The half-sheet or B2 sector of the commercial print market has always been the industry’s battleground with every press manufacturer eager to take their slice of what is the most populous press format. And even with Heidelberg's dominance of the market, a UK printer can still buy a B2 press from RMGT (Ryobi), KBA, Komori, Sakurai and Shinohara.
Printers searching the used market may also come across presses from Mitsubishi, Akiyama, Hashimoto, Solna, or Manroland, most of which should be consigned to museums along with presses from Crabtree, Aurelia and Miller, once suppliers of B2 machines.
If many of these marques have fallen by the wayside, the larger press manufacturers will have a number of models in the portfolio: a highly automated version for the demands of a modern US or European printer and a less sophisticated press perhaps more suited to printers without the ability to support this level of productivity or the ability to invest or need for the speed of output.
This is why Heidelberg has introduced the CX75. It has the same design and cylinder format as the flagship XL75 model, but without some of the automated features that have helped make the XL75 a top seller. And the CX75 sits above the SX74, a B2 workhorse machine which continues to use the dependable press frame from a previous generation of press designs.
Likewise Koenig & Bauer has two B2 machines on the market, both revamped last year as the 200-year-old manufacturer prepares to target this part of the market to grow its market share.
Komori also offers choices in this format: the Enthrone is a compact easy to operate press; two models in the Lithrone 29, either the S model or the more automated G version to offer the bells and whistles for hands off operation. Komori is also active with an SRA1 press, a format that is popular in Asia and which is taking off in the UK and Europe. The argument is that this format offers the ability to print eight A4 pages to view like a full B1 machine, but without the price tag and with reduced running costs.
Komori has the Lithrone G37 as the more automated model taking features from the flagship B1 G40 series machines, including start up automation, plate changing, inline colour and density controls running at 15,000sph as a two- to five-colour press, but without a perfecting option. At Drupa this press was the first Komori to have LED UV. This is the configuration found at Komori Europe’s demo centre in Utrecht.
The Lithrone A37 is a less sophisticated press, though can also have H-UV. It reaches 13,000sph but with a fast turnover between jobs. Komori says this makes it highly suited to bookwork and indeed Berforts, the first UK printer buy this machine, is a book printer. Hobbs the Printers has a four-colour G37 as has Barnwell Print in Aylsham. All are equipped with H-UV drying.
The innovation in drying has driven the popularity of Komori’s B2 presses, helping the company gain share in businesses that had never previously considered the Japanese manufacturer. “H-UV accounts for the vast majority of sales in the commercial print sector,” says Komori UK sheetfed sales director Steve Turner. “The market has latched on to low energy accelerated drying.”
The various flavours of UV enable a commercial printer to compete with digital printing in turnaround times with the advantages that litho brings in terms of unquestioned versatility, quality and cost per sheet. UV drying has also enabled users to extend their range into synthetic substrates. A few years ago the fear was that digital printing might eliminate B2 litho as it has B3 litho; instead B2 litho is becoming the new digital.
Yet some B2 printers are considering a step into the larger format, says Turner. “There’s no question that SRA1 is for the B2 printer that wants to increase throughput by moving to a larger format, but that doesn’t want to go to the full B1 sheet. These printers have just about maxed out on their existing presses but do not want to increase the machine park with another press. This format allows them to increase capacity where their only other option is a long perfector. But with short run lengths, the advantages of low energy UV, there is a very, very sound business argument for being in SRA1.
“There is no need to increase manning levels and the investment is not significantly greater.”
WhileTurner describes the G37 as “very much a cut down G40” in terms of the technology available, the SRA1 press comes in smaller than the B1 machine, though not significantly. A four-colour press comes in at 8.2 metres long compared to 9.9 metres on the B1 press and width at 3.5 metres compared to 3.9 metres. The height remains the same.
For many printers planning to move up from B2 the majority of their work will fit comfortably within an SRA1 sheet and paper merchants ship more paper in SRA formats than in B size formats. With the focus on meeting the needs of customers today rather than being able to print an extra row of labels or carton blanks at some point in the future, the SRA1 press is an increasingly serious proposition. “It is a market that has developed dramatically over the last 18 months,” says Turner.
Apex Digital Graphics, the UK’s RMGTdealer, has ridden this wave superbly. It has shipped Ryobi 9 Series machines, almost all of them with LED UV, to existing customers and now to printers that have been running German built presses. A breakthrough was a two-press order from Precision Colour Printing which replaced Heidelberg Speedmaster XL75s with an eight-unit perfector and a five-unit SRA1 press, since ungraded to an eight-unit machine.
