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KBA: A Vision of the Future

Apr 23, 2003 12:00 AM


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Special advertising report by KBA

A slow economy coupled with a changing printing market are the challenges that the industry faces. Both printers and industry suppliers must be adept at innovation, flexibility and the ability to deliver outstanding products and service. KBA, the world's second-largest manufacturer of sheetfed presses, is more than up to the challenge. The German-based company boasts about $170 million of its current sales to North American operations, which include KBA North America Inc. Sheetfed Div. (Williston, VT) and KBA North America Inc. Web Press Div. (York, PA).

Ensuring the continued vigor of the Sheetfed Div. is the mission of Ralf Sammeck, president and CEO. Before moving to the U.S. in June of 2002, Sammeck served as president of the KBA Karat Digital Press Div. with responsibility for worldwide sales and marketing of Karat presses.

“KBA is making important investments in the North American market,” points out Sammeck. “Together with Eric Frank, our new vice president for marketing, I plan to increase efforts to penetrate the market more deeply. Although the market leader in the packaging industry, one of our primary goals is to extend KBA's innovative technology into the commercial-printing market as well.”

Not surprisingly, KBA's Sheetfed Div. is achieving its goals. “Financially we are strong, our market shares are growing and our customer base is becoming more diverse. Internationally, KBA has had continuous growth in 2002, increasing annual sales 20 percent for the past several years.”

In fact, 2002 was a good year all around for KBA. “KBA bucked the market trend — and the ongoing global turndown — to maintain strong growth in sheetfed offset sales,” states Albrecht Bolza-Sch√ľnemann, deputy president of Koenig & Bauer, parent company of KBA North America. “This success is due in no small part to the fact that our longstanding customers are being joined by increasing numbers of new ones, many of whom are transferring their business to KBA from other manufacturers. This is happening not just in the packaging and large-format markets, but in the commercial sector and even in small format, where we have identified good market prospects for our innovative technology,” concludes the Koenig & Bauer executive, who will follow Reinhardt Siewert as president of the second-largest sheetfed press manufacturer in July 2003.

Healthy customers

Although the economy is not expected to improve until late in 2003 or early 2004, Sammeck still sees an optimistic picture. “I have visited several printers with strong results,” he explains. “These are the companies that have diverse customer bases and are providing new services, such as on-demand printing, that can be achieved with our 74 Karat press. Today's successful printers have to adapt to the special needs of each market.

“Packaging has and will continue to be strong. Package printers are looking for greater productivity, shorter turnaround and new press configurations to allow them unique market advantages. KBA's Rapida presses meet these needs because of their versatility; as our customers' printing demands increase, presses must be able to handle a variety of both commercial and packaging jobs to meet printers' productivity needs,” observes Sammeck.

In order for KBA to compete effectively in North American markets, it will continue to do what it has always done: “offer presses with competitive prices that not only deliver the highest quality printing, but also offer flexibility as printing demands shift. We also offer the industry's best-in-class after-sale customer service. KBA's customer-satisfaction rating is extremely high due to ongoing personalized service from a team of experienced and talented engineers. We will expand with new and innovative programs that yield greater profits for our customers,” asserts Sammeck.

185 years of innovation

It's not hard to understand how KBA expects to adapt to changing needs in the industry. After all, it has adapted for more than 185 years. Founded in 1814 by Freidrich Koenig and Andreas Bauer, the fledgling press manufacturer designed the first double-cylinder printing press to produce The Times newspaper in London. Koenig's ingenious concept of guiding paper over a rotating cylinder formed the basis for mechanizing the entire printing process.

The following year, Koenig created not only the perfecting press, but also a two-revolution press. He had thus invented, designed and constructed all the basic types of printing presses that were to be in use — in a succession of new versions — over the next 150 years.

Koenig & Bauer continued its early tradition of innovation throughout its long history. K&B's first web-fed press, purchased in 1876, had open-sheet delivery, but not a folder. The press manufacturer, however, moved with the times and adopted the folder former design in 1886. In that same year, Wilhelm Koenig invented a web press for printing different page sizes, and in 1888 he built the first four-color web press for the Exposition of Imperial Papers in Petersburg.

