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Innovative perfectors

May 1, 2003 12:00 AM


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Fullsize perfectors are known for their voracious appetite, their ability to consume massive quantities of jobs and turn them around with print efficiencies and savings to boot. Often considered to be twice as productive as the average press, some printers contend that they are three times the machine as a straight press, since they turn over the sheets themselves and eliminate a great deal of drying time.

They're also innovative. Whether it's a short-travel, stacked design, video-assisted sheet guidance, or inline perfing and scoring, these pressroom workhorses showcase both vendors' and printers' creativity.

Cheaper by the dozen

Japs-Olson Co. (St. Louis Park, MN) is a veteran of perfecting. The 600-employee commercial and direct-mail printer already had four Heidelberg Speedmaster 102 perfectors in its pressroom prior to investing in a 12-color model — this is in addition to heatset and non-heatset webs, from five to 16 colors. “We're comfortable with the technology and have the client base that can benefit from some of its inherent advantages,” notes president Michael Murphy. Japs-Olson's customers range from banking and financial institutions to retail, insurance and travel businesses.

Murphy describes the 1999 purchase of the 12-color Speedmaster as “an evolutionary step,” since the printer has extensive experience running eight- and 10-color machines. Japs-Olson was also looking to bring greater versatility to its pressroom — the convertible perfector can handle 12 colors on a single side, six colors on both, or four colors plus two varnishes or PMS colors on both sides in one pass — what Heidelberg (Kennesaw, GA) terms “one-pass productivity.” The investment was also groundbreaking: With this installation, the printer claimed to have the world's first 12-color Heidelberg sheetfed.

It wasn't simply the desire to be on the cutting edge that attracted Japs-Olson to the Speedmaster 102 perfector. Murphy notes, “The advanced functionality of the perfecting system was for sure our greatest appeal.” The press features Heidelberg's PerfectJacket, an exchangeable, durable jacket for the impression cylinder that enhances print quality and productivity.

No-contact transfer

Murphy also singles out the press' redesigned delivery unit, which incorporates Venturi nozzles to transfer the sheet through the delivery on a blanket of air, with practically no contact. “It's opened up a lot of opportunities for us, in terms of perfecting capabilities on the press,” the exec explains. “You can do a lot of intricate, heavy-coverage work that previous generations of perfecting presses probably wouldn't be able to get away with.”

The printer is also pleased with the printability and runnability of inks on the Speedmaster 102. Murphy notes that Japs-Olson's press operators have run metallics with no problems, but adds that inks are of a minor concern overall to the process. “The most important thing with perfecting is not necessarily the coverage — you have to watch the marking and drying,” he stresses. “You have to make sure you have tight tolerances for your operating conditions.” Operators run a variety of stocks, although Murphy notes that heavier, cover-weight paper can be problematic.

To keep jobs moving, the press features semiautomatic plate-mounting and presetting. It also has a CP2000 control system with a touchscreen interface and CIP3/4 prepress link. Murphy credits the CP2000's automatic plate scanner for keeping changeovers short and sweet.

Stacked and stable

Hagg Press Inc., a 28-year-old commercial printer in Elgin, IL, purchased a Komori Lithrone 40SP fullsize perfector in April 2002. Hagg's pressroom already housed two fullsize six- and two-color presses; a 32-inch six-color; three halfsize four-, two- and one-color presses; a 40-inch four-color perfector; and three web presses. Despite this impressive stable of iron, Hagg needed a machine that could perfect four-over-four for 16-page book signatures.

“With all of the other presses being straight, we had to run paper through them twice,” explains president Kern Hagg. The four-color perfector could only perfect two over two, and the printer wanted to “grow up” to four-over-four signature work in the publication market.

Hagg Press chose the Lithrone 40SP chiefly for its ability to perfect without marking. The press features double-impression cylinders and no transfer cylinders, which enable it to maintain a common gripper edge as the sheet is printed, without flipping the sheet. This design also benefits registration. “We have image register to the same gripper edge on both sides of the sheet,” Hagg notes. “With long perfectors, one side registers to the front edge, and the back side registers to the tail end of the sheet, which can be problematic with crossovers and folded signatures.”

Hagg's Lithrone 40SP is equipped with Komori's (Rolling Meadows, IL) Color Connection software, which includes Bladesetter, an ink-key tool that converts CIP3/4 data to ink-key profiles; a KHS inking system, which sets a standard ink-film thickness and applies the ink-key profile; and K-ColorProfiler, a color-management tool that utilizes a PDC-S scanning spectrodensitometer to determine the press' color gamut so that the proof matches the press sheet. Hagg's fullsize six-color, also a Komori, shares these features.

