Kings of the hill

Laurel Brunner's picture
Laurel Brunner

This is the last in our nondrupa series of new product announcements. Various themes identified in an earlier piece have echoed throughout the stories and with Koenig & Bauer’s news, they are confirmed.

The Rapida 106x a medium format sheet fed press for commercial and packaging applications and premiered online, is a perfect examplar for those themes. According to a Koenig & Bauer spokesman the Rapida 106x is “developed from scratch” using old and new ideas. Process automation of data management and mechanical tasks, online and remote control of machines and the use of data for all aspects of running a printing company, and reduced operators are the drivers of today’s printing industry. Koenig & Bauer has crafted a more than credible response.

Koenig & Bauer claims its latest eight colour Rapida 106x press is the world’s fastest perfecting press.

Koenig & Bauer Live, the company’s online version of its drupa 2020 presence, ran every day throughout the nondrupa dates. Presentations were based in the new 3000m2 customer experience centre in Radebeul, Germany. Digital and webfed printing now account for the bulk of the company’s business amd Koenig & Bauer has a new board member charged with developing digital aspects of its business. Working online in a digital environment has been proven effective over the last few months. It’s working and Koenig & Bauer’s CEO Claus Bolza-Schünemann even said that “many innovations from all our business units would have been difficult to show in Düsseldorf”. You can check out these presentations here:

Digital platforms
We should expect this new model to endure as persistent communications channel and one that will get increasingly sophisticated. You just can’t beat it for convenience. More pragmatically, web based maintenance has “really worked well” for Koenig & Bauer during lockdown and there is more change coming in terms of its digital presence. By April 2021 trade fairs too “will change” to be “maybe more digital”. But contact between people is “absolutely essential [so] drupa 2021 will be a success” despite cancellations. Koenig & Bauer expects to show its Varijet single pass digital press “powered by Xerox” for folding carton production. It was codeveloped with Durst, the company’s digital partner of choice following an aborted effort with HP and the PageWide technology previewed in 2014.

The use of online monitoring and sensors is becoming the norm for service notifications.

Koenig & Bauer has been fighting to turn itself into a digital player for a number of years and its shift into a digital orbit is yielding results. The company is active in production machines for corrugated, both digital and flexo, folded carton, folder/gluers, flatbed die cutting, and workflow. Its presses are used for all sorts of applications from labels to newspapers, as Bolza-Schünemann reminded the Koenig & Bauer Live viewers: “don’t forget Koenig & Bauer, we print your world”. The company has been smart in developing printing presses that can be tailored to different applications. For instance the Rotajet industrial inkjet press prints 1200 x 1200 dpi at 270 metres per minute with water based inks. The web width goes from 77cm to 225 cm, so it can be configured for packaging production, décor and book print production, plus newspaper printing. Front end controls minimise waste and because it’s modular, additional units can be added. To demonstrate this point and its flexibility in press configurations Koenig and Bauer has an online series of sessions in German and English addressing various product and customer groups.

The Corrujet is a single pass digital postpress for printing corrugated boards. It was developed as part of the joint venture with Durst set up in April 2019 and run by Robert Stabler (ex Xerox, HP Indigo and Agfa). As CEO of Koenig & Bauer Durst, Stabler is responsible for bringing together the two companies’ core competencies. The Corrujet 170 press has completed its beta testing at Kolb in Germany and Koenig & Bauer Durst is launching a hybrid design with a flexo coating unit and a flexo station for postprint varnishing.

Koenig & Bauer Durst’s Corrujet single pass digital postpress for corrugated boards is one of several devices developed within the Koenig & Bauer Durst partnership.

Converting environments run 24/7 so they require fully automated, reliable and productive presses. And they also need online support and “the fewest number of human touchpoints possible” according to Stabler. The data plus workflow model that the web facilitates so well, has the scope to link entire plants. Machine learning can deliver agile and automated mass customisation for brands. The Delta SPC 130 digital press for direct printing onto corrugated board is rated to output fifteen to twenty million m2 per year and Koenig & Bauer Durst is adding a digital priming unit for uncoated media enabling special effects and expanding the application gamut of this press. It is providing more production flexibility. The press is expected to go into beta testing in the second half of the year, with a launch at the beginning of 2021. Ditto special colours for 5th and 6th colour stations adding say Orange or Violet.

