With only a few months before the drupa print trade fair, we should take a look at the expected development trends and general trends in the construction of printing presses. What improvements and innovations can be expected at drupa? And which of these are relevant to individual printers? Clear and simple answers to these questions are possible only to a limited extent. To answer these questions, the market’s requirements will be analysed and some development trends will be then derived.
With only a few weeks before drupa, we take a look at the expected development trends and general trends in the construction of printing presses.
What improvements and innovations can be expected at drupa? And which of these are relevant to individual printers? Clear and simple answers to these questions are elusive. To answer these questions, the market’s requirements are analysed and development trends shown.
Large international printing groups and conglomerates usually have printing plants in several countries. They have highly qualified technical staff, a central purchasing department and a clever corporate control system. Transnational cost and performance comparisons are a standard feature. New acquisitions of printing presses are considered as rationalisation purchases taken in accordance with the group’s corresponding investment guidelines. In the case of new investments there is often a concern to acquire “cross-process leading technology”.
In the case of web presses, ever faster and especially ever wider presses are being offered on the market. As the latest example, the MAN Roland Lithoman with 72- pages should be mentioned. In comparison with a 16-page press, still the most widely sold, the throughput is more than four times higher with almost the same labour costs. In sheet-fed presses, a similar leading technology is difficult to find at first glance. There are then two possible approaches.
The first approach involves replacing the entire range of presses by a 30 – 50 % smaller presses with almost the same production capacity. This is possible when the jobs produced are carefully assigned to the available presses. Today it is possible to find in almost any printing plant presses with a very low utilisation rate, that are used also as a reserve. However, these presses should no longer be replaced during new investments. Strategic co-operation that provide for an exchange of printing capacity for peak periods is much more the watchword.
The second approach involves changing over from the present format class to a larger one, e.g. from 3B format to 6 format or from 6 format to 8 format. Two new series, the MAN Roland R900 XXL and the KBA Rapida 205 will be presented at drupa 2004 from 6 to 19 May. The format change represents a leading technology, as with a wider web press. However it is necessary to consider changes to the supply of the printing plates and the possible effects on materials logistics in the post-press processing. Another possibility here is to cut the 8-sheet format in the output unit of the press with a lengthwise blade. Thus this sheet can be processed in an existing logistics chain for a 6 format without additional expense. Nonetheless, the prerequisite for this approach is a good printing quality and high automation of this large format press.
A medium-size printer would have three to five sheet-fed presses, possibly from two format classes and partly with lacquering and premium-finishing capabilities. The use of the rule of thumb “two old presses out, one new press in”, is barely possible because of the technically complementing configurations of the presses. Generally speaking the new press will have a higher net capacity than the old one. In a market characterised by overcapacity and aggressive competition, it is here that the dilemma for the buyer begins. To fill this higher net capacity, he must get more jobs and lower the 1,000-sheet price. The investment calculation will then be negatively influenced – which occasionally puts a question mark on the new investment. For such demands there is a need for presses with similar net capacity and substantially lower investment costs which allow a lower 1,000-sheet price. Nevertheless, the trend in printing press construction is different: The presses are becoming ever more automated and therefore more complex to operate and more expensive.
As an alternative, the only option remaining to the medium-size printer is to offer his customers higher added-value and a higher-quality product through premium-finished printing. This is made possible by combining offset printing with double lacquer, UV, inline stamping, etc. Many web presses allow already today to produce finished printed products. With sheet-fed presses there is still a backlog demand. The more specialised a printing plant is today in terms of equipment, the more there is a need for a conceptual comparison between sheet-fed and narrow-web printing presses. As a result of the good printing quality, the ease of combining various printing processes and the use of sleeves for various cut lengths, narrow-web presses have become a serious alternative for certain types of jobs. For the job printer the perfector press of the Japanese manufacturers, with its now-acceptable print quality, offers an alternative to the long eight to twelve colours perfecting presses (with printing substrate thickness of up to 0.2 mm). This competition between the press concepts is overlapped by the competition between the offset and flexo printing processes.
More than two thirds of all shops have three to five employees on average and are managed as family enterprises. The financial resources are limited, the flexibility is very high and the range of jobs very broad. Small and smallest format sheet-fed presses are predominantly used. Among the classic small format sheet-fed offset presses, the Heidelberg SM 52 has been the clear market leader for years, as a mature and modularly designed product with good printing quality. Worldwide no serious competitor has emerged at present, with the exception of Ryobi. Will this also still apply at drupa? In any case, it is clear that this market is price-sensitive and inexpensive entry level presses have quite a chance.
