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If you think sheetfed is dying, think again!


Original article published in April 2015 in Graphic Arts Magazine, written by Tony Curcio

For the past few years, I’ve been hearing whispers about the decline of sheetfed. Yet the reality of the most successful printers today belies this. To get the truth, I invited Heidelberg, the German press manufacturer that dominates almost half of the world’s printing market, to give us some hard facts. Here’s what Ray Fagan, Heidelberg Canada’s Product Manager and Sales Specialist for Sheetfed and Digital, had to say.

As a Product Manager for Heidelberg Sheeted Presses in Canada for the past ten years, I’d be delirious if I said the market in Canada is growing. However, there are still thriving market segments where sheetfed offset printing is still the most efficient way to produce volume printing. From visiting hundreds of pressrooms across Canada, it’s evident that a “well-balanced” printer who uses both methods will continue to be successful.

Sheetfed press manufacturers have taken key steps in reducing makeready times in order to be competitive with offset regarding shorter runs. AutoPlate XL and InPress Control (automatic plate-changing and inline colour and register) are examples of technology driving job changes down to five minutes. Combined with integrated workflow systems, printers can realize considerable waste-sheet reduction as well. Let’s look at Heidelberg’s sheetfed sales in Canada for the past three years – years during which some have talked about the “decline of sheetfed.”

For the three years ending last month, Heidelberg shipped 35 sheetfed presses in Canada. This is a far cry from the glory years when Heidelberg Canada may have sold that many in one year. But if you take a close look at the combination of print units sold and the new technology offered, a totally different picture emerges. Think about this: Today’s modern sheetfed press can out-produce a machine five years old by 50% – and a machine ten years old by 100%. Bottom line: Those 35 presses would have equated to 65 or 70 machines in recent years. So while successful printing companies may not have as many individual presses as they once did, they’re now more profitable – even at the same capacity!


Another point: today’s presses commonly contain more printing units. If you take the presses Heidelberg sold in those three years (excluding five Linoprint machines) and divided by the amount of units sold, the average is just under eight print units per press – compared to about 6.5 units ten years ago. In fact, these longer presses are producing the work of two or sometimes three older machines. They can apply special effects and coatings inline, replacing multiple passes. This is especially true in the packaging and label markets where 14-unit or 15-unit presses (the Speedmaster XL-106-LYY-8+LYYL for example) have been installed. In commercial printing, perfecting presses combined with coating towers (i.e. Speedmaster XL 106-10P+L) can print a combination of two-sided work, or one-sided specialty work. So, in a production environment reality, you’re actually getting two presses in one.

One more example: Consider that the Speedmaster XL 162 can print a sheet 47.75” x 64” at up to 15,000 sheets per hour. It’s capable of outputting twice the volume of a 40” straight print machine – or four times the volume if purchased as a perfecting machine. That’s a lot of volume! Saxoprint (Germany) has a fleet of Speedmaster VLF 162 straight and perfecting presses printing up to 15 jobs on a sheet. Average run length is 500 sheets. In some cases they actually claim “cheaper than digital at 100 copies.” This of course, depends on finishing requirements.

Also, almost every press Heidelberg sells today has some level of customization: UV ink and coating, elevated presses with logistical systems for material handling, “flexo before offset”, error detection, colour management systems and integration to prepress are all requirements of today’s sheetfed offset press. This makes for longerterm projects while evaluating a customer’s supply chain within the plant to offer complete solutions for increased productivity and profitability.


Finally, it’s my view that modern sheetfed offset presses are more than viable options for both the volume-print and short-run needs of today’s printer. Some already realize this. My suggestion: Look at the actual numbers objectively – and that will dispel and lingering rumours.

By Tony Curcio Graphic - Arts Magazine 4/2015

Ray Fagan can be reached at ray.fagan@heidelberg.com or you can call (647) 271-2862 or (905) 362-4512.

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