In the early 1890s, parallel to the further development of newspaper web presses, K&B started building special machines for printing luxury color products. In a short time, the company turned its attention to the design of security presses as well — a market that Koenig & Bauer would later dominate as the world's leading supplier.

By 1932, Koenig & Bauer was introducing new designs such as the Frankonia and Tiepolo sheetfed gravure presses, and in 1936, the first multicolor sheetfed rotogravure press was shown. Fast forward to 1954 when a new model of the Rembrandt convertible multicolor sheetfed press was designed.

With further developments in sheetfed letterpress, gravure and both commercial and newspaper web presses, Koenig & Bauer was well positioned to premier its Rapida sheetfed press at DRUPA in 1967. Commemorating Koenig & Bauer's 150 year anniversary in 1967, the German Post Office issued a special 10 pfennig stamp to mark the event.

By 1980 the press manufacturer introduced the first Colortronic electronic color-control system for inking and dampening units and plate register, and in 1986 the world saw the first Koebau-Rapida 104 sheetfed offset press with unit-type construction. Its output was an amazing 15,000 sheets per hour. In 1992 the Rapida 72 sheetfed offset press was presented at TPG in Paris.

Sheetfed innovation

Today, the Rapida press — in all its configurations — is the backbone of KBA's sheetfed stable. Ranging from the compact Rapida 74 to the workhorse medium-format Rapida 105 up to the giant-format 80-inch Rapida 205 to be shown at DRUPA 2004, KBA's versatility in design and outstanding quality have allowed unique installations. Consider, for example, the world's first 13-unit 41-inch press installed at Ultra Litho in Johannesburg, South Africa, and ready to make its appearance into the U.S. market this year.

The 105-ft., Rapida 105 can print 10 colors straight through or 5/5, with inline coating on both sides of the sheet. The press features a total of 13 units, including 10 printing units, two coating towers, one each for dispersion and UV varnish, and an interdeck dryer unit. The perfecting unit is situated after the dryer. Other features include a roll-to-sheet feeder, which can be moved to the side to allow sheets to be fed; a double delivery extension with dryers; and an end-of-the-press UV dryer in the delivery. A coater for water-based and UV varnish after the fifth printing unit and before the perfector, and a downstream intermediate dryer with IR/cold-air and UV units prevent the coated sheets from smearing during perfecting. Ultra Litho production director Hans Kieslich observes that the design of the press itself was not a problem, “it's just that nobody had tried it yet. KBA was the only manufacturer willing to stick its neck out, and has committed to do everything in its power to help make the installation work.”

Regardless of the configuration, the Rapida 105 sheetfed press is designed to offer the highest possible productivity, substrate versatility add up to 48 pt. and an outstanding level of automation. It represents a customized means of production, tailored to the needs of the individual user.

The Rapida 105 is fully automated to meet tight deadlines. With excellent printing speeds, short makeready times and a minimum of start-up wastage, the press is well-suited for commercial applications. Automatic platechanging systems, remote stock-thickness and -format settings, pushbutton perfecting-unit conversion and a whole variety of other automation programs can be controlled from the main console.

Rediscovering super-wide sheetfed

The big Rapida presses from KBA embody virtually all of the winning features of today's medium-format versions, including remote preset of substrate-specific parameters such as sheet size, thickness and fan settings from a central controls to minimize makereadies. The Rapida 142, for example, is fully capable of delivering 15,000 sheets per hour, even though its rated output is only 14,000.

Image-specific settings for the ink keys, ink volume and moisture level can be downloaded from prepress (CIP3, CIP4) or, for repeat jobs, from memory. Diagonal register settings can be controlled from the console, along with the usual sidelay and circumferential register settings. Quality is monitored via densitometry or spectrophotometry and can be part of a closed loop system. Semi- or fully automated plate changing also is available. An ingenious cylinder geometry supports parallel plate changes, so that all the plates in all the printing units can be changed in about four minutes, regardless of press length.