This gave ProCo the confidence to replace its Manroland B2 presses with the Ryobi 920. A second is on its way; Northend Creative Print Solutions has switched from a pair of older Heidelbergs to the Ryobi and this month Marstan Press has switched from a long perfecting XL75 to a five-unit Ryobi 925 plus coater, with another machine about to be commissioned.
In all, says Apex Digital managing director Bob Usher, there are 20 RMGT 9 Series machines in the UK. One was shown at the recent Ipex where it was very much the centre of attention at a show that was otherwise short on printing presses. Many coming to show saw what they thought was a B2 machine thanks to its compact dimensions. A four- colour machine comes in at 7.7 metres long, 3.0 metres wide and 1.9 metres high.
The RMGT is also the only SRA1 machine currently to include a perfecting option. And all machines shipped recently have been equipped with LED UV accelerated drying.
Usher points out that the economics stack up: printing 8pp A4 on a B1 plate means a waste of 30% of the plate material; energy consumption on an SRA1 machine is more in line with a B2 press than the B1 option. And the increase in format helps set litho aside from digital printing which is realistically limited to B2. “We would say that litho has been reinvented by the rise of LED UV,” says Usher.
“People are now keen to talk to us about a technology that first appeared ten years ago.” In short the market has not yet reached saturation. There is even a case for companies running older B1 presses to consider a drop in format to SRA1, gaining the advantages of automation and faster makeready with a saving in maintenance costs as well.
Northend Creative Print Solutions replaced two B2 presses with an RMGT 925 over the summer, breaking a view that managing director Nigel Stubley had expressed that the press bought in 2008 would be the company’s last litho press because digital printing must take over.
He ran the figures on energy, plate consumption and especially on paper before making the decision. “We checked our work and found that 91% of what we printed on the B2 press was in an SRA format. We spoke to Antalis and they said that 90% of their UK tonnage is in SRA formats,” he says.
Another key aspect has been reduction in waste in every sense. Makeready waste is logically lower, but so too is time lost each day because ink ducts do not need to be cleaned. The UV sensitive inks are not subject to skinning so can remain in the ducts overnight provided the ducts are not subject to UV in daylight.
The latest user, Marstan Press, has carried out the same calculations as Northend and, says sales and marketing director Martin Lett Junior, will save significantly in terms of maintenance over the four-year-old intensively used long perfecting XL75 that the RMGT 925 replaces. For the margin squeezed company, the change will enable the company to return a decent profit.
Nor has this success passed unremarked. Heidelberg introduced an SRA1 CS92 press in 2015 intended it for use in Asia and developing markets that do not need the industrial press approach. It has sold more than 70 since. This machine is based on a CX102 press design, cylinders and frames with different plate, blanket and impression cylinders to cope with the smaller format. Now this machine is being offered in Europe, and will make its UK debut at the next Heidelberg UK open house in February.
While Heidelberg will have the same benefits in terms of plates, paper sizes and with an accelerated drying system, most of the consumables advantages that the Ryobi offers, it is a much larger press.Where the Japanese machine will fit in the space occupied by a B2 press, the CS92 is constrained by being the same size as the CX102 B1 press. A four-colour CS92 is 10.6 metres long, 4.8 metres wide and 2.7 metres high.
Should the format continue or increase its current popularity, Heidelberg will almost certainly add a purpose deigned and built SRA1 press to the portfolio. While there is no perfecting option, the CS92 is unique in the SRA1 format in offering 9pp A4 output. This can also mean three three-page folded products in one pass, something that was noted by Rollin Imprimeur, the French printer which has moved from a 15-year-old Speedmaster CD102-5 to the SRA1 machine with coater, running at 13,000sph, and is the first in that country to have the new press. As yet there are no UK users.
Heidelberg UK sales director Jim Todd points out that the format will not be for every printer. “This format will enable a printer to save 20% of its square metreage of plates compared to B1 production but a full size B1 platesetter is normally needed to make the SRA1 plate. Moreover, a move into SRA1 can take a company into competition with B1 printers running Push to Stop autonomous presses which output job after job until the operator intervenes to curtail it. They might find themselves fighting competition that has better weapons.”
But equally printers looking at SRA1 are doing so precisely because they do not want to go into the B1 market proper where the size of the investment means that most must pursue higher volume and potentially lower margin work. The lower investment cost keeps the additional volume needed under control and within the capacity of the press.
As well as prepress there is finishing to consider. The existing line up of folders may not cope with the larger format and a new guillotine may be necessary.
