Not all is gloom and doom in developed print newspaper markets: Against a global trend of declining circulations, intensely regional dailies are not only thriving, but investing to boost efficiency, increase and improve colour (writes Peter Coleman).

While more than 150 US newspaper plants have closed in the last five years, European publishers continue to prosper and spend on new equipment.

The two major German press makers tell the same story… of a stream of orders in their home markets driven by the advantages of automation and the need to deliver brighter papers sooner and at less cost.

Ten of the 17 Colorman autoprint presses manroland has sold since introducing the ‘one touch’ concept are in Germany, mostly meeting demands for the production of timely, regionalised daily newspapers. And rival KBA has a similar story to tell, with ten of its 23 compact Commander CT orders placed for German print sites.

The recent trauma of the restructuring of world’s biggest newspaper press maker belies the engineering and manufacturing powerhouse that is its home country. And a reading habit reflected by travellers in trains and planes continues to stand printed newspapers in good stead. manroland’s web press plant in Augsburg is surrounded by a cluster of new installations, where the cost of installing new presses – and often scrapping their ‘late model’ predecessors – is more than justified on grounds of labour savings, shorter deadlines, and brighter, better production.

At Ulm-Donautal, 80 kilometres west of Augsburg, two new presses – with much-reduced manning – are replacing four, while a sister plant in Weingarten, another 80 kms southwest will replace three recently-upgraded presses with two more new ones.

The proposition is a simple one: “Better-printed papers with more colour, for less money,” says Ernst Jackwert, managing director of Druckhaus Ulm-Obershwaben (DUO).

The company, a 20-year-old joint venture between neighbouring (and competing) publishers, expects to be printing newspapers for the next 15 years… but the fact that it will return its investment in five years makes the forecast less critical. “It made sense to make this investment as soon as possible,” says Jackwert.

When I visited the Ulm site in February, the first of four manroland Colorman autoprint presses ordered in August 2010 – half of a splittable four-tower, two folder line – was already running, replacing two of the three 1986 Wifag presses there. The second will be running this month, allowing the third Wifag and a newer manroland Geoman – upgraded in 2009, “as a quick way to get full four colour” –  to be closed down.

Jackwert says he’s not sure whether they will be able to sell the displaced equipment, and the project has been costed to assume they won’t.

It’s not just about increasing full colour capacity from the 16 pages to which the older presses were limited. Instead of seven printers per press, the new ones will be manned by just three each.

Negotiations over manning took a year, and include early retirement, bonuses and a social plan. Remaining staff, with an average age of 45 years-old, have responded well to training on the new machines.

“The new presses deliver quality levels to industry standards,” Jackwert says, and offer savings in areas such as waste and a smaller product size based on a 520mm cut-off (especially over the 570mm Rheinisch format of the older presses).

The double-width presses have been installed in the existing presshall without interrupting production, a process the company will repeat next year in Weingarten, where three 1994-96 Geomans will also be replaced by two new presses.

Automation based on manroland’s APL platechange robots is key to the requirement for production of the 16 editions of ‘Südwest Presse’ in Ulm (and 19 of ‘Schwäbische Zeitung’ at Weingarten) in a time-critical slot between 10pm and 2.30am. Changes on the editions – which have runs between 800 and 28,000 copies – vary from “some plates” to an entire edition.

A Nela logistics system which delivers plates to sorting points at two levels alongside the press is in place and with new CTP units to follow shortly.

Total nightly production is about 190,000 copies in Ulm and 165,000 in Weingarten, but Jackwert says the APL system is the important factor in keeping within the time slot, more so than the higher (50,000cph collect) speed of the new presses.

New mailroom equipment – an offline Ferag system including Rollstream collating – also expands opportunities, and will be driven by the Swiss company’s latest Navigator control technology.

The plant also prints weekly and outside contract work by day.

The concept of leaner production has also been accompanied by a transparent price list, which tells publishers exactly what they are paying for makereadies, pagination, and colour changes.

With regionalisation delivering a huge amount of local news, information and sport through small editions for each district, it’s a publishing formula which works, and is being repeated at numerous other locations in this part of Europe.

Timing is everything, and sophisticated automation makes it possible.
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