Is secondhand worthy of a second look?

By PrintWeek Team, Friday 18 March 2011

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When it comes to investing in extra capacity, can a used press fit the bill or is it fit only for the scrapheap?

When the car scrappage scheme was introduced in May 2009, it was touted by the then Labour government as a vital boost to the ailing car market, as well as a way to green up Britain’s roads. And indeed, in the latter case at least, it seems to have worked. In March 2010, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders recorded the fastest drop in average UK CO2 car emissions since records began in 1997, as old inefficient cars were taken out of use and replaced by modern, cleaner-running cars.

Good news, you might think. However, the gloss was quickly taken off the story by a flurry of counter-claims as to just how much CO2 is used in replacing one car with another.

According to some reports, the amount of carbon produced to scrap an old car and replace it with a new one might equal as much as driving 50,000 miles. That, it can be argued, is one large footprint.

While there hasn’t been an equivalent scrappage scheme to bolster equipment sales in the print industry, the same paradox remains. On the one hand, a new press will run faster, consume less energy and produce less waste, but on the other, a large amount of energy is used to manufacture it – energy that can be saved if you opt for a secondhand model.
So, what’s greener – new or used?

Newer, cleaner kit
Regardless of whether it’s litho, digital or any other type of technology, just like a car, a brand new press is likely to run considerably greener than its 10-year-old equivalent. The drive mechanisms and software programs incorporated into new presses are, more or less, all geared to making production faster, turnaround times quicker and equipment more energy efficient.

Just as importantly, where once there was a degree of lip-service paid to going green, printers are now able to see that being environmentally aware brings real economic benefits. The removal of isopropyl alcohol (IPA) from the printing process is a good example of how that works, says Manroland commercial sales manager Adam Robotham.

"IPA, of course, is a pollutant, and the price of alcohol keeps going up and up. Therefore, removing IPA use from all our new presses means printers are saving money as well," he says.

According to Robotham, the same principle applies with blanket-washers. "Instead of using cloths, we now have a brush system on our presses that lasts several hundred million impressions – effectively the lifetime of the machine. Just think of the number of cloths you’re saving there," says Robotham.

Key components
Ancillary parts aside, it’s the core performance of a new press that gives the most economic benefits –and therefore environmental benefits – over older ones, believes Robotham.

"If a new press runs at, say, 16,000sph and your old press at 8,000sph, then clearly a new press is doing the work of two old ones," he says. "So, effectively you’ve already halved the carbon footprint of the old press, even before taking into consideration factors like lower power consumption and faster makeready."

It’s this kind of evidence that leads most manufacturers to agree – even taking into consideration the CO2 produced in its manufacture – that over time, a new press will be greener than a used one.

"Unless the specification is the same, or if it’s a very recent machine, I would find it difficult to imagine how a used machine can be greener than a new machine – even when you factor in the CO2 used to make the press," argues Neil Handforth, sales and marketing director at Apex Digital Graphics, UK distributor for Ryobi.

Pressmakers are also far greener today than ever before, which gives further weight to the argument, says Handforth. "Ryobi manufactures to ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 standards and the firm recycles things like packing cases," he adds.
But not all the facts are stacked in favour of new presses. Heidelberg machines, for instance, are renowned for their durability, lasting "many many years", according to marketing and product manager Gernot Keller. This can only serve to lessen their carbon footprint.

"Even if they are sold after a few years of operation, they often travel to a slightly less industrialised country, often ending up with three or more different homes," says Keller. "This is an important and constantly growing business. In many cases a used Heidelberg is the most serious competitor to a new Heidelberg press."

The debate becomes muddier still, suggests Handforth, when the green credentials of a new press are weighed up against a used press of a different type. "We believe that certain older Ryobi presses are greener than some presses supplied new from other manufacturers," he says.

Presstek goes one step further by suggesting that some of its earliest direct imaging (DI) presses, by their very definition, are still far greener than many new presses being rolled out today.

