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Quick thinking

Jul 1, 2009 12:00 AM

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9 productivity killers

Consultant Ray Prince has identified nine factors that contribute to poor pressroom productivity:

  1. Old ink on the shelf.
  2. Press operators mixing their own ink.
  3. Press operators cutting their own paper.
  4. Poor quality paper.
  5. No jogger aerator.
  6. Badly written, unclear job tickets.
  7. Poorly maintained equipment.
  8. Constant breakdowns.
  9. Lack of employee training/education.

DRUPA 2008 unleashed unprecedented pressroom efficiencies for commercial printers. We asked representatives from some leading press vendors for an overview of the key speed and automation technologies.

The Graphic Arts Show Co. (GASC) is offering special discounts and incentives for exhibitors to bring their equipment to PRINT 09. If you attend the show in Chicago from Sept. 11 to 16, you will see almost all of the presses mentioned in this article. AMERICAN PRINTER will be in booth 3089. Hope to see you there!

No human intervention

Chris Travis, KBA North America's (Dallas) director of technology, launched his career in the graphic arts as a 16-year-old apprentice press operator. Two decades ago, says Travis, makereadies that involved going from six colors to another color could take as long as 4.5 hours.

“Automation and plate changing are the biggest things that have changed [since then],” says Travis. “Back then, [to change plates], I had to release the front edge, release the back edge and move the clamps. I put the first three plates on, someone else put the other three on, and everyone tensioned and mounted the plates differently every single time. Now it's fully automated. There's no human intervention.”

With faster washups, plate changing, registration and CIP4 job data, press efficiency has improved dramatically over the past two decades. “The one thing that isn't automated is cleaning the ink fountain,” says Travis. “You still have to get up there, take the ink out and clean the fountain.”

All plates are changed at the same time

Ten years ago, some presses were equipped with fully automatic plate changing. While this represented a great improvement in speed and registration accuracy vs. the manual approach, plates were changed one at a time, unit by unit. At Drupa 2008, KBA showcased simultaneous plate mounting via DriveTronic SPC on its 18,000-sph Rapida 106. Blanket washers also are activated at the same time SPC is changing plates.

“With DriveTronic SPC all of the printing plate cylinders disengage from the press and all of the plates are changed at the same time,” explains Travis. “Plate changing now only takes one minute, regardless of the number of printing units.”

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A press equipped with fully automatic plate changing typically requires only three minutes to get the job done. DriveTronic SPC offers even more efficiency, particularly on perfecting presses.

“It all depends on the configuration of the press,” says Travis. “If you are running a 4/4 press and it takes three minutes to change the first four units and three minutes to change the second four, that's six minutes, vs. one minute for DriveTronic SPC. You're saving five minutes and that's a chunk of time!”

At Drupa 2008, KBA also highlighted its DriveTronic Plate-Ident on the 41-inch Rapida 106. Two high-tech cameras read a matrix code on the plate to ensure the correct plate has been placed in the correct unit. If an operator accidentally loaded the cyan plate onto the yellow unit, for example, Plate-Ident would detect the error prior to the print run.

Plate-Ident also lets users achieve registration prior to the first pull — plates are registered to two fixed pin positions on each unit. It reads registration marks imaged in the gripper margin on the plates and uses them to set a theoretical zero register on all the plate cylinders.

“Once all the plates are loaded, you have a camera that reads the pin positions on the plates,” says Travis. “All of the plates are registered to the pins which are always in the same position. After the plate cylinders engage back in the press, you could take a pull and start printing. All of the plates are in register.”

Travis credits KBA's sidelay-free infeed (SIS) with helping the Rapida 106 achieve a continual top speed of 18,000 sph. SIS removes the traditional side guide on a press and integrates sheet alignment/register into the first infeed cylinder. It eliminates manual intervention during paper stock changes and reportedly provides smoother sheet travel vs. mechanical or pneumatic systems.

