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Free Lance-Star taking firsts to new level with plant

posted Jul 18, 2011, 1:23 PM by PRINT INNOVATORS
[News & Tech]
January 1, 2010
BY CHUCK MOOZAKIS, Editor in Chief

FREDERICKSBURG,Va. When The Free Lance—Star in Fredericksburg opens its new production facility next month, the event will herald a sizable set of firsts for the family-owned newspaper.

Not only will the paper begin operating the first Goss International FPS press in North America, it will also be the first daily to use specialty formulated hybrid ink from Flint Group, the first to use a plant-wide management app engineered by Goss, the first to employ an automated roll-handing system co—authored by Goss and Westfalia Technologies and the first to use a specially tailored plate loading system architected by Nela in concert with Kodak and the press vendor.

Incorporating the slate of new technologies is part of a carefully drafted strategy plotted by Operations Director John Jenkins and Publisher Josiah P. Rowe Ill.

“It's print or be printed," Rowe said. “We don't own any other facilities, so this investment is to allow us to set ourselves up to be a commercial printing facility that runs around the clock.”

Rowe said the groundwork to reach this goat was already in place three years ago, when Jenkins came to The Free Lance-Star from the Fayetteville Observer, where he had helped orchestrate that daily’s successful diversification into commercial printing.

“The technology with the new press doesn’t scare me,” Rowe said. "What we’re doing is visionary.”


ONE PASS
To that end, The Free Lance-Star's 92,000-square-foot plant is equipped with systems designed to satisfy a single objective: “To complete a printed product in one pass,” said Jenkins. “Automation and integration are key, and we have designed a printing infrastructure in which we can get a newsprint product printed, and have that done with only a single touch.  We believe that efficiency will make the difference for us.”

To help market the plant’s capabilities, and to trumpet its role as a major competitor in the mid-Atlantic region, the facility has a moniker — Print Innovators — and a function that’s distinctly separate from the daily newspaper.

“This is a commercial plant that has its newspapers as first and most important customer.,” Jenkins says, The transition from newspaper-only to a commercial production plant is a new business concept for the company.”

The building contractor Shockey Brothers Inc., is barebones and utilitarian — purposely. Newsprint and other paper grades enter the plant on the north end, and exit as finished products on the south, where both semi-trailers and smaller delivery vehicles can be accommodated.

Neither Jenkins nor Rowe would disclose how much the company spent to build the plant, but Rowe said two- thirds of the budget went to equipment and systems.

The plant, on 23 acres in south Fredericksburg, will replace The Free Lance Star’s longtime downtown production facility, now anchored by a 19-unit Goss Urbanite press that boasts some units that date back to the 1960s. Administrative and editorial will remain downtown. Some 90 production workers will transfer to the new plant when it opens.


First FPS in U.S.
The centerpiece of the new facility is the 90,000-copy-per-hour triplewide FPS, configured with a 21-inch cutoff, variable web width, digital inking, four towers and two 2:5:5 jaw folders, one of which is equipped with a quarterfolder.

Rowe said he was attracted to the FPS because of its versatility and its size. The machine — with its four reelstands 90 degrees from the folders — stands only 29 feet tall, a little more than half the height of a comparable press. “It would have been so much more expensive to construct a building tall enough to support the reels,” Rowe said. “The FPS

solves the problem of height and floor space, and it gives us 96 pages of (collect, broadsheet) production.”

Goss introduced the compact press in 2004. In addition to The Free Lance–Star, Goss installed FPS machines for newspapers in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands (see News & Tech, November 2006).

Although The Free Lance-Star initial ordered the press as coldset only, the newspaper quickly modified the ordered, adding a Goss Ecocool heatset dryer with integrated chill rolls and afterburner to one of the four towers. Jenkins said provisions have been made to add a second dryer, if needed.

“Adding the dryer makes the press even more versatile,” he said, adding that he expects to begin heatset commercial printing this spring. Jenkins predicts that up to 25 percent of the plant’s output will be heatset, not including any heatset that may be used as part of the production of The Free Lance–Star.