"DI is a chemistry-free process with platemaking inbuilt on the press, so in terms of their environmental credentials, our machines are way ahead of their time," says Presstek director of marketing communications Brian Wolfenden. "The bar was set so high with our presses that the opposition is still catching up."

Wolfenden feels any printer opting for a used press over a new equivalent is making first and foremost a "business decision". However, when there is a decision to be made between different presses, it’s not unimaginable to think a printer may use environmental criteria to help them make their choice.

The same applies should a printer wish to carbon offset the CO2 impact of the press. While some are vague on the details, most manufacturers claim to be able to help the printer ascertain such a figure, whether through an external carbon audit, or their own calculations. Heidelberg, for example, has a ‘make to gate’ calculation for its own presses (see box).

Calculating the CO2 impact of a press up until the point it leaves the factory floor is one thing, but working out the impact across its lifetime is far more difficult. Some manufacturers concede they can only make rough estimations, while others feel the onus is on the printer to work out such a figure.

Earlier this year, Manroland released tentative details of Ecometer, a software package designed to enable printers to work out the CO2 impact of their press. By calculating the impact of variables such as production volume and paper consumption, Manroland says Ecometer will identify ways to save energy and material cost, and therefore CO2.

"Ecometer will enable us to work on a consultancy basis with customers," explains Robotham. "It will help printers save money, and by the same token help the environment."

Perfect peripherals
Of course, a printer investing in a used press always has the opportunity to reduce its carbon footprint by retrofitting newer technology onto it. However, it does not always make sense environmentally to retrofit all of the latest innovations.
Far more reliably, printers can make their older presses greener by changing peripherals, says Technotrans managing director Peter Benton.

"A move from conventional to cartridge inking or manual cartridge to ink pumped systems will save ink waste and create a cleaner working environment," says Benton. "We can run a pressroom audit and highlight a range of measures to aid more environmental and efficient production. Maintenance improves performance, reducing energy and waste costs."

While attempts to improve the environmental footprint of an older press should be applauded, the crux of the matter is the newer the press, the more efficiently it is likely to run. And with energy bills on a seemingly endless spiral upwards in recent times, the disparity in performance between old and new has become that much more noticeable.

"Taking all factors into consideration, I think it’s fair to say a typical new press uses 30%-40% less energy per print job than a 10-year-old equivalent," says Robotham. "With energy prices as they are, that can make a big difference financially."

Just like running a car, anyone running a press will tell you just how expensive it can be these days. So whichever side of the fence you may fall on in the new versus used debate, it’s an argument that cannot be ignored.

Any printer keen to carbon offset the full impact of a printing press would need to factor in the CO2 produced in its manufacture.

As part of its ‘make to gate’ concept, Heidelberg claims the amount of CO2 involved in manufacturing one of its presses equals its weight multiplied by six. This equates to:

Six-colour XL 105: 370 tonnes CO2
Five-colour SM 74 with coater: 170 tonnes CO2
Two-colour SM 52 with perfector: 55 tonnes CO2

According to the German press manufacturer, materials contribute between 70%-80% of the CO2 used in making the press, with energy and logistics making up the remainder. Heidelberg offers customers the opportunity to offset these emissions in full or in part through co-financing a climate protection project. Customers can participate in a project by purchasing emissions certificates, which are accredited by recognised environmental protection organisations.

Heidelberg also provides quantifiable CO2 savings for all of its most up-to-date on-press technology, including the AirStar system that is claimed to halve energy consumption, and FilterStar, a filtration system that supports alcohol-free printing.
According to Heidelberg marketing and product manager Gernot Keller, it’s not just about press technology – how the press is used makes a difference as well.

"Don’t forget that the press is still consuming energy and other resources when just idling, so optimising press downtimes is important as well," he says. "You can improve the CO2 per 1,000-sheet ratio by keeping the press running and producing."

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