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Customer Case  | Axel Springer, Ahrensburg, GERMANY  | 29 October 2012

Axel Springer

Overall ecological concept – from platemaking to the finished product

The offset printer Axel Springer in Ahrensburg is one of fifty top newspaper printers in the International Newspaper Color Quality Club. As one of the first printers in Europe the company was certified according to the European eco audit and obtained many awards for environmental management. This commitment runs like a leitmotiv through all parts of the company. Most recent success: the switch to the conventional environment-friendy chem-free N94-VCF printing plate of Agfa Graphics.

About 850.000 newspapers are printed every day in Ahrensburg foreseen with inserts, packaged and submitted for delivery. These are both papers from the Axel Springer AG publishing house, such as the Hamburger Abendblatt, Die Welt and Welt Kompakt, Bild, Bild am Sonntage or Welt am Sonntag, and papers from other publishers such as Die Zeit or the Süddeutsche Zeitung. In addition, the printer produces a large amount of state-of-the-art commercial printing orders on coldset presses, which add a lot of value for newspapers in the fields of lifestyle, culture or education.

This extension of the technical possibilities in coldset is a response to the strong decrease of the newspapers' circulation. The printing of high-end commercial jobs requires a large amount of knowhow, as well as a close cooperation with color and paper suppliers and a strict control over the printing processes.

Technological progress - definitely, but in moderation

The high motivation and the special knowhow of the workers lies at the base of Axel Springer's success. The fully industrialized company uses tried and tested technology and processes. Technical experiments are not allowed. It was only in 2006 that the company switched from conventional platemaking using film and plates to fully digital computer-to-plate processes. At the time, CtP was already the state-of-the-art technology in the trade. "We were probably the last ones to switch to CtP", admits Wolfgan Stamer, in charge of platemaking in Ahrensburg. Wolfgang Stamer is IT specialist. "When we started the switch to digital plate imaging, I was really thrown ito the deep", he remembers. He managed to settle into the job quickly though, even using his knowhow of networks, workflow solutions and digital processes. Plate making is now done by five Polaris XTV Si platesetters, which form five fully automatic imager streets together with Haase processors and Nela finishing equipment.

Favoring customized solutions

At first, Axel Springer worked with conventional printing plates. The processes to handle plates were already state-of-the-art and automated in 2006. Axel Springer prefers customized in-house development over out of the box solutions. The ready-made printing plates then enter a Barenschee sorting unit, which adds information for the press operators by means of an inkjet printing system which uses water-soluble ink. From there the plates go into a transport system, which transports the plates fully automatically from the prepress environment to the pressroom, where they are directly mounted onto the right printing press. Here too, Axel Springer prefers a proprietary solution to steer the platesetter. "We work with a uniform TIFF workflow", explains Wolfgang Stamer. This in-house developed solution is called 'TIFF Manager'. The software was used before for the film imaging; today it is used to image the plates. For the production of the semi-commercials a PDF workflow is used which is also developed in-house."

Wolfgang Stamer, Axel Springer (l.), and Jürