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Litho Printing

Despite some questions being raised over its future role in the industry, litho print remains a popular choice, with plenty of new investment to note. We examine some of the latest deals in this sector

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WestRock purchased two new Speedmaster XL 106 machines from Heidelberg last year

A Strong future: Long Live Litho Print

While there has been no escaping the digital revolution that has transformed the industry over the past 30 years or so, there is still a strong level of interest in litho. Yes, digital may hold some advantages over litho in terms of being more cost-effective for the printer, but when it comes to quality, nothing quite beats a litho print.

It is true that digital has made substantial steps forward in terms of matching litho for print quality, but the fact is that litho still leads the way. For this reason, many print companies continue to work with and invest in litho printing equipment, ensuring they have the ability to deliver high-quality printed work to customers.

Of course, litho investment is often more expensive than digital, but here at Print Monthly, we still receive a steady supply of stories about printers purchasing litho kit, showing that demand is very much still there and healthy.

World Record Investment

Casting our minds back to spring of 2023 and global packaging manufacturer WestRock set out its commitment to litho with a world-record investment from Heidelberg. The company took on two Heidelberg Speedmaster machines at its facility in Poland, one of which was the longest sheetfed offset ever produced.

The 42m-long press is a specially adapted custom configuration of a Speedmaster XL 106 with a total of 20 printing and coating units. The machine is suitable for handling a range of packaging applications, with the ability to produce striking coating and metallic effects, completely in-line, double-sided, and in a single pass. In addition, it fits in with WestRock’s wider sustainability strategy by being able to create environmentally friendly products.

Going in alongside the world-record press was a slightly smaller litho machine. Another Speedmaster XL 106 with a total of 19 printing and coating units, it is the second longest in the world, behind the larger machine at WestRock.

Mark Shaw, business leader for EMEA and APAC at WestRock, comments: “Innovation and sustainability are the bedrock of WestRock’s operation, and by investing in print technology from Heidelberg we are future-proofing our capabilities for our customers.

“There is no better demonstration of this than the two longest presses in the world being developed specifically for WestRock facilities. As brands continue to drive demand for sustainable, fibre-based packaging, through our continued investment and industry-leading expertise, we are well positioned to meet these needs.”

Digital Needs Litho

Closer to home and Birtwells Trade Print, a specialist trade print company, recently took on a new RMGT 524GX LED-UV B3 format litho press. Interestingly, the purchase broke its long association with Heidelberg, showing that despite Heidelberg being the giant of the litho market, there are plenty of developments to get excited about with other manufacturers within this area.

Birtwells Trade Print uses litho tech for most of its trade work. Pictured: the company’s new RMGT 524GX LED-UV B3 format litho press

Purchased from MPL, the UK and Ireland dealer for RMGT, the press offers printing speeds of up to 11,000 sheets per hour. The 52cm machine has slotted into the Birtwells Trade Print setup nicely, with the company using litho for almost all of its trade work, the majority of which is business forms.

“While the speeds are similar to our existing machine, there are many major benefits with the RMGT,” company secretary Sue Preugschat explains, adding: “The instant drying, of course, is the biggest plus. We know exactly what colour will appear, as there is no ink ‘dry back’, and there is no set-off of the ink. We can control the colour better, including the initial ink key information that we send through to the machine.

There is still a huge demand for forms, including NCR sets. This type of product is very difficult on digital, so many digital-only print companies need trade suppliers such as us

“Our customer base is spread across print businesses without the capability to produce forms work and print management companies that need a reliable and capable forms producer. This means confidentiality is critical for us – the end customer doesn’t need to know that we printed the work. There is still a huge demand for forms, including NCR sets. This type of product is very difficult on digital, so many digital-only print companies need trade suppliers such as us.”

Cutting Production Time

Also on home turf, Oxfordshire-based commercial printer Windles Group has upgraded its litho offering with a new Rapida 106 X sheetfed offset press from Koenig & Bauer, its first machine from the manufacturer.

Running at speeds of up to 20,000 sheets per hour, Koenig & Bauer says the Rapida 106 X is the first sheetfed offset press with this speed also available in perfecting mode. The 740 x 1,060mm machine is suitable for commercial, label, and packaging print. As Windles Group counts packaging and commercial print among its core services, managing director Bruce Podmore says the machine has been a solid addition.

Windles’ Rapida 106 X press was configured as six units and one coater with a perfector after the first unit. Specified with Koenig & Bauer Simultaneous Plate Change (SPC), all plates can be changed in 34 seconds, while an extended delivery with VariDry Blue technology means up to 30% energy savings in the dryer due to the recirculation of unsaturated air.

“Quality can no longer be a printer’s main emphasis,” Podmore says, adding: “It’s not a differentiator – you need to be assured of good quality every time you roll the press. With this press, we will now be able to do the same amount of work in half the time, using 35% less energy, while making it a much more pleasant place to work.”

These examples represent just a small sample of some of the major litho purchases that have gone through in recent weeks and months. The likelihood is that 2024 will be similar, if not busier, than 2023 when it comes to companies stumping up cash for new kit.

The main reason for that is drupa, with the event once again set to play host to the titans of litho printing. Seeing some of this kit up close and speaking with experts about the benefits it offers could well inspire other printers to make the move and invest in new technology to bolster their litho offering.

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