When ProCo installed two Ryobi SRA1 machines, it replaced a guillotine with a very much larger model. It took into consideration the potential to cut sheets printed on its large format inkjet printers as well as from the litho press, increasing efficiency over the cutting table approach.
The advantage of the larger sheet comes into play with binding where there is half the number of eight-page sections compared to four-page sections. A company may also be able to reduce the number of shifts and will save on overtime.
However, while Apex Digital Graphics has been enjoying the interest in SRA1 printing, B2 will remain the choice for the majority of printers. A fully spec’ed Speedmaster XL75 offers the productivity of an older B1 machine. It can include automatic plate change, cylinder and roller washing and Impress Control. It does not yet reach the Push to Stop automation that was introduced to the XL106 at Drupa last year, but the potential exists and Heidelberg will be considering extending this technology to the smaller format.
Recent purchaser BCQXL75-5 LE-UV press installed in the second half of last year. Managing director Chris Knowles says that the UV technology will cope with the uncoated substrates that are increasingly popular “and to meet the demand for ever faster turnarounds”.
The new press fits alongside an existing XL75 and continues the emphasis on B2 printing. “If we went to a larger sheet we would have to have volume to fill the capacity rather than concentrating on where our core business is and where we make money,” he says.
The UV capability will enable the business to extend its repertoire to print on metallised sheets, on plastics and to print white for packaging customers. “The technology makes it so much easier to getting good colour on the sheet rather than having to wait to see if there are any dry back issues. It gives us more flexibility in scheduling because we can print and finish when it suits production rather than having to print uncoated jobs immediately to ensure they are dry when needed.”
But not all require the power that the XL75 delivers. This is where the CX75, performing a similar portfolio-smoothing function as the CX102 did when it joined the Heidelberg B1 line up. Not every printer needs to make ready in minutes, nor to run at 18,000sph. But for a company moving from an older generation press, the step up in sophistication is significant.
The Color Co, which will be the first UK user, anticipates a 30% increase in productivity with the CX compared to the SX74. Then there are the benefits of using the same platform as the XL. “This is a press that will open up new markets and make some existing work, such as heavy boards for promotional materials, much easier to handle,” says managing director Ashley Wainwright.
What may also prove a clincher for Heidelberg is a footprint that is the smallest that the German company has offered. The length is dependent on configuration, but width is 2.8 metres thanks to fold away running boards compared to 3.3 metres on the XL75. For Heidelberg, this is a small press. A five-colour machine comes in at 11.6 metres long compared to a five-colour XL75 at 12.4 metres. Both run at 15,000cph, the big difference being in the range of automation features and Impress Control which is not available on the newer machine.
A similar distinction is being made for the two Koenig & Bauer B2 presses. As yet this manufacturer has no SRA1 offering and is unlikely to develop one. Instead it has a high specification Rapida 76, using the same core technologies as the B1 Rapida 106, and the Rapida 75 Pro. Both have featured in open house events run at the company’s sheetfed factory near Dresden as K&B tries to gain market share in the format.
If the Rapida 76 is pitched against the XL75 with SIS infeed, fully automatic plate changing and automation throughout, the Rapida 75 Pro is the workhorse machine with automation, and a price, to appeal to the general print sector of the market. Last year the manufacturer organised three four-day events. Further open houses are planned for 2018.
The company wants to have the same impact that its B1 presses have had. In the UK it will be looking to achieve a handful of B2 installations this year. It knows it has to overcome a somewhat sticky past where earlier installations did not proceed as hoped. And loyal users like Mastercolour in Kent have collapsed. The most recent Rapida 75 has performed well at Stockport printer SF Taylor, but until now, K&B has not been marketing the format aggressively. Nevertheless the company will be equally keen that history does not repeat itself. Initial customers will be chosen carefully.
Press design has changed. The Rapida 75 Pro has been completely reengineered from the machine which was built in the Czech Republic. “It is now a very good machine,” says K&B marketing manager Craig Bretherton. “It is nothing like the machines that came into the UK a number of years ago.
“The new model has proved to be highly productive, the engineering is right for the market and with LED UV and carton printing ability, there’s still life in B2 for us. Some companies in the UK believe that B2 is growing in importance as the format for short run carton printing.”
Meanwhile B2 will remain the format of choice for the commercial printer. If a couple of years ago it appeared as if a new generation of digital would do to the B2 litho sector what digital has done in the B3 sector, this future has been postponed.
Instead B2 litho has been reinvigorated with all manufacturers offering automation, colour control, faster makeready and reduced waste. UV has added an extra dimension to keep digital print at bay. Let battle continue.
Raiseprint is running cartons through a new B2 Komori Lithrone.