Technology is the key for newspapers that have been cutting their press operations staff and reducing their training budgets.

I have seen the effects firsthand. As the industry continues to contract, I see fewer press operators. And for many newspapers, that means poorer print registration, poorer overall print quality and higher newsprint waste.

For some publishers, the thought process seems to be that you can take anybody off the street and train them in a day or two to run a press.

That’s certainly not the case.

It takes time to teach an operator the fine art of setting ink density across a page or balancing ink on color images, particularly if they don’t have a gray balance bar as a guide.

It takes time to teach an operator how to make a paster, or to lead in a web, or to adjust the folder while the press is running.

The point is this: Properly trained employees save time and money. They reduce waste and please their newspapers’ most important customers: the advertiser.

That’s not to say that modern press technology doesn’t have its benefits. But these systems, featuring a high degree of automation and control, aren’t the ones you will find within the majority of American pressrooms.

If there is one upgrade you can make, purchase a web detector. I find that in many cases these devices aren’t used even when the press is equipped with them.

Web detectors can prevent severe damage to both printing units and the folder. They also help reduce the amount of newsprint waste. I have had pressmen tell me that they can stop the press almost as fast as if they were using a web detector since they are aware of every noise and vibration the press makes while it’s running.

Not so.

Even when the press speed is slow, web detectors will reduce damage to the machine.

More tools

Another upgrade: Motorized compensators can be added if they don’t already exist on the press. A motorized compensator and controller can be purchased for $250, for a swing-arm compensator, if you are a do-it-yourselfer. Motorized side-lays can also be added to the press units to reduce the time it takes to adjust register during the press run. The device used to control the side-lay is called an actuator, which is a motor and lead-screw mounted in place of the side-lay handle and side-lay support bracket. 

Purchase low-voltage assemblies to reduce shock hazards and reduce the installation time.

Running circumferential register (RCR) systems can be added as well if they do not already exist on the press.

An RCR upgrade can be purchased for about $3,800 with no motorization. The RCR is used to set back-to-back color (for 4-over-4 leads or for the direct printing process).

Normally, OEM RCRs are adjusted from the drive side of the machine but they can be controlled from the operator side for an additional $150.

An RCR can also be motorized for approximately $200 by a do-it-yourselfer or a complete kit can be purchased for approximately $1,500.

Motorization is beneficial because it allows a press operator to register color without requiring him to leave the folder area.

Reducing tension headaches

Most singlewidth presses have mechanical tension systems. Some have tension systems that can be controlled from the folder, thus reducing the need for additional operators.

These folder-based systems control tension more precisely than mechanical ones, and they are usually equipped with margin controls to let operators better position newsprint rolls.

Additionally, upgrades can be added that notify press operators that a roll is about to expire and to determine the mileage each roll achieved.

Tension systems can also be upgraded to automatic splicers for longer press runs, thus providing additional tools newspapers can use to reduce downtime, improve registration and cut newsprint waste.

Finally, a master water control system can help operators adjust the water level of each unit. Installing electronic inking systems, which include dampening controls, will also reduce the need for additional staffing. But they might be too pricey for most unless you regularly have long press runs.

Please contact me if you are interested in learning more about upgrades designed to help your press operators perform their jobs faster and more efficiently.

Frank Bourlon is the executive and training director for the Newspaper Production and Research Center. He can be reached at or 405.524.7774.

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