automatic platehangers and an anulux or two-roll coater for inline enhancement. The press is available in conventional or ultraviolet. Up to eight colors can be installed, plus coating.

10 printing units Mitsubishi's 28-inch 1F press can be constructed with up to 10 printing units plus an aqueous tower coater. It features the Mitsubishi Multi-Mode three-position Dampening System with preset speed curves and a remote-control register. An impression pressure presetting system, automated paper size presetting system, quick plate clamp system and semiautomatic plate changing with plate bender are available. The presses are rated 13,000 and 15,000 sph, and utilize a seven o'clock cylinder arrangement that provides no back tension on the maximum size sheet. It also features automatic sheet size and impression changing from the console, CIP3 capability and scanning spectrophotometer in either open- or closed-loop configurations for control of inking. The 1F press can accommodate stock ranges from .0002 inch to .024 inch.

Press for the growth printer Polly USA will begin delivery of its new half-size press, the 29-inch 74 series, in Q2 or Q3. In the meantime, its 26-inch 66 series serves smaller printers who wish to step up to a midsize press. Much of the automation that can be found on other 26-inch presses has been omitted from this series, to keep the price low. The press comes with up to five units and perfecting capabilities. Programmable electronics and pneumatics speed up press operation by giving the operator push-button control and flexibility.

The 74 series features more automation, which increases press capacity. It is said to run at 13,000 sph, and can handle stocks up to 20 pt.

Color-control system Sakurai's Oliver-72EDII 28-inch series is available in four-, five- and six-color models, with or without a coating unit and extended delivery. It features the Sakurai Plate Changing System (SPC), and Sakurai Auto Set (SAS): sheet size preset, impression preset and plate cylinder adjustment. With the Type Sakurai Color Console (SCC), ink sweep can be remotely adjusted. The press also includes a touch panel display, an automatic ink roller wash-up device, a continuous dampening system, a suction-feed belt system and remote-control register adjustment.

Flexible format Shinohara USA offers two presses in the half-size market, the 66 (26-inch) series and the 74 (29-inch) series. According to general manager Leo Caproni, the 74 is more competitive in the general commercial market, and is a true "paper" press - it isn't designed to print on cardboard or other thick substrates. The press is available in two models: One supports a maximum sheet size of 23 x 29 inches, and the other handles a maximum sheet size of 20 x 29 inches. The press can be configured with two to eight colors, with convertible perfecting, an inline aqueous or ultraviolet tower coater and an electronic console. Any Shinohara press with a console can accept CIP3 data.

"My Pressroom Will Never Be The Same!": Trends, Technologies and the State of Digital Presses is the opening general session for the GATF/NAPL Sheetfed Conference, May 20-22, at the Marriott O'Hare in Chicago.

"Given the vast changes that are taking place in our industry, specifically with the proliferation of digital presses, we felt it was important to set the tone for the conference with a practical, comprehensive look at the digital issues facing sheetfed printers today," says Gregg Van Wert, NAPL president. The session will feature a panel discussion of printers on training, financing, marketing, product and general equipment issues.

Other general sessions are slated to cover: "Ten Critical Trends for the Sheetfed Pressroom," "Digital Imaging Printing: Direct to Offset Presses" and "If My Pressroom Only Knew Why The Rework Was Necessary: The Top 10 Reasons for Rework."

For more information contact GATF (www.gatf.org) at 800-910-4283, or NAPL (www.napl.org) at 800-642-6275.

Direct-imaging (DI) presses have come a long way since the GTO debuted in September 1991. DI press formats include: five two-up, seven four-up and one eight-up. Here are the half-size highlights:

* Adast's 26-inch DI series presses are available in four- and five-color configurations. Optional features on the direct-to-plate (DTP) press include high delivery, perfector. Maximum production speed is 10,000 iph.

* Used with either conventionally imaged or digital plates, Heidelberg's 28-inch Speedmaster 74 DI employs CreoScitex SquareSpot thermal-imaging technology to simultaneously image plates in up to six printing units at a resolution of 2400 dpi. All DI functions are controllable via touchscreen display. The DI units can be pivoted. Maximum production speed is 15,000 sph. Available thermal plates include the Saphira (an Agfa co-development) and Presstek's PearlGold. Kodak's "Navajo" plate is in beta testing.

* David Bartram, director of marketing, Karat Digital Press, North America, Inc. (Fairfield, NJ), says the company has identified three distinct groups of buyers for its 74 Karat: prepress providers, commercial printers and specialty printers such as in-house or greeting card operations. Targeting short- and medium-run jobs (up to 20,000 sheets), the four-color, waterless offset press features a keyless, self-calibrating inking system, Gravuflow. Makeready is said to be achieved in 20 minutes. Jobs can be prepared and printed with minimal operator intervention - plates are automatically changed, imaged and cleaned while the press parameters for the new job are set. Plates are imaged directly on press and are automatically loaded and unloaded. The press is rated at 10,000 sph. Most press operations can be performed from the user console, requiring only one operator's involvement.

* Sakurai's 74EPII DI is set to be released in Q2. The 29-inch press will be available in a four-color configuration with perfector, and features Presstek's ProFire imaging technology. It can be run in DI or conventional mode. Automated features include plate changing, ink density control and a sheet preset device. Its maximum production speed is 13,000 iph.

* Screen's TruePress 744 is a four-color, one-side or two-over-two perfector in the 29 x 21-inch range that is similar to its TruePress 544, a two-up DI press. On-press imaging and press speeds of 8,000 sph reportedly permit a 3,000 full-size sheet run to be produced in 30 minutes. Automatic features include plate loading and unloading, imaging, developing, fixing, printing and blanket cleaning. Two- and six-color configurations also will be offered.

FUTURE DEVELOPMENTS Presstek's ProFire and CreoScitex's SquareSpot laser packages also could benefit from the single-fluid inks announced at Drupa 2000. Ultimately, these inks may enable users to remove dampening systems from their presses and replace them with DI heads.

Finally, at Graph Expo, CreoScitex demonstrated its SP plateless digital offset printing on a Shinohara 66 IIP press. "This direct-imaging application of spraying a laser-imageable polymer onto a plate sleeve was demonstrated on a 10-year-old press," observes consultant C. Clint Bolte, C. Clint Bolte & Associates (Chambersburg, PA) in a recent GATF World article. "The laser imaging of plates directly on press will be a magnificent complement to the proven CTP technology... Why can't these spray-on units be mechanically adapted to virtually any used press?"

Don't expect to see this plateless technology soon - it's at least two years away - but it's certainly a development that bears watching.