Dampeners are engineered for low-alcohol or alcohol-free production. Predampening programs, in conjunction with inking-up programs for the quick-reacting ink units, minimize initial start-up waste and restart waste after press stops. Job changes on presses with five or more printing units take well under 30 minutes.

Similar to their smaller versions, large-format Rapida presses can handle anything from lightweight paper and film to microflute corrugated, heavy board and even metal sheets. A net output of 5 million sheets per month makes large-format competitive with small- and medium-format presses.

If large-format sheetfed presses can now output almost the same number of sheets as 41-inch presses, with a similar print quality, it is clear that productivity will be increased with two and one half times the image area per sheet and a similar manning level. So where is the break-even point for an average run length in large format? Approximately 10,000 sheets for commercial applications and cartons and 1,000 sheets for posters and POP.

Electronic components also have moved into large format. Presses can be networked via a system called Logotronic Professional and service support provided via a standard telephone modem in the console or via a Servicetronic system. This enables KBA to service presses, locate and eliminate malfunctions 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Servicetronic also incorporates video technology to detect mechanical malfunctions.

Automating the pressroom

KBA presses are controlled by OPERA (OPen ERgonomic Automation system), a modular concept for pressroom automation, including networking throughout the shop. Instant access to and exchange of digital data by all company departments cuts costs and boosts productivity.

Individual OPERA modules can be combined to suit production demands. For example, the Ergotronic console is the press operator's primary data and control center. It can be integrated into a data network, such as KBA Logotronic. All adjustable press functions (register, oscillation of form rollers, oscillation timing, format, washing, conversion to and from perfecting, etc.) can be preset and adjusted from the Ergotronic console in conjunction with Colortronic, which allows remote adjustment of ink keys.

OPERA also includes modules such as Scantronic, a plate and film scanner for presetting ink keys; Densitronic for optimizing and documenting color quality; Logotronic, a production management system for integrating logistics and administration into a total shop-wide network. Logotronic also can be interfaced with presses from other manufacturers and is compatible with current EDP and scheduling/control systems.

The digital connection

Designed to handle short to medium runs of four-color printing, the 74 Karat digital sheetfed offset press is carving out a niche in a market characterized by tight deadlines, pricing pressure and top quality. The combination of waterless offset printing, in conjunction with the Gravuflow inking unit in the 74 Karat, produces first-class printing results. “We are extremely satisfied with the 74 Karat,” adds Jory A. Siegel of Universal Press. “This press opens up new market opportunities for us and speeds up business.”

The 74 Karat is designed for efficient and cost-effective one-person operation. The inking and printing units are located on one side of the press, while the feeder and delivery are positioned together at the other side. Practically all functions can be controlled directly from the operating console at the delivery.

Plates (Presstek's PEARLdry) are inserted into the press in two cassettes of 20 plates each, which is sufficient for 10 jobs. Plate changes are fully automatic. The exact imaging of the printing plates directly on the two plate cylinders and the completion of four-color printing without gripper transfers on the triple-size impression cylinder permit an exact register without ghosting.

The patented keyless Gravuflow inking unit consists of only two rollers: the ink form roller and the Gravuflow screen roller. This ensures full inking of the printing plate regardless of the ink requirements. The temperature controlled Gravuflow inking unit has no ink keys and brings the press into color extremely quickly. This reduces set-up times as well as waste. With each rotation of the ceramic-coated screen roller, a thin coat of ink is applied to the single-sized ink form roller. A doctor blade removes the excess ink from the Gravuflow roller.

Designed for runs of the most economical and profitable runs of 500 to 10,000 sheets, the 74 Karat features fast makereadies — from RIP to production printing takes 15 minutes. The press also can be equipped with a water-based varnishing unit for immmediate printing of the reverse of the sheet using the same form. Its high accuracy makes the 74 Karat suitable for jobs that are received and handled through the Internet.