Two-sided challenge

In terms of the press' design, Hagg sees benefits of its stacked configuration. “Because the units are stacked on top of one another, unlike a long perfector, [the press] has a shorter travel time,” he notes. “I think that makes for more sheet stability.” The exec explains that this is especially helpful in preventing fan-out on short-grain paper. This condition occurs when the sheet absorbs water as it's moving through the press. The gripper edge doesn't expand because it's underneath the gripper and unable to absorb water, while the tail end expands from being exposed. The result is a trapezoidal-shaped sheet, not noticeable to the eye, but obvious when the crop marks from the first color going down falls outside those of the last color.

“On an eight-color long perfector, fan-out is worse because the sheet has a lot longer to travel, and so is in the press longer and has more time to absorb water,” Hagg says. “The shorter press uses the same amount of water, but there is less time for the water to be absorbed and expand the sheet. We really have not had one job with a fan-out issue.”

There are also no complaints regarding print quality, and the printer has experienced no marking issues whatsoever. “I challenge customers to tell the difference as far as which side of the sheet is which,” Hagg submits.

Before Hagg bought the press, the printer examined three weeks of typical estimates, and was able to identify 150 quotes that could have been done efficiently on the Lithrone 40 SP. “If we quoted those 150 jobs on the new press, our prices would be seven percent lower,” Hagg points out. That being said, in this slow economy, a press with a high-volume appetite could be considered a liability; in fact, Hagg concedes that he would love to put four times more work on the press, which currently runs one shift. He is satisfied nonetheless with his investment, and claims the press is paying for itself right now. “If you think it's making us rich, it'll take a while,” he notes, but quickly adds, “I don't wait for a press to be paid off before it pays its way.”

Digital sheeting, visual sizing

Quad/Graphics' West Allis, WI, plant is best known for books. The nearly 900,000-sq.-ft. facility houses a range of services for book publishers, from creation to distribution. It's what's in the pressroom, however, that truly makes the plant unique — in addition to a custom web press with inline finishing and a single web press, there is a 10-unit MAN Roland 700 perfector with a digital roll feed.

Although the perfector originally was equipped with a gear-driven roll sheeter, Quad/Graphics asked MAN Roland to develop a digital model. About 18 months later, the printer took delivery of the digital sheeter, which sheetfed operations manager John Disch says is “light years ahead” of the gear-driven sheeter. “We dial the sheet size exactly to what the image size is — there's no wasted paper,” he notes. By buying rolls of paper for the press rather than sheets, the printer has experienced savings between 20 percent and 30 percent.

The press was purchased at Drupa 2000; Quad/ Graphics was looking for a perfector that could deliver the high-quality look clients demanded for their hardcover and softcover books, the ability to handle a range of stocks and to maintain short makereadies. Disch says the perfector, with its 10 units and wide stock latitude, was perfect for their needs.

At the same time that it bought the perfector, the West Allis plant decided to upgrade its other sheetfed press — a six-unit MAN Roland 700 straight press — with the ability to read 4-mil color bars. This enables press operators to download jobs the same, via MAN Roland's (Westmont, IL) JobPilot presetting module. On the prepress side, Disch acknowledges there can be a learning curve for perfector neophytes. “It's a little more time-consuming for the customer service reps (CSRs) to set up jobs — there's a lot of communication required for each project because of the different sizes.” He notes that the West Allis plant runs anywhere from 2 × 3½-inch plastic cards to 14 × 12-inch hardcover books on the two Roland 700 sheetfeds.

Paper, ink considerations

With regard to the stock range, Disch notes that the Roland 700's large back cylinders were a huge selling point. “With larger back cylinders, you can take heavier stocks and don't have to make such a severe wrap around your cylinders if they're once around — you're able to send heavier sheets through,” he explains. Operators run stock from 50-lb. uncoated to 24-pt. board on the press, although careful consideration of the medium is crucial before running it through the perfector.

“Paper type is very important,” Disch cautions. “So is the flexibility of the paper.” West Allis operators discovered by trial-and-error that some paper brands are more flexible than others, and therefore run more smoothly through the press. “We identify which papers run best and those are the ones we go after.”

On the inks side, the press has an optional Accel Graphic Systems (Dallas) Sentinel ink-management system, which utilizes ink cartridges. “You can't imagine how much money we saved using the cartridge — there's no wasted ink or dumped cans, and you don't have to worry about dipping the crust off of the ink can when you're dipping into the fountain,” Disch observes. “The press stays absolutely neat because you don't have someone slinging ink all over the fountains.” The exec notes that the inking system uses every single drop of ink in the cartridge, which is simply tossed in the trash when empty.

