Axel Springer AG’s Hamburg-Ahrensburg offset plant has always seen itself as more than just a traditional newspaper print house. As well as increasing its commercial order book, it also aims to be more appealing to the media group's own publishers. It plans to realize these objectives by implementing innovative technologies, adopting unconventional paper and advertising formats, and printing products that resemble magazines or brochures.
The printer's involvement in hybrid newspaper production is a key part of this strategy. One of its six Colorman newspaper web presses has now been equipped with a Kodak Prosper S30 Imprinting System. This combination of conventional coldset web offset and high-speed inkjet printing – a worldwide pilot scheme – means variable data can be imprinted into static content without compromising the productivity of the web offset press. This unique set-up is allowing the company to add flair to traditional newspapers, and make them more attractive to readers and advertisers alike.
Digital imprinting provides a way to ‘version’ or personalize advertising campaigns by enriching static content with variable information and pictures. In addition to simple options for local advertising with no plate changes, it also makes it easier to integrate print in cross-media marketing campaigns, helping brands to create tighter online and offline communications.
Sequential winning numbers, variable QR codes, and different URLs or graphics, for example, mean no two newspaper copies contain exactly the same ad.
Variable imprinting also allows newspaper publishers to run glamorous raffles for the readers of their respective titles, helping them to boost sales and strengthen customer loyalty.
Offset and inkjet: a lucrative partnership
Thomas Drensek, Head of Offset Printing at the Hamburg-Ahrensburg offset printing plant, explains the company’s rationale: “We decided to invest in our infrastructure because we wanted to be more appealing to both our own publishers and clients in the commercial market.
"We keep in close contact with our manufacturers, and it was through Kodak that we learned about digital imprinting. We originally considered it five or six years ago, when manroland web systems began carrying out in-house tests. We installed our first KODAK Imprinting System – a Versamark DH6240 Printhead – as part of an experimental set-up in the web press in 2010."
In September 2011, the DH6240 was replaced by the new Kodak Prosper S30 Imprinting System. The fastest model so far in the Prosper S-Series family range, it delivers consistently high-quality results with 600 x 200dpi resolution at web speeds exceeding 900m/min (15m/sec).
A Kodak CS410 System Controller manages the high-speed system and supplies it with print data. Meanwhile the variable information is prepared using Kodak IJ Data Prep Software, which it generates in IJPDS format.
The Prosper S30 Imprinting System supports variable monochrome printing within a 105.6mm-wide zone across the complete product cut-off length. Axel Springer uses the system with water-based Kodak pigment ink, which it pulls from 20-liter cubitainers directly alongside. The black density achieved with this ink on newsprint is similar to offset.
Holger Benthack, Production Management Printing, outlines the basic specification for the imprinting solution: "For us, speed is hugely important because we can't afford for production to slow down. Obviously, we needed high imprinting quality – on a par with offset, if possible. Space was a consideration too – our staff needed plenty of room to operate the press. And from the customer's point of view, availability is crucial.
"The Prosper S30 System delivers on all fronts. In the old days, digital imprints were only possible using the DH6240 System with 240 x 120dpi, at no more than 35,000 cylinder revolutions an hour. With the S30 System, we’re achieving 42,500 revolutions – the equivalent of 13.2 meters a second. Plus the higher resolution and the more vivid black are crucial advances."
Make way for flexible imprinting
The Kodak Prosper S30 Imprinting System is installed in the superstructure of a Colorman Web Press. This configuration affords considerable flexibility, as one web can be printed by two different towers, depending on the web lead. With this imprinting arrangement, variable elements can be printed on the newspaper’s outer pages, and on selected inner pages. Manroland web systems altered the web feed routes in order to integrate the imprinting system. And various web guide rollers and crossbars were fitted so the printhead and other mechanical components could be mounted. The inkjet printing zone is located exactly over a guide roller, guaranteeing a constant gap of only a few millimeters between the printhead and the web.
"We explored various inkjet technologies and came to the conclusion that there's no alternative to the Prosper S30 Imprinting System – it’s the only system that delivers top quality at such high printing speed,” continues Drensek. "Another huge benefit is that the inkjet head can be positioned anywhere across the web width."
In addition to the technical performance, Drensek is also looking into how the company can capitalize on the PROSPER S30 Imprinting System from a marketing perspective: “Obviously, we’re in regular contact with our own marketing organizations at Axel Springer, and we're also exploiting our links with creative professionals. We believe that any long-term strategy we adopt should be developed in conjunction with the marketing department and highly creative minds."
Volker Wehmeyer, Head of Planning and Control, takes up the thread: "Inkjet personalization offers us two clear advantages that we can sell to our publishing customers. First, in times of dwindling circulations and page counts, corrective instruments are a must. Digitally imprinted lotteries that encourage readers to remain faithful to a particular product over a period of several days are an elementary strategy. Second, any form of marketing that helps boosts revenue is a good thing.
"We invest a lot of time in raising our publishers’ awareness about the benefits of ads with variable content. In doing so we can help them get a better return on their marketing spend."
Hybrid creates high-impact marketing campaigns
After extensive testing and with Kodak's support, the first real production run with versioned advertising got off the ground in October 2011 with an advert in an industry supplement of Hamburger Abendblatt. Each of the 220,000 copies of a Kodak ad motif were printed with a unique prize code via inkjet imprint using the prosper S30 Imprinting System. The code was the password to a lottery with a printer as the top prize.
Another example is the large-scale campaign run by German newspaper, Bild, for its Hamburg readers over a period of several weeks in April to May 2012, which was designed to strengthen reader loyalty. In the ‘Cash Million’ lottery, tickets bearing a one-off, inkjet-imprinted number combination were included with the newspaper at the start of the week. Readers were urged to compare their numbers with the daily lucky numbers, with a chance to win cash and non-cash prizes at the end of the campaign.
A similar prize draw was organized in May 2012, when around 35,000 copies of Welt Kompakt were imprinted every day with the Prosper S30 System. An exclusive prize code on the tabloid's title page held the key to desirable consumer electronics. The promotion was originally only supposed to last two weeks, but the publisher extended it by a fortnight because of the campaign's enormous success.
Hybrid production on the web press will almost certainly be stepped up following such a positive experience. An extra twenty minutes makeready time are normally scheduled when the Prosper S30 System is involved because the position of the printhead must be manually adjusted perpendicular to the web travel direction.
The position of the inkjet image is optimized in the printing direction with the help of manroland web systems software: "We start by operating the press at proof-printing speed, then set all of the offset parameters and simultaneously pre-adjust the inkjet head," explains Benthack. "In the past, we've also had to include another stop for recalibration and the fine adjustment, but this won’t be necessary in the future."
In the medium term the printer, manroland web systems and Kodak will optimize the installation to reduce makeready time to just a few minutes, make the set-up easier to use, and improve registration. A powered drive and remote control of the printhead position on the crossbar of the web press desk will play a particularly important role here, along with technical measures to reduce the registration tolerance to 0.1mm throughout the speed range.
"Our initial campaigns with Welt Kompakt and Bild here in the Hamburg region were an unqualified success," surmises Drensek: "Thanks to the vast personalization options, this technology has enormous potential and has a major role to play in our future."