The 74 Karat uses standardized printing processes, combined with the best of digital technology, to open new markets for printers interested in short- to medium-run business. The 74 Karat is an outstanding alternative to other DI presses in its class.

Committed to innovation

For 185 years, Koenig & Bauer has driven technological innovation for the benefit of its customers. Its Rapida presses are at the cutting edge of technology in commercial, book and package printing. KBA is now entering the small-format market with the Genius 52. And the 74 Karat digital offset press is opening new market opportunities for printers worldwide.

KBA's strong sheetfed offerings are combined with a range of web presses for diverse printing processes. As well as strong showings in both newspaper and commercial offset presses, Koenig & Bauer is the world's No. 1 manufacturer of highly automated publication rotogravure presses. Adding to the mix are press configurations of directory offset presses and banknote/security applications. In fact, more than 90 percent of all banknotes worldwide are printed on Koenig & Bauer presses made in Germany and Austria.

It is the technical creativity and innovative thinking within KBA that make these achievements possible. Such achievements, however, are not possible without the constructive support and critical judgement of printers throughout the country. And so, working with its customers to develop exactly the right press configuration for the right application is what KBA continues to excel in. Its vision of the future: to bring versatility, productivity and innovation to the art and science of print.

“With its world-class technology coupled with great training and service programs, KBA is strongly positioned to make a major impact on the North American market,” points out Eric Frank, vice president of marketing. “We invite the printing industry to keep a close eye on KBA this year. Look for new innovations and detailed information about increasing productivity and improving profitability with KBA's extensive line of presses.”

The 40-inch backbone

Des Moines, IA, may not be the center of your universe, but it is the center of Acme Printing's print market. Acme is a commercial printing operation that has made a name for itself by producing top-notch multicolor marketing materials, along with “a ton of” black-and-white and two-color work.

“We were growing, and looking for something more versatile than the four-color press we had,” explains owner Jerry Miller. “Since we are trying to move into the packaging and point-of-purchase (POP) market, we wanted a press that could run lightweight up to board stock. The KBA Rapida 105 has that capability. We also wanted to speed our makereadies and washups because of our positioning in a short-run market. Lastly, we needed a press that ran much faster than our existing unit.”

Acme Printing finalized on the purchase of a 41-inch Rapida 105 six-color with aqueous coating. “That configuration came closest to fitting the majority of the work we do. Today, the KBA Rapida is the backbone of our 40-inch work,” maintains Miller.

In fact, Miller is delighted with his pressroom purchase. “This is the first time I ever bought a piece of equipment that exceeded my expectations,” enthuses the Iowa executive. “We were particularly pleased with the training and follow-up service. We run 24/5 and have never had to call on KBA's strong maintenance service. But I'm confident that KBA would be out here anytime, seven days a week if necessary.”

A stroke of Genius

Set to make its U.S. debut in 2004, the Genius 52 from KBA is designed to handle high-quality short-run color. Ultra-compact, with a unique press configuration, the Genius is a 20-inch sheetfed that will be available with four or five units.

Printing units on the Genius 52 are arranged as V-shaped assemblies around a central impression cylinder. An aqueous coater will be offered as an alternative to the fifth unit. Each sheet is printed in one gripper bite, with no sheet transfer, so registration is always 100 percent accurate. The inking units are keyless, similar to those of the 74 Karat, delivering high-quality print. Unlike the Karat, however, the Genius does not incorporate on-press imaging.

The anilox rollers, ink form rollers, plate cylinders and blanket cylinders all have the same diameter to guarantee a ghost-free reproduction — an attractive feature in this format.

The Genius is designed for flexibility, and can handle anything from 38 lb. paper and 19 pt. board to 32 pt. plastic and film. For smaller-scale operations whose market survival often depends on nimble footwork, such flexibility can mean the difference between thriving or diving into financial difficulty.

Designed for one-person operations, the Genius features a touch-screen control console that can be slid from the feeder to the delivery for greater convenience. The absence of dampeners and ink keys means that the operator has fewer parameters to control than on a conventional press — no ink/water balance and no ink preset.

