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Market Trends

What’s New in Offset Litho?

Despite having to contend with the continued evolution of digital print technology, offset litho is standing its ground. Rob Fletcher looks at the latest developments

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The Komori Lithrone G29 boats a maximum sheet size of 530 x 750mm, as well as a top printing area of 520 x 640mm

Holding its own

The story of offset litho almost mirrors that of the print industry itself. Despite the influx of new and exciting digital technologies, demand for and interest in offset litho kit—and indeed printed products—has reached a level of stability, and even moderate growth in certain sectors.

Print companies continue to recognise the quality this type of machinery can produce and, as such, leading manufacturers are working to develop new options that help keep offset litho relevant in the modern market.
The iconic names that stand in this technology segment’s hall of fame are standing firm, with the likes of Heidelberg, KBA, Komori, Hans Grohni, Ryobi, and Manroland Sheetfed all using the latest Drupa to unveil a new raft of bells and whistles that all ultimately allow the printer to achieve one objective—produce work faster, with less waste, and at a lower cost per page, without any loss in fidelity or quality.

Indeed, many of these major players also revealed new digital print technology or partnerships that will take them heavily into the inkjet sphere. So, with space limited to these three short pages, I thought I would look at a cross section of these manufacturers to give you grounding in the latest technology and trends driving offset litho.
Digital has its limits
KBA has been one of the leading names in offset litho for a number of years, with its machinery in use in print houses around the world. Craig Bretherton, product and marketing manager at KBA UK, says that offset litho technology is proven in a large range of sectors and offers a simple solution to users.

Craig Bretherton, product and marketing manager at KBA UK, says although digital does have an important place in the print industry, its strengths are personalisation and variability and this does not reflect the majority of printed products

“Automation is now so advanced there is very little between the digital and litho in the minimum run length and the maximum run length is unlimited on litho,” explains Bretherton.

Automation is now so advanced there is very little between the digital and litho in the minimum run length

He continues: “Low energy drying such as LED UV has also made instant despatch of products more achievable. Digital fits a range of products, but its niche is personalisation and variability. This still does not reflect the majority of printed products today.

“With ever tightening deadlines, the need for verifying items you produce, and an ageing workforce; the onus is on the press manufacturers to build presses that have simpler interfaces, which require less training in order to operate them and can still produce the highest quality. Smarter presses with less operator involvement or skill is what the market currently demands.”

In conjunction with this, Bretherton draws attention to some of the latest technologies on offer from KBA, picking up on the Qualitronic PDF, which allows comparison to original PDF and automatic set up. KBA also offers marking and auto detection of waste sheets to enable 100 percent waste free piles, as well as grey balance control with Instrument Flight.

KBA can also provide simultaneous roller washing, and Bretherton says makes it possible to wash rollers printing unit while the press is running a previous job, thus enabling quicker set up for the second job.

Bretherton adds: “The whole of the coating unit can be set up fully automatically while the press is washing or plate changing. Paper stretch compensation is a must for tight register jobs. Roller disengaging has now been introduced for the B2 size Rapida 75 Pro and Rapida 76 alongside our side lay free system. We also have the fastest sheet fed press in the world with the Rapida 106 high-speed package we can print at 20,000 sheets per hour.”

Demand remains high

Another leading name in offset litho printing is Komori, which provides solutions to print companies around the world. Steve Turner, head of sheetfed sales for Komori UK, says that while some may perceive digital and litho as rivals, the two technologies in fact work with each other to produce high quality output.

Turner expands: “The two technologies—high quality inkjet such as the Komori Impremia IS 29, and state-of-the-art offset equipment like the new Komori GL29 with H-UV/ LED UV drying, work in parallel, not in competition. Each can produce first class work that can be processed immediately after printing, on an array of substrates.

“In the early 2000s, we set out our development strategy with the understanding that the market focus is on efficient and profitable solutions, without having dogmatic preferences for digital or litho. Komori continues to invest very heavily in research and development for its entire product range, which includes web, currency, litho, and digital technology. In fact, many of these technologies overlap across the different types of equipment.”

Turner leads on from this to explain that Komori continues to add to its offset product range, with mainline recent introductions including the B2 Lithrone G29 Series, an incorporation of Komori’s latest integrated fast makeready, colour, and quality control technologies.

Another new addition is the compact Lithrone G37 37” series, which, aimed at the offset-on-demand market, is available with two, four, or five printing units. With a sheet size of 640 x 940mm, it can produce A1 products such as eight-up A4 pages, A1 posters, and its compactness and its slightly smaller sheet size brings with it benefits in minimised floor space and reduced plate dimensions. It also has an impressively flexible range of automation and colour control options, as well as a stock range of 0.04 to 0.6mm and top printing speed of 15,000sph. In addition, it can be equipped with or without the Komori H-UV curing system.

