German giant's tryst with Ricoh

Klaus Nielsen, managing director of Heidelberg India in a candid interview says economic benefit may encourage printers to choose digital device alongside a legacy offset system

PrintWeek India (PWI): How can a commercial printer benefit from the productivity and flexibility of a digital system?
Klaus Nielsen (KN): First of all let us try to understand the advantages of both digital and offset systems before taking a decision on what should be adopted. On many occasions the printer may have the possibility to choose both to meet the print buyers’ expectations and to create an economical benefit at the same time.

PWI: What are the advantages?
KN: Basically, digital is meant for short turnaround jobs with more accurate counts and less wastage for not having to balance ink and water during the press run. While the unit cost of each piece may be higher than offset printing, when setup costs are included, digital printing provides lower per unit cost for very small print runs. In every case you should look for the absolute cost. Another advantage of digital printing is that variable data printing (VDP), used primarily for direct marketing, customer relationship development, advertising and transactional print production, is not possible with the offset process. Digital printing allows customised unique units by using information from a database; and text and graphics can be changed on each piece. Personalised letters can be printed with a different name and address on each letter and images can be personalised so that printed material relates more specifically and directly to the recipient.

PWI: But offset has its advantages too. How does it balance out?
KN: Yes. It does in terms of consistency for high quality prints and images. In offset printing, irrespective of the texture of the paper or medium you are printing on – the offset plate and ink conform and adapt to it. Because of this, offset printing tends to be much cleaner and sharper once the final print is made. Today’s plate making technology is capable of producing printing plates in an easy, fast and cost-effective manner and at the same time. You can produce as many plates as you want to, depending on the applications in the most cost-effective way. In terms of usability, offset printing is capable of printing on any kind of substrate/surface. It can be a paper that has a smooth or rough surface or plastic - it really does not matter. You can still achieve the desired result with variety of special applications and value additions. The many new innovations in recent years have paved the way for offset printing to be more affordable once a certain breakeven point is hit. Offset technology has proved to be one among the most suitable and preferred technology for mass production of applications like printed electronics, RFID, conductive inks, electroluminescence, printed push button switches, printed batteries and the like. In short, when you print using offset technology, the advantages are: high image quality, use of wide range of substrates, low unit cost as the quantity goes up and quality and cost-effectiveness in high volume jobs.

PWI: Heidelberg has a finger in the inkjet pie through its Linoprint venture?
KN: Our Linoprint activities are targeting the packaging industry and are a part of the new Heidelberg digital printing portfolio designed for cost-effective production of short print runs and individualised print products. Linoprint supplies the packaging industry in a medium price/performance segment with inkjet solutions which can be integrated directly into packaging lines. Linoprint solutions include drop-on-demand inkjet equipment, integration services and consumables and are addressing market segments that differ significantly from Heidelberg’s existing offering.

PWI: But Heidelberg has entered into a deal with Ricoh for selling C901 and further production printing offerings.
KN: Yes, Heidelberg in many parts of the world has partnered with Ricoh. One of the major considerations was performance and the suitability of varied applications in-line with Heidelberg products. Digital printing continues to grow as commercial printers extend their business models to offer marketing services, short-run colour, and same-day service. Offset printers are increasingly seeking to complete their portfolios with a flexible digital solution integrated into their existing high quality offset environment. The Ricoh and Heidelberg partnership will support them in growing their core offset business and enable them to offer more flexibility towards their clients using Ricoh’s latest digital print technology. Today, offset printers have access to a nearly unlimited range of printing substrates, spot colours and state-of-the-art coating applications as well as speciality inks through Heidelberg’s market leading offerings. By adding Ricoh’s leading digital production printing technology, professional printers will be able to offer the well-known advantages of variable data printing, instant delivery of urgent print jobs and cost effective production of shorter run lengths.

PWI: Is Heidelberg’s decision based on performance space?
KN: The Ricoh Pro C901 graphic arts edition addresses the needs of commercial printers to build a high quality, digital colour printing environment. Featuring a production speed of 90 pages per minute (ppm) it is easily the fastest and most productive system in the digital value segment. This segment includes systems providing production speeds between 60ppm and 90ppm with an actual monthly production volume from 80,000 to 300,000 A4 pages and beyond. At this juncture I wish to quote Bernard Schreier here. He said: "Ricoh is the rising star in production printing. We have found an ideal strategic partner who shares our values of customer focus, environmental sustainability, innovation, quality, and customer service. By rounding off our offset portfolio including Anicolor technology with new digital printing equipment, we are providing our clients the combination of best-in-class offset, and now also in digital printing technology. Utilising both, our customers are able to offer variable data printing as well as shorter runs, next to their established cost-effective and high-end quality offset printing. With this new partnership we will also address customer demands in the broad spectrum of hybrid print applications."

PWI: According to some estimations the break-even cost is between 150-500 prints (150-250 for the Anicolor). Everything above 500, you pay less money when printing on sheetfed offset. Has Heidelberg India drawn any strategy in terms of calculating the print costs via different methods (various digital presses, SM 52 Anicolor, regular offset, etc)?
KN: Internationally, we have done a print cost calculation confirming the same which will go perfectly with India too.

PWI: Can you elaborate?
KN: Heidelberg Speedmaster SM 52 equipped with the Anicolor zoneless short inking unit breaks even with digital equipment between 250 and 500 sheets. Since few of these jobs involve variable data, Anicolor is the most economical printing method in that run-length range. For jobs smaller than that, the 90 A4 pages per minute (ppm) digital press from Ricoh (say C901) would come in to play an important role with the custom made software from us, a module of Heidelberg’s Prinect workflow architecture—deciding what job goes on which platform.

PWI: With the tie-up there’s an opportunity. For example, integrate the Prinect workshop with a digital device (the C910) to handle below 250 prints and variable work with options to incorporate Heidelberg’s colour management tools.
KN: Yes, the Speedmaster SM 52 with Anicolor inking unit is an attractive solution for both, state-of-the-art print shops working with small formats and large businesses with a growing need to turn around high-quality short runs quickly.

PWI: What’s the speed like?
KN: The Anicolor press prints up to 15,000 sheets per hour in A3 format or 30,000 sheets per hour in A4 format – in offset quality with total color stability. By way of comparison, the high-end digital presses exhibited at Drupa 2008 print up to 7,200 four-color A4 pages per hour. Anicolor technology thus enables cost-effective production of short and very short runs and shifts the boundary between digital and offset printing further. Anicolor’s strengths can also be exploited to the full with long runs. The more standardised the printing process (with print colour management, for example), the better the strengths of Anicolor can be exploited.


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