High volume: a recipe for success

Various developments in commercial web offset printing in recent years started with 32-page presslines, moving through 64 and 80 pages, right up to a 96-page printing system. Through ongoing product evolution resulting in ever higher productivity with the same printing quality, commercial web offset printing grew its market share. Why are high volume web presses and especially the new 96-page generation a logical consequence of this development? Regarding this, here is an outlook on industrial-scale commercial web offset printing. Supported by the positive influences of cross media, printed advertising is growing again. A summary of the development trends of the printing segments mainly produced with high volume systems shows the following scenario: Household advertising in the form of leaflets and flyers that land in the consumer’s letterbox separately or inside other media are still indispensable for trade and industry to stimulate the buying impulse. The central success factors of this advertising form are clever regional distribution, creative product design, and its communication capability. In the field of catalogues for trade and industry, the so-called big books are giving way to shorter run catalogues that appear more frequently. Especially the printed version of entertaining magalogs, a cross between a magazine and a catalogue, remains the anchor for cross media marketing campaigns. With magazines and periodicals, the title variety trend continues, above all with medium and short runs. Here publishers increasingly rely on the success model of combining lifestyle topics. The dynamic growth of the corporate publishing segment continues unabated. Even in the age of digital natives, printed customer magazines to strengthen customer loyalty and generate demand in a cross media communications mix is still a success model. In general, it can be seen that, due to the tendency towards shorter runs and faster turnaround times, gravure publication is losing market share to the competing process of commercial web offset.

The challenges…

Meanwhile, one can speak of a new era in the production efficiency of commercial web offset. The production volume is increasingly overlapping with that of gravure. Despite tapping new customer groups, a recovery in advertising spending, and positive development outlooks for innovative forms of printed advertising, commercial web offset printers are facing a number of major challenges. Although even before the crisis year 2009, there was a certain consolidation of capacity in both gravure and web offset in Europe, often through shutting down old written-off presses with comparatively low productivity, the massive pressure on selling prices for printed products and in turn on the profitability situation of the industry continues. Therefore reducing costs is the central requirement of all companies involved in the value-adding chain. This also gradually leads to a market shakeout, i.e. further shutting down of uneconomical production capacity. In the future this development will intensify because, over the medium or long term, total print volume will tend to stagnate, at least in Europe.

Call for innovations…

An outlook on industrial-scale commercial web offset printing.Precisely on account of these continuingly difficult market conditions, commercial web offset needs innovations that bring more cost reduction potential than merely a few percentage points. Groundbreaking concepts are called for that lift production efficiency to a sustainable new level. One such technological development is a concept demanded by the market – the 96-page LITHOMAN S. Keeping in mind the aspect of high level of economic efficiency through full-width web operation, the development of a 96-page heatset rotary press with a web width of 2,860 millimeters is thus a logical technology advancement following the trend for increasing productivity in web offset through wider webs that has meanwhile been taking place for around 15 years. Altogether more than 350 long-grain and short-grain LITHOMAN presses are in production worldwide, and around 50 of these have a web width of over two meters. The market success of these so-called UWWO (Ultra Wide Web Offset) printing systems started in 2005 with installations of the first 2,060 millimeters wide 80-page presses in Germany, Italy and Spain. These UWWO presses with web widths of 2,060 millimeters up to 2,860 millimeters produce a gross output of between 3.6 and 4.3 million pages per hour. Through this development in productivity, web offset is increasingly entering the domain of gravure publication.

CtP prepress technology for web offset has considerable advantages regarding costs and throughput time compared with printing cylinder engraving and cylinder handling for the gravure process. Here the costs per square meter of an imaged print form for offset are only around 15 to 25 percent of the costs that gravure incurs. The makeready time savings from approval of the print data up to the start of the production run are in a similar ratio. Web offset printers utilize these advantages for inexpensive and fast production of split runs such as imprinting dealer addresses or regionally differentiated price information in leaflets and flyers. Another influence on the technological development of web offset compared with gravure publication that should not be underestimated is the intense competition between suppliers of press, prepress, and platemaking equipment. In past years, the manufacturers’ high level of R&D funding aimed at gaining competitive advantages in the offset segment has, besides the increases in productivity and quality already mentioned, reduced the production costs of printed products.

Safeguarding the future…

With the structures of the advertising and media landscape changing, the print market has to reposition itself. Printing companies must respond to the stronger market segmentation with improved business and production processes. This development necessitates a pioneering spirit, which the high volume printing system complies with, and enables publishers to reach their goals: they want to be profitable and this entails retaining advertising customers and readers and generating additional business. An important factor here is low production costs in the inserts, magazines and catalogs segments, which extremely productive high volume commercial web systems ensure. In recent years, these cost reductions have enabled printed products to defend their position as an attractive and efficient communication medium for advertisers, publishers, and industry in general.

Group Publications