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Roll goals

Jun 1, 2007 12:00 AM

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For many years, roll sheeting was something most printers preferred to leave to their packaging counterparts. But as long perfectors have gained popularity, some printers are finding that sheeters do, indeed, prosper. In addition to dramatic paper savings, other advantages include enhanced versatility and better print quality.

C. Clint Bolte, president of consultancy C. Clint Bolte and Associates (Chambersburg, PA), notes that in-house sheeters are typically found at printers specializing in packaging/label printing and envelope converting. “The two things these firms have in common are stock standardization and the need for a variety of sizes,” says Bolte. He adds that sheetfed printers generally add sheeting capabilities for two reasons: “the cost of the roll stock vs. converter sheeted products” and “ever-quicker turnaround times required to deliver the finished product.”

Offline or inline?

Should a printer opt for inline or offline sheeting? Volume will influence some printers' decisions; a larger operation might be able to justify a standalone sheeting operation. “Inline sheeting will save the labor of an offline operation, along with the space and costs of pallets and storing sheeted product,” says Bolte. “On the negative side, the inline unit requires electronic integration, a dancer accumulator to adjust for fluctuating press speeds, and it is limited to producing either grain long or grain short.”

Offline sheeters, Bolte explains, can deliver both short or long grain stock, simply by shifting the position of the pallet receiving the sheeted product. Stock is delivered straight for grain long production of full size signatures, or at a right angle for grain short, smaller trim book signatures.

Bolte estimates the cost for an inline or offline sheeter ranges from $450,000 to $500,000.

Three sheeters, no waiting

Strine Printing (York, PA) has three offline sheeters to supply stock for a dozen offset presses, including a MAN Roland 73-inch, UV-equipped 900 XXL press and two MAN Roland 56-inch presses.

“When you start buying rolls vs. sheets, your savings can range anywhere from two to 15 percent, depending on the substrate,” says David Kornbau, vice president of operations. “You can take the price advantage and put more margin in the job, or consider going with a lower price and earning the business that way.”

The 400-employee, $80 million printing and packaging operation is among the largest in the Northeast United States. “We're one of the most unique and diversified printers in the country,” says Kornbau. Strine's work is split about evenly between printing and packaging. The company produces everything from greeting cards to pocket folders, and point-of-purchase and plastics jobs.

Strine added its first sheeter about five years ago and currently sheets about 95 percent of its stock. Although the primary goal was to alleviate pricing pressure, the printer has reaped some unexpected additional benefits. “We found sheeting our own stock helped with runnability issues,” says Kornbau. “Controlling trim dirt and that kind of stuff helped make it an even more positive move.”

Because Strine prints on a variety of sheet sizes and substrates, offline sheeting was the best option. Its newest sheeter from Maxson (Westerly, RI) joined a legacy sheeter and one from a European vendor. “We chose the Maxson sheeter because it was known for its versatility with paper grades and board,” says Kornbau. “We also needed a sheeter that runs upwards of an 80-inch sheet. Maxson was local — we worked with them on pricing, parts, service and customer support.”

Strine hired an experienced sheeting manager to run its three sheeters, but Kornbau says the equipment poses few operational challenges: “It's the least complex thing we have. Converting isn't a scary add-on. It's more capital intensive, but it isn't as difficult as some people might think.”

Getting the economic edge

Three of Hammer Packaging's 10 presses are equipped with sheeters. “We're in the packaging business,” explains Jim Hammer, president of the 95-year-old company. “It's all based on economics.”

Hammer specializes in labels for the food and beverage industry. Customers include Nestle Waters NA, Dannon, Cadbury Schweppes Americas Beverages, Coca-Cola and Pepsico. The $87 million company employs more than 400 people at five plants with a combined 375,000 sq. ft.

Hammer Packaging owns a sheeting subsidiary located about five miles away from its main plant. In 2004, the company installed its first press with an inline sheeter, an eight-color Heidelberg Speedmaster CD 102 with a CutStar unit.

“Heidelberg was the first to market with the CutStar sheeter, and they pursued the packaging market aggressively with it,” says Hammer. “We were very impressed — the press did everything they said it could do. We added two more Speedmasters, also with CutStars.”

In 2005, Hammer installed a seven-color, 64-inch KBA press with a Grafech Engineering (Portage, IN) sheeter. “It was the first installation of a sheeter for a press of this size,” says Hammer.

