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Compelling arguments against digital print production
Specialist art printer Mercurius opts for Genius 52UV
In 2005 the Mercurius group restructured the entire operation, expanding its graphic activities, and since then it has invested heavily in this sector. In December 2006 a Genius 52UV was added to the press fleet. Manufactured by KBA-Metronic, this press is specifically engineered for printing film and plastics. Mercurius invested in a five-colour version, with the fifth unit used either to apply a coating or a varnish. There is also a standalone coater and a UV dryer with an extended delivery.
While the Genius 52UV was being installed, director Fred Krijnen was busy breaking ground for new company premises a few kilometres away in Zaanstad. The relocation to the three new industrial buildings on the company’s new site by the River De Zaan is scheduled for September this year.
Plant manager Ronald Bakker conducted a painstaking analysis of market offerings before finally plumping for the Genius 52UV: “The press represents a new departure. This particular printing plant is accustomed to medium- and long-run work on our B2 and B1 presses. Our other printing plant has a lot of experience with printing synthetic materials, and we can draw on this because that is what the Genius 52UV will be used for.”
The printing plant is part of the Mercurius group, whose primary business is print production for publishing houses from Scandinavia to Spain. These account for almost half of group turnover. Says Ronald Bakker: “Turnaround times and run lengths are both steadily diminishing. Working as part of a group enables us to harmonise our production systems. We’re talking about print runs of just a few hundred to a maximum of 3,000 items.”
Print, not print-out
Normally for print runs of this length the obvious choice would be a digital printing system rather than an offset press. “That’s true,” says Bakker. “And we vetted every digital printing system on the market. But in the end we opted for the Genius 52UV. The biggest advantage of digital print production is that it supports personalisation. But that is a capability that we simply do not need. What we do need is a robust machine that can UV coat inline with little or no waste, can be made ready and prepared for the next job in a minimum of time and can be embedded in our existing workflow. Most of our products are printed on synthetic material up to a maximum thickness of 0.8mm. I assume – with all due respect to digital printing systems – that it would be impossible to print substrate thicknesses on a digital press at a speed of 8,000 sheets per hour – and even if it were possible, the sheets would doubtless soon be damaged. Also, the Genius 52UV prints a sheet format of 360 x 520mm, precisely half the size of our standard format. So we can continue to buy substrates from our existing suppliers and are not compelled to switch to the relatively costly, proprietary products offered by digital vendors. Synthetic film is expensive enough as it is. So for relatively short print runs we want to keep waste to an absolute minimum.”
Ronald Bakker can use his existing CTP equipment for the Toray plates that the Genius 52UV consumes. Mercurius prints alcohol-free on all its presses, so this was not an issue for the press crew. “The Genius 52UV has an anilox inking unit, so that there is not much the press operator can do in the way of settings. I’m all for it. Colour management is defined in pre-press and not at the press, where we prefer to work with standard densities that deliver a predictable image.”
Targeting new markets
Work for the Mercurius group in Europe represents half of the company’s turnover and also accounts for half the jobs printed on the Genius 52UV. Does this justify the investment? Peter de Haan, sales manager at Mercurius, believes it does: “Taking the Genius 52UV on board has enabled us to enter new markets. In the past, Mercurius had a thriving business printing die-cut mousepads and prepaid telephone cards. Now, thanks to thermal transfer and DOD inkjet, we can personalise these cards. Lenticular printing is another highly successful line of business. I believe that we small- and mid-cap companies can make even more of printed products such as these. Why shouldn’t a firm distribute cards to regular customers and link this with a campaign? Why don’t football clubs give their members cards that they can use to claim discounts in sports shops? But that means an even tighter focus. The number of jobs is rising while run lengths are declining. This also means that workflows must be totally automated by supporting job acquisition, delivery and payment via the internet. This is the status we have now reached and since June we have been busy implementing it in the market. Efficiency is the magic word.”
The home of art printing
The Mercurius group was established in Wormerveer in 1924. Wormerveer is in Zaanstreek, one of the oldest industrial regions in the Netherlands, north of Amsterdam. The group has two printing plants: Mercurius in the Netherlands and Floramedia in Austria.
Since it was founded Mercurius has focused on innovation as a means of maintaining the superior quality in four-colour print production that is its speciality. Museums, graphic designers and artists know that at Mercurius their challenging and often outlandish projects will receive the care and attention they demand. Mercurius has also developed other specialist services: printing on foil, plastic films and lenticulars (which it calls “movable print”. The Mercurius group is a holding company with some 35 European subsidiaries, which in addition to the printing plants include publishing houses, communications and financial communications specialists.
“Sixteen hours a day at full stretch”
May 2007: the Genius 52UV at Mercurius has been running for four months. Lars Deden, plant manager for synthetics, was directly involved in the press commissioning. “We factored in a learning curve, which proved to be a wise move. During the initial start-up phase we searched for the inks best suited to our specific production needs. We also wanted to make ink densities exactly the same as on our other presses. That required tremendous precision, since it is only possible to make minor adjustments to the temperature. We achieved the density we wanted by using a screen resolution of 100lpc instead of 160lpc and by swapping the anilox roller in the yellow unit with the one in the magenta unit. We were determined to embed the Genius 52UV in the workflow we use for our conventional presses and to this end experimented with the activator for our CTP system. All the essential parameters are now stable, the press prints precisely as billed and is in operation sixteen hours a day, at full stretch.”
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