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Swing to offset for some poster and display companies

KBA, a leading manufacturer of offset presses has published a report that details the swing by some large poster companies going to offset to stay competitive. Is their room in our market for such a hungry beast?

The superior competence and market leadership of KBA in the large format sector have been undisputed for decades, and since drupa 2004 have even been extended further to embrace also the breathtaking dimensions of the superlarge or XXLplus format.

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The Ellerhold poster factory in Radebeul, just a stone's throw from the KBA manufacturing facility, was the worldwide pioneer of XXLplus sheetfed offset, installing a KBA Rapida 205 in early 2004. In the meantime, three superlarge-format Rapidas are in production at Ellerhold's various locations.

The first superlarge-format Rapida 205 (format 151 x 205 cm) was installed at poster printers Ellerhold, just a stone's throw from the KBA manufacturing facility in Radebeul, and was officially unveiled to the trade public there in March 2004. In the meantime, presses of the Rapida 205 and the slightly smaller Rapida 185 series totalling almost 300 printing units have been taken into production in Europe and North America. The first superlarge-format press in Asia was recently delivered to Shanghai, and there are some users who are already the proud owners of two or even three XXXL presses.   

Business in the markets for the largest sheetfed offset formats can certainly be said to be thriving. More and more poster and display printers are installing the giant Rapida presses alongside wide-format inkjet installations from NUR or screen printing systems from Thieme. It seems that screen printers, in particular, have in the meantime discovered the enormous productivity and profitability benefits embodied in superlarge-format sheetfed offset. After all, despite the recognised strengths of the screen printing process, the technology is finding it increasingly difficult to defend its market shares in the face of ever shorter delivery deadlines and mounting pressure on the attainable prices. It is probably only a question of time before 2-metre offset presses achieve a real breakthrough also in packaging printing. All that is still missing is the correspondingly modern equipment for finishing and conversion. In the somewhat more down-to-earth and less quality-critical corrugated board industry, there are already plenty of flexo presses with inline rotary die-cutting for sheet widths of 3 metres, so what stands in the way of 2-metre offset presses for folding cartons in the near future? Looking at the giant Rapidas, there are certainly no obstacles in terms of print quality and press performance. 
Trend towards long presses and inline finishing
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Edison Litho & Printing in North Bergen, NJ, USA, has placed an order for a second KBA Rapida 205 - a six-colour version with coater, UV and plastic-printing package. The photo shows vice-president Joe Ostreicher (left) and one of his staff proudly displaying a map of the USA printed on their first Rapida 205, which has been such a success that the company is having to expand its production capacity.

Whereas the first presses were mainly four or five-colour configurations with or without additional perforating, coating or drying towers for poster printing, the demand is in the meantime shifting increasingly in the direction of six or even seven-colour installations with full inline coating and drying facilities for large-format posters and displays, especially in the USA. Even UV, hybrid finishing and plastic substrates have long since become regular considerations for superlarge format users. In fact, twelve superlarge-format Rapidas with equipment for UV and hybrid printing have in the meantime been supplied to customers in the USA, Canada, Great Britain, France, Spain and Germany. One of the principal reasons: More and more retailers and brand-name manufacturers are demanding high-quality varnish finishing even for such large displays and posters as they seek to maximise their advertising success at the point of sale. A second reason: There is no need to wait before further processing in the case of UV products, and the slogan “Time is money” is equally valid in the superlarge-format sector, where billboard printers even promise a 24-hour service between receipt of an order and the finished posters hanging on the streets. 
World's largest super-Rapida in production in Tennessee
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The world's largest super-Rapida to date, a seven-colour press with coating and drying towers, 30 m long, 3.7 m high and weighing 272 tonnes – to be seen here during acceptance testing in the Radebeul assembly hall – is in the meantime the pride and joy of the National Print Group, Inc. in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