Along with Toray waterless analog plates, the Genius 52 accepts Presstek, Kodak Polychrome and Toray waterless digital plates, which can be imaged on most 830nm thermal platesetters.

A UV version of the Genius with an extended delivery, for printing plastic, is available from KBA.

Karat adds sparkle to the bottom line

Print Craft, a diversified printing and publishing company based in New Brighton, MN, a suburb of St. Paul, knows what its customers want. Its largest division is commercial print but the printer also is involved with reselling editorial content. In 2000, the firm was looking for a digital press that could more economically handle its magazine reprint business. Print Craft subsequently installed a 74 Karat from KBA in January of 2001.

“The 29-inch format of the 74 Karat was appealing because of the reprint market that we serve. It allowed us to gang more reprints on one press sheet,” explains Bill Calengor, president of Print Craft. “After we had the 74 Karat for a while, however, we started to develop its use on the commercial print side of the business. Today the Karat is used equally by the commercial and reprint divisions. It has allowed us to do smaller runs at higher margins by streamlining the entire workflow. The digital 74 Karat eliminates steps in both prepress and press makeready operations.”

Print Craft keeps a close eye on its costs. The printer's estimating system automatically does side-by-side cost comparisons between Print Craft's offset and digital presses. “After reviewing the comparisons, it was hard to ignore the pricing that the Karat allowed us to offer. So we targeted commercial customers as a new market for the digital press. We found opportunities to delve into the customer relationship to generate more business from established clients or to get in the door with new clients. Having the Karat has worked out well for us,” says Calengor.

Print Craft's press is unique in that it runs seven days a week. “We have 20 million impressions on the Karat. It's a full production machine doing a little less than one million impressions a month. We are looking to add a fourth shift, which would run the press 24 hours a day, six days a week. Currently we run seven days but three of them are only 12-hour shifts,” explains the president.

Clients are happy with the quality, says Calengor, and the Karat has presented new opportunities for selling profitable jobs. Plus, with all the heavy use the Karat gets, regular maintenance is important to Print Craft. “The service team from KBA is made up of a great group of people,” says the print executive.

Bigger is better

Specializing in greeting cards, packaging and point-of-purchase is the foundation upon which Concord Litho has built its $45 million business. In such an environment, long runs are typical, and a large-format press allows Concord to print 30 or 40 greeting cards across a sheet, thereby speeding production and improving its efficiencies. The printer's KBA seven-color with coater also is configured to do six-over-one perfecting, allowing Concord to print greeting cards in one pass.

“Our efficiencies with a KBA Rapida 162 64-inch press are improved because of the time we save in makereadies — whether with a long-run or shorter run job,” says Peter Cook, CEO of Concord Litho.

The KBA press is well-suited to improve makereadies because of the press electronics, says Cook. “The Rapida uses digital data to set automated features on the press. Since we use computer-to-plate workflows, we can use color data from the prepress department for setting ink keys automatically,” relates the CEO.

“Using the KBA 64-inch press has resulted in three major improvements,” he continues. “The first is semi-automatic plate changing, which speeds makeready. The second is that the modes of the press are controlled from the console. And the third feature that improves productivity is the software that lets us take color data from our prepress to set functions on the press.”

Installed since July of 2002, the Rapida 162 seven-color sheetfed press with coater has improved operations at Concord Litho in other ways. “We used to have six presses before we purchased the KBA 64-inch,” explains Cook. “They ranged in size from 40 inches to 70 inches. Currently we have two 64-inch presses. One of the nice things about the KBA Rapida press is that it is so efficient it does the work of several older presses.”

Cook also is enthusiastic about the KBA service. “It's been great. The new press has remote diagnostics, which allows us to dial in and solve problems over a modem. KBA technicians can troubleshoot from a remote location. In some cases they can fix the problem by downloading new software or at least understand what part needs to be adjusted. Plus KBA has service offices all over the country, which is an added benefit,” concludes Cook.