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On the double

Jul 1, 2007 12:00 AM

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Perfecting presses are becoming increasingly popular as U.S. printers continue to seek operating efficiencies and a competitive edge in tight markets. Although perfecting tends to run slower than printing one side straight through, users report it cuts press checks and turnaround times roughly in half. Automation features on press amp up productivity even further. If these stories are any indication, perfecting just keeps looking better and better.

Low cost, high volume

“The benefit is twice the amount of work with the same amount of people,” says Michael Keene, president and CEO of John Roberts Co. (Minneapolis). The $70 million/year web, sheetfed and digital printing company replaced a straight six-color press with a 10-color Heidelberg (Kennesaw, GA) Speedmaster SM 102 perfector in November 2005. “Mostly, it was purchased to handle the existing work more efficiently and create some additional capacity,” Keene explains.

No stranger to perfecting, Keene notes the newest technology for the company on its sixth Heidelberg press is its CutStar variable-cutoff sheeter, which results in significant paper savings: “It costs at least 20 if not 40 percent, depending on the stock, less than sheets.”

The SM 102 has aqueous coating capability in the fifth and tenth units. “No UV on this press,” Keene notes, but the firm recently installed a Heidelberg 105 XL 6-color plus coater with UV capabilities.

“In my past experience with perfecting, it didn't work very well with coating,” says Keene. “But after seeing a number of demos and testing the press, we were convinced that we could print our jobs with relatively heavy coverage on coated stock and perfect without marking. And that's something.”

The Speedmaster 102 is rated at 13,000 sph in straight and perfecting modes (12,000 sph straight and perfecting for the 10-color model). Keene notes that Heidelberg's recent developments, the cylinder jackets' ability to put the sheet through on the back side without marking has been especially beneficial. The surface of the cylinder jackets have been engineered to repel inks, reduce ink buildup and prolong the intervals between washup cycles. The SM 102 TransferJacket in each color unit has a special coating, whereas the PerfectJacket in the perfecting unit has an irregular surface structure that minimizes contact with the freshly printed sheet.

“On perfecting jobs, productivity has doubled,” says Keene. He notes that while they run mainly 4/4 and 5/5 jobs on the press, they have done some interesting eight-, nine- and 10-color jobs that required two passes.

According to Keene, the company's sales have been growing at a 10 percent rate, this year. With its expanded capabilities and perhaps the highest level of streamlined automation possible, John Roberts is primed for print competition.

Over-the-top capabilities

Unimac Graphics' (Carlstadt, NJ) 146,000-sq.-ft. facility in Carlstadt, NJ, houses a stable of 10 presses, web and sheetfed. Unimac produces a full range of print for its clients in the advertising, entertainment and fashion industries, to name a few. The firm purchased a KBA (Williston, VT) Rapida 142 56-inch, eight-color perfector plus coater at Graph Expo 2004 to complement its 5/1 Rapida 162 64-inch perfector purchased in 2000.

“We do a lot of 4/1 and 5/1 work, and perfecting cuts our turnaround times in half,” says Steve Rickett, COO. The 4/4 Rapida 142 perfector expanded Unimac's capabilities to perfecting two-side multicolor work. “The reason for the purchase was, No. 1, as a perfector it's in better competition against small web runs, where we're able to run 4/4,” says Rickett. “And you get sheetfed quality — the webs are really good, but you're not going to get sheetfed quality on a web.” He determines whether to run a job sheetfed or web based on a range of cost considerations, from the number of impressions to the layout and sheet size.

“[The Rapida 142] marries up to our die-cutters for packaging work, and it's conducive to getting more into a layout,” says Rickett. “It's twice the output of a 40-inch press no matter how you look at it, and if you're perfecting, it's four times the output. So, economics and speed [are key factors].” Rated at 12,000 sph (10,000 sph for full-color perfecting), the press accepts a maximum 40 × 56-inch sheet, which accommodates 32 pages per sheet vs. a 41-inch press sheet's 16 pages.

The hybrid Rapida 142 at Unimac Graphics has automatic plate loading and closed-loop color control, which is used on each press throughout the shop. “It can do aqueous, and it's generally set up for UV,” Rickett notes.

