Printers investing in fully automated sheet-wrap offset presses may be surprised by the before-and-after contrast between the way they used to print and the way they can now print through automation.
“With the old model, we thought we were fast,” said Charlie Cox, co-owner and COO of Wallace Carlson Printing in Minnetonka, Minnesota. “We weren’t. When we introduced the new press, this was clearly evident within the first year. “
Cox spoke on November 3rd as a panelist in a discussion on sheetfed press automation during the commercial offset segment of PRINTING United Digital Experience. He was joined by Scott Burnett, director of production at Cedar Graphics in Hiawatha, Iowa; Kevin Heslin, president of Seaway Printing in Green Bay, Wisconsin; and Shawn Sundquist, president of Range Printing in Brainerd, Minn. Patrick Henry, Senior Editor for NAPCO Media’s Printing and Packaging Group, was the moderator.
The talk focused on how automation improves both the performance of the press and the profitability of the work done on it. Panelists were asked to identify the key features of automation and the benefits these improvements have brought to their operations.
More efficient tasks with Press Automation
Everyone agreed that speeding up press manufacturing and job changes are paramount. They also mentioned plate changes, sheet size changes, ink settings, fountain settings, putting job information into the press, and monitoring press running as tasks that automation made more efficient.
At Cedar Graphics, Burnett said, “We focus heavily on the job-to-job transition and the functions of hanging plates, putting job information on the press, ink settings, level settings and changes in sheet size are most critical to us. Automating and doing this at the same time are enormous values for us. “
Cox agreed tThe goal of the automation was “to be one step ahead of the game of presets, sheet size changes, plate changes, washing, monitoring of the press run, shorter setup times and higher speeds”.
“We’re looking at the job transition from the last good hand to the first good hand,” noted Heslin. “Hanging plates, registering conspicuously, adding color – this is where we make the greatest impression when we work automatically. Typically 80% to 85% of our manufacturers are less than two minutes away in 50 sheets of paper. “
Sundquist described the instant curing LED UV technology as an addition to automation, as it shortens lead times and delivers higher quality. “Makereadies are key – how quickly you can go from job to job and from sheet size to sheet size,” he said. “But it’s also the ink technology itself, because it flows into other processes.”
According to Sundquist, Range Printing has “made a huge gamble” by investing in a fully automated press with LED UV equipment to replace two older, partially automated presses. The reward, however, is “the financial picture of being able to summarize the work on one machine. Be able to create more jobs in one day, make customers happier, and improve the bottom line. “
According to Heslin, the Seaway Printing experience was similar. “We work more on one platform – a press does most of the work and does it very efficiently. With the automation that we have, it’s easier to get a more consistent result from day to day.
Cox admitted that investing in a “monster HUV eight-color perfector” to replace three conventional printing machines was “a great risk from the start”. Within 12-14 months of installation, he said, “Our throughput increased by over 20%, our waste reduction has dropped significantly, and we have just been a lot more efficient.”
Burnett said the fully automated press at Cedar Graphics was so productive that “we were actually able to remove that press and reposition these people in our digital space, which is a huge area of growth for us.”
Burnett also highlighted the relationship between print efficiency and profitability. “Paid time is really the key to adding value to a job, and we’re focused on reducing that non-billed time from the last good sheet to the first sellable sheet on the next job. We try to set the standard of less than three minutes from the last good sheet to the first finished sheet of the next job. “
However, the automation of press work does not automatically guarantee a seamless overall workflow. Heslin and Cox identified the bottlenecks that can arise when the finishing department tries to keep up with the performance of a highly efficient automated press. Burnett mentioned that space in the shipping department needs to be reserved for loads that cannot be parked in the bindery during particularly busy times.
Sundquist added a different perspective, pointing out that pressroom automation is his company’s “best recruiting tool” because of its technological appeal to potential employees. Heslin agreed that this fits well with the realities of today’s job market.
With automation, he said, “It’s easier to train. We see millennials, and their idea of long hours at work is two to three years. So you certainly can’t spend four or five years training them. “
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