The 74 format class is also frequently found in small shops. The positions among the competition for this format class are already taken up by relatively new presses made by Heidelberg (CD 74), MAN Roland (R 500) and KBA (Rapida 74). Thus, no significant developments can be expected for the upcoming drupa. Perhaps some Japanese manufacturer will introduce a new or improved product. For the German manufacturers it will firstly be a question of extending and improving their products.
In addition to price, service and advice play an important role. For small shops with one or two presses, short downtimes are of particular importance. Spare parts and service engineers must be available on a short notice. Advice on the technical details of the press is less important. New applications and financing possibilities come much more to the fore. In addition, questions on workflow and on prepress (when is CtP justified?) have to be clarified.
The question of how the development of newspaper presses will continue is also thrilling. After technical details such as direct drives are barely discussed, press manufacturers are emphasising catchphrases such as “system concept”, “cross-company networking”, “reduction of overall life-cycle costs” or “inline regulation”. The newspaper printing sector has indeed changed substantially in recent months. As a result of the massive decline in advertisements, costs are being discussed seriously in this success-spoilt sector. This is being overlapped by a structural change. An increasing number of publishing houses dispose of their printing plants – the costs become more transparent.
At present the waterless KBA Cortina coldset press, which is operated for the past few months by a pilot user, is causing quite a stir. The much described press has some technical innovations that are expected to lead to a reduced wastepaper level. Given comparable investment costs, it is expected that labour costs can be reduced by 25% and paper costs by 52% with the KBA Cortina. The sector could very much use this cost reduction. The press still has to pass the practical use test.
Comprehensive four colour printing has to be viewed as a general trend in newspaper production. Particularly as an ever increasing number of presses print semi-commercials to fill-in capacity. This is quite relevant, as a newspaper press is only operated for approximately six hours per day. In addition, more flexible press sections with a higher level of automation for varied web widths and formats will be needed. Processing must also become more flexible. If more heatset driers are installed, they could very much begin to compete with heatset magazine presses. As already supplied presses show, these press concepts are possible and make economic sense.
The development trends observed in the market should be justified and classified on the basis of the sub-division into the four categories of customers. These classifications should be viewed as exemplary only; as a lot can be related to other customer groups. The described development trends are overlapped by general trends such as premium finishing, downtime reduction and offset printing with UV-inks.
As already mentioned for the medium-size enterprises, printers must differentiate themselves through additional services such as data handling and management and increase their added-value through premium-finishing. Lacquered magazine covers are appearing extensively and premium food packaging is entering even discount stores. The trend towards premium-finishing will continue apace in the near future. Sheet-fed presses with lacquer or double-lacquer units therefore still have a good future ahead. Improvements in these lacquer units in regard to change-over time and drying can be expected. But the growth in premium-finishing is not set only by press-technical limits. For example, Heidelberg did not have a great market success with the CD 102 Duo, a hybrid press with lacquer units before the first printing units. And this despite the massive marketing campaign of Heidelberg to promote its press concept among advertising agencies and large car makers. Can these mammoth presses still be mastered by the printers? Are there too few application opportunities for these presses? Or are they simply too expensive? Despite all reservations, the time for new applications with metals and iriodines will come. These applications will also appear on web presses.
Reduced change-over time
While actually an old subject, it is nonetheless very topical. Despite a high level of automation, offset presses still offer sufficient potential. As a comparison, simply refer to the difference in change-over time when changing an offset printing plate and a flexo plate in a lacquer unit. A look at the technique should not obstruct our view of the processes. Quite often a press ready for printing must wait due to organisational shortcomings: incorrectly copied printing plates are similarly an example, as well as ordering an inadequate amount of paper.
In some countries the use of UV inks is already taken for granted. The technique is proven, safe and established. This should be an incentive for many printers to get involved in using UV applications. In addition to having a suitable press technique, training for the operators is also an important prerequisite. Ink manufacturers will not at least have a significant influence on the development of the market share held by UV inks. With (still?) two to three fold added costs compared with conventional offset inks, the 1,000-sheet price must increase automatically.
The development trends described will be accepted and evaluated differently by each printer. For the orientation needed, drupa in May 2004 offers an ideal platform for everyone interested in the future of the printing presses industry.
* Prof. Dr E. Dörsam is head of the Printing Presses and Printing Processes department at the Technical University of Darmstadt.
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