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Making makereadies faster

Nov 1, 2001 12:00 AM


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The printing industry's razor-thin profits coupled with shorter run lengths leave no room for leisurely makereadies. A press that takes forever to get to that first saleable sheet eats up a lot of paper, time and, of course, money.

Automation and computer integration are the hallmarks of makeready on a modern press. Digital links from the press to management-information-system (MIS) and platesetter data automatically generate electronic job tickets and preset inking, feeder and delivery systems. Color measurement and control systems also help operators quickly achieve and maintain color. Over time, these efficiencies will increase, especially as CIP4 progresses.

OFF-PRESS PRESETS

Hal Stratton, manager of MAN Roland's Graphic/Training Center (Westmont, IL) says his company's goal is to “have a press makeready take the least amount of time. We can do a complete off-press preset for an entire job before the plates and production ticket make their way to the pressroom.”

The key to doing this, explains Stratton, is being able to network printing presses and have a central storage area for digital job tickets containing the presets for the presses.

“We've had these features since the release of the Roland 700 and the TPP (Technical Press Preparation) workstation in the early 1990s,” says the exec. “The name of the first generation was PECOM (Process Electronic Control for Organization and Management). In 1998, Advanced PECOM Systems, the second generation, was introduced.”

At the heart of the new system is a Windows NT-based server operating system called PECOM ServerNet. Software modules of JobPilot, PrepressLink, PressMonitor and ManagementLink access the server and give the system its functionality.

MAN Roland's 300, 500, 700 and 900 presses feature the PECOM PressCenter, a centralized press control console. The PressCenter allows these presses to be networked together to share job information. PECOM ServerNet interfaces with the press network and stores all press job tickets, providing a link with prepress, postpress and the MIS.

JobPilot software, a PECOM ServerNet module, manages the electronic job tickets stored on PECOM ServerNet. The JobPilot software is used to create job tickets, preset all press settings, and allows for easy re-runs of previously printed jobs.

Job-ticket information can also be imported via direct connection with the MIS, such as printCafe's Logic. This connection is made through a PECOM ServerNet module called ManagementLink. ManagementLink also provides a direct connection between the PECOM PressCenter and the MIS, eliminating the need to input data via MIS workstations, keypads or barcode readers. The data are sent in real time from the PressCenter to the MIS, without operator intervention.

Working simultaneously with JobPilot, PECOM PrepressLink software allows for the off-press import and analysis of CIP3-compliant prepress data. Currently the software is using the CIP3-based print production format (PPF) file. The software analyzes the PPF file to determine the surface coverage in each ink-key zone. After this process, the information is then attached to the job ticket stored in ServerNet, ready to be used for ink-key presetting.

When the job is ready to be printed, the job ticket is released for use at the PECOM PressCenter.

“We can have the entire press preset itself from the information pre-entered in ServerNet,” says Stratton. “All the press operator does to start the makeready is open the job ticket and hang plates.”

The press then presets itself: the feeder, side guides, delivery, impression cylinders, air track/pans and ink keys. The entire process takes about a minute.

A networked press can be monitored in real time via a PECOM module called PressMonitor. It allows anyone within the company's LAN (or remote access) to log onto the press network to see the current job on press. PresMonitor indicates the current production status, including the number of sheets run on the job, the number of “good sheets,” the press speed, and the time the job should be completed based on the current status.

THIRTY-MINUTE MAKEREADY

“Having everything set up on the presses automatically is a huge timesavings,” says Dan Ries, plant manager at Ries Graphics (Butler, WI), an 85-employee commercial printer. About a year ago, the company replaced three 10-year-old presses with two eight-color, 40-inch MAN Roland 708 perfectors.

Makereadies on the PECOM ServerNet-equipped presses take about 30 minutes, a welcome change of pace from the hour and a half required by the old four-, five- and six-color presses. “Easy makereadies that used to take 45 minutes now take 15 minutes,” reports Ries. “That's a pretty big savings in labor and press time.”

At Ries, a job planner inputs all the job specifications into JobPilot, the MAN Roland software that creates the press job tickets. Once a client signs off on a proof, PrepressLink imports the prepress data needed to create a CIP3 file, which is used to preset the ink keys. When a job is ready for printing, a press operator opens the job ticket on the PECOM PressCenter and the press automatically starts to preset itself. During the whole process, the production manager can monitor press production with PressMonitor, the MAN Roland software that provides current production status of on-press jobs.