Inline closed-loop color

Another Drupa highlight, inline closed-loop color control, reduces operator pulls. “Previously [operators] had to pull as sheet out, put it on a scanner, read it and adjust the ink keys,” says Travis. “Now cameras in the press read every single sheet, takes an average of 10 sheets and adjusts the keys.”

QualiTronic Professional Inline Color Control brings the color to a standard density or a customer color okay sheet and maintains color during the production run. A monitor lets anyone — including the press operator, management and customers — see if the press is in color.


Smart press makes any operator look good

Clarence Penge, Heidelberg's (Kennesaw, GA) vice president of sheetfed product management, cites Prinect Press Center, Intellistart software and Inpress Control as automation highlights on the 18,000-sph Speedmaster XL 105. “When you consider [other options] that aid in one-pass productivity, such as perfecting, FoilStar and Duo press configurations with coating before printing units or after them, you're in the driver's seat with the highest flexibility and automation,” says Penge. “This is a machine equipped for today's needs and tomorrow's surprise jobs or designer's dream.”

Penge says speed and automation should be considered in light of printers' larger goal: How can they get from Job 1 to Job 2 in the most efficient and profitable way?

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Follow the Intellistart wizard

Suppose you are going from a 5-color job with aqueous coating on a coated sheet to a 6-color job on an uncoated sheet and with a different format size. “Using the Intellistart feature, Prinect Press Center analyzes the way the press is set up for Job 1 — the feeder, printing, coating and delivery units,” says Penge. “It will compare all the components needed for Job 2 and it will say, ‘To be most efficient, you need to carry out these steps.’ It will create a dynamic list and methodically organize [tasks] for maximum speed and productivity.”

Intellistart also can resolve some individual performance discrepancies. “You might have two similar jobs in terms of color and run length, but one took significantly longer to produce,” says Penge. “Sometimes it comes down to an individual operator's efficiency. But with Intellistart's wizard functionality, it's doing all the job analysis for you and outlining the most efficient [path]. It basically puts every operator on a level playing field and eliminates [production] peaks and valleys.”

While one job is being processed, the next is being prepared. The use of all relevant information relating to the current job and the next one reportedly results in up to 70 percent fewer steps to set up the press for the subsequent job. Depending on the number of jobs and their complexity, annual production capacities can be increased by up to eight percent.

Tight integration between prepress data and the press console also makes life easier for operators. “When I was running a press, if you went from 70-lb. text weight sheet to a 28-pt. board, there were a lot [of adjustments required] for the feeder, infeed and printing units, delivery and so on. If you didn't do all of these steps or didn't know [exactly] how the machine worked, you had to guess. Integration eliminates that guesswork,” says Penge. “If you have a challenging substrate, once you've made your adjustments, you can save and store the settings [for future use].”

Prinect Press Center's Wall Screen resembles a flat screen television, but the oversized display isn't just for show. “It's not a duplication of the press console,” Penge explains. “It shows different components — an operator could be running the console screen adjusting the inking and dampening. But on the Wall Screen, he can view the press from the feeder to the delivery and all of the settings associated with these components, such as spray powder percentage.” The Wall Screen also lets operators look at color separations of a job, and even access parts catalogs or tie into scheduling or prepress components.

Color management is another key press performance booster. Heidelberg's Prinect Inpress Control automatically measures and controls color and register on the fly at any speed. The inline measurement and control system is available for Speedmaster XL 75, Speedmaster XL 105, Speedmaster XL 145 and Speedmaster XL 162.

Integrated directly into the press, the spectrophotometer measures process colors, spot colors and register in the print control strip. Any corrections required are forwarded directly to the Prinect Press Center for adjustment.

Zero-pull makeready

Abbott Printing (Maitland, FL), recently installed a Speedmaster XL 105 4-color press with an aqueous coater. “Inpress Control is phenomenal,” says Bob Stokes, general manager. “We're down to five-minute makereadies and fewer than 200 sheets of paper to come up to color. Our savings on paper makeready alone is more than enough to justify the cost of the scanner, In 36 years, I have never seen a piece of equipment with built in capabilities and technology to fully makeready a press sheet with no adjustments from the operator.”

