Exploring Middle Ground
Press suppliers discuss the "why" behind buying into mid-web technology.
What do press suppliers believe is currently the most compelling argument for package printers to consider mid-web technology? Industry insiders' responses reveal potential benefits for narrow- and wide-web traditionalists, though the definition of mid-web can vary for each segment.
Hans Heuchert, President, AapexX Corp., Hot Springs, AR
A mid-width press makes it possible to be profitable with short runs. The capital expenditure is much lower. The press is much easier and faster to set upas fast as 4 minutes, 30 seconds for a 4-color letterpress, and 9 minutes for a 6-color flexo press.
The most important point is the press's ability to print high-quality jobs, without compromises. This means chatter-free printing, which can only be achieved with backlash-free, precision, helical gearing, heavy side frames, bearings, rolls and journals. Thus the user has to be prepared to pay for such a robust machine.
Dick Chesnut, President, W.R. Chesnut Engineering, Fairfield, NJ
Historically, the most successful mid-web presses have been employed in the carton market, where they generally produce larger format products than will be suitable for production on a narrow-web press, and wide-web presses would not be economically feasible. Typical examples include liquid carton packages and cigarette boxes which do not lend themselves to sheet-fed production.
Do your homework first. Be sure you have a clear idea as to what benefits and advantages a mid-web press will have with regard to the business you intend to run on it. Bear in mind that these presses have substantially higher set-up costs associated with them than a narrow-web press, and less productivity than a wide-web press. They really should not be used as a solution for a slow-running narrow-web operation. It would be easier to find a way to speed up the narrow-web press.
Chris Faust, Marketing Manager, Comco International, Milford, OH
I believe the market change in order quantities is the most compelling reason to purchase a mid-web press. The marketing emphasis is on regional promotions and many copy changes. Complete package and graphic redesign is becoming more common. The traditional long run where change-over times and higher tooling costs could be amortized over the length of the run is becoming more rare every day. With these market changes, the converter needs a press capable of short and medium runs as well as long-run production. The mid-web press meets the requirements of quick change-over, lower tooling costs and fewer required press operators.
Mid-web is not a total replacement of wide or narrow web, but a complement to both. The mid-web press allows converters to continue to serve their existing customers' needs and hopefully expand that business. Print buyers are looking to use fewer suppliers, and mid-web allows the converter the ability to go to the buyer and sell the fact that they can efficiently handle more of their business.
Cory Heiden, Dir./Sales and Service, Kidder, Inc., Agawam, MA
My remarks are from a wide-web perspective.There is never a single compelling argument for the justification of a new press purchase. As with all decisions regarding a capital expenditure, a multitude of issues will be evaluated to determine if the application is correct to receive return on investment. The primary consideration for this type of equipment is if a significant part of your current, or growing business, is production of jobs containing two or less rolls of material, or run time of less than one to two hours.
Other mid-web benefits include less consumables and tooling cost; easier access and hardware handling for quick change-overs, less downtime; requires less operational personnel; simpler/easier reproduction of high-quality graphics; economic platform for the development of future business. All these add up to more economic and efficient production of short-run jobs. Usually a customer requires a converter to produce short-run work to get the long-run (more profitable) business.
Brace Cooper, VP/Sales and Marketing, Mark Andy, Chesterfield, MO
Probably the most compelling argument for a mid-web press is the ability to have quick turnaround on jobs. Mid-web presses tend to have quicker makeready than wide-web presses, and fast enough speeds to be competitive when quick deliveries are required on any run length. Mid-web presses also have favorable economics when it comes to waste, plates, ink and initial capital investment.
Most mid-web presses are equipped with quick makeready features that make it possible to supply quick delivery jobs. Mid-web presses constitute a smaller capital and operating expense while at the same time making it possible to deliver many JIT requirements which can allow for the reduction of finished goods inventory.
