Ok, so maybe it isn’t a drive but a short putt. Still, you’ll see what I mean.
In my job I’m on the receiving end of a lot of calls and email regarding the industry, products and competitors. A lot of it is rumor, single-sourced tidbits coming from just about anywhere. Of course, it’s the whole of it all with a little analysis that brings the value, not the individual pieces, but I digress.
I get this call from one of our salespeople. He tells me that he’s heard from a customer that they saw a demonstration where one of our competitor’s closed-loop color control system brought color “in spec” (I use quotes because the specs in question are often very subjective) in FIFTY REVOLUTIONS. Very impressive, if it weren’t for the fact that this number has to be off by a factor of at least 10.
Now the purpose of a color control system on a printing press is to remove the need for an actual live human being to manipulate controls on the printing press to make the printed colors (which are produce via four process colors and half-tones) look the way the customer wants, and to do this as fast as possible. After all, every inch of paper that comes off the press with the colors wrong is waste, so reducing make-ready waste is a very big deal in all printing. Naturally, what the colors need to look like is entirely subjective, and is determined by a representative of the printer’s customer. Despite popular belief, printing presses can’t always reproduce every color faithfully, so there is some compromise and fiddling that must be done.
On a large, web fed offset printing press the color is controlled by controlling how much of each process color is fed into the system in each of many areas of the press’s width. This is done with widgets called ink keys, which move in and out to allow less or more ink onto a series of rollers. All of these rollers roll against each other, transferring ink, and smoothing it out until its really thin, and distributed across the width of the roller just so. There are a lot of these rollers – like 20 or more, and the ink is very thick, like tar. This entire mechanism is called an Ink System, and it’s like a bureaucracy: You just can’t get it to move faster than it wants to.
When you add all of this together, the unfortunate truth is that ya just can’t make the ink move that quickly. Depending on how things start out, and what levels of ink are already on the rollers, there are times when it can happen quickly but no controls manufacturer is stupid enough to sell that as the normal situation.
Now I’m not saying this competitor is run by charlatans, we know them to be quite competent but not crooked and there’s no evidence they made the claim. This is simply a misunderstanding. Printing presses are very complicated, depend on a lot of physics to run properly, and the control systems needed to make them run at their best combine the complexity of both.
That’s the problem – a customer misunderstands, and customers talk. Another customer hears from “one of his kind” that a certain product does this or that and they just latch on to it despite what any of the manufacturers say. This is what drives me crazy.
So, if you are a printer looking at buying this equipment, please lean on your vendors for education. We want to help you, and it’s not in our interest for you to learn anything but the truth.