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It's a Hybrid, Hybrid World

Responding to market needs and the continuing expansion of digital printing’s reach in the pressroom, offset press manufacturers are developing new technologies, supplying machines that can quickly and efficiently change over between jobs and produce good, sellable color using the minimal amount of sheets. They are making offset presses more efficient, in terms of shorter makeready times, more consistency from job-to-job and within each run, and the generation of less overall waste.

Offset presses continue to offer speed, print quality and cost effectiveness that are hard to beat when print volumes reach a few thousand copies.

But digital printing has its own set of strengths, allowing for personalization and versioning with variable data along with more economical shorter run, on-demand printing. Digital presses of all stripes continue to up their quality levels, posing even greater competition for offset machines.

More and more pressrooms contain both offset and digital printing equipment, allowing printers to employ hybrid printing techniques that combine the strengths of both types of equipment—a good thing for the industry, as digital platform continue to make inroads into traditional print venues. “The two technologies working together offers the graphics provider greater flexibility, allowing them to deliver their customers a broader range of options that are more customized, cost effective, and flexible for today’s business environment, ” observes John Sammis, president, Van Son Holland Ink.

In fact, many printing vendors, including Heidelberg, KBA, and manroland, offer both traditional offset and digital printing technologies. Others, such as Goss International, integrate inkjet capabilities into their offset press.

Van Son, recognizing the growth of the hybrid pressroom, expanded its line of “Laser Safe” ink products to allow for a trouble-free move to digital printing after initial sheet fed runs. To better adapt to the high heat requirements of most digital printers, Van Son is developing these inks to offer greater flexibility, actively working with digital printer OEM’s to ensure it is keeping pace with advancing requirements.

Finding The Best Solution

When considering an investment in print technologies, the decision should be based on which solution best suits the printers customer base, product offerings, and production requirements, says Andy Rae, Sr. Vice President, Marketing and Equipment, Heidelberg USA, Inc. “The investment should take into consideration which machine or machines offer the widest range and flexibility of production to capture as much business as possible within the target market, the total operating costs, and the ROI.”

For example, says Rae, “printing on an Anicolor offset press is more cost effective than printing on a digital solution for run-lengths greater than 200 sheets of static printing. Furthermore, at printing speeds of up to 15,000 sph, the same offset press is far less expensive and more suitable for printing longer run-lengths. The offset printing press can continue printing without stopping until the plates are worn, and of course there is no click charge.”

Anicolor inking technology, currently available for the Speedmaster SM 52, was exhibited on the Speedmaster XL 75 at drupa 2012. This technology enables the press to achieve good color in short run, job-to-job production using as little as 10 sheets in makeready, which contributes to highly efficient, high quality offset printing for short run production, says Rae.

“As a total solutions supplier, we have added a line of digital machines to our portfolio: the Linoprint C751, C901, and the Linoprint L,” notes Rae. “Through Prinect, we offer a digital front end workflow that can drive both digital and conventional processes using the same prepress and management workflow, including scheduling. This is what we mean by HEI Flexibility.”

The Lowest Cost

Jobs should be put on equipment that can produce it for the lowest cost, says Doug Schardt, product manager, Komori America Corporation. “That raises the question of moving crossover points. And they do move…they are different shop to shop and job to job. It’s a function of just how efficient a printer is on a particular piece of equipment. The more efficient you are on a sheetfed press, the lower the crossover point, and the shorter the runs you can profitably produce on the sheetfed.”

That is the key to Komori offset equipment design, says Schardt; the lowest cost to produce possible.

Within the Komori press line, the production costs that are targeted for reduction are pretty broad based. Komori press technology can stabilize ink and water balance in as little as 20 sheets and that’s regardless of the type of stock or the amount of coverage, says Schardt. “To keep that low waste consistent, there is self learning software that monitors the amount of correction that is required as conditions change and compensates for those changes on future jobs thereby holding consistent the low makeready waste to achieve stable ink density. Self learning is also utilized for air presets and register presets."

Error detecting cameras that instantly catch any changes in the print that may occur during the job run can also be utilized to monitor running waste. This includes automatically and continuously adjusting ink keys to make sure there is no color fluctuation.

Cutting-edge Technology

KBA’s new Rapida litho press offers cutting-edge technology, high productivity, fast makeready and speeds of 20,000sph, says Eric Frank, KBA North America Vice- President of Marketing. “Many of the automation options offered for honing competitiveness, slashing turnaround time, and making life easier for a press crew when handling fluctuating, diminishing print runs are unique to KBA – and now offered in all formats,” says Frank.

For example, DriveTronic SIS no-sidelay infeed for optimum substrate flexibility with no manual intervention, DriveTronic SPC simultaneous plate changing with dedicated plate-cylinder drives, CleanTronic Synchro for simultaneous washing cycles, and flying job changes are popular technology features available from KBA on most of its presses, explains Frank.