The Roland 700 perfector also features an AirGlide extended delivery, allowing press operators to adjust sheets to flow through without marking. Quad/Graphics added a video camera in between the perfector so that operators can adjust sheets by sight, and designed its own console that incorporates the company's proprietary MIS, the Accel Sentinel system and the video monitor.

Perfecting, perfing, scoring

Eva-Tone, Inc., a $45 million commercial printer in Clearwater, FL, purchased its 10-color KBA Rapida 105 perfector in August 2001. The 450-employee company, which also offers fulfillment, mailing and multimedia services, realized that the majority of its work could be perfected successfully, resulting in more throughput, less labor and quicker turnarounds.

In addition to the typical perfecting bells and whistles, Eva-Tone needed a press capable of perfecting folding-carton paperboard. The printer uses stock ranging from 40-lb. offset to 32-pt. board for its audio-graphics work — which includes CD booklets, inlays and self-mailers for CDs and cassettes — as well as direct-mail campaigns, short-run catalogs, brochures and collateral. Executive vice president and COO Carl Evans notes that the Rapida 105 fit the bill nicely, since it could handle stock from 0.0012-inch paper to 0.047-inch board.

Another selling point of the KBA (Williston, VT) press was its optional perfing and scoring unit. Before, Eva-Tone operators would perf and score on a print unit. With the specialized perfing and scoring unit, however, the printer gets perfs that tear and scores that fold more easily. “On reply cards or direct mailers that need perforated reply devices, we'll perf and score in the first unit, print up to five colors on the first side, turn the sheet and perfect five colors on the other side, and then deliver sheets that are perfed, scored and printed on both sides,” Evans explains.

Short runs, quick makereadies

Aside from the press' mechanics, its electronics were also crucial to a successful installation, especially since Eva-Tone's average run lengths have fallen to around 5,000 sheets. “The business climate has changed,” Evans notes. “When we looked at automation, we knew run lengths would be shorter. If we didn't get makeready automation, we would be losing out. This press does get competitive on shorter runs because [jobs are] on it for such a small amount of time between makereadies.”

The Rapida 105's Opera automation system, which includes color and density control, an open production management system and CIP3/4 presetting, help keep makereadies to a minimum. Evans notes that with its CIP3/4 ink-key settings, operators are 90 percent up to color on the first pull. The press also has an automatic ink-dispensing system, plate hanging, and blanket and back-cylinder washers. This means that while makereadies on Eva-Tone's older straight presses takes up to an hour and a half for a one-sided high-end piece, the Rapida 105 perfector will makeready both sides of a high-end job in 40 minutes, for both sides.

About 30 percent of the time, Eva-Tone prints straight jobs on the Rapida 105; in particular, those requiring seven to eight colors. Evans notes that conversion is controlled from the console and demands only an extra five minutes to convert the press back and forth on a makeready.

The exec is pleased with the press' print quality. He does note that for jobs on highly calendered paper incorporating dark solids, some “crispness” to the solids and dark colors can be lost after the sheet is flipped over and the wet ink hits the other cylinders. “These are jobs that don't lend themselves to perfecting — we just run them straight through and flip them, either on this press or one of the others.”

Two-sided coating

Perfecting as a differentiator played a key role in Dynagraf, Inc.'s (Canton, MA) investment in a Mitsubishi Diamond 3000R Diamond Double 10-color, five-over-five perfector. The 130-employee, privately owned printer wanted to offer its high-end financial and commercial clients the capability to have work printed on two sides in one pass — and to coat on both sides as well. Vice president of manufacturing John Fuller notes, “Almost 60 percent of our jobs are aqueous-coated.”

The exec adds that two-sided coating not only helps Dynagraf be more competitive, but it also helps clients reduce cost. “Instead of doing five colors and a varnish, look at it as five colors and a coat,” Fuller explains. “The ability to get customers in and out on a two-sided press OK makes their lives easier. Really, it comes down to trying to make it easier to do business with Dynagraf.”

The first-of-its-kind installation took place at the beginning of this year. The press joined Dynagraf's fullsize Mitsubishi eight-color F-15, fullsize F-16 with UV capability, Miller TP 104 six-color fullsize perfector, MAN Roland Rotoman 40 and a Miller half web.

The first tower coater is located after the fifth printing unit and before the sheet-reversing unit, while the second coater is situated after the last printing unit. Fuller observes that there have been some challenges with regard to the compatibility between Dynagraf's inks and the coatings, but the printer is already working through a lot of those issues.