CENTRAL COMMAND

At Print 01, Heidelberg (Kennesaw, GA) demonstrated its open-architecture Prinect Center installation, which encompasses all of the vendor's modular MIS, prepress and postpress digital workflow components.

“Our philosophy is to make the presses easier to control from one location,” says John Dowey, Heidelberg USA vice president of product management, sheetfed presses. “Routine makeready burdens aren't as intensive, so operators can concentrate on quality and production.”

George Lajti, CEO of Edge Graphics (Milford, OH), a 65-employee commercial printer, credits mechanical makeready presets with faster job turnaround.

A year ago, Edge Graphics installed two 40-inch Heidelberg Speedmaster 102 presses driven from Windows NT-based, touchscreen CP2000 consoles: One is a two-color perfector, the other is a six-color perfector with a tower coater. A third press, a two-color, 40-inch perfector, also is networked to the press consoles.

The three presses receive preset job data “from the feeder, to fountain and delivery,” according to Lajti. “In our environment where we may run eight to 10 jobs a day across three shifts, faster makereadies mean we can get more jobs out the door.”

Other advanced makeready features available from the CP2000 console include the InkLine system, which supplies ink to the printing units. Introduced two years ago, it has now evolved into the fully automatic InkLine Direct ink-supply system. Using 4.4-lb. ink cartridges, the system automatically fills the fountain and maintains proper ink levels during pressruns. Ink can now also be fed via a central ink supply system, eliminating the need to exchange cartridges.

“This also makes washups easier and faster because InkLine keeps the ink fountains at a fairly low level during production runs,” explains Dowey.

The CANBus system is Heidelberg's latest makeready-related delivery enhancement. Running on the CP2000 console, CANBus monitors and controls back-end peripheral systems, including dryers, sprayers, temperature controllers, and even third-party UV-coating and dampening-control systems. CANBus technology is currently offered on Heidelberg's 40-inch presses — it will be available for the halfsize Speedmaster sometime next year.

NEW PRESSES

Mitsubishi Lithographic Presses' (Lincolnshire, IL) Print 01 news included two additions to its Diamond series of sheetfed presses: the halfsize 1000 press and fullsize 3000R convertible perfecting press. Both are equipped with tower coaters and extended deliveries. New features include vacuum feeder belts and side guides, a high-speed impression cylinder on/off device and Quick Start inking.

DiamondLink III, Mitsubishi's CIP3-compatible press control system, includes automatic presetting of press functions (“PressLink”); on-line job tracking, ticketing and production control (“JobLink”) and closed-loop color management (“ColorLink”).

According to John Santie, product manager for sheetfed presses, the PressLink console supports a one-button touchscreen startup system. The system automatically performs washup, plate changing, ink presetting, and printing of 25, 50 or 100 test sheets.

Quality Graphics (Roselle, NJ), a 45-employee commercial printer, has two 40-inch, six-color Mitsubishi sheetfed presses — an F13 and an F16 model with tower coaters. Both feature complete mechanical makeready set-ups from a PressLink console.

In Quality Graphics' workflow, a central Mitsubishi Prepress CIP4 Control (PPC) server transmits job and color information to PressLink, which allows the presses to automatically preset ink keys from plate data imported from an Agfa Galileo platesetter, and ink-fountain roller speeds, dampening systems and press speed. Other presets include sheet size and thickness, impression pressures and feeder/delivery settings.

The two presses also feature a stop-oscillation control. When a press stops, the oscillator rollers also stop, thus maintaining ink-film thickness on the rollers. Each press unit has two ink trays, enabling faster color changeovers, since a used tray can be quickly swapped out for a new one.

Ed Sadler, Quality Graphics' plant manager, notes the stop-oscillation feature is particularly helpful for split-fountain jobs. “We like having two ink trays for color changeovers,” he adds. “It saves a few minutes on each job, but it's really more of a convenience feature.”

MAKEREADIES ARE TWICE AS FAST

KBA North America's (Williston, VT) Logotronic server architecture controls press makereadies. It handles automated washup as well as presetting of the feeder, inking and delivery systems.

Acme Printing (Des Moines, IA), a 115-employee commercial printer, uses the Logotronic system to drive make-readies on its six-color, 40-inch Rapida 105 press. Installed six months ago, the press replaced a 20-year-old, 40-inch press.