The press units have no jackets — a side benefit in cost savings from having the cylinders finished for running plastics. Says Rickett, “We run packaging work, foils and metallized mylars, styrenes, Tyvek, polyesters, and paper. We're running a lot of specialty jobs on it. And it's equipped with UV inline, so we're putting down opaque whites, curing them and printing over the top.”

With the wide-ranging capabilities of its new press, Unimac Graphics has grown its sales from $63 million in 2004 to about $80 million today.

Speeding to new business

The Canterbury Press in Rome, NY, installed a MAN Roland (Westmont, IL) 40-inch ROLAND 700 perfector in December 2006. “We updated an older press and added perfecting capability,” says Mike Keil, production manager.

The employee-owned company was an early adopter of lean manufacturing practices — a philosophy they ratcheted up even further with the automated, printnet-controlled ROLAND 700. The press is rated at 16,000 sph in straight-through mode; 12,000 perfecting.

“Our customers were looking for quicker turn times, and this [press] gives us the ability to produce the same products in a shorter amount of time,” says Keil. “We had not been perfecting four-color work — we had been perfecting one- and two-color work, but this press replaced an older, straight four-color press.”

Canterbury offers full services from design through fulfillment and database management for periodical and commercial printing jobs. It expanded from six-color to eight-color capability with the addition of the ROLAND 700. At installation, Dale Rashford, vice president of sales and marketing, commented, “Our main objective will be to use our new print technology to expand our market reach into midlevel quantity opportunities in the publication arena, where we can produce larger runs faster and more economically.”

The shop also replaced the sheeter from the old press, purchasing a new roll-to-sheet converter with the MAN Roland perfector. “It's cheaper to buy paper that way,” Keil notes. “We're running 50 percent faster — on average 10,000 sph — and the sheeter keeps up with that, not a problem.”

Productivity is up for Canterbury press, and Keil says the more they get used to the press, the smoother it runs. “We're still in the learning curve — we haven't been running long enough to have any definitive metrics, but we're having better luck meeting the schedules. It's a wonderful thing.”

MAN Roland (Westmont, IL) recently unveiled the DirectDrive Roland 700 press at the company's “World premiere Roland 700 next generation” event in Offenbach, Germany. Cited as an ideal technology for long perfectors with 8, 10 and 12 printing units, DirectDrive is expected to reduce makeready time on these presses by 60 percent or more.

Diamonds in the ‘Big D’

“We're putting all of our work on perfecting presses,” says Dave Johnson, CEO of Buchanan Visual Communications (Dallas). “[Perfecting] allows you to cut press checks in half. It enables you to get more product out the door on an hourly basis.”

Buchanan is a $22 million/year firm founded 1956 by a man named Earl Buchanan. Lyn and Dave Johnson bought the firm in 1980, and in 2003, they phased out conventional presses in favor of perfectors.

The firm runs three 40-inch sheetfed MLP perfectors in its 75,000-sq.-ft. plant: a four-color and an eight-color Diamond 3000R with single coaters; and a 12-color Double Diamond perfector equipped for aqueous and UV coating installed in September 2006.

Buchanan does work for agencies and graphic designers, corporate commercial printing and work for inventory control providers. “This new press has UV coating capabilities, which has opened up a new market for us in plastics,” Dave adds. “Now we do static clings, plastics for packaging, backlit signage and other plastics work.”

Buchanan's 17-unit, 12-color D3000R-CC press prints up to 13,000 sph and is configured for conventional inks, UV-curable inks and coatings, and hybrid UV/aqueous. Chamber/anilox coaters are located after the sixth and twelfth printing units, enabling the press to print and coat both sides of the sheet in one pass. Two dryers can be positioned after printing units two, four or six, and stub unit dryers are included before and after the coaters.

