Concerns are rising about the selective news consumption habits of US readers in this election year. Facing decreased circulation numbers and poor advertising spend, some large cities, which for decades had dual and dueling daily newspapers—one leaning Democratic, the other with Republican...
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While conventional web offset presses still hum at daily and weekly newspapers across the US, digital rumblings are nothing new in the printing industry. Sixteen Graph Expo shows have come and gone since Benny Landa, inventor of the Indigo digital color press, boldly predicted, "Everything that can become digital will become digital." (Landa, who sold his technology to Hewlett-Packard for $800 million 10 years ago, reportedly will debut digital nanographic printing presses that use invisible "HD" ink at drupa in May.) While HP leans toward proprietary technology for digital applications due to the strength of its market position, other companies embrace a more open architecture. Some rather unusual pairings have emerged in the past 18 months to lead the print innovation charge. You can see them at drupa exhibiting together, many for the first time: press manufacturer KBA and mega-printer RR Donnelley; manroland and Océ; Konica Minolta selling Screen's Truepress Jet520 and partnering with Kodak.
There is no argument that the print medium has changed and continues to evolve. That is precisely why offset press maker manroland and Océ—now part of Canon—are expected to roll out a new digital press platform for newspapers and other users. "We are not competing against digital," Vince Lapinski, manroland, Inc.'s CEO in North America, said of the alliance. "What we're trying to do is optimize current products and look at new markets that we [manroland] are not in right now. Océ's strengths are more on the transactional print side, and we want to bring their expertise to the graphic arts."
KBA and RR Donnelley, North America's largest printer, have big plans, too. The dynamic duo plans a drupa debut of the piezoelectric-based inkjet press they've agreed to develop, manufacture, and sell. Targets in their print sights include the commercial, newspaper, packaging, and security sectors. KBA has licensed Donnelley's Apollo digital technology to use in its own presses. The interesting thing about Apollo is that its inkjet heads don't jet ink. Donnelley R&D has developed a way of using the heads to apply an ink-resistant substance to subtract part of an offset litho produced image (much like a photographic negative blocks light) as it is being printed. "The implications are significant," InfoTrends senior consultant Barney Cox wrote in his blog. "Producing variable data using standard stocks and inks on an existing heatset web offset press blows the economics of other digital processes out of the water."
Also at drupa, TKS (Tokyo Kikai Seisakusho, Ltd.) will show a roll-fed digital press called the JetLeader 1500, which employs drop-on-demand (DOD) inkjet technology with water-based inks. It can produce newspapers, tabloids, magazines, digests, and variable sheet cutting—all inline. The press delivers a resolution of 600x600 dpi at speeds up to 492 feet per minute (fpm). It offers a web width of 24 inches, or 12 inches for a broadsheet. The JetLeader can be configured as a standalone press or incorporated with offset for hybrid printing. There are no click charges, and customers can use consumables such as ink and paper—46 to 130 g/sqm groundwood, ordinary and inkjet—from vendors of their choice.
Meanwhile, many still wonder whether wide inkjet web presses mark the future of news in print. First seen at drupa 2008, wider inkjet web presses now are reproducing books and direct mail, and the technology soon may find its way into newspaper applications. Indeed, the future of newspaper production may include fewer pages, smaller circulations, more color, different formats, more personalization, more decentralized printing centers, and more niche products. Localized printing on demand helps keep international newspapers viable and relevant overseas, and the trend has come to the States as well.
Last year, HP unveiled a wider (42-inch web), faster, fourth-generation inkjet model—the T400—that makes the concept of mass customization even more of a reality. The digital press runs at speeds up to 600 fpm and can print 5,200 full-color, letter-size pages per minute. Its smaller cousin, the 30-inch T300, features output capacities as high as 70 million pages per month. Hewlett-Packard has more than 20 global installations of full-color inkjet webs (a total of 42 print engines) with a production volume amounting to some three billion pages, it reported. But they're being used primarily for book and direct mail application, not newspapers, despite claims to the contrary four years ago. The problem, HP said, is that while some newspaper publishers may have the vision, cash flow still is a problem for these multimillion-dollar digital press investments. (Still, expect the OEM to roll out some new wrinkles in Dusseldorf come May.)