The benefits include higher print quality, lower waste, easier handling and a reduced environmental footprint. The investment also created new business opportunities.
The French daily newspaper Le Figaro invested in waterless printing technology, using KBA Cortina printing presses and Toray MX7 waterless plates.
Founded in 1826, Le Figaro is France's second largest national daily newspaper, with a circulation of 330.000 copies. Until the recent years, the Paris based daily operated its own printing unit in Roissy, in the north east of the Paris metropolitan area. The printing plant's production was distributed by air freight to the most distant parts of the country. However, rising costs and air freight reliability issues, along with tightening regulations, drove the company's management to reconsider their printing strategy. After investigating several options, Le Figaro made the strategic decision in 2005 to do away with air transport. To achieve this, the company's aim was to duplicate its printing resources by creating a new production facility in Nîmes, in the South of France, to print the newspaper for the southern area. The company's existing printing unit in Roissy would be closed, replaced by a new facility in Tremblay, a few miles away, that would concentrate on producing the newspaper for the northern and central areas of the country. All production would be delivered by ground transport.
New inroads in commercial printing
Another important aspect of the company's plan was to introduce commercial printing. "Investing in production equipment that would only run four hours a day to print the newspaper, made no financial sense" explains André Menet, deputy managing director of the Tremblay facility. "We wanted to be in a position to generate revenue by using our equipment to target customers in the commercial printing segment".
With this in mind, Le Figaro engaged in a joint venture with the Riccobono Group, a major web printing company experienced in both newspaper printing and commercial printing. The two partners invested 35 million euros in a new facility in Nimes, in 2007, and 80 million euros in a brand new printing plant in Tremblay, in 2009, simply called 'L'Imprimerie' (the printing house).
A need for speed and quality
Le Figaro and Riccobono's strategy required investing in new equipment that would provide the speed and throughput needed for newspaper printing, as well as the high level of quality that commercial customers demand. "Our conventional web offset printing equipment was clearly not up to the challenge" says André Menet. "Waterless offset printing, on the other hand, was the perfect choice to meet our stringent requirements. This is why we decided to invest in KBA Cortina machines, using Toray MX7 waterless plates".
In March 2009, two Cortina triple width units (74 inches / 1890 mm) were installed at L'Imprimerie, in Tremblay. The two in-line units include a total of ten printing towers and may be operated individually or as a single combined press line. "Both machines are equipped with inline folding equipment" underscores André Menet. "This allows us to produce 80.000 copies per hour of the newspaper, or to double our production rate on lower pagination jobs at 160.000 copies per hour".
A fast learning curve
To help its employees gear up for a July 2009 production kick-off, L'Imprimerie set up specific training sessions with Pagora, a French engineering school, specialised in paper and printing technologies. Over 50 people were trained, before attending further training at KBA's facilities.
Understanding the Toray MX7 plate technology and associated best practices was also on the agenda. "Both our prepress and print room specialists enjoyed a very fast learning curve" stresses André Menet. "This was due to both the MX7's easy and problem free handling, as well as Toray's involvement with us. Both Toray and their local distributor Markz-3zet showed strong involvement in our project and provided active support. We are very satisfied with the result".
Outstanding print quality
With two years of successful production behind them, L'Imprimerie's enthusiasm has not faded. "The association of the printing press and the Toray waterless offset plate has proven to be a highly successful combination, that has met our expectations fully" says André Menet.
The most important benefit is print quality. "Waterless offset printing offers us a larger color space, as well as higher screen resolutions" explains André Menet. "With conventional coldset web offset printing, we could typically print a maximum line screen of 100 lpi. Today, we print line screens of up to 177 lpi. This is a major benefit, particularly in the commercial segment, where we can now reliably compete with commercial heatset offset printers". This has also proven to be a benefit for newspaper printing, as (a) higher print quality, with finer and sharper color images, was precisely what Le Figaro's advertisers were asking for. "The newspaper targets advertisers in luxury markets, with very high print standards" adds André Menet. "Offering such a remarkable improvement in print quality has increased customer loyalty".
The benefits of waterless printing with the Toray MX7 plate, however, go well beyond print quality. "Overall efficiency is another important aspect" confirms André Menet. "With the Cortina and the Toray MX7, make ready times have been reduced dramatically. Thanks to the streamlined inking system, press automation and plate efficiency, getting ready to run takes approximately 5 minutes with one operator, versus 15 minutes with eight operators previously".
Also, the waterless printing process reduces paper tear, with a notable effect on the overall reliability of the printing process. In practical terms, this allowed L'Imprimerie to improve production rates on Le Figaro, from 45.000 copies per hour to 65.000 copies per hour on a typical production cycle.
Environmentally friendly printing
Limiting the environmental impact of the company's activities was also an important part of the equation, when L'Imprimerie considered its investment in waterless technology. "Green printing is a strong focus in our market and it's gaining momentum" says André Menet. "Being able to put forward the environmental benefits of our technology is important in the relationship we have with our customers. Many of our customers, particularly in the commercial segment, have a desire to reduce their environmental footprint, in as many ways as possible. Having suppliers with a strong environmental focus is clearly something they value".
Indeed, the waterless printing process is environmentally friendly in a number of aspects. First, the waterless process does not use a press dampening system. It therefore avoids most of the chemical and overhead costs associated with waste disposal and effluent treatment.
Also, the absence of on- press fountain solution reduces VOC emissions (volatile organic compound) and eliminates the ink fog caused by the low viscosity ink/water emulsion which is common on conventional high speed presses. This results in a cleaner and healthier atmosphere in the press room, as well as significantly reduced cleaning and maintenance requirements on the printing presses.
Dynamic business growth
All these benefits contribute to making the entire printing process more efficient, effectively strengthening Le Figaro's business. As far as new business in the commercial segment is concerned, expectations have largely been met. "We started producing with the Cortina and the Toray MX7 plate mid 2009" remembers André Menet. "During the course of 2010, we demonstrated how effective waterless printing is for newspapers. We also successfully started our commercial business. In 2011, we confirmed this by tripling our commercial sales and 2012 is looking very good so far".
Looking forward, L'Imprimerie shows high interest in Toray's new MX10 waterless plate that is scheduled for commercial release mid 2012. The MX10 aims to offer a 30% increase of on-press plate durability, allowing print runs of 200.000 impressions. "Plate durability is a recurring issue, especially in commercial printing" underscores André Menet. "The MX10 plate will be a valuable addition to our production lineup".
Also, L'Imprimerie welcomes the opening of Toray's new plate factory in the Czech Republic, scheduled for 2014. "Having a plate production facility in Europe is an important benefit, that improves the level of security of our procurement" explains André Menet. "Two plate production sites are always better than one. Also, this will eliminate the need to ship plate material from Japan, which is good for both shipping costs and environmental impact. Overall, these developments confirm our current belief that we made the right investment decision".