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Focus On

Litho Technology

Despite the influx of digital technologies, litho continues to hold its ground in the UK print market. With this in mind, Rob Fletcher casts an eye over the latest developments in this sector

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Heidelberg introduced its new Speedmaster CS 92 to the UK market last year

Stand out from the crowd

With so much noise being made about new technologies in digital print, it is easy to miss developments in other areas of print. Take litho print for example; while it may be being overshadowed by digital, it still has a critical role to play in the industry.

The majority of print-service-providers (PSPs) in the UK are still running some sort of litho kit as part of their production process, with many mixing litho and digital to ensure they and their customers get the best of both worlds.

However, with this technology having been part of the industry for a long time, how much further can litho go in terms of improving output and efficiency for users?

High quality

One of the leading names in litho technology is Koenig & Bauer. Craig Bretherton, product and marketing manager at Koenig & Bauer UK says that despite the widespread uptake of digital technology, litho remains the kit of choice for many due to its flexibility.

Craig Bretherton, product and marketing manager at Koenig & Bauer UK, says litho technology offers more in terms of speed and materials cost over longer runs

“With current levels of press automation, litho can handle the shortest and longest of runs across the broadest range of materials with multiple coatings and finishes,” he says, adding: “The quality from a litho press is always high. In high quality packaging printing with many spot colours, litho cannot be beaten.

“Litho and digital are often seen as complimentary technologies that a business requires to be competitive. Quality is comparable in most cases, but speed and materials cost over longer runs is far better with litho.”

In terms of new developments, Bretherton notes the importance of automation saying this, along with simultaneous activities, are required in all circumstances. With this in mind, Koenig & Bauer has developed its technology, where the press operator queues up a number of jobs and the press automatically works though the list changing plates and running the jobs fully automatically.

Meanwhile, included as an option with Koenig & Bauer’s colour control systems are its new QualiTronic PDF and Qualitronic PrintCheck inspection systems. These systems photographically check the print content as well as control the colour very accurately, at high speeds it is easy for the minders to miss defects in the print and these systems take care of this.

PCP in Telford recently invested in a nine-unit Tandem Perfector B1 press, allowing drip-off varnish for spot and matt UV, metallic inks, and flood UV in one-pass

“Our plate changing times have got quicker again with a ten-colour press now taking just 34 seconds to change the plates,” Bretherton says, adding: “However, this is done during the washing of blankets or cylinders so, in effect, zero plate change time.

“We also now have the ability to wash rollers on spare units during running. Our developments with our Rapida LiveApps for both managing the press and the controlling of consumable stock from a smartphone are really exciting and will develop even further.”

However, despite championing litho as a standalone technology, Bretherton says the future of litho is likely to include more hybrid solutions. He cites the Koenig & Bauer VariJET 106 as a good example, pointing out how it combines both elements of litho and digital in a single printing device.

Koenig & Bauer says hybrid litho-digital solutions such as its VariJET 106 are likely to become more commonplace in the print market in the future

Digital immediacy in litho

Elsewhere and M Partners, the UK distributor for RMGT presses, is well placed to offer advice and solutions to PSPs seeking to enhance their litho offering. Mark Stribley, joint manager director at M Partners, agrees with Bretherton and says PSPs should not be considering litho over digital, but instead focusing on litho with digital.

Stribley expands: “Printers should be looking at the two production solutions as complimentary – they both have a significant contribution to make to a successful communications business. The printer also needs to recognise that the customer really doesn’t care what technology is being used to produce the job, just so long as it is produced on time, to a suitable quality standard, and at an agreed price.

Printers should be looking at the two production solutions as complimentary – they both have a significant contribution to make to a successful communications business

“Run length will generally play an important part in the decision as to which technology a job should be directed towards, but we have users who, with LED-UV equipped litho machines, will run a job of just 300 B3-sheets on that machine. On larger presses runs of less than 250 SRA1-sheets would favour litho. The work comes off the press dry-to-the-touch, and with that still distinctive litho print quality to it.”

With this in mind, Stribley focuses in on LED-UV technology, which, despite first being shown at Drupa in 2008, is widely regarded as a new method, with PSPs still discovering the benefits.

Stribley says LED-UV delivers dry-to-the-touch at the delivery end of the machine, thus adding digital immediacy to the traditional print production. He says that while the obvious benefit of this might be faster turnaround of work, in reality, it also changes the way a factory works and even the space required.

