There's only one way a print shop makes money: When the presses are running. When presses are idle, jobs are delayed, worker productivity plummets, and customers start screaming.
Excluding system failures, the biggest culprit behind downtime is the make-ready process. That's when operators shut presses down to adjust paper size, ink settings, and feeders.
Make-ready limits how many jobs printers can fit in an eight-hour shift. But some press manufacturers offer technology that cuts make-ready time to zero. They're called, appropriately enough, zero-make-ready (ZMR) presses.
"The time it takes from form to form, plus how many signatures of waste you create form to form, is critical," says Paul Riportella, VP of technical services at printing press manufacturer Timsons Inc., Schaumburg, Ill. "A printer wants to minimize make-ready time and waste, which maximizes profits."
That's music to any printer's ear, especially in today's tough economy. Timsons's entry is its T48A, a ZMR press for short- and medium-run book manufacturers. The T48A operates either as a single-color ZMR press with two units atop each other, or as a two-color traditional press.
When operating as a ZMR machine, one printing press runs while the other is idle, and available for make-ready tasks. Press operators can change plates on the idle printing unit without reducing production capacity.
"You end up with about 25 to 30 signatures of waste per form, and zero loss of time," Riportella says. "That's significant compared to 90 to 100 signatures waste from [a] standard book press."
SAVINGS FOR CUSTOMERS
Printers can pass the savings onto customers, making their pricing more competitive, without hurting profit margins.
"Just like everybody else, we're slashing and burning prices," says Nick Antonopulos, engineering manager, Cadmus Communications, Port City Press division, in Baltimore. "[Our customers] are seeing it in their quotes and their turnaround times."
Port City Press competes in the 7" x 10" and 8.5" x 11" markets. Antonopulos says that going to Timsons's ZMR technology has increased Port City Press's production by 50%.
"What happens with this zero make-ready feature is, I can put on a job, and set the speed to match the run length," Antonopulos says. "There's enough time for the [press operator] to change the plate on the other unit, never stopping the press."
Port City installed a T48A last year. In addition to eliminating make-ready, the T48A virtually eliminated web breaks, Antonopulos says. Printing trade directories primarily, Port City uses lightweight stock on short runs. Web breaks typically occur on start-up and shut down.
Using ZMR technology to eliminate web breaks saves 15 to 20 minutes per job, Antonopulos says. But the biggest benefit is the T48A's ability to run continuously, a critical advantage for short-run printers.
"So much of our work is going short run, which [requires a lot of] make ready," says Chris Kurtzman, president of Bang Printing, in Brainerd, Minn.
Bang recently entered the 8.5" x 11" short-run market, and found ZMR technology a key competitive advantage.
"The T48A essentially eliminates make-ready, and reduces paper waste, which is a high percentage of our sales," Kurtzman says. Bang will have its T48A running by June.
The book printer previously ran four to five forms per job, with a make-ready time of six to eight minutes per form. On the T48A, make-ready is only 30 to 60 seconds per form.
"A normal job would take about two hours," says Jim Lorentz, Bang's VP of operations. "With zero-make-ready, you're reducing that to about one and a quarter hours."
Saving 15 minutes per job on an eight-hour shift gives Bang an extra hour a day to run the presses, Lorentz says.
COVERING THE BOOK MARKET
But it was the adaptability of Timsons's T48A for the two-color elementary/high school market that ultimately sold Bang Printing.
"The typical workbook market is one color," says Bang president Kurtzman. "But if you take that press out of the ZMR mold, then it becomes a standard two-color press. In the educational market, a lot of [teacher editions] are two color, so [the T48A] gives us a larger market to sell to."
Kurtzman says all the ZMR features in the world mean nothing if the fundamental press technology isn't world class. He points to the T48A's continuous dampening feature, designed to provide better water control, ink, and water balance.
That produces better quality half-tone and screen work than systems with brush- or spray-dampening, according to the manufacturer. "It's similar to sheet-fed style dampening," Kurtzman says. "The quality of the half-tone and screen is much greater than most webs."
Bells and whistles aside, the main function of zero make-ready is to increase output, maximize profits, and helps printers offer competitive prices to customers. That's a tune any plant manager can dance to.
– Warren Chiara