Commercial focus
In the session for commercial printers the live challenge for the new press was to produce eight different typical web-to-print commercial jobs on the new Rapida 106x. According to a company spokesman, this new generation press is “an absolute benchmark in its class”. The Rapida 106 eight colour sheet fed press prints 20,000 sheets per hour with new feeder features for up to four different media types online, print units with easy to clean ink ducts and is “more or less maintenance free”. Using robots it takes less than one minute for plate changes and up to ten plate changes can take place in the machine at once, during which time unit washing is done in readiness for the next job. Using robots to load plates into and out of the press means that there is no need to handle or bend plates, or risk them getting scratched. And its quick.

In a Rapida 106 every sheet is measured with colour adjusted every ten sheets. Colour control and inspections are based on the match between measured colour and the original customer approved PDF with the Qualitronic PDF Check inline image inspection system introduced some years ago. This rebalancing of the data happens no matter how fast the press is running. There is a smart phone application for monitoring production and to put “a [printing] machine in your pocket”. Koenig & Bauer has also developed a new control console with a wallscreen so that operators can view the printing process under standard light. The new press is “the fastest perfecting machine in the world”.

To demonstrate this new press eight different jobs were printed on three different substrates using conventional inks, completing the work in under twenty minutes. The jobs were a brochure in three signatures printed on offset paper, three signatures of the KBA magazine printed on art paper, a leaflet on coated stock and postcards printed on board. From MIS to output the workflow is obviously automated, however Koenig & Bauer have automated plate loading and unloading too. Job optimisation in MIS evaluates each job’s specifics and print technology parameters such as coating, to optimise a list of jobs in the Logotronic production planning and control system, shaving minutes from job preparation times and in prepress. From the conclusion of a job to the first good sheet of the next, takes less than two minutes with run up waste of some 25 to 50 sheets. Waste depends on the job, but Koenig & Bauer finds this is the average for 4 x 4 runs.

Packaged up
Trends in packaging are increasingly understood and press developers are responding in kind. Brand proliferation and extension, multichannel distribution and the impact of e-commerce change packaging requirements. Add to the mix demand for food security and provenance, more colour and dynamic design for shorter runs and development and production process complexities increase. Food security and provenance are getting more complicated due to increased regulations and changing consumer expectations. Water based inks help these new technologies to conform with diverse regulatory environments for primary food packaging. Track and trace is just one worry that has been amplified due to the pandemic. For converters it means they need data skills more than ever, including mass customisation expertise.

Koenig & Bauer is seeing similar trends in the folding cartons sector. The Koenig & Bauer Durst Varijet 106 integrates digital printing with the Rapida 106. The seven colour press produces 6000 B1 sheets per hour 24/7 and is positioned to take short run folding carton work from offset. Its beta process starts at the end of 2020 with launch anticipated mid-2021.

The Varijet 106 is the newest digital offering from the Koenig & Bauer stable. This press bolts inkjet printing onto the Rapida 106 platform for folding carton production.

Via its partnership Koenig & Bauer is working to capitalise on the new opportunities for converters inherent in these trends. It is supporting their efforts to become supply chain partners to brands, a model that could easily extend to publishers. Whether its newspapers, packaging or interior decor, changes in value added expectations are coming whether its for customisation, testing, longer repeat lengths, or short run lengths.I n the trade book business for instance, books should be produced more widely on demand and promoted directly to new customers based on sales data. But expecting companies to move in this direction demands considerable digital expertise and carries a risk few converters or printers, or indeed publishers, would be willing to take.

Covid effects
During the crisis Koenig & Bauer has seen its packaging business doing well, especially food packaging customers. Experiences with online business management further confirm that the future is digital, although conventional print processes will be around for a long time yet.

Koenig & Bauer see digital printing as a complement not a replacement technology, necessary for multiple short run print runs. As reinventions go it looks like Koenig & Bauer is making a good fist of it. Under its Koenig Bauer Digital Services 4.0 model it is seeing improvements in the business. Analytics of customer log files suggest its 4 x 4 customers produce some 90 million sheets per year. Digital tools provide the company and its customers with data transparency and a customer community platform for support, sharing and productivity improvements.

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