The 40-inch Mitsubishi Diamond 3000R-CC convertible perfector is geared toward the high-end commercial market. Dubbed the “Double Diamond” for its dual tower coaters, it has a three-cylinder sheet reversing unit and double-gripper mechanism to ensure smooth sheet transfer an accurate front-to-back registration. Ceramic jackets are mounted on all impression cylinders after the perfecting unit to prevent ink buildup. The press handles up to 12-pt. board in perfecting mode; up to 24-pt. board in straight print mode.

The Johnsons hosted an open house in April with Mitsubishi Lithographic Presses (MLP) (Lincolnshire, IL). MLP's technicians demonstrated two applications on Buchanan's new press. First, a flat-sheet piece was printed on 100-lb. gloss text using hybrid four-color process inks, a PMS spot color, strike-through effect varnish and UV gloss coating. After a quick changeover, they ran a poster on 100-lb. cover using 11 hybrid inks including four-color process, four-color process with fluorescence, PMS spot colors and metallic PMS spot colors. A strike-through (dull) varnish was applied to the background, with a final UV gloss coat enhancing the center image.

The shop uses X-Rite closed-loop color control on all three of its presses, which have CIP3/4 connectivity to prepress, but Lyn Johnson, marketing director, notes that the coating can deepen colors or otherwise change their appearance to print buyers. A chip chart printed on the firm's own presses helps customers determine the best inks for their jobs. “The object is to help them have confidence in our reproducing the color they specify for a job,” says Lyn.

Dave adds, “We want to be able to go to the design people and say, ‘Here's what we can do,’ and let them further enhance their designs using the additional capabilities on the press.”

Something different

Dallas printer ColorDynamics' Komori (Rolling Meadows, IL) Lithrone S40P 10-color perfector with UV and aqueous coating has been up and running since October 2006. The 130,000-sq.-ft. plant houses three web presses and another three sheetfed presses. Its approximately 200 employees run jobs including annual reports, catalogs, corporate brochures, advertising pieces, magazine inserts and direct mail. ColorDynamics currently generates approximately $40 million in annual sales, a figure that is expected to grow as the new press takes on additional work.

“We've had real good reception from a lot of our customers,” says Chuck Chalifoux, president of ColorDynamics, noting they've received RFQs from new prospects through referrals from their existing client base. The new press has helped optimize production for some of the company's current clients, allowing them to print certain jobs web and run others on the Komori sheetfed press. “One press check does a lot for people,” he adds. Previously, ColorDynamics customers had to come in for two press checks: one for each side. “It's a convenience,” he says. “Their time is very valuable, and we respect that.”

This is the first Komori press installed in the United States with a true tower coater after the fifth unit. It can perfect 12-pt. sheets sized 28.375 × 40.56 inches maximum, up to five colors plus coatings; in straight mode, 10 colors plus two coating can run on stocks as heavy as 24 pt. Automatic plate hanging and closed-loop color enable quick makereadies. “We took out two older presses and increased our capacity by 40 percent with the automation [on the new press],” says Chalifoux. “With the automated makeready and perfecting run speeds as high as 11,000 sph, most jobs will be completed in half the time.”

At an open house held early this year, they put the Lithrone S40P through its paces, demonstrating automated changeover from straight to perfecting, and printing a sample job with hybrid inks both UV coated and uncoated on a variety of stock thicknesses. The press units are configured 5/5, with UV curing units and IR driers positioned midpress and in the delivery to cure the sheets as they go through each step in the run. Double-diameter cylinders enable the press to perfect 24-pt. board. The scanning station includes a spectrodensitometer that enables automated, on-the-fly ink key setting corrections.

A second demonstration covered conventional printing of the same image with aqueous coating, so attendees could compare the traditional output to hybrid/UV.

“The majority of [clients] we talked to wanted five colors with coating, they all wanted to make sure we could coat two sides, and not everyone wanted UV — so the aqueous coating is important to us,” says Chalifoux. The press gives the company a point of differentiation, enabling it to offer, as he puts it, “something different.”

Denise Kapel is managing editor of AMERICAN PRINTER. Contact her at

Streamlined for full steam

“I've long believed the future of printing is in low-cost production and high quality,” says Dean Demers, president of Ultra Graphics (Columbus, NE), a full-service commercial printer established in 1984. “Perfecting is extremely important if you want to [sell] inserts that go inside product packaging. Those people all get graded on unit cost, period.”