These presses, primarily found in the two-up format, are popular with small printers expanding beyond two-color presses, larger commercial printers seeking an efficient, cost-effective short-run alternative that matches the quality of their larger presses and in-plant operations who are looking for fast turnaround high quality color that is easy to use, environmentally friendly and compact. These printers use the DI to bridge the gap between digital and conventional presses; for jobs that are too long to profitably produce on their toner-based equipment but too short for their conventional presses.

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“Materials, paper and ink pigments change,” says Penge. “Color managing jobs requires continuous monitoring, and that's where Prinect Image Control comes in.”

Image Control measures the whole print image while at the same time providing online color control for all printing units. It can be used as a color measurement and control system for up to four presses. In conjunction with Heidelberg's Mini Spot Workflow, Image Control can serve as a plant's quality control center. A single measuring system can be used for the whole process, enabling users to work with standardized measurements that can be reproduced at any time.

“The offset process has not changed much,” Penge concludes. “You could argue that applications are more complex and that machines are longer and faster, but the key difference is the intelligence on sheetfed presses.”


Change your plates in 70 seconds or less

Mitsubishi (Lincolnshire, IL) demonstrated SimulChanger at Graph Expo 2006 and this feature remains a key benefit on its recently launched Diamond V Series, The fully automated, simultaneous plate-changing system replaces old plates with new ones at every printing unit in one seamless operation. On multicolor presses, SimulChanger allows plate changing on all printing units at the same time without the operator being present at the printing unit.

Diamond Color Navigator, Mitsubishi's automatic color adjustment option, reduces dependence on press operators' color knowledge and eliminates complicated ink key moves. Mitsubishi's Diamond V3000 will be running at PRINT 09.

The SimulChanger reportedly can reduce makereadies on a 10-color press by almost 15 minutes. The complete plate-changing process, including the time required for old plate removal, new plate roll up and plate cylinder phase adjustments required for simultaneous plate changes, is just over one minute. “We're looking at doing anywhere from one to 12 plates in about 1 minute and 10 seconds,” says Vince Kowalski, director of technology for Mitsubishi Lithographic Presses.

“This is a true simultaneous plate change. We're using our circumferential register to move the plate cylinders into position and not declutching the press.”

Typically on sheetfed presses, a series of impression cylinder and transfer cylinder grippers are responsible for sheet transfer. If gaps on the plate and blanket cylinders come into contact with grippers on impression cylinders, a shock results. Cylinders are positioned to rotate so the gaps do not arrive at the same time. Positions of the cylinder are different for each printing unit when the press comes to a complete stop. For this reason, each plate cylinder must be positioned individually during plate changes.

SimulChanger's simultaneous plate cylinder phasing system makes use of the uppermost and lowermost adjustment settings for registration. Plate cylinders at each unit automatically turn and stop at the optimum positions for changing plates. This arrangement enables the plates at all units to be changed at the same time. Once the plate change is completed, the cylinders return to their proper phase for printing.

Cheap paper can be costly

Kowalski cites consumables as among the biggest obstacles to running presses at their top speeds. “The biggest limiting factors are ink coverage and paper,” he says. “The press will only run as fast as the paper will allow it. People may run horrendous paper to save a few dollars per thousand [sheets], but doing so may triple their press time.”

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Rated at 16,2000 sph the Diamond V3000LX is slightly larger than 40 inches: it has a sheet size of 29.5 × 41.34 inches and can print on stock ranging from 0.0016 to 0.040 inch. (The Diamond V3000LS handles stock from 0.00016 to 0.024 inch.) Key features include scratch-proof, smudge-proof transfer and delivery skeleton cylinders, air showers above impression cylinders, a gripper height adjustment device and an indvidual air chamber at each printing unit.