The strongest markets for superlarge-format sheetfed offset have so far been the USA and Great Britain, closely followed by Germany (superlarge-format pioneer Ellerhold, headquartered in Radebeul, has in the meantime bought three presses) and, after a somewhat wider gap, France, Spain and Switzerland. The largest press in the world to date – 30 metres long, 3.7 m high and weighing in at a mighty 272 tonnes – is a seven-colour version with coating and drying towers installed at National Posters, the flagship company of the National Print Group, Inc. in Chattanooga, Tennessee. In the United Kingdom, there are already eight presses of the Rapida 205 series in production, almost all of them five-colour presses with UV options. In the UK, in particular, the KBA giants are making great inroads into the once supposedly invincible screen printing sector. For companies serving the fiercely competitive brand-name and retail supermarket trade, the Rapida 205 is in the meantime almost a “must-have” to have any real chance of survival.  
Hard-fought battles for PoS market shares in Great Britain
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Two Rapida 205 press lines are already in operation at Capital Print & Display’s new production plant in London.

On the PoS market, London-based large-format specialists Capital Print & Display play a leading role. Only recently, the company and its two Rapida 205 presses moved to a purpose-built factory at Beckton Waterfront in East London. Already at the end of 2005, Augustus Martin, another long-established supplier of PoS materials, was the first British user to install a Rapida 205 press. Further presses are to be found at Odessa Offset, NSL, St Ives SP Group, B&P Group and Showcard Print. 
NSL in Newcastle was the first pure screen printer to take the plunge into 2-metre sheetfed offset. The venture has proved so successful, that further investments in KBA presses are on the cards. NSL managing director Duncan Hesse is convinced that the Rapida 205 is perfectly designed for the format used by screen printers, making it a relatively simple matter to switch work from one process to the other.
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A high level of cost efficiency, even in short-run production, is prompting many former screen printers in Great Britain to switch to superlarge-format sheetfed offset.

Les Thomas, managing director of the B&P Group in Cheshire, faced a complicated planning phase when his company decided to add sheetfed offset to its existing screen and digital printing operations. “We had to think big and it was important to stand out from the crowd,” he says. “We also needed to handle a campaign with offset and screen printing sharing the work all under one roof.” 
A sheetfed offset giant by any standards
The Rapida 205 is not only big in size, it is equally big in performance. It can take up to 20 lorries just to deliver it to the installation site, and once up and running, its feeder pile alone can weigh over three tonnes! Boosting sheet format to an enormous 1510 x 2050 mm, the press incorporates all the key benefits of the practice-proven Rapida 162, such as the 7 o'clock cylinder arrangement, double-size impression cylinders, a shaftless feeder and fully automatic plate changing. With its printing speed of up to 9,000 sph, the maximum production output can be calculated at over 28,000 m² printed area per hour, corresponding to more than double the output of a high-performance medium-format press of the latest 18,000 sph generation. The relatively short inking train of the Rapida 205, with just 16 rollers, guarantees minimum start-up waste, short washing times and sheer unrivalled fast reactions, all of which are decisive factors where the majority of business is extremely short runs. An excellent substrate flexibility, permitting the handling of papers, display board, microflute, plastic film and metallised stocks in thicknesses from 0.1 mm to 1.6 mm, round off the list of benefits. 
Screen printing versus offset
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Screen printing presses, including a Thieme 5070 (on the right), operate alongside the two Rapida 205s at Capital.

The customers for PoS displays may be stepping up their demand for offset quality, but more flexible PoS printers are still identifying valuable potential in a mix of screen, digital and offset print. Peter Kiddell, a leading consultant and currently president of the UK Digital Screen Printing Association, readily admits that screen printing now takes second place to large-format offset in many areas. “The screen printing industry has changed a lot over the past ten years, and especially dramatically over the past five. Large-format offset presses like the KBA Rapida 205 are now being used very successfully indeed in the PoS sector.” 

Screen printing, he says, is under strong fire from offset, and also from digital print in the ultrashort-run segment. And with high-speed inkjet, yet another adversary is coming over the horizon. On other fronts, however, screen printing is making great progress, e.g. in circuit printing for electronics, in pharmaceuticals and in many areas of outside graphics. 

Koenig & Bauer