Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Keyless Offset Color

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Keyless Offset Color

Article excerpt

TO SOME IN the industry, the South Bend (Ind.) Tribune's decision in early 1992 to buy a keyless color offset press as the centerpiece for its refurbished downtown plant looked like a $36 million bet on a risky technology.

But now the 20-unit Koenig & Bauer-Albert Anilox-Colora press is printing high-quality color in the entire paper. And South Bend Tribune executives are crowing that they were right all along -- that KBA's keyless offset is a simple, reliable and cost-efficient process.

Probably the most ebullient of them is Tribune vice president and general manager Pete Baker. "If, after they see this press run, anyone can explain why they would buy a conventional offset press, I'm open to hear anything they would say. Why you would buy a 30-year-old technology for the next 30 years is beyond me," Baker said.

Both Baker and Tribune president and publisher John McGann said their paper's experience disproves frequently repeated horror stories that make the industry rounds about anilox offset.

"All the so-called mystery about ink and stuff is just a bunch of smoke," McGann said.

KBA anilox inking worked just as advertised, Baker said.

"The inking system has not even been an issue," he said. "It has been so smooth."

Most of the myths come from a basic misconception, Baker said. "The worst thing that has happened in the newspaper industry is the word "keyless" is [seen as] ... meaning the same thing to everybody," he said.

In fact, Baker said, there is no single keyless offset process. Instead, there are big differences, in the technologies used by the pressmakers offering keyless offset in the United States, he said.

Smooth running

Baker made his comments as he showed a visitor around the brand-new production area while the press printed its first deadline news sections, just a day after it began printing the entire paper, Sept. 6.

The KBA press has 20 printing units, eight reels and three folders, including a jaw folder.

On the press floor, things were so relaxed, it could have been the second decade of operations.

Even an emergency stop -- hit by mistake, it turned out -- caused no flurry of activity: There was no web break at the sudden halt.

In fact, hitting an emergency button is how the crew routinely stops the press, said president and publisher "Jack" McGann.

"The tension controls are just sensational," said McGann, who brings a production background to his position as publisher.

Contributing to the languid atmosphere in the pressroom was the modest level of press manning: Four full-time employees and two part-timers were running the 40 printing couples.

"The [manning] concept we have," McGann explained, "is you have a few technicians who are really on the ball, a maintenance staff -- and you have a very small operating staff."

Operations chief Baker said the KBA anilox offset system has proven so simple that a mailroom employee -- who swapped jobs with a pressman whose fear of heights was triggered by the fourstory press -- was able to run the press essentially by himself within two weeks.

"We can retrain someone off the street and get them running the press," Baker said.

Because the inking runs by itself, the only process operators need to learn is ink/water compensation, Baker said.

"The forgiveness of the anilox system compared to conventional offset is like night and day," he said. "It makes the process of what makes offset so difficult, simple."

Indeed, the remarkably young operations staff has been hitting production goals very quickly.

On the press's very first day, for example, the waste was 4.5%, according to Baker.

Taking the plunge

Lean manning was one of the most important considerations when the Tribune began to look at replacing its aging letterpress. …

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