“Maintenance Mode” and “Cleaning Mode” functions provide faster press cleanup. A lubrication-free gripper shaft torsion bar and oil-less bearings on gripper shafts on impression and transfer cylinders reportedly shorten lubrication time by 75 hours annually.


Are you smarter than a 6-up press?

PRINT 09 offers an excellent venue to see Ryobi's new press technology. (xpedx Printing Technologies is the North American distributor for Ryobi branded presses.) Ryobi's Drupa highlights included a new 40-inch press, the Ryobi 1050, as well as an inline UV casting and foiling option for its 755 6-up model. Both the 1050 and 755 will be running at the show.

Currently rated at 16,000 sph, the 1050 will be offered in “S” (41.73 × 31.5-inch) and “XL” (41.73 × 33.46-inch) configurations.

Ryobi's 6-up, 750 press achieve makereadies as fast as 10 minutes, thanks to ink key automation, coupled with fully automatic plate changing. Ryobi's ink volume setter (IVS) software uses prepress data to calculate the image area ratio for each ink fountain key opening volume. All necessary data, including the printing start position, and the number and the width of the ink fountain keys, are input in advance — the operator just specifies the press type.

On presses equipped with fully automatic plate changing, a Smart Makeready function automatically performs blanket cleaning, plate changing, preset inking and test printing. “It decreases the time required to clean up the press,” says Bill Stahl, Ryobi's press demonstrator. “Previously, when the press was done loading plates, you had to manually start up the press. Now the press automatically goes from clean up to plate change to preinking and test printing. It's shaved a few minutes off the total makeready process.”

To support a rated speed of 16,000 sph and provide better runnability, Ryobi redesigned the 750's feeder head. The press also “learns” from each job.

“You can pull CIP4 data from prepress to set the ink keys, it'll help with preinking,” says Stahl. “But then the press learns from how the job was run. If the ink key [data] comes across and the operator has to tweak it slightly, the press learns from the even the slight change the operator might have made during the run. The next job that comes in will be much closer [for color]. The more the press operator uses the [built in intelligence], the more press is going to learn and adapt.”

New center opens

Early this year, xpedx hosted an open house at its new 11,000-sq.ft. demo and training facility in Loveland, OH. The center features two Ryobi multicolor presses: a 2-up, 5-color Ryobi 525 GX with coater and a 6-up, 6-color Ryobi 756 with inline UV casting and foiling.

“Commercial and corporate in-plant printers across the United States want to access and test new printing equipment, technology and processes from the world's leading manufacturers in one central location,” said John Torrey, vice president and general manager, xpedx. “That's what we've created with the new xpedx Technology Center.”

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In additon to offset and digital presses, the center houses prepress and workflow technologies as well as postpress equipment. Visitors can see a variety of offerings from Kodak, Epson, C.P. Bourg, Morgana, Secap and others.

This past February, industry vets Don Coggswell and Bill Van Buskirk joined xpedx as national manager of sales for large format press products and national manager of sales — prepress, small format press and postpress products respectively.


Katherine O'Brien is the editor of AMERICAN PRINTER. Contact her at

manroland makes makereadies snappy

“manroland is a healthy company,” CEO Vince Lapinski told trade journalists at the Media Days PRINT 09 preview. “2008 was profitable and few in the [printing] industry can say that.”

Lapinski stressed the company's dedication to the industry's success. “We offer a full line of printing equipment from portrait presses up to multi tower hybrid newspaper presses,” he said in a follow-up communication. “Even in these tough times we have continued to develop and refine technologies, services and product offerings as we respond to the needs of the printing market. We were the first to feature aftermarket services part and support at PRINT 05. We listened when printers told us they want to focus on optimizing performance this year.”

manroland's (Westmont, IL) speed and automation highlights include the following:

The vendor has dubbed the ROLAND 700 the “Makeready Monster.” The 700's DirectDrive increases overall press time capacity. It's a good fit for shops targeting run lengths below 5,000 with a high number of job changes per shift. Plate cylinder direct drive permits different makeready tasks to be performed simultaneously. The first users reported productivity increases of up to 35 percent. manroland reports strong sales in North America, Europe and Asia.