Tom Jacques, Marketing Strategist, PCMC, Green Bay, WI
The most compelling argument for a mid-web press is quick change-over. The mid-web press facilitates this by making change-overs with specially designed cylinders or sleeves, which are both easy to handle. In addition, mid-web presses are designed for quick change-over, while wide-web designs are just now being optimized to reduce their longer change-over times.
However, a mid-web press is more affordable for short runs by 33 percent to 50 percent vs. wide-web presses. This frees up the wide-web presses for longer runs, for which they are designed. Printers need, above all, to be profitable with short-run work. This flexibility is essential for survival in today's highly competitive flexible packaging market. Many printers buy a mid-web press to take 'nuisance' (i.e., short run) work off of their wide-web presses. The vast majority of mid-web CI presses sold for flexible packaging printing are from 29 inches to 37˝ wide.
Mitch Dudek, Director of Sales, Propheteer International, Palatine, IL
Reduced lot sizes and shorter lead times seem to be the primary cause for wide-web packaging printers to look at mid-web width presses. Because most wide-web presses are central-impression style and most mid-web presses are in-line, there are going to be some start-up concerns. During the initial two to four months, it is imperative that the supplier and customer share a mutual desire to achieve a successful transition. The economies realized through reduced set-up times and less expensive tooling should justify the converter's decision to make the move.
Ted Stitzer, VP/Marketing, Webtron, Fort Lauderdale, FL
Packaging companies, like everyone else, are trying to reduce costs, and don't want to tie up money in inventory of converted boxes. They are asking for just-in-time deliveries of cartons which means fewer quantities on a more regular basis. This need is driving shorter runs for the converter, who sees the mid-range press as able to do quicker job change-overs at an affordable investment.
Presses need to be configured for the applications, so there will be differences in a mid-web press printing unsupported film vs. printing folding cartons. The in-line style of press allows all functions to be operated from ground level, and lends itself to inclusion of options from UV ink to rotary screen, hot or cold foil, or gravure to a variety of converting steps.
Printers Place Growth Before Purchase
Package printers do indeed see a fertile landscape between the narrow- and wide-web camps. Whether a mid-web press purchase has already been made or is in the consideration stage, printing and converting executives appear in favor of waiting for a pronounced increase in overall volume or specialized short-run work before acquiring the technology.
Paul Schwemin, VP/Mfg./Co-owner, Duralam, Appleton, WI
Profile: Flexographic printer, 98 percent on thin films, 2 percent on paper
Duralam purchased a 29 inches mid-web, central-impression flexographic press from Paper Converting Machine at a time when we had three other 52 inches-57 inches flexo presses. With some customers requesting average run sizes of 4,000 lineal feet, our objective was to handle short runs. We needed a press that could substantially improve make-ready time. The mid-web press reduced makeready on 8-color jobs from eight hours to one hour, mainly because of quick-change features such as cylinders that can be changed by hand instead of with chain hoists.
Additionally, we unexpectedly gained a press that provides excellent print register and fidelity. When printing wide across three and four lanes, web deflection can affect registration. As a result, for tough print jobs, even if it is more economical to do them wide-web, we do them narrow because of the mid-web press's fidelity.
Our mid-web press came totally assembled in one big crate, which allowed us to have it up and running in less than one week. Our operators have less climbing to do on this smaller press because everything is reachable from the floor. It means less wear and tear on their bodies.
Dave McDowell, President/Owner, McDowell Label & Screen Printing, Dallas, TX
Profile: Flexographic printer, labels and stand-up pouches
Currently, our widest press is 14 inches. Our niche is 4-color process graphics, primarily on labels, but also for a narrow segment of the flexible packaging industry. If growth occurs in our stand-up pouch work, this is what would push us to look at a mid-web press. Because we are limited in width, really big volumes eat us up. We would probably look at an affordable, 8-color 32 inches to 36 inches central-impression press for printing thin film. However, the wider you go, the more challenging it is to print quality. And, we currently enjoy easy changeovers on our narrow-web presses.