Ultra Graphics also prints books. “Perfecting is the only way you can get black-and-white books,” Demers says. “We do 20,000 books up to 84 pages, we are very competitively priced on those, and we're able to make money at it. That's the name of the game.”

In August 2006, the company installed an ADAST 747P four-color, 19.125 × 26-inch perfector to replace an older ADAST press. “We've been very happy with it,” Demers says. “It replaced one of the same, except this one is new and it has the AdaControl console, so it's all interfaced.” The ink key presets are done automatically, and the press has automatic plate loaders and blanket washers. “The makeready time is substantially faster than what we've had in the past,” he adds.

With a four-color perfector, Ultra Graphics can produce the work its ad agency and marketing clients want at a competitive price. “If you look at this press compared to the other ADAST presses we've had, the number of moving parts to wear out has probably dropped by a third, and yet, it prints at a higher quality,” says Demers. “It's got four oscillating forms — that helps with ghosting, hickeys and things of that nature.” The 747P also perfects cover stock, thanks to some new technology. “A special sensor checks the sheet position after grabbing the tail,” he explains. “If the sheet is not in the gripper perfectly, it instantly pops open all four units so you don't drop a cylinder or damage gripper bars.”

The press is rated at 10,000 sph for straight jobs; 7,500 sph perfecting. “I know there are a lot of sheetfed presses out there that are rated faster, but we don't have to have ink coolers,” says Demers. He typically targets the ADAST 747P to perfect at about 9,000 sph.

A foundation for differentiation

Success Printing, a one-shift, $4 million/year commercial shop in Norwalk, CT, has run perfectors since opening its doors 20 years ago. “It was a start-up business, and perfectors have given us a little more versatility — we can put 2/2 work on the press and keep it busy all the time,” says Bill Roos, vice president in charge of production.

The firm installed a Ryobi (Lenexa, KS) 755 XLP two years ago, when run lengths surpassed the capabilities of its 14 × 20-inch perfector. The 755 XLP is a five-color, six-up, 23 × 29-inch press rated at up to 15,000 sph, with Ryobi's semiautomatic plate changer and several automation features that are new to Success Printing. “We have an inline densitometer on it, and it has all the ink volume setting software we didn't have before,” Roos notes. “It connects right to the plates, reads the densities and presets all the ink fountains. It sets up the delivery and the feeder automatically, and it goes into perfecting in just a couple of minutes. That's all new with this press.”

Success Printing also runs a Ryobi 524 perfecting press and a small-format Heidelberg Quickmaster. “We do everything from color and black-and-white copies to the 23 × 29-inch, five-color perfector with the coater on it,” Roos explains.

Variable-data printing is a recent area of interest for Roos and the Success team. They have two monochrome Docutech 135np production printers and a color Xerox 6060. The shop runs variable-data jobs on the 6060 and draws the line between digital and offset production at where cost savings can be achieved.

“We're about 70 percent offset,” says Roos. “That's why we're really going to try to make a push over the next couple years to get heavier into the digital market. We're hoping use this [Ryobi 755 XLP] press to drive digital and use the digital presses to drive business for this press.”

Since installing the new Ryobi perfector, Roos estimates Success Printing's productivity is up about 30 percent. “This press probably will be our flagship press for quite a while,” he says.

Stack 'em up

Our perfector coverage continutes next month with a look at stacked perfectors, a double-decker alternative to long perfectors. Akiyama (Cerritos, CA) and Komori (Rolling Meadows, IL) offer distinct 4/4 configurations with a twist: The presses do not flip the sheet to print the second side.

The Jprint from Akiyama, available in several formats, maintains the same gripper edge throughout the run to ensure accurate register with no difference in image quality from front to back. Running at up to 13,000 sph, Jprint offers automated plate loading and washup, and allows height adjustments on the fly.

Komori's Lithrone LS40SP Super Perfector offers a compact footprint, five-minute fully automated plate changing across 10 units, minimal gripper changes and an output that's competive with web press productivity. Stay tuned!