Muffled noise
“This type of installation is exactly why we designed this press the way it is,” said Doug Gibson, Goss’ vice president of newspaper sales. “Part of the challenge is getting newspapers comfortable with heatset. It’s not as difficult as it used to be, and to me, heatset is simpler to oversee than UV. People will be able to see first hand that there is no magic involved with a newspaper printing heatset.”

In keeping with the commercial printing theme designed within the plant, the facility doesn’t boast a separate quiet room. Instead, the four press consoles are positioned on a mid-level deck adjacent to the machine. “That was a decision made by design,” Jenkins said, “and it takes steps out of the production process.” He said the design of the press — the printing units’ rollers and cylinders are each housed in sections that come together when the press is in operation — will muffle the noise.


Control software
Goss’ press control software will govern the press. Q.I. Press Controls provided color register and cutoff control software and systems. The firm’s mRC+ foundation uses tiny register marks to ensure print compliance and includes 26 cameras and associated software to monitor performance.

Jenkins had Goss design the press with four formers, positioned across from each other. One is in line with the press; the other is outboard. A 3-ribbon angle bar nest tops each tower, from which the web can travel to folders as needed.

Tolerans is providing an inline stitcher and Jenkins will also equip the press with a gluer from an as-yet-undetermined vendor.

Britton Services Inc. oversaw the rigging and installation of the press’ mechanical services and fabricated the machine’s piping system.


Hybrid ink fueling press
Flint Group and The Free Lance-Star, meantime, worked for the past year to formulate specially blended ink that will be used within the press. The hybrid formulation allows the daily to funnel colored ink to both the coldset and heatset portions of the press without requiring the construction of separate pumping and inking systems, said Norm Harbin, Flint’s news ink business director.

The tote-based system is the first of its type in North America, he said. “Newspapers are always looking for technologies to differentiate their products from their historical coldset roots and we wanted to see if we could do the same thing for newspapers with heatset. This formulation will allow papers to use the same ink on both coated and uncoated paper,” Harbin said.

Jenkins said test runs indicate that the hybrid ink will deliver performance characteristics that will enable Print Innovators to compete with area heatset printers. The paper will use the hybrid ink for its color work, but will rely on separate heatset and coldset formulations for black.

Jenkins also worked with Goss and prepress vendors Kodak and Nela to engineer the 16-bin plate loading system specifically tailored to meet Print Innovators’ plate management requirements.

The system relies on a movable cart upon which plates are hung in the exact order they are to be placed on the press. Press operators merely attach the cart to a lift within each tower and as the lift rises from cylinder to cylinder, the operator grabs the plates, left to right, and attaches them, two across, to each cylinder.


Repeats task
After one tower is completed, the units close, and the operator repeats the task on the other segments of the press. “It should take about five to six minutes to plate up,” Jenkins said, and the system is engineered to eliminate any confusion or error as to where the plate should be attached.

Kodak installed a Generation News thermal computer-to-plate system, equipped with Prinergy, Insight and Newsmanager software. The 300-plate-per-hour machine will process about 145 Kodak triplewide plates per hour, Jenkins said. An existing Kodak Trendsetter News 100 machine now based at The Free Lance-Star’s downtown plant will be transferred to the new site next month. Nela, meantime, was tapped for a VCP vi- sion punch bender with a LogiStack plate organizer and storage system. In keeping with Jenkins’ strategy to centralize the plant’s various systems to as few vendors as possible, The Free Lance Star picked Goss and its U.S. marketing partner Ferag to supply the bulk of the facility’s postproduction.

Goss installed a 34-head dual-out Magnapak inserter while Ferag supplied the press gripper, four stackers and press buffering systems. Jenkins also tapped Goss to provide a CMC JRW polywrap- per for Sunday and TMC production and Mariani for a palletizer. Still to come: a trimmer.