While the old press wasn't automated, it was reliable “and paid for,” notes Dennis Crane, vice president of production. Nonetheless, “all three operators like the new press a lot better,” observes Crane.

Not surprisingly, Acme has cut its makeready times in half. The Rapida's automatic plate changer is one factor, but presettings applied from the press console have played the biggest role in boosting make-ready performance, says Larry Spring, Acme's day-shift press operator.

Spring also likes having access to stored settings for quick turnaround on repeat jobs. “After printing 100 sheets, we're right back to the same color,” reports the operator. “Changeovers to jobs using the same inks and sheet sizes can take only 15 minutes.” Acme uses KBA's Densitronic S, a scanning densitometer, to maintain color throughout press runs.

Another timesaver is Logotronic's CIPLink module, which converts a Purup-Eskofot platesetter's plate data to CIP3 data to automatically set the ink-key fountains.

Since the Rapida can run offset papers and heavier board stocks without manual gripper changes, Acme can easily switch from traditional offset jobs to POP-display jobs. “This is opening up new markets to us,” relates Crane.

EASIER INKING

Komori's (Rolling Meadows, IL) 40-inch and halfsize sheetfed presses are available with automatic washers for the blankets, impression cylinders and rollers, semi-automatic and fully automatic plate changing, and automatic feeder and delivery system adjustments.

At Print, Komori announced four color-control software tools: Bladesetter, KHS, K-ColorProfiler and K-Station. Bladesetter is a PC-based software module that converts digital CIP3/4 data or a PPF file to press-ready ink-key profiles.

The KHS on-press color-matching system first sets a reference layer of ink on the rollers, then charges the ink train and uses digital ink-key data from Bladesetter to set an ink profile for the job. At the end of the press run, KHS high-speed inking system will de-ink the press back to the standard ink-film thickness, then automatically ink up for the next job.

K-ColorProfiler is a software module for the PDC-S Print (Density Controller with Spectrophotometry) system, Komori's digital on-press scanning densitometer and spectrophotometer. By incorporating a series of color targets generated by the K-ColorProfiler software on the press sheet, then scanning them with PDC-S, an accurate color gamut of the press can be determined within four minutes. This information can be saved as an ICC profile and used to calibrate the color on the digital proof.

K-Station accepts two streams of data input — initial job data and digital prepress data from the Bladesetter (including ink-key settings and image-area ratios). With K-Station, production management can monitor activity on the pressroom floor with automated, centralized, real-time job status, production control and monitoring for as many as eight Komori presses.

“Every press manufacturer has some kind of pre-inking program,” says Doug Schardt, assistant product manager and applications specialist at Komori America. “But KHS also handles other variables press operators are asked to judge, like the overall amount of ink applied, the ink/water ratio and the sweep on the fountain roller.”

Schardt calls this pre-inking system the “great equalizer” because it ensures the consistent printing of jobs from operator to operator and shift to shift. “All operators have their own style of printing, and even if they arrive at the same printed result, it takes a lot of time. When the computer controls setup the same way every time, then the press operators produce jobs faster and more consistently.”

GETTING COLOR UNDER CONTROL

A recent GATF (Sewickley, PA) survey found that excessive color variation was the No. 1 reason printers partially or completely reprinted a job at their expense. Fortunately, there's no shortage of tools that will help operators achieve and maintain color.

ImageControl, one of Heidelberg's Prinect digital workflow components, uses a scanning spectrophotometer to measure the entire press sheet (as opposed to just a color bar). A specially developed measuring bar quickly scans the entire image. A press sheet in the 40-inch format is broken down into more than 160,000 measurement points. Up to 5,000 points per ink zone are then compared with their corresponding values on the reference sheet.

“From the CIP3 file within ImageControl we calculate color reference values,” explains Ernst Bischoff, Prinect director. “When a press sheet comes out and is measured, the calculated and measured values are compared and ImageControl automatically suggests color adjustments to get the two to match. This reduces makeready considerably.”

Bischoff says press operators can apply the settings automatically or manually. The system typically saves one or two pulls during the soft-makeready process.

Edge Graphics uses ImageControl to keep its three 40-inch Heidelbergs calibrated to each other. Sadler says the system also allows the presses to come up to color quickly, and maintain color values throughout pressruns. The shop uses a Prinergy workflow in which prepress data from a CreoScitex Trendsetter CTP system is sent to the CP2000 system, which presets the ink-key fountains. After printing 100 sheets, the operators then use a CPC 24 scanning system to determine the exact amount of ink coverage needed for each ink zone.