The ROLAND InLineFoiler Prindor saves production time by incorporating an offline foiling process in the press. manroland technology also allows four color printing over the foil to achieve outstanding iridescent and metallic effects, saving an additional offline printing step.

For density and spectrophotographic control, the InLine ColorPilot provides feedback at speeds up to 10 times faster than other systems. Because it is built into the press and has multiple sensors, the system is highly reliable and less sensitive to vibration. okBalance is a software module for ColorPilot that supplements the process diagnosis and evaluation (Print Consult) with ink slide regulation according to gray balance standards.

QuickChange modules for the ROLAND 700 series of presses provide dramatic savings in makeready time and fewer waste sheets as a result. QuickChange Color saves makeready time through precise ink slide settings, QuickChange Coating allows fast changeover from one coating to the next and QuickChange Clamp provides rapid coating form changeover.

On commercial web presses, the new APL for Lithoman provides reliability and stability for fast plate changes. The InLineDensity control offers true ISO densitometric values, is up to 10 times faster than existing systems in response time and provides a flutter-free view of the web. This color control feature reduces waste and overall job run times.

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The DynaChange zero makeready system allows operators to prepare a second job while the first is still running. The system gets up to speed and engages while the first disengages allowing high-speed transitions and minimal makeready times.

The CutCon cutoff control is a multiple camera system that is pre-integrated into the press and folder units along with the PECOM press controls. It gives a new level of consistency and control over the cutoff while minimizing web stress so there is less waste and downtime for web breaks.


In between offset and digital

Now, in its fourth generation, Presstek's (Hudson, NH) DI digital offset presses are offered in 52cm landscape and 34cm portrait format sizes with higher quality (300 lpi and FM screening) and greater automation.

At PRINT 09, Presstek is continuing to expand its DI press portfolio with the Presstek52DI-AC, a digital offset press with an integrated aqueous coater. It supports both flood and spot aqueous coating, enabling commercial and package printers to expand their range of services.

UV and coating options

In 2008, Presstek announced a UV printing version of its Presstek 52DI (20.47 × 14.17 inches) and 34DI (13.39 × 18.11 inches) digital offset presses. Adding UV capabilities to the waterless DI presses supports higher quality and faster turn times on a wider range of non-porous and specialty substrates, such as foils, plastics and magnetic media. Applications include labels, direct mail, packaging, POP and general commercial printing. The instant drying UV inks support higher densities, and higher margins can be achieved by printing 300 lpi and FM screening on uncoated stock.

For the production of personalized jobs or ultra-short-run versioned documents Presstek offers a DI press/digital color printer package deal: The Konica Minolta C6501 is available as an optional bundled solution.

Because DI presses feature on-press imaging — rather than plates being made on a CTP device and then mounted on press — they offer automatic register, faster makereadies and minimize waste.

Presstek DI presses typically are used for runs ranging from 500 to 20,000 impressions, but they are capable producing run lengths from 250 to more than 20,000.

DI as a default output device

These presses, primarily found in the two-up format, are popular with small printers expanding beyond two-color presses, larger commercial printers seeking an efficient, cost-effective short-run alternative that matches the quality of their larger presses and in-plant operations who are looking for fast turnaround high quality color that is easy to use, environmentally friendly and compact. These printers use the DI to bridge the gap between digital and conventional presses; for jobs that are too long to profitably produce on their toner-based equipment but too short for their conventional presses.

“I believe [eventually] DI presses will be ubiquitous,” Jeff Jacobson, Presstek's chairman, president and CEO said at Media Days, a PRINT 09 preview for the trade press. “The DI of today is not like that of 10 years ago. It will become a default output device, like a [desktop] printer.”

Presstek is developing a larger DI press capable of printing more than four colors. It's slated for introduction in 2010.


Presstek's 52DI-AC features an integrated aqueous coater. It will be shown at PRINT 09 in September.