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Case Study: Going Boldly

Oct 1, 2012 12:00 AM


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Dave Gilson shares his company’s experiences as the first US printer to install Fujifilm’s J Press 720

Over the past 65 years, Gilson Graphics has boldly gone where few printers have gone before. Lars Gilson was among the first to mothball his letterpress equipment in favor of new-fangled offset lithography. Then, starting in the mid 1980s, the company digitized its prepress systems and eliminated its film-based workflow when CTP technology was still cutting its teeth. And in November 2011, Gilson installed the first Fujifilm J Press 720.

“We were anxious to get a larger format digital machine,” says President Dave Gilson. “[Five years ago] the traditional digital press vendors stayed with the 13 x 19-inch format. Eventually they grew the 19-inch dimension, but the 13-inch [side] is the critical one. And having a landscape press is even more important for speed and increased throughput.” Like the J Press 720, Gilson Graphics is a digital/offset blend. The $23 million operation has two HP Indigo presses and two Xerox Nuveras, as well as wide-format machines from Mimaki, HP and Océ. Offset highlights include three manroland six-color presses and a Heidelberg SM 52. Gilson estimates that conventional offset currently represents one half to two thirds of his business. But the company’s offset’s growth has been static, while digital growth is in the double digits. Three sources of work will drive the J Press: work that was previously done on the company’s legacy offset presses, applications that previously were impossible to print, and new customers.

BEST OF BOTH WORLDS

Fujifilm says the half-size J Press 720 combines “the look and feel of an offset press with the versatility and job handling of a digital device.” Targeting runs of 3,500 sheets, the press produces up to 2,700 29.5 x 20.8-inch, 4-up size sheets per hour, or the equivalent of 10,800 8.5 x 11- inch pages per hour. The press, first seen at drupa 2008, recently earned 2012 InterTech accolades. “Our judges were all impressed with the quality of the prints produced from the J Press 720 and with the range of substrates that could be used with it,” said Dr. Mark Bohan, Vice President, Technology and Research, Printing Industries of America. “It’s a great solution for very short- to medium-run printing.”

Three years ago, the Gilson team saw a mock up of the press, as well as print samples produced on the prototype in Japan. “We expressed our interest at Graph Expo 2009, but we really needed to see a working machine,” Gilson recalls. The following year, when the Grand Rapids contingent returned to Chicago for the annual trade show, Fuji had the J Press 720 up and running. “We were also provided a private showing and a walk through of various stages for putting the images down,” says Gilson.

The J Press 720 can handle coated and uncoated stock from 70 lb. text up to 14 pt. board. An anilox coater applies a clear water-based precoat solution. The ink can’t penetrate the paper’s fibers, resulting in hard, sharp dots said to equal offset quality. SAMBA print technology supports one-pass printing—the sheet doesn’t move. The piezo drop-on-demand printheads achieve 1,200 x 1,200-dpi resolution (minimum: two picolitres).

The Gilson crew was intrigued, but wary. A controlled demo showcasing a vanilla job was one thing—how would the J Press 720 fare with “real” jobs? “In July 2012, we spent a day at Fujifilm’s Hanover Park, IL, technology center running different sheets and different images from previously printed jobs,” says Gilson. “The results convinced us we were ready to make a commitment.”

STAYS THE SAME FROM RUN TO RUN

Gilson says the press’ consistency has been a pleasant surprise. “Output is uniform during a run, but also if we put the same job on the press a week later or a month later,” Gilson says. “That’s very important for some of the furniture work we do, particularly [when printing] wood grain.”

While the paper delivery and exit on the J Press are identical to that of an offset press, what happens in between is a different story. “Unlike offset, there are no ink zones,” explains. “You can make global changes on press, but you can’t make ink zone changes. That was a bit of a concern at the start, but it hasn’t been a problem. Once we got our digital Oris proofer to match and calibrated it to the original sheets, in most cases we don’t have to go back to the file itself. But even if we had to do that, it would take 10 to 15 minutes at the most.”

As a digital press, the J Press essentially has no makeready. “The mindset of an offset operator when it comes to redoing a job is ‘Oh gosh, we have to pull the plates, remake and rehang them and get back up to color,’ but that’s not the case at all.” While Gilson appreciates the convenience and flexibility the J Press provides, he also likes something it doesn’t have: Unlike a “traditional” digital press, there’s no click charge. “Being an offset printer, I’m comfortable with that,” says Gilson.

Two of the three Gilson J Press operators have extensive experience running Indigo presses. The third operator previously ran mostly offset machines. All have quickly adapted to the new machine. “I think an operator’s attitude is probably more important than his or her background,” Gilson says. “You have to want to learn and to take on a new challenge.”

WISH LIST

Overall, Gilson is happy with the press. “We’ve been very pleased at how easy Fujifilm is to work with.” He cites faster drying as a potential improvement. “We’re not always backing sheets up as quickly as we would like,” Gilson says. “I know Fuji is working on the ink and dryer. But even so, the print quality and consistency more than offset this issue, if you’ll pardon the pun.”

And, while the J Press is fine for brochures, postcards and similar jobs, Gilson would like a larger sheet size, “not just for 8½ x 11-inch multiples, but also for retail signage and poster work. The 20 x 29-inch size is a touch too small. But of course we are never happy with what we’ve got. I if had a 23 x 29-inch press, I’d want a 25 x 38-inch press.”

The substrate range is good for commercial printers (“We’ve gone down as low as 60 lb. offset; 70 lb. is probably the lowest we go on a consistent basis,”) but not quite there for package printers. “We’d like to print on 24-pt. stock,” says Gilson. “I think this could probably be addressed by adding more clearance space between the head and substrate, maybe using a servo motor.” Fujifilm is already on the case: The vendor introduced the J Press F (“F” stands for folding carton) at drupa. Based on the J Press 720, the J Press F can accommodate stock up to 24 pt. board.

WORDS OF WISDOM

Asked if he has any advice for other printers considering their digital press options, Gilson says there are no easy answers. “Every operation is different,” he says. “It depends on your current workload—can you keep the device busy? But if you’re waiting for the perfect press to come along, you’ll be waiting a long time. Technology keeps evolving.”