Rapida Sheetfed Offset Hand in Hand with Digital Print

Modern print production at Formula in Denmark

Rapida sheetfed offset hand in hand with digital print

For Danish printers Formula, it goes without saying that every job is handled with the technology which is both economically and technically the optimum choice for the work involved. Sometimes, this can even mean a combination of sheetfed offset, web offset and digital print within a single job. The production is in every case integrated to the maximum possible degree, eliminating all risk of quality problems. But contrary to popular expectation, it is not always the rule that digital print is most economical for short runs.

Formula has built up an impressive machinery base at its factory in the little Danish town of Vivild: Sheetfed and web offset presses stand alongside digital presses in single- and multicolour versions, among them eight web presses with one to eight colours, a ten-colour KBA Rapida 106 (format 74 x 106 cm) and a brand new Rapida 105 with five colours and inline coater. The two sheetfed presses are especially fast and efficient. The ten-colour press was installed in 2008 as a replacement for two five-colour presses, one of which had also been configured with a coater. The initial idea was to print 4-over-4 in a single pass, and at the same time to apply a coating of overprint varnish on both sides of the sheet.

Jeppe Mølvadgaard, factory manager at Formula in Vivild: "Unfortunately, it is not always possible to use an overprint varnish. Consequently, we had to outsource certain jobs which could not be printed on our ten-colour press. The long-term aim, however, was from the beginning to raise the efficiency and flexibility of our own production. We wanted to generally expand our capacity, and at the same time bring back those coating jobs which were being sent outside. It was against this background that we decided to replace our Komori with a second Rapida, this time with a coater tower - a decision which killed three birds with one stone, so to speak: Together, the two Rapidas are incomparably efficient; the new press is also faster than the old one, which has alone boosted our production capacity; and our sales team is once more able to offer the full spectrum of coating variants."

Practically all 4-over-4 jobs are today printed on the ten-colour Rapida, despite the fact that the individual runs are becoming shorter and shorter. "Precisely thanks to the improved productivity and the high level of automation on the press, it is today still possible to make a profit when using the offset process for very short runs," says Jeppe Mølvadgaard. "Some people may think that it's a waste of time printing 350 copies of a job on a press which is capable of 15,000 to 18,000 sheets per hour. But it pays!"

Short-run book production more efficient in offset
"We recently printed a book job requiring only 350 copies as a perfecting job on our ten-colour Rapida 106, and that with the press running at 15,000 sph. The book comprised 560 pages, which meant 37 automatic plate changes with 8 new plates each time. The production time was 5.5 hours, and we achieved a cost saving of 44% compared to the alternative of production in digital print." Jeppe Mølvadgaard admits that the main concern was to print the job as fast as possible. Under normal circumstances, it would perhaps have taken 30 to 45 minutes longer. But even that would still have been significantly faster than digital production.

The book was printed with two operators on the press - a provision which was necessary to ensure that the plates for the next automatic change were in their respective holders in time after just 360 sheets. Thanks to DriveTronic SPC, the Rapida needed only 45 seconds on average to change a complete set of plates.

KBA QualiTronic makes the difference
According to Jeppe Mølvadgaard, another factor enabling the efficient production of such jobs is the facility for inline regulation of the ink settings with QualiTronic ColorControl. "Without this, it would be impossible," he says with absolute conviction. "A great deal has happened in the field of process automation. And in the near future, it should even be possible to compare the printed sheets with the customer's PDF data in an inline process." Morten Rasmussen, director of KBA Nordic A/S, shares this vision, but expects that it will be two to three years before it becomes reality: "Data communication speeds are still not high enough at the moment."

Jeppe Mølvadgaard: "With the new, highly automated offset presses and inline colour control, the run length threshold for profitability has been pushed down significantly. Taking a 4/4 job with 16 A4 pages, we used to say that offset production was more profitable than digital print from a run length of 500 copies. With today's modern presses, this cut-off point is much lower."

Combining process strengths
At Formula, web-based digital print is used primarily for jobs with variable data and for forms. In many cases, offset and digital print are combined. A recent direct mailing for the Danish TV provider TDC, for example, comprised an envelope with an insert pocket, a circular promo print and a loose A4 sheet. The loose sheet was printed on the ten-colour Rapida and subsequently personalised in a digital process. The envelope was printed on a web, and the promo print with variable data on an iGen4. The prints were then glued and punched, and finally inserted into the envelopes. This integrated approach served to guarantee the seamless quality of the final product.

Interesting website: www.formula.dk

Info box:
Profitable short-run offset production
350 books
560 pages per book
Printed on a ten-colour Rapida 106 perfector with QualiTronic ColorControl and DriveTronic SPC for simultaneous plate changing
Production time 5.5 hours
Cost savings 44% compared to digital print

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