If Heidelberg and KBA are the two leading manufacturers of litho presses, they are certainly not the only companies in the game. Komori matches them across most formats (it has a B3 press but this is unknown in the UK).
Ryobi MHI does likewise while Sakurai has a loyal customer base. Beyond this, Chinese company Hans Gronhi has been selling machines to cost conscious printers who might otherwise buy secondhand.
Komori has been very successful with its H-UV technology, using a tuned UV lamp to dry paper instantly for immediate handling in finishing departments and so offer a challenge to digital printing on speed of turnaround.
This and other forms of new generation UV are proving that offset litho is far from a deceased technology. The second advantage to this type of printing is in the sharpness of the dot.
Whereas conventional UV printing for cartonboard printing is known for its dot gain, the narrow UV band that is used to cure the ink in H-UV does so before the ink spreads. The dot is sharp and because the ink is not absorbed in any way, the ink film can be thin so reducing consumption and delivering a very bright image.
H-UV has been responsible for Komori’s success in recent years, first in Japan and then through Europe and the US and now into the UK. But it has not been the only factor. Like Heidelberg UK and KBA, the company has recognised that the overall market for printing presses has been falling. It has needed to find other revenue streams.
There is a package of Komori consumables, but this does not have the conviction of Heidelberg’s offering except for H-UV where the match between press, lamp and inks is crucial. Komori has endorsed Huber inks as an alternative to Toyo, but does not recommend others.
The Japanese manufacturer also has a web offset business, as severely affected as the sheetfed side by recession, and a security presses operation, Komori Currency Technology. This has enjoyed a run of success in recent years, culminating recently in an order for machines from De La Rue to print the UK’s new banknotes at the Bank of England print works in Debden.
At the last Drupa, president and CEO Yoshiharu Komori explained that his company was looking to be an engineering partner, underlying this with deals with Konica Minolta and Landa. Komori will build the paper handling systems for both the KM1 inkjet press and Landa’s nanography presses. The first is an entirely new design, the second is more conventional in appearance and designed to run faster.
However, the start up delays to these machines will mean that Komori’s hopes that digital printing will quickly become a significant source of revenue are missing the initial target. Landa’s backlog of orders, however, will provide huge volumes for Komori’s Tsukuba factory once production gets underway.
The company’s fourth arm is developing a gravure press using technology from other divisions for printing conductive inks in electrical circuits. The machine has been shown, but again it its early days, but points to a diversification from the core business.
Komori also generates service spares revenue. However, the Japanese tendency to engineer presses for long life, means fewer service calls that might be expected. This reduces the amount of spares stock that Komori needs to carry.
The same philosophy applies to Ryobi MHI. This is the company that emerged from the combination of Ryobi’s press division and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries’ sheetfed litho business. Alone neither was substantial enough, while combined the companies can fund further development even as the overall market shrinks.
There has been some consolidation on the press range, the Ryobi 1050 machine being dropped in favour of the Mitsubishi B1 press, while Ryobi designs are selected for the B2 offering.
On the B1 side, robust build and design results in a highly reliable press. If there are complaints about the costs of a spare part, it is because customers are unused to buying spares, says Murray Lock, joint managing director of M Partners, which manages sales and support for the B1 machines in Europe.
The company presents awards to recognise this: Central Colour received one recently having completed 1,500 days of operation without a lost hour because the press needed unexpected attention. Its V3000 LX six-colour has notched 140 million impressions in six years with the Nottingham printer, the last call out being four years ago.
It has meant a change in attitude for the printer as joint managing director Andy Baxter explains: “We are constantly surprised at how little money we spend on maintenance and press spares and how little downtime we have. We have become a single-press house, something that we can afford to do due the reliability of Mitsubishi.”
The other part of the partnership, Ryobi, is in the hands of Apex Digital Graphics, which has moved its showroom machine to new premises in Hemel Hempstead.
Apex also sells the Konica Minolta C8000 and options on plates and platesetters, adding the Cron UV CTP machine this year. It would not be making these investments if it feared that the market was moving fully to digital printing.