Quality top priority

Although the double tower coaters were a big selling point for the Diamond 3000R Diamond Double, for Dynagraf, print quality was No. 1. “It has certainly met our expectations,” Fuller says. The printer reports no marking or smearing problems, crediting this to the press' air-management system. In fact, during a visit to Mitsubishi Lithographic Presses' Japan factory to evaluate the Diamond 3000R's capabilities, Fuller and company president Bill Roche witnessed a 12-color model being tested, and were pleasantly surprised by the results. “We were seeing densities front to back that were identical,” Fuller says. “We weren't seeing any patterns or breakup of dots because of the perfecting jackets.”

Dynagraf execs like the design of Mitsubishi's perfecting unit. Its three-cylinder sheet-reversing unit is said to provide smooth sheet transfer and accurate front-to-back registration. The impression cylinders' ceramic jackets help prevent ink buildup and offsetting.

Quick and easy makereadies and changeovers were also important to the printer. The Diamond 3000R Diamond Double has a Centralized Operator Makeready and Control (COMRAC) system, with touchscreen control of makeready settings and print parameters. Dynagraf's Diamond also has an Accel Sentinel and X-Rite closed-loop color-control system.

The press is also equipped with an optional Aradiant drying package, which combines interstation infrared/cold-air drying units with eight-lamp interdeck UV for spot coating and hybrid UV CoCure printing. The printer has yet to start running straight UV on the press. Although Dynagraf puts most of its UV work on its Mitsubishi F-16, Fuller anticipates the Diamond 3000R Diamond Double will be assuming a larger share of those jobs.

The exec observes that, as a relative newcomer to high-end multicolor perfecting work, perhaps the biggest challenge for Dynagraf is getting in the mindset to consider every job for its capability to be perfected. “It's more communication upfront with planners and estimators to be thinking that way, and if there are any questions, seeking advice from our pressroom managers,” he explains. But the printer is quickly coming up to speed with the rewards its perfector delivers.

Research resource

As these case studies relate, long perfectors can bring a leap in productivity, a differentiation factor and reduced labor demands to printers. The machines, however, demand a more substantial investment than a straight press, and can be more of a burden than a boost when jobs become scarce. Fully evaluating your options and the main contenders are a must. To that end, a GATF (Sewickley, PA) study, “Print Quality, Sheet Movement, and Return on Investment for Long Perfecting Presses” by John Lind and Gregory M. Radencic discusses convertible perfecting and provides some project and workflow considerations for thought.

The study includes feedback from 13 printers with perfecting presses, who were asked to print the same images and examine the side-to-side print quality, sheet-to-sheet and unit-to-unit registration, and ROI considerations. Graphics illustrate print characteristics, tone-value-increase differences between the first and second sides of the sheet, and other attributes. The 52-page booklet is available for $129 ($59 for GATF/ PIA members) at gain.net.

Komori, Akiyama and the great super perfector

As patent-infringement battles go, it was a doozy: Two press manufacturers clashed over the design of a new perfecting press, and by the time the battle was over, the plaintiff was bankrupt.

At the 1997 International Graphic Arts Show (IGAS) in Tokyo, Komori Corp. (Tokyo) unveiled the Lithrone 40SP four-over-four perfector. The press' unique design stacks the first, third, fifth and seventh units above the second, fourth, sixth and eighth. The units are equipped with individual double-diameter impression cylinders, between which the sheets transfer on their way through the press.

This was two years after Akiyama Corp. introduced its own four-over-four perfector, the J Print 40-44, at IGAS '95, and the same year that the J Print made its U.S. debut at Print 97. Like the Lithrone 40SP, the J Print features a stacked design that transfers sheets between impression cylinders; unlike the Komori press, it has two transfer cylinders per unit. According to British Printer, the visual similarities between the two presses were apparent to IGAS '97 attendees; Akiyama soon acted on its suspicions that Komori copied the J Print design by suing for patent infringement in October 1997. Komori denied culpability immediately.

After four years of expensive, inconclusive legal wrangling, Akiyama withdrew its lawsuit. By then, however, the press manufacturer's financial situation was dire, and in March 2001, it filed for bankruptcy for the second time in its 53-year history (a 1993 filing marked the first).

In January 2002, China-based Shanghai Electric Group (SEC) and Morningside Group (MS) purchased Akiyama's business rights, including its properties, buildings, facilities and patents. SEC and MS established Akiyama International Co., Ltd. (AIC) (Tokyo) and resumed manufacturing at the Mitsukaido factory in Ibaraki, Japan. In March, AIC announced it was ready to do business again in the U.S. market, as Akiyama Machinery U.S.A., Inc. (Cerritos, CA), with the J Print and Bestech sheetfed press lines as its main product focuses. Meanwhile, Komori debuted the Lithrone 40SP in North America at Print 01; it is now available in configurations from four over four to six over six.