“Presetting the fountains facilitates the initial color makeready, which helps get the presses up to color much faster,” says Lajti. But where the system really comes into play is maintaining color on longer runs. “We don't usually see color variations, but if there are changes, the operator can make adjustments on the fly manually, or automatically if he or she agrees with the system's suggested adjustments,” notes the exec.

Lajti notes that these mechanical and color makeready features have dramatically streamlined the shop's throughput. Before acquiring this technology a year ago, Edge Graphics' makereadies typically took an hour and a half. Now the process takes roughly 45 minutes. And since the system can store job settings based on specific inks and papers, make-readies for repeat projects are extremely fast: “Within 15 minutes of putting plates on a press, we're producing sellable sheets,” relates Lajti.

MAN Roland's CCI color-control system uses a scanning densitometer mounted directly to the PECOM Press Center. Based on Print Consult software from System Brunner, the CCI system scans the color bar in about eight seconds. The software then performs an analysis of gray balance, dot gain and density using System Brunner's Print Consult for color offset reproduction. CCI displays the current density readings, dot-gain characteristics and color balance of the current settings. It also provides the operator with a “star rating” based on the current readings compared to the System Brunner global standard. CCI has artificial intelligence that allows the operator to have the system adjust the ink keys based on the current readings. Print Consult offers the press operator comprehensive recommendations to achieve a better star rating.

Ries says the CCI scanning system on his company's MAN Roland presses is the biggest factor in reducing makeready times and improving print quality: “It saves us a lot of time during setup, and once we get the right color on press we just scan the pulls and the system makes corrections on the fly during the pressrun. Some clients don't even bother coming back for press okays because they know the electronic data are there, and they're comfortable that the computer will maintain the color.”

Stratton says that in the near future, the PECOM ServerNet system will utilize CIP4-based JDF (Job Document Format) job tickets. MAN Roland was a co-developer of JDF, prior to its acceptance by the CIP3 consortium as the new standard.

“Since MAN Roland is already interfacing directly to the MIS via PECOM ManagementLink, the change to CIP4 won't be a new feature for our customers,” says Stratton. “It will be an integrated process.”

Komori's PDC-S system fingerprints presses to standard ink densities, ensures press sheets match digital and analog proofs, and maintains ink density during the course of a pressrun. Based on X-Rite hardware measurement devices, along with proprietary technology from Komori, the PDC-S system uses a scanning unit mounted to the press console for measuring color bars, and a hand-held unit for capturing measurements anywhere on a press sheet.

Mitsubishi offers the top-of-the-line MCCS 3 (Mitsubishi Color Control System 3), a high-speed x/y scanning system that can take measurements from color bars or any location on a press form. The system is also used to build comprehensive job databases with information based on ink-film thicknesses, which can vary according to the types of paper, inks and dampener settings used for different print jobs.

Sadler at Quality Graphics says the closed-loop color-control systems on his firm's two Mitsubishi presses help press operators get the presses up to color, make customer-indicated color changes, and maintain those color values during a run. “It's great because you don't have to stop the press,” says Sadler. “You just scan the sheet, and if an adjustment needs to be made, the system automatically resets all the ink fountains in about 30 seconds.”

IT'S A GROUP EFFORT

Consultants stress that efficient makereadies are a group effort — schedulers, customer service representatives, prepress, postpress and quality control employees must understand how their efforts impact the pressroom. In previous articles we've discussed quick-response makeready programs offered by GATF and others. These training efforts include videotaping press crews and reviewing the tapes with them to identify best practices. So while the machine interfaces are impressive, there's no substitute for teamwork.

Experts weigh in on web-offset makeready

Several years ago, a well-known web-offset printer challenged his press crews to improve makereadies. They responded with 106 makeready time-saving ideas. Here are the top 10.

  1. Create a written makeready procedure
  2. Communicate with crew before makeready if standard procedure doesn't apply.
  3. Standardize press crews; use the same crew on the same press and job when possible.
  4. Plan meetings with crews for their input on ways to cut down makeready time.
  5. Create incentives to reward good ideas.
  6. Establish benchmark settings for each type of paper or job.
  7. Archive a customer profile for each job.
  8. Establish a standard ink density target range
  9. Standardize ink sets in pressroom and single-source if possible.
  10. Verify that special colors (PMS) have been proofed for strength and color.

See all 106 ideas at www.americanprinter.com