Winning business with eco-friendly waterless technology
Druckerei Lutz AG
With a focus on the 50x70 format and a team of 18 employees, Swiss print house Druckerei Lutz AG is a typical, small family-owned business. But through its exclusive use of waterless offset printing and a commitment to the environment, the Speicher-based company stands out from its 1,500 competitors in the country. It has also increased sales in a tough environment. For the Druckerei Lutz team, waterless printing is a natural progression, and the company is making huge strides with Toray plates.
Druckerei Lutz’s catchment area includes the whole business region of eastern Switzerland, including many international industrial companies. Greater Zurich, the economic centre of German-speaking Switzerland, is little more than an hour’s drive away.
“Most of our customers are based locally or in the eastern cantons, but we also get a lot of orders from the Zurich catchment area,” explains Tobias Lutz, who manages the company along with Christof Chapuis. “As a small family business, we don’t have the overheads of a large organization.
“We mainly handle small print runs and jobs that have to be turned around quickly, though we do also take on larger jobs. “Obviously, we aren’t immune to price pressure. But our lean structure means we’re more agile and can keep our fixed costs comparatively low, so we can respond quickly to customers’ needs.”
Carving a niche with eco-friendly production
Switzerland is arguably the print capital of Europe, producing more printed products per head of the population than any other country. But this doesn’t mean there’s a lack of competition – the number of Swiss printing businesses is enormous compared with the volume of orders.
And it’s not just other Swiss print houses Druckerei Lutz is competing with. Many print organizations in Europe have an international customer base, which means smaller companies like Druckerei Lutz AG are under extreme cost pressure, not least because they operate in a country where wages are relatively high.
On top of this, customers in Switzerland are used to a very high standard of service. For example, if they know that the paper suppliers deliver to the printers three times a day, they will assume that their urgent jobs can be handled the same day without any problems.
Druckerei Lutz has alleviated the pressure and remained competitive by automating its processes, streamlining production, and delivering added value to its customers.
Crucial to this strategy is investing in cutting-edge, high-productivity equipment. Druckerei Lutz replaces its main production machine – the five-colour 50x70 sheet-fed offset press – with a new model every eight to ten years.
Druckerei Lutz also understands that it’s essential to have a unique selling point to set it apart from the competition. So the company specialises in eco-friendly printing, and in 2005 switched entirely to waterless offset printing.
All printed products produced by Druckerei Lutz are free from harmful chemicals and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Meanwhile the production area is heated by an energy-recovery system, which uses waste heat from the print room.
Also, a photovoltaic system has been installed on the roof, while the sales team’s and delivery drivers’ vehicles are powered by natural gas.
Realising the potential of waterless
Traditional offset printing consumes a lot of water. To separate the printing areas from the non-printing areas on the plate, a fountain solution is needed. The most suitable wetting agent, which also reduces surface tension, is isopropyl alcohol. This is the simplest non-cyclic, secondary alcohol. Although excellent from a technical point of view, IPA isn’t good for the environment, as it’s a Volatile Organic Compound.
VOCs are traditionally used in paints, varnishes, care products, and as propellants in aerosol cans. They contribute to abnormally high concentrations of ozone, which are harmful to people and the environment. Switzerland has imposed a levy on VOC emissions for almost a decade.
But replacing IPA in offset printing isn’t easy, and the plate aspect has proved particularly difficult. The Toray Group has been a pioneer in this area for nearly 40 years. The current generation of Toray plates comprises a surface layer of silicone, which has low surface tension and is ink-repellent. They also have a polymer layer underneath, which attracts ink and acts as the printing part.
Waterless offset printing offers a host of advantages over traditional processes. The amount of waste is much lower; no compensation systems, such as fan-out correction, are required; the raster dots can be printed more precisely; better results are achieved at high resolution; dot gain is lower; and fine negative type remains open longer in full-tone areas.
There’s also no need for dampening units in the printing machine (which means simpler construction and less maintenance and cleaning), a marked reduction in powder consumption, better uniformity and greater process stability in general.
Overcoming preconceptions about waterless
In the past, some print houses were wary of waterless offset printing because the process as a whole is temperature sensitive and requires external cooling (in traditional offset printing, this is provided by the fountain solution as it evaporates). Special plates and inks are also required.
But these issues have now been resolved. Toray offers a range of extremely reliable digital and analogue plates that have been proven in the market for years. Also, printing machine manufacturers now have the expertise to address the cooling problem.
So in 2012 Druckerei Lutz opted for a high-end Heidelberg Speedmaster XL-75. With only a little adaptation, the machine could run waterless.
Lutz explains: “Unlike competitors who use a traditional configuration, we don’t have any limitations in terms of performance parameters. In fact, printing with a waterless XL-75 is simpler than using the same machine with a traditional dampening system.”
Lutz believes many more print houses will adopt waterless technology in the future: “When waterless offset printing was first discussed in the 80s and early 90s, not all the technical issues were resolved satisfactorily. But today the technology has been refined and the technical advantages of the process are extremely convincing.
“Like anything new, people are wary of something they don’t understand. This is true of printers and waterless technology. Printers are always worried the first time they work with a waterless machine. But everyone who prints with us has been amazed at how smooth the waterless process is.”
Waterless – the cost-effective option
Waterless offset printing has matured into a proven, reliable technology, for which all the necessary technical solutions are now available. As a supplier of waterless plates, Toray has undoubtedly made a significant contribution to the evolution of waterless printing.
But does waterless printing stack up from an economic perspective? A printer that opts for waterless technology is limited in the choice of consumable materials. And because waterless offset printing is still a niche technology, the prices are relatively high compared with the plates and inks used for the wet process.
For a typical small or medium-sized operation like Druckerei Lutz, these higher consumables costs are irrelevant: “We need 800 plates a month,” continues Lutz. “Even if each plate costs several euros extra, it only adds up to a moderate four-figure sum per month. The same can be said for inks. Plates and inks only make up about 20% of our total costs. Even though the consumables for wet offset technologies only cost half as much, that’s not the whole story.
“I save the money that I would have spent on the fountain solution, and I have less waste, which over the course of a year adds up to considerable savings. I also have a more reliable and superior-quality printing process, and that in itself means greater savings and happier customers.
“The bottom line is that our production costs are no higher than our competitors who use conventional machines. But in terms of quality and our excellent sustainability credentials, we offer more than our competitors.”
The lesson from Druckerei Lutz is clear: waterless offset delivers more benefits than wet offset, but isn’t more expensive.
Building a long-term partnership
Since Druckerei Lutz started using Toray plates, the relationship has been handled by Toray’s Swiss sales partner, the ofs group (integrated in Heidelberg Switzerland in March 2013). As a result of the close cooperation, and as part of its investment strategy, Druckerei Lutz decided to invest in a Kodak Magnus 400 III Quantum CtP system.
The company was advised to use the LL7 plate. Designed for general commercial print, this plate allows fully automated processing in cassettes. Extensive testing demonstrated that despite its lower resolution, the higher precision in dot printing meant the plate was able to meet the company’s stringent quality standards.