Litho-based cut-and-stack labels comprise 95 percent of Hammer's product mix, with flexo printed pressure-sensitive labels accounting for the rest.

“We run a significant amount of OPP and film in general,” says Hammer. “Film is growing faster than paper as a label substrate, and roll-fed makes a lot more sense than sheetfed for film.” (See “Making Advances,” September 2006,

Hammer says inline sheeting provides an economic edge in a difficult industry. “In many cases, we are competing with overseas companies,” he notes, “and with the dollar vs. the euro, it's a bit of a challenge. Most of the material we're using is made in Asia.”

In addition to inflationary pressures, Hammer must deal with another market reality: a customer base that won't accept price increases.

Sheeting for short-run books

Book printer McNaughton & Gunn (Saline, MI) also likes the economics of inline sheeting. The family owned and operated company was among the first printers to add a sheeter to a large-format press. In January 2007, one year after installing its two-color KBA Rapida 130a press, McNaughton & Gunn put a Grafech inline roll sheeter on the press.

Julie McFarland, McNaughton & Gunn's CEO, says the company was seeking paper savings as well as “the flexibility the sheeter gives us for running different size sheets, reducing waste when we run books that are not standard size.”

Founded in 1975, McNaughton & Gunn specializes in short to midrange runs of black-and-white books. An average run for its Rapida 130a is 2,500 copies.

Bringing margins back

Branch-Smith Printing (Fort Worth, Texas) recently installed a 51-inch KBA perfecting press with a Grafech sheeter. The publication printer retrofitted two existing eight-color Speedmasters and one two-color Speedmaster with Mabeg sheeters a few years ago. Daniel Hanson, Branch-Smith's GM, saw a Mabeg sheeter inline with Ultra Litho's (Johannesburg, South Africa) 8-unit Rapida 105 press. The sheeter on the long perfector isn't at a right angle — it was the first inline (or “straight”) configuration Hanson had seen. “In 2000, a sheeter that was short grain inline with the press was a fairly new thing,” he recalls. In 2001, Hanson and the Branch-Smith team decided to test the sheeting waters with a used Mabeg sheeter retrofitted to the company's two-color 40-inch press. “Measuring our paper costs, we could see the benefits,” says Hanson. “We realized it was a good deal.”

In August 2001, Branch-Smith added its second eight-color Speedmaster. The company wanted to add sheeters to both of its eight-color presses, but there were none on the used market. According to Hanson, Heidelberg's CutStar sheeter wasn't an option because it required CP 2000 consoles, which Branch-Smith doesn't have. “To their credit, Heidelberg put us in touch with Mabeg, which as that time was owned by MAN Roland,” he says. “Heidelberg installed the new sheeters on the presses in November 2002.”

Branch-Smith determined that producing 32-page 4/4 signatures offered many production efficiencies. When evaluating large-format press options, Branch-Smith insisted on an inline sheeter. “The KBA press wouldn't have worked for us without it,” says Hanson. “We couldn't have a press that ran faster but with higher paper costs, especially when moving jobs from the 40-inch press to the new one.”

The Texas printer was eager to work with a U.S. supplier, so KBA suggested Branch-Smith contact Grafech. Hanson followed up with some of Grafech's customers and visited the Grafech manufacturing facility in Indiana, which was producing the McNaughton & Gunn sheeter. Branch-Smith and Grafech established a delivery schedule, and all went according to plan. “Grafech performed,” says Hanson. “They are outstanding engineers.”

In addition to paper savings, inline sheeting provides a cleaner sheet. “If you buy a skid of 70-lb. gloss book paper, it's cut four rolls at a time,” says Hanson. “With every turn, the knife is cutting through four ribbons, exploding the coating and creating microscopic particles of paper and coating dust. When you reshingle the paper, the four sheets are still together and the dust is trapped between the layers of paper. It's harder to remove, and the first blanket on paper often will lint up. Inline sheeting eliminates that problem.”

Branch-Smith says the new press is part of its effort to re-engineer margins back into the business. “It's changed our binding formulas,” says Hanson. “The largest of our two perfect binders has 20 gathering pockets. Now, it's like having a 40-pocket perfect binder. We can bind 640 8.5 × 11-inch pages in a single pass without any hand drops. For lower-count books, we can turn a 32-page job as fast as we used to turn a 16-page one.”