He comments: “No longer does work-in-progress need to lie around the shop floor waiting to be backed-up, and with no set-off due to immediate drying the need for spray powder is eliminated. Jobs are moved into finishing as soon as they are printed, [they are] cleaner because there is no spray powder, meaning that they can be cut, folded, delivered and invoiced more swiftly than ever.

Proven performance

Also weighing in on the debate is Manroland, and Peter Redmond, managing director at Manroland Sheetfed UK, states that the reason litho is still going strong is “proven performance and overall process flexibility”.

Redmond expands: “Today, the typical UK consumer is more concerned with the impact their personal footprint has on the environment, product quality and the aesthetic of a product and its associated packaging. The lithographic process generally wins on all of these factors the majority of the time.

O Factoid: Manroland’s R700 Evolution is a litho press that can maintain a top running speed of 18,000sph. O

“The variety of substrates, inks and coating types that can be used within the lithographic process to achieve the required visual impact is unsurpassed. Add to this the value added features such as cold foiling and embossing, all in a single pass, and you’re producing print at speeds that digital can only dream about.”

Manroland remains committed to new developments in litho and one of its latest solutions is the R700 Evolution, a litho press that can maintain a top running speed of 18,000sph. Redmond says the machine has a number of other unique features to help clients increase their overall performance.

Manroland’s R700 Evolution

Such features include user-friendly touch screen controls, as well as Tripleflow ink distribution with managed re-engagement of inking rollers during the restart-up process to reduce waste copies. Also available is Simultaneous Plate Loading to install all printing plates at the same time, used in conjunction with sectional drive technology so several operational tasks are conducted at the same time.

Redmond adds: “The lithographic process has a great future. It is an industrial, process driven, performance oriented and quality-focused sector of the printing industry. Concerns over plastics and the environmental footprints of individuals are driving consumers to more viable alternatives such a paper and board. Manroland Sheetfed continues to focus on reducing make-ready times and waste to ultimately reduce the cost per sheet.

Fast development

Finally, and no litho market update would not be complete without checking in on industry heavyweight Heidelberg. Matt Rockley, presses product specialist at Heidelberg UK, says that with the exception of short runs and personalised print, litho remains the optimum technology for cost per copy production.

Rockley says: “Litho has been spurred to develop faster because of competition from digital. We have seen a huge rise in interest in all versions of UV – including conventional, LED and LE – because this allows litho to have dry sheets off the end of the press emulating digital printing. This means work can be immediately processed and delivered, cutting turnaround times significantly.

“Litho offers a much wider range of finishes, not only coating and varnishing, including metallics, but also numbering, perforating, cold foiling and die-cutting.”

Litho offers a much wider range of finishes, not only coating and varnishing, including metallics, but also numbering, perforating, cold foiling and die-cutting

Last year, Heidelberg launched its Speedmaster CX 75 and Speedmaster CS 92 in the UK, and both presses have been met with positive reviews in the industry.

Heidelberg’s Speedmaster CX 75 has been built on the success of the Speedmaster XL 75, but has a lower price point for potential buyers

The CX 75, with its double circumference impression cylinder, has been built on the success of the Speedmaster XL 75 but has a lower price point. It can print a wide range of stocks and has been popular with installations at companies such as The Color Company, Spectrum Printing and Vale Press.

The Speedmaster CS 92 has the potential to print nine-up A4s on a press that, with its double diameter impression and triple diameter transfer cylinders, gives excellent rolling power and the ability to handle stocks of 0.03mm and 0.6mm. The 1,320mm height feeder was clearly marked up and the ability to handle Euro pallets is seen as particularly useful and efficient.

However, with the future in mind, Heidelberg has committed to the ‘digitisation of print’, whereby it will continue to co-operate and innovate with partners to develop that digital of its business, as well as focus on litho. The manufacturer currently works with Fujifilm on inkjet solutions such as Primefire and Labelfire, as well as and on toner-based Versafire solutions.

Rockley says: “The debate over litho versus digital is dead; most printers accept that the future is digital and litho. That is why at last Drupa in 2016 there were so many partnerships between litho and digital players announced. Printers should take the pulse of litho at Drupa next year; they will find it up to athlete fitness.”

While the influx of digital print has had an impact on the litho market, it is clear that litho still gives the industry a lot to get excited about. Backed by some of the biggest names in print, and with talk of yet more development alongside digital, we can expect to see plenty of new innovations in litho for many years to come.

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