MAN Roland 700 DirectDrive

Philip Chadwick
Wednesday, April 18, 2007

MAN Rolands latest contender in the short-run market was given the kind of launch usually reserved for a Formula One car a darkened room with strobe lights and the machine hidden under covers. Once the wraps came off, the 700 DirectDrive press was revealed and MAN Roland started to shout about it.

One of the major talking points was plate changing. Changing plates simultaneously is one of the press’ main benefits and MAN Roland argues that in today’s market, such technology has become ever more important.

“There is a trend towards efficiency and the value-added printing approach,” explains MAN Roland board member for sheetfed presses Markus Rall. “Consolidation means that print firms are more than just print firms. They need to do more and become service providers.”

The strategy for MAN Roland’s 700 product range, considered the “benchmark”, is two-fold. Firstly, the manufacturer is targeting the high end of the market with the 700 HiPrint. MAN Roland describes this machine as an ‘all rounder’ with 3,000 different configurations available. It can be tailor-made for users with long runs.

Shorter runs
The 700 DirectDrive, the second product, is squarely aimed at printers with much shorter runs – 5,000 and below. It is designed to cut makeready times and has done so using some innovative technology first developed on MAN Roland’s commercial web and newspaper presses. The technology is hardly new in that area, having been developed for the web offset market since 1990. In 1996, MAN Roland patented DirectDrive for sheetfed offset. And now it’s on the market, the 700 features some differences from the web version.

The solution was to incorporate a high torque electric motor mounted on the plate cylinder journal at the drive side of the press. There’s also a patented clutching system that consists of two clutches between two gear trains. These can be engaged jointly or separately depending on the required function. Put simply, DirectDrive operates directly driven plate cylinders on each printing unit and can be used alongside automatic plate loading.

“It means that we can carry out new functions using DirectDrive,” says MAN Roland project manager Holger Wiese. “It means that you can have simultaneous plate change. This has traditionally had to be carried out in a sequence but, using DirectDrive, the plate change can take place at the same time.”

It’s a complex and innovative clutch system and doesn’t just mean that plates – as many as 12 – can be changed in around one minute. Plate changing can also be undertaken with inking-up – the inking and damping unit are driven by the press’ main drive and the direct drive motor drives the automatic plate changing function and unloading.

Plate washing
The same can be done with washing – plate changing can take place while the blanket and impression cylinders are being washed. It means that two makeready operations can take place at the same time. “DirectDrive needs only six minutes for washing blankets and inking-up,” adds Wiese.

MAN Roland has done the number crunching on the new press and reckons that it makes a 60% reduction in make­ready times, compared to a basically automated eight-colour sheetfed perfecting press. For an eight-colour 700 with DirectDrive and a 70x100cm format, makeready times clock in at between 20 to 25 minutes.

“It gives us the confidence that we are qualified to hold the title of world champion in makeready times,” adds head of product marketing for sheetfed Michael Nitsche.

The company has already put this theory to the test. Last month, a German print firm set a plate-changing world speed record using DirectDrive. Stuttgart-based Rosler Druck completed 103 full plate changes in a 24-hour period on its six-colour 700. It equated to a plate change every 14 minutes and 412 plates were used during the assault on the record – 1,000 copies of a 2,800pp catalogue were printed.

But time alone isn’t the only selling point, according to MAN Roland. It claims that in four-colour mode, the 700 is capable of a 25% cost saving, enabling a printer to put a higher margin on work.

That may be the case, but the 700 DirectDrive does not come cheap, although the price is in the same ballpark as similar presses on the market. In a 10-colour model and depending on the exact configurations, a press could cost as much as £2m. However, the company argues that in the long-run, a user will claw that money back, based on the time savings they will make.

The 700 DirectDrive is now available and targets pretty much all sectors, with short-run journals, magazines, reports and accounts, inserts and stationery likely to be the main beneficiaries. And MAN Roland is closing in on its first UK deal, with “one of the largest print groups” requesting a private two-day trial of the press.

Rival systems
It’s worth noting that Mitsubishi and KBA have their own versions of DirectDrive, while Heidelberg and Komori have their own automatic plate changing systems (see alternatives). MAN Roland GB director for sheetfed and finishing Gary Doman is certainly not dismissive of the competition.

“I have huge respect for our competitors,” he says. “I am very aware that they are capable of equalling the DirectDrive technology and can all come up on the inside track. But the competition also includes the likes of Xerox and HP. There has to be an eye kept on digital and we recognise that run lengths are getting shorter while turnaround has become much faster. With digital, cost per copy has also become more economical.”

With future rivals likely to include the digital sector, it’s no surprise that MAN Roland is looking at further enhancements to DirectDrive. There are rumours that it is looking at developing a system that changes plates on the fly without interrupting production or print-length correction.

While impressive, MAN Roland’s DirectDrive technology is being challenged by others in the industry. Efficiency is proving to be the watchword and MAN Roland is keen to show that it is one of the players leading the way in developing innovative technology.

Max speed
Max number of units
Max sheet size
Min sheet size
Max stock thickness
£2m (for 10 colours)
MAN Roland 020 8648 7090
KBA Rapida 105

KBA executive sales director for sheetfed presses Mark Nixon says direct drive is nothing new – KBA has been using the technology for the past two years. But he argues when you have a long perfector, looked after by two or more people, it’s unlikely that the time savings will make any impact.
Max speed
Max number of units
Max sheet size
Min sheet size
Max stock thickness
£1.8m (for 10 colours)
KBA 01923 819922

Heidelberg Speedmaster XL 105
Heidelberg has been watching direct drive with interest and expects to showcase innovations at Drupa. But product manager for large-format Steve Cavey explains there are other areas that can save time, not just plate changing.
Max speed 18,000sph
Max number of units 6
Max sheet size 750x1,050mm
Min sheet size 340x480mm
Max stock thickness 1mm
Price £2m (for 10 colours)
Contact Heidelberg UK 020 8490 3500

Komori Lithrone S40
Komori has incorporated automatic plate changing since 2002. For a 10-colour press, it takes less than six minutes. “More people want a one-man operation,” explains Phil Holland, Komori general sales manager in the South.
Max speed 12,000sph
Max number of colours
Max sheet size
Max printing area
Max stock thickness
£1.9m–£2m (for 10 colours)
Komori UK 01132 799900

Mitsubishi Diamond 3000

Mitsubishi Lithographic Presses UK managing director Thomas Doliwa says its direct drive system is “superior”. The system is able to change all plates in 58 seconds regardless of whether it’s a two-colour or a 12-colour press.
Max speed 16,000
Max number of units 14
Max sheet size 740x1,040mm
Min sheet size 540x360mm
Max stock thickness 1mm
Number of ink rollers 20
Contact Mitsubishi Lithographic Presses 01132 407584


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