Katherine O'Brien is the editor of AMERICAN PRINTER. Contact her at

Grafech goes large

Grafech Engineering has six sheeter installations in North America on KBA large-format presses and several more in the works. Ray McMahon founded Grafech in 2002 as an engineering design and development company. McMahon, formerly the head of Baldwin Technology's Inline Finishing Div., says inline sheeting is a natural fit for today's large-format presses.

“Our customers' ROI ranges from six to 18 months,” he says. “Any printer that can use this technology has a definite competitive advantage. Roll sheeting lets you save up to 20 percent of the cost of paper and board, as well as run materials that don't work well in a pile format.”

Straight line

Grafech's sheeters feed paper through the press in a straight line. “We are inline with the press and feed the sheet grain long into the press,” says McMahon. “We deliver an undershingled stream of product following the timing and camming of the press as it ramps up to speed. Th electronics and servo drives produce a very accurate sheet cutoff than easily can be sized for the required trimout, saving paper and ultimately making jobs more profitable.”

A shaftless design is easier on operators. “The core shaft you would typically see on older style machines would be too heavy for an operator to manipulate,” says McMahon. “With our sheeter, it only takes three or four minutes to change a roll and get a machine online. You program via a color touchscreen the cutoff you want to run, make one mechanical adjustment on the table, and you can run.”

Forty inches plus

Grafech Engineering offers machines in sizes ranging from 40 to 81 inches. The company also offers local services and parts on a 24/7 basis.

Branching out

When Branch-Smith added a 51-inch KBA perfector with a Grafech sheeter, it added a few other things, too. Prepress got a VLF Kodak Magnus platesetter, and the bindery got a Heidelberg TD-94 Stahlfolder as well as a 61-inch POLAR cutting system. And GM Daniel Hanson got an education in heavy construction.

To accommodate the new press, Branch-Smith had to work within the constraints imposed by its three-story concrete building. The pressroom's ceiling was several inches too low. But, given the concrete construction, expanding skyward was impossible. So Branch-Smith dug deep — its new press is 16.5 inches lower than the rest of the pressroom.

Dancing on the ceiling

Hanson explains that the “dance floor,” as some people call the console area behind the delivery of a large-format press, is level with original plant floor. “But as you go behind the dance floor, everything is 16.5 inches lower. We had to excavate and pour a pad at that height to give us the ceiling clearance.”

Branch-Smith also had to make changes to accommodate the length of the new press. “With the sheeter engaged on this press, we needed about 100 feet,” says Hanson. “We needed to create a pretty big bowling alley.”

This meant reconfiguring virtually every area of the plant. “The roll sheeter, in its retracted position, rolls underneath where our lobby used to be,” says Hanson.

To reduce noise and heat in the pressroom, the printer opted to put all the air cabinets outside in a separate building. “We took several 12-inch PVC pipes and ran them under the catwalks of the press,” Hanson explains. “They're buried underground, cored through the main building and they come up outside in the other building. On the gear side of the press, we have a clean walkway. It turned out very nice, but it was tricky.”

In addition to allowing two or three feet for the concrete, another foot and a half had to be allowed to provide sufficient room for the turns in the pipe. Some are buried as deep as six feet.

The postpress department also posed some challenges. As part of an overall capacity expansion, Branch-Smith added two Muller Martini perfect binders as well as two Stahlfolders. Stitching, mailing and packaging were relocated to the company's third floor, while folding, cutting and perfect binding moved to an adjoining building.

“The two buildings are connected,” explains Hanson. “We had to move our access to the bindery about eight feet over.”

Branch-Smith worked with a structural engineer to ensure “both buildings wouldn't fall in on each other as we moved,” says Hanson. Massive reinforced steel I-beams, “like something you'd see on a bridge,” according to Hanson, had to be sourced and installed.

Musical chairs

Branch-Smith began some preliminary work in October, but the “real” construction work started in January 2007. During the six-week construction period, Hanson says, “It was definitely musical chairs. We couldn't shut the plant down — the other three presses stayed in production and we had to ensure the bindery was accessible.”

Branch-Smith began running live jobs on its new KBA press in mid-April 2007. “The print quality is phenomenal,” says Hanson. “We're really impressed with the machine.”