An introduction to the new press technology
The paper you’re holding right now was printed on a state-of-the-art press used for the first time today.
The Gazette’s new $22 million printing and distribution plant improves the technology in newspaper production from nearly 40 years ago when the company built its downtown location, said Chuck Flynn, Bliss Communications’ vice president of technical services.
“You will not find a newspaper plant that has newer state-of-the-art than what we have here,” he said. “That was really appealing to be able to do that. There’s not too many companies that make that kind of commitment to their communities to be able to provide the kind of product that we will be providing.”
The project has consumed Flynn’s life for the last three years as project manager, and he shares some insight on the technology at the new facility at 333 Wuthering Hills Drive.
So what’s all this new technology?
The $8.1 million KBA Comet press made by Germany-based Koenig and Bauer AG will print papers faster and save paper.
Five hundred to 1,500 papers were wasted each time the old press started before operators could get the colors adjusted enough to make an acceptable paper to sell, Flynn said.
“In our new environment, we expect that to be under 300 papers of waste,” he said. “That is a significant change, a significant amount of savings.”
That’s a result of switching from a manually controlled press to a computer-controlled press. The offset printing process stays the same, but press operators now control the equipment with buttons on a console rather than levers and arms on the actual press.
Cameras mounted on the press watch tiny dots of color pages to see when they’re in register, or aligned. Until the colors line up, the press compensates and moves its elements to bring the colors into register.
“We have much more control of the printing process,” Flynn said.
It used to take about 90 minutes to print one day’s edition of the Gazette. Now it’s less than 60 minutes.
“That means in the same number of hours in the day, we can actually print more products,” Flynn said.
The new press can print a normal day’s Gazette at a rate of about 37,500 per hour, compared to about 22,000 an hour previously.
Much of that change is because the old press had to stop three to five times during a daily run to change rolls of paper. Now the press doesn’t stop at all; rolls of paper are pasted in automatically while the press is running at top speed.
The machine that inserts ads into the paper also is twice as big and three times as fast as the old one.
But the paper is composed downtown. How does it get to the press?
Operating in two different locations provides significant logistical problems, but a microwave link between the two simplifies the issues, Flynn said.
The high-speed, 300-megabit-per-second link between the buildings allows the Gazette to transfer the finished electronic files to the press. The files are received by a computer-to-plate imager.
When the electronic file is received at the plant, the image is burned to the plate using thermal imaging. The plate goes through a processing line and ends up in a bin until the press operators are ready to mount it on the press.
The new system skips a previously needed step of creating a negative, which was used to burn onto a plate.
Does the press require any special conditions?
If one broke down the new building into different trades, the highest cost trade division is the heating and ventilating and air conditioning to control the pressroom environment.
“The environment that the press sits in is pretty important,” Flynn said. “We have paid a lot of attention in this process.”
The air in the pressroom changes about once every minute. Humidity and temperature need to remain within set boundaries.
“You can produce higher quality by controlling different parts of the process,” Flynn said. “The environment is the number one enemy of variability in the printing process.”