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Need To Know

Offset Litho Horizons: Part 2

In the second part of a two-feature series, Rob Fletcher delves even further into litho print technology, and picks further examples of effective and productive presses

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These product samples at Komori’s Utrecht showroom highlight just how much of a distance there still is between the best in litho quality and competing print technologies

A bright new horizon

There are many wonderful things about offset litho; not only that it has stood the test of time, despite, the influx of digital print, but also the fact that there are so many choices on offer—hence this two-part feature series. In the first part, we looked at the likes of Presstek, Hans Gronhi, and Ryobi, examining technology that does exactly what it says on the tin—produces quality print in a cost-effective package.

Here, we cast the net wider still and see what some of the other major brands in the industry have on offer, and examine how effective their technology can be for companies looking to improve their business.

Automation focus

One of the major companies in this sector is KBA, whose UK managing director, Andrew Pang, says that the manufacturer places litho right at the forefront of its development strategy. Pang explains KBA has been able to build on the mostly unchanged litho method of printing with its own focus by placing automation technologies in its own presses.

Andrew Pang, managing director of KBA UK, says the company places a strong focus on automation in its presses

“In most cases these automated tasks take place in parallel to other activities either during production or press setting time,” Pang says, adding: “For example; with CleanTronic Synchro and Simultaneous Plate Changing (SPC), we can wash blankets and impression cylinders whilst changing plates; this is effectively zero plate changing time.
This is 45 percent quicker when compared to a standard press with fully automatic plate changing. In addition, the plates can be imaged with 2 D codes which can carry job data that allows settings to be loaded as the press plates up, again shaving time and touch points from the make ready.

“Our inline colour control system (Quali Tronic Color Control) is the fastest on the market for bringing the press into the required standard which has brought waste from make ready down by 60 percent in comparison to offline systems. Verification of colour quality is now fully expected by customers and this can be provided whatever the run length either online or offline via software such as Ergo Tronic Quality Pass, Quali Tronic PSO match, and Quali Tronic Color View.

“At Drupa we added inline PDF comparison and double delivery to our large and mid-format range. This is another huge leap in quality assurance and reflects what our customer’s clients have been asking for.”

Focusing in more on the presses available from KBA, Pang highlights the Rapida 106, which, at 20,000 sheets per hour, claims to be the fastest B1 sheetfed press currently on the market. He also speaks about other technology that can be used to further boost production.

“Our servo motor driven and controlled feeders combined with our unique side lay free system (Sensoric Infeed System S.I.S.) have enabled our presses to handle pretty much all types of material and produce short run work at the highest speeds,” Pang says, adding: “Using this feeder design we have reduced the amount of time the operators spend tweaking the press and the number of press stops due to poorly fed sheets.”

Ongoing development

Also significantly active in this sector is Komori, which, like KBA, is committed to developing and improving its technology to meet the demands of modern print companies and their customers. Steve Turner, director of sheetfed sales at the manufacturer’s UK division, points to the firm’s unique H-UV curing system as an example of this development.

O Factoid: KBA says its Rapida 106 is the fastest B1 sheetfed press currently on the market, operating at speeds of up to 20,000 sheets per hour. O

Turner explains: “We explored ways to capture the upsides of the traditional UV process and eliminate the downsides with our focus firmly on the print on demand sector. Our Graphic Technology Centres in Japan and Europe engaged very closely with carefully selected UV lamp and consumables manufacturers, and created an entirely new process especially suitable for the commercial sector’s vastly varied workload, substrate range and quality expectations.”

We explored ways to capture the upsides of the traditional UV process and eliminate the downsides with our focus firmly on the print on demand sector

Komori’s H-UV curing system normally requires only one lamp on straight presses and two on perfecting presses, with the manufacturer saying that the initial cost and power used are significantly lower than with traditional UV. Spray powder is eliminated, and the wavelength band over which H-UV operates ensures complete curing on all substrate types and thicknesses yet there is no heat or ozone emission.

In terms of kit, Turner was keen to draw attention to the Lithrone G29 series, which, launched at Drupa this year, can incorporate Komori’s latest inline colour controls and high precision sheet inspection system operated through the latest versions of Komori Print Quality Control. Also launched in Germany was the Lithrone G37, which can handle eight-up A4 impositions and, despite having a smaller sheet size of 640 x 940mm, requires smaller plates than the B1-plus presses, thus reducing plate costs.

