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Full-Flexo Printing in San Francisco

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Full-Flexo Printing in San Francisco

Article excerpt

ENGINEERING DIRECTOR GEORGE Friedrichs offered a positive report on flexo at the San Francisco Newspaper Agency to the fail meeting of the Newspaper Flexo Users Group. Three years earlier, the news from SFNA was grim -- not about the flexo process, but about press work at one of the agency's three production plants.

With start-up well behind them, and SFNA now a live testbed for new flexo technology and flexo-printed products, E&P asked executives about the early woes and subsequent successes at the biggest newspaper flexo site in the U.S.

The joint production-distribution operation of the San Francisco Chronicle and San Francisco Examiner faced plant construction and renovations, automation and equipment modernization, and installation of new and converted flexo presses and related technologies.

However, any problems of the sort that can be expected in a massive operational overhaul were compounded in San Francisco by significant press installation and start-up delays in early 1989 at the in-city Army Street plant, south of downtown.

A tough year

Both Friedrichs and SFNA senior vice president/operations Larry Ingram outlined SFNA's plight at meetings that year. To make matters worse, on the day NFUG wound down its fail meeting in Lancaster, Pa., the Loma Prieta earthquake shook San Francisco.

When the quake began, Ingram was at Army Street, where the electricity went out. He returned to the downtown facility, where portable generators powered the microwave and enough other equipment to set type from Macintosh computers and make halftones on a copy machine. A 16-page edition was prepared. Power was restored to Army Street, which, for all its problems, printed some copies of that edition. Ingram noted, however, that most of the day's papers were run off the letterpress that was then still in Union City.

For all its destruction, the earthquake gave SFNA some time to set things straight at Army Street in the face of a looming ad schedule booked for the Examiner, according to Ingram. (The Examiner was the first of the two dailies to use flexo color.) In spite of assurances from the pressmaker, Publishers Equipment Corp., the equipment was not ready to run, said Ingram.

In that regard, he continued, the quake was "convenient," allowing the old downtown letterpress (since shut down) to take up slack while Army Street was gradually brought on line, with the Examiner going on edition by New Year's 1990.

While Army Street came on line and PEC's later work at Union City went smoothly, Ingrain said reports of the difficulties were "used by a lot of people who don't like flexo to point it out as a flexo problem." Flexo's prospects were hurt, said a PEC executive three years ago, when word spread of SFNA's complaints

"We had a lot of problems at Army Street, but they weren't flexo problems" said Ingram. They were press start-up problems related to "some very onerous penalty clauses on the press manufacturer for delivery, but they didn't go beyond delivery." As a result, he said, much equipment arrived unready.

For example, units that were to have been factory-wired were not, said Ingram. The electrical contractor, hired after bidding to install factory-wired units, "walked off the job." Adding to that, Ingram cited RTPs that did not work and many drive and electrical problems.

Across the bay, however, the Union City plant subsequently proved "altogether different," he said -- the work there having benefited from renegotiating with PEC based on experiences at Army Street.

"It went in slick. They did what they had to do" he said. Arriving as expected from the factory, "it went in and started up, press by press, right on the money."

In January 1990, Jim Hall talked to E&P about SFNA's flexo installation. Now at the King Press subsidiary of PEC, Hall was then a Dallas-based executive at PEC (now KBA-Motter Corp. …

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