KBA has just presented a raft of new technology at drupa that addresses shorter run lengths. Its RotaJET 76 digital inkjet press, which made its debut at drupa, provides the high quality and fast turnaround for short-run jobs, says Frank. KBA also unveiled its new Rapida 105 41-inch press in a hybrid offset/inkjet version, featuring five offset printing units and coater tower joined by an inkjet unit with two Delta 105iUV printing systems from Atlantic Zeiser for personalized imprinting and coding applications. Its Rapida 106 41-inch press features an optional package that raises the maximum production speed to 20,000 sph in straight printing and 18,000 sph in perfecting mode.

Digital and Offset Together

Manufacturer manroland is responding by offering both digital and offset solutions, to service customers with the best suitable solution for their production portfolio, explains Robert Wiedemann, Marketing & Communication, manroland web systems GmbH

In the sheetfed arena, manroland showed flagship model ROLAND 700 HiPrint LV with technology necessary for high productivity in the packaging environment. These include a new generation indexed InlineFoiler system for savings of up to 50 percent of metal foil; a high speed of 17,000 sph; fully automatic plate changing with APL; InlineColorPilot D+F print quality measuring and regulation system using both densitometry and colorimetry; and DirectDrive, which makes it possible to change plates and wash blankets simultaneously.

At drupa, manroland announced a partnership with Benny Landa to adopt the Nanographic Printing as the base of its digital printing process for the sheetfed market.

In the web offset arena, the ROTOMAN incorporates DynaChange technology to switch imprints automatically on both sides at high speeds. “Our APL systems for both commercial and newspaper presses enable short print runs and therefore regionalization or target-group publications,” says Wiedemann. “Our autoprint packages and our new operating system allow measureable consistent production at very low costs.”

Regionalization with DirectDrive Technology offers imprint as well as language changes at full speed without stopping the press, explains Wiedemann. It also can provide coating to increase the optical appearance of the printed product. It´s available on ROTOMAN DirectDrive and on most of manroland LITHOMAN press models.

A partnership with Océ allows “us to offer the best in class digital printing press supplier in ink jet technology, together with our finishing and workflow knowledge for industrial printing applications,” says Wiedemann.

Integrating Inkjet

“An exciting development we are seeing is the growing number of printers that are integrating ink jet capabilities within their web press systems in a hybrid arrangement,” observes Greg Norris, marketing, Goss Systems. “This gives them web offset speed, quality and cost effectiveness in combination with the ability to customize some of the content. We know that versioning and personalization drives higher response rates and reader engagement. Therefore, this opportunity to vary some content inline is improving the overall value proposition of web offset printing.”

This type of hybrid application with Goss web presses is becoming increasingly common in the direct mail sector, “and we expect to see increasing adoption of hybrid digital and offset printing in packaging, newspaper, magazine, catalog, insert and general commercial printing applications,” says Norris. “Goss can support these types of installations with hardware, software and in-line finishing components that accommodate and integrate ink jet heads from multiple suppliers.”

Goss has focused heavily on automation, presetting and digital workflow capabilities in recent years and, as a result, printers operating Goss web presses are very competitive at these run lengths, says Norris. The expansion of web offset to shorter and shorter run lengths – often in combination with hybrid ink jet capabilities – is delivering important economic advantages and opportunities for printers that invest in modern, agile web offset press platforms.

Closing the Productivity Gap

While offset and digital both have their advantages, there is a productivity gap, generally categorized as runs from 500 to 20,000, explains Brian Wolfenden, Presstek Director of Marketing Communications. “Less than 500 sheets can generally be produced more economically on digital, and 20,000+ is more appropriate and economical for conventional offset,” says Wolfenden. “However, that still leaves a gap, and that volume band, according to InfoTrends research, is the fastest growing volume band, one which commercial printers must be able to economically address.”

That’s where solutions such as Presstek DI digital offset presses come into play, explains Wolfenden. “These presses simultaneously image chemistry-free plates on press in precise register, they eliminate the need for a separate platemaking process and the associated platemaking and chemistry costs. Their waterless printing technology means a wider color gamut even for heavy solids, and a significant reduction in plant water consumption. And their ability to go from digital file to printed sheet in six minutes provides a super fast job-to-job changeover—carries not only a cost benefit, but a productivity benefit that allows shops to push more jobs through every single day, often with the ability to differentiate themselves by delivering very high quality (300 lpi/stochastic screening) true offset work same day or next day.

Some new additions to on the Presstek 75DI, announced at drupa 2012, include Integrated inline inkjet heads for variable data, a perfecting device that can be automatically converted between normal printing and perfecting, and the Presstek Virtuoso inline color management and sheet inspection system.