Komori launched its new Lithrone G29 series at Drupa in Germany this year

Turner comments: “We have already taken orders in the UK, and are convinced about its prospects as it provides intrinsic economies, but maintains all the trade mark Komori quality and fast make ready features and can still be supplied with those Komori high level technologies the printer needs to specify, including H-UV curing, and the latest colour and press control systems.”

Responding to demand

A look at this area of the market would not be complete without a tip of the hat to Heidelberg. Jim Todd, sales director at the manufacturer, explains that the firm can offer conventional, UV, LED-UV, LE-UV, and anilox solutions, in a range of formats, with multiple inking and/or coating units and many inline options.

Todd expands: “Heidelberg is the market leader in terms of volume of presses installed and annual sales. At Drupa it went further, showing a new Speedmaster generation and the “push to stop” concept where the machine itself automatically operates, calculating and implementing settings and producing work.

Jim Todd, sales director at Heidelberg, says the manufacturer has generated plenty of interest in its new Speedmaster, which was unveiled to the market at Drupa

“The operator’s role is only to override if there is a change in job priority or some special instruction that comes in late. The mindset is a change from starting and running the press to one of reining it in as required.

“Features of the new Speedmaster enabling “push to stop” include Press Center XL 2 and Wallscreen XL 2, featuring Intellistart software and a visual Intelliguide which tells the operator exactly what is happening on press, step by step. Combined with Autoplate XL 2 or Autoplate Pro platechanging and Inpress Control 2 automatic colour and register control with on the run adjustment, the new generation Speedmaster can run automatically to the finest colour and quality standards and with least time and consumables waste.”

Having cited the new Speedmaster as an example of how the firm is responding to changing demand in the market, Todd says the strategy has paid off for the manufacturer, revealing that it has taken a number of orders for the kit.

Todd explains: “The latest generation Speedmasters have been a hit and there have been several orders including those at Geoff Neal Group, Superior, Falkland Press and Tipografic. In taking a broader view and seeing ourselves not just as an offset supplier, but as a graphic arts supplier we are able to provide advice and expertise across the production areas and including workflows and consumables.

“We can consult with customers and give an honest opinion about a range of offset and digital options, taking into account not just the capital cost but the running costs and differentiation, quality and productivity criteria. We offer courses, benchmarking and consultancy services that enable printers to maximise the potential of their press and to look at non-technical issues that might be hampering their pressroom potential.

“There is the remote diagnostics coupled with very strong field service force and increasing amount of preventative servicing. We don’t just sell presses, we sell performance and partnership.”

Analyse production

Winding up our two-part feature is M Partners, which stocks a selection of offset litho kit from RMGT. Murray Lock, joint managing director of the company, says that while all press manufacturers can offer very similar technical solutions, RMGT technology does have an advantage.

Murray explains: “Litho press technology is a generally mature product, one that is in the last phase of the product life cycle. Improvements, therefore, are generally going to be small and incremental.

“In saying that, consistency of performance and reliability should be more advanced in the sector as a whole. RMGT products have, we believe, a considerable advantage in this area, and one that I believe will continue to be an important benefit to users of our products for some years to come still.

M Partners believes RMGT offset litho kit has an advantage over rival machinery, in terms of “consistency of performance and reliability”

“Having taken on the then Mitsubishi brand of presses some years ago, when both its image and installed base in the UK were at a low point due, we believe, to a lack of appreciation of how good these machines actually are, and how far ahead in the reliability stakes these products are against the competition, our immediate future is tied up very much in promoting the very important benefits offered by RMGT B1-format equipment both in the UK and across Europe.

“The market certainly is challenging, but we strongly believe that the reliability linked to the low-cost of ownership of this press brand will win the company many more fans. At this point in time, print businesses need to analyse very closely the spend on press hardware, the total operating cost of a machine, and the potential returns for the business. As an increasing number of businesses examine these numbers in more detail they will arrive at a decision to install equipment that can benefit the bottom line.”

Murray adds: “RMGT / Mitsubishi reliability typically means that users do not take service contracts, pay for remote diagnostics, or take on consignment stock. These are, we believe, unnecessary expenses for the printer that mask a manufacturer’s poor reliability. To us it seems strange that even in these days of product maturity customers are expected to pay for poor quality and poor performance. These failings by the press manufacturers have a direct effect to the bottom line for the printer. Print businesses simply cannot afford this.”

Taking a look back over the companies mentioned here, as well as those brands that were featured in part one of this series, the main factor that stands out is that development is as strong as ever in this sector. While much of the hype may be focused on digital printing, offset litho is still a key technology in the print industry, and remains the choice of many print companies. With such high levels of commitment from some of the market’s top brands, we can only look forward to more innovation in this sector.

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