Good Monday morning! Today we tackle the trends in offset printing. Take a look and tell us if you agree.
Trends in the Offset Printing Market
While offset is still the leading printing technology in the current market, it is getting squeezed by the move away from print toward digital products. Printers are focused on ways to improve efficiencies, and do that in an environmentally responsible manner.
As with most industries dealing with cost issues, printers in the offset world are looking at ways to make their processes run more cost effectively and efficiently. Printers are reexamining their own systems, and their supplier partners are doing the same to help squeeze dollars out of the process. Press manufacturers are helping by providing presses that meet today’s printing needs, while ink manufacturers are formulating to match the higher speeds and performance issues necessary in today’s offset market.
Today’s presses are more performance-sized, focusing less on high-volume output and more on time reduction, flexibility and waste reduction. Press manufacturers have dramatically reduced makeready times, allowing printers to be up and running quickly.
Speed is also an important part of the operation, and offset printers are becoming more educated about what the equipment is capable of and the need for optimum maintenance.
“The big thing is the press manufacturers and how fast they are getting their presses to run. They are 18,000 to 20,000 an hour,” remarked Cliff Panczyk, director of Special Projects, Superior Printing Ink. This kind of speed puts a lot of challenges on the ink company, he noted, “to get an ink that will perform that fast, through a roller chain and not mist and still dry.”
He added that printers are also trying to reduce their labor and their waste to keep competitive at the price point. “You see a lot of printers now going to these new presses that have that high speed,” he stressed.
“Profitability can rapidly be increased by reducing costs and improving productivity and efficiency,” concured John Borkovec, VP, sales and marketing, GFI Innovations. He noted that many of the company’s printer customers have automated ink-dispensing systems that have significantly lowered their inventory.
“When combining these precise formulation solutions with strong ink supply partners, printers experience substantial decreased ink costs and reductions in inventory while reaping the benefits of improved profitability. They also end up being a powerful revenue-building tool in that they provide a number of benefits to their customers,” he reported.
“At Sun Chemical, we also recognize that our offset customers are always looking for solutions that will help them reduce waste, improve productivity and maintain press consistency,” added Dennis Sweet, VP Product Management of Commercial, Sheetfed, and Rycoline Products, North American Inks at Sun Chemical. As part of its efforts to find ways to help customers achieve these goals, the company collaborated with Metafix to develop Virtual Inplant, a system that controls a printer’s fountain system conductivity and reduces paper waste.
The Virtual Inplant is a system designed to reduce unstable press-side conditions caused by paper, ink and contaminants, according to Sweet. “It uses proprietary technology to control fountain solution chemistry and recycles all fountain solution, eliminating disposal costs. It helps result in a more stable fountain system, using less fountain solution and reduces paper waste,” he remarked.
While concerned with improving efficiencies, many printers are interested in accomplishing that in the most environmentally friendly way possible. Sustainability and reduced waste are key pieces to the overall operations puzzle going forward.
That means press and ink manufacturers alike are feeling the need to create environmentally sound products and processes that will meet their clients’, and their clients’ clients, needs.
Sun Chemical offers a line of solutions to the marketplace that are low to zero in VOCs. “We recently introduced SunLit Triumph Max commercial sheetfed inks, for example, which improve print fidelity and meet strict sustainability requirements,” noted Sweet.
“Formulated for high-speed printing and high-abrasion resistance on a wide variety of stocks, SunLit Triumph Max inks come to color fast, reduce start-up waste, and provide the press stability needed to improve overall job consistency,” he adds. Like most other inks for this market, SunLit Triumph Max inks use renewable resources and bio-based materials, and contain less than 2 percent in VOCs. A proprietary blend of vegetable oils, vegetable oil derivatives, alkyds, and rosin-based resins are used to further enhance the overall press performance.
Panczyk views low-energy light technology as a big trend in printing, specifically UV and even LED. “The new technology, like low-energy UV and the LED, are definitely more environmentally friendly than current processes,” he noted. “You see a lot of printers looking at that technology as a nice solution to getting better performance, immediate dry, and not having the energy that it normally would take to run those systems.”
UV systems are becoming more mainstream in the current market, according to Panczyk, but LED systems are still in the beginning, proving stages.
“Through the explosion of the LED in regular home lighting, the technology has advanced to the point where they have been able to commercialize it, to try to get the power to the point where it will actually cure something,” he noted.
Panczyk explains that LED is a little different than UV because a UV lamp – a mercury lamp – covers the whole gamut of the spectrum, from the infrared to the end, so it’s going to cure all of the different wavelengths. But LED focuses on only a few specific wavelengths.
“But, it uses less energy, and it doesn’t produce any ozone, which has to be HVACed out of a press room, so one of the big savings is that you don’t have to have any fans exhausting air out of the press room. That’s a huge savings,” he stressed. “It’s also instant on, so you don’t need to have the lamps warming up.”
LED also produces a fraction of the heat of a regular UV system, he continues, “so you can run different types of substrates without having to worry about distortion.”
Environmentally, LEDs do not contain mercury, unlike their UV lamp counterparts, making disposal less of an issue as well.
Unfortunately, LED has some disadvantages, Panczyk affirms, including that the light has to be very close to the substrate in order to work.
“For LEDs, the inks have to change, because they have to perform under more specific conditions – they don’t have the photoinitiators. They have to be a little bit more specific,” he confirmed.
Since traditional print products are losing ground to electronic media, many offset printers are investigating other areas to employ their expertise and use their equipment.
“Many sheetfed printers are pulling volume from other printing markets, including heatset and folding carton,” noted Sweet.
“For our sheetfed customers branching into the folding carton market, Sun Chemical’s SunPak LMQ products help address the risk brand owners face in packaging, where chemicals from materials in the packaging structure can migrate into the food product or the surrounding environment,” he stated.