“The trimmer will give us another option to decouple the press from post-press,” Jenkins said, adding that the Ferag buffering systems as well as the Magnapak’s direct-to-pocket feature will provide additional flexibility

Having the mailroom Goss-centric — Print Innovators will be the first Goss customer to use the vendor’s Omnizone II control software to manage postpress — “makes it easier,” Jenkins said.

“We’ve done a lot of work with Goss and they have been extraordinarily good. I wanted all the equipment to be under one contract. Having one vendor made it easier. The complexity involved with integrating all these systems is huge.”

Reducing that complexity led Jenkins to work with Goss to conjure up MIS software designed to harness all of the systems in the plant, from the press to the four stackers and press buffering systems. Jenkins also tapped Goss to provide a CMC JRW polywrap- per for Sunday and TMC production and Mariani for a palletizer. Still to come: a trimmer.

“The trimmer will give us another option to decouple the press from post-press,” Jenkins said, adding that the Ferag buffering systems as well as the Magnapak’s direct-to-pocket feature will provide additional flexibility

Having the mailroom Goss-centric — Print Innovators will be the first Goss customer to use the vendor’s Omnizone II control software to manage postpress — “makes it easier,” Jenkins said.

“We’ve done a lot of work with Goss and they have been extraordinarily good. I wanted all the equipment to be under one contract. Having one vendor made it easier. The complexity involved with integrating all these systems is huge.”

Reducing that complexity led Jenkins to work with Goss to conjure up MIS software designed to harness all of the systems in the plant, from the press to the


Westfalia 1,370-rack retrieval system that will store both newsprint and inserts.

MIS linking plant
The result, Omniview, is an outgrowth of equipment and software integration efforts that have been under way at Goss for several years, said Howie Hoff, the vendor’s director of development. “What we wanted to do is provide an umbrella system that ties together everything and we were looking for a customer with whom we could refine it, and Fredericksburg provided our first opportunity to do that.”

The app, built with open standards and APIs, is an extension of Goss’ successful Omnizone postpress foundation. As such, Omniview is designed to communicate and interact with a wide variety of systems, Hoff said — from the delivery of newsprint to the recording of the finished paper out the door.

Goss will formally introduce the software next month and pitch it to newspaper plants worldwide.

“It certainly can be adapted to other presses and other components, but (control and management of other systems) will depend upon the vintage of the machines used,” he said. “We’re comfortable offering this type of enterprise-wide software. We’ve had Omnizone for some time, and it’s been successful in tying into all sorts of equipment. So we believe we can extend it; the methodology is certainly there to permit it.” Critical to Jenkins, Omniview will give him real- time operating and production cost data. Among its other capabilities, the app will give Jenkins ink consumption data by couple, a necessity for a plant that will make its margins by knowing exactly how much every job costs to produce.

Getting dynamic production data, in combination with making Print Innovators’ prepress systems as customer-friendly as possible, is crucial for the company to become a competitive force in the region, Jenkins said.

“I can draw a circle around this plant of 400 miles and we know we can get product to customers in that region within 12 to 14 hours of when it’s first put on the press,” he said.


Clarity first customer
Print Innovators’ first major commercial customer will be The (Washington) Examiner, which it will begin printing just as soon as the plant opens. Clarity Media Group, which publishes the paper, now has it printed at the Frederick (Md.) News-Post and a commercial printer. Print Innovators will now share the workload with the News-Post, said Bart Bockman, Clarity’s corporate production director. Bockman declined to say how many copies Print Innovators will produce, but estimated that it could surpass 250,000 per week.

“If there is one thing I learned while I was in Fayetteville, it’s that you have to make it as easy as possible for customers to do business with you,” Jenkins said.

Customers will, for example, be able to submit their jobs directly to the plant’s prepress systems and view soft proofs as soon as they are generated. For his part, Jenkins will be able to quote jobs and know exactly how much those jobs will cost and, by extension, the profit margin of each. “It’s very important to find out immediately whether a job made money,” he said. “I need to look at our production by hour and by day and not just by month.” #


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