The LED UV technology on the Ryobi has been a key factor in driving interest towards litho in recent months. “About 80% of all inquiries will be discussion about LED UV,” says managing director Bob Usher. The company has installed its first press at ABC Print in Hereford and others will follow.
“Some people want to use a coater to achieve value added products when previously people wanted to coat to help drying,” says Usher. “But it is not all LED, if the job is not wanted that day. A large online print company has added litho alongside digital, showing that if you enable ink to dry on the paper, they can find it is economic to print litho for longer jobs rather than farming this out to a white label producer and losing an element of the margin.”
In-house litho makes business sense for these digital printers because as demand grows, so requests for higher volumes will increase. Litho has a place against digital printers at the other end of the scale, Usher believes: “I am struggling to understand where a massive market will develop on high speed inkjet. Litho printers are producing long run printing jobs on automated presses with experienced operators and looking at high speed inkjet I can see real problems in drying the inks.
“Digital is still hamstrung by the running speed of inkjet sheetfed presses. Why spend £1.5 million on printing a product when a Ryobi 750 is three or four times as fast and the sheet is completely dry?” Usher says.
“Inkjet will suffer from a high cost of ownership and consumables are unlikely to reach the economies of scale that litho has achieved. Even in LED UV, ink prices have fallen by a third because printers can negotiate with different suppliers.”
Ryobi was the first press manufacturer to show LED UV, revealing a system at Drupa 2008. It was limited by the relatively low power of the diodes available at that point yet still caused consternation among other press suppliers at the time.
Ryobi has also been able to offer inline cast coating, the addition of Kodak inkjet heads and has worked with Miyakoshi on implementation of a liquid toner system. Ryobi is a company willing to invest in R&D in print, with progress on these developments due to be unveiled next year.
This year it has shown a waterless LED UV Ryobi 920 press printing on a solid plastic for in mould decoration – for printing components for car manufacture, household appliances and so on that will be shaped after printing and will enable litho to replace screen printing in this sector.
The Screen Advanced Technology technique promises shorter batch production and higher quality than screen decoration. It uses standard waterless litho components printing with an ink developed for the purpose. At this point Ryobi MHI has no plans to export the machine despite saying that SAT is a “completely new printing system that opens up a totally new market”.
The third of the German press manufacturers has cut its way to find a long term future, though only after reaching the brink with bankruptcy proceedings. It was bought by privately owned UK company Langley Holdings which has created a profitable business by shaving overheads to where the market can bear them. It has had sales success in China, to companies in mainland Europe, though not as yet in the UK.
The line of presses has been trimmed with the Roland 700e emerging as the new core model in the mainstream B1 sector. It answers the needs for fast make ready, high levels of automation and colour consistency. In short despite reducing expenditure elsewhere the company continues to operate with an r&d budget.
"We have built the business around the size of the market that is there now," says Manroland GB sheetfed service director Martin Hawley. "We can operate very comfortably within that window. We are in the fortunate position of actually having cash and no debts. And demand has changed. We are seeing customers putting jobs through the new presses that they would never have done before, all because of the speed of make ready that is possible. Litho can have a larger colour gamut and offers coatings as well, which digital struggles with."
Sakurai has also been an advocate of LED UV technology, beginning to find success in the UK with machines sold to three different customers. The programme includes waterless litho to expand LED UV to print on plastics. Even Hans Gronhi is offering LED UV curing on its Shinohara models, though none is yet in operation in this country or Europe.
LED UV drying units can also be retrofitted to existing presses with relative ease, something that will allow a company to move into a new era for litho without the capital outlay of a new press. Rollers, blankets and of course inks will change, but it is a proven step that can be taken.
Apex Digital Graphics MD Bob Usher says: “I am struggling to understand where a massive market will develop on high speed inkjet.
"Litho printers are producing long run printing jobs on automated presses with experienced operators and looking at high speed inkjet I can see real problems in drying the inks."
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