Meanwhile, Turner says the Lithrone GX40 series printing and control systems have been developed to ensure it fulfils the requirements of carton printers. Stock range is up to 1mm and the larger sheet size of 750 x 1050mm offers more flexibility on carton formatting, often enabling more cartons up on the sheet. The press also has a non-stop printing option, which enables piles to be changed without operator assistance so that the entire print run can be completed without any interruption.
The GX40 can also be supplied with multiple printing units and coating unit configurations and also with Komori RP Reverse Printing—a unique configuration that facilitates single-pass double sided printing without the need for sheet reversal, which Turner says is especially beneficial when printing on heavyweight rigid carton stocks.

Turner adds: “There is no doubt that litho presses remain in high demand across the B2 and B1 format range. In these highly competitive times, our customers insist on high production efficiency, exceptional quality, instant drying, and robust presses that stay reliable and have low cost of ownership through time and litho fits these requirements.”

Committed to development
Also well placed to support print companies with offset litho kit is Apex Digital Graphics, whose sales and marketing director, Neil Handforth, says customers are feeling the benefit of this type of technology.
Handforth explains: “One might expect any further developments in litho technology to be fairly small, however, many suppliers failed to recognise the significant impact that LED-UV drying technology would have on the litho market.

(R to L) Bob Usher, managing director of Apex Digital Graphics with Neil Handforth, sales and marketing director at Apex Digital Graphics

“Our colleagues at Ryobi saw the potential in this solution way back in the early 2000s, exhibiting the first real product at Drupa in 2008, and have been able to further develop the technology since then. This particular development allowed Ryobi to steal a march on many of the other press manufacturers. LED-UV is certainly not a small development for litho printing—it has been a game changer.

“Real printers are seeing real benefits in our LED-UV based litho printing solutions, and are confidently investing in equipment that is successfully challenging the very latest digital print offerings.”

Handforth goes on to pick out a number of products that have not only proved to be popular with customers, but also successful. The SRA1 press can be integrated with LED-UV drying technology, while the company also offers the Cron range of platesetting systems. And as an example of the success of Ryobi machinery, Handforth cites a recent case of Northend in Sheffield, one of Apex’s recent RMGT 925 LED-UV customers.

O Factoid: In 1875, Robert Barclay created and patented the first offset litho printing press. The machine combined century transfer printing technologies and a rotary print press developed by Richard March Hoe in 1843.  O

Nigel Stubley, managing director of Northend, takes up the story: “We visited last year’s Drupa with the aim of finding the right B2 digital press, to join our existing SRA3 digital presses, but the efficiencies and productivity of the Ryobi 920 with LED-UV has taken litho printing to a new level. The return on capital of this equipment means that SRA1 litho with UV curing is the most cost-effective way forward for our business right now.

“Our calculations suggested that this new machine would be more productive than our two existing B2 presses due to the SRA1 format, the printing speed, the latest makeready capabilities, and, most of all, because of the instant drying provided by the LED-UV curing.”

Fending off challenges

Another leading provider of offset litho solutions in the UK market is Printers Superstore. Graham Moorby, joint managing director, says that offset litho has also been known as the technology that provides the best quality of output and despite the influx of new types of presses, this is unlikely to change any time soon.

Moorby comments: “Compared to the alternatives, litho has always offered the highest quality printing on the widest range of stocks, and this position remains unchallenged—especially where volumes are sufficient.

“At the short-run end of the print spectrum, recent developments in litho technology have eroded the advantages of digital print—such as greater automation for fast turnarounds, CIP networking for workflow integration, and more the adoption of LED UV systems by most manufacturers has made a major impact.”

Hans Gronhi and Shinohara presses are among the most popular offset litho kit on offer from Printers Superstore. Moorby explains LED UV—cited throughout this feature as one of the key benefits of offset litho—is now available on both the Hans Gronhi and Shinohara press ranges.

Printers Superstore stocks offset litho kit from both Hans Gronhi and Shinohara. Pictured: the Shinohara 75VH five-colour B2 press plus coater

Moorby says: “LED UV offers a range of benefits, it allows instant drying without the use of spray powder, and a much cleaner working environment with less harmful fumes; both of these features remove key advantages of digital print and strengthen the case for short run litho going forward. However, the headline feature is instant and clean curing, but it also means printing on different media is possible.”

Printers Superstore stocks a wide selection of equipment, ranging from B3 to SRA1 models, with multiple coating, drying, and perfecting configurations available. At this point, Moorby pays a special tribute to Hans Gronhi, which he says has taken the step into finishing with the “revolutionary” LC series of laser die cutters. He says these are proving to be a “revelation” for both litho and digital printers.

Hans Gronhi and Shinohara presses can now be supplied to users with LED UV technology—one the most popular features on offset litho machines. Pictured: the Hans Gronhi GH525 B3 five-colour press

Moorby adds: “In the past, printers would let their capability be determined by what their equipment would let them do. Nowadays there are so many niche production options available that a printer can look for opportunities and then invest in the optimum equipment to meet demand, maximise profit or even create a printing need from their clients by presenting them with complete marketing solutions.”

The introduction of digital print has no doubt changed the printing industry for the better, with this still relatively new technology stimulating a boom in personalised print products. However, the tried, trusted, and much-loved method of offset litho is going nowhere. With such heavy commitment from some of the market’s leading brands, development is ongoing in this sector and we can only look forward to more progress in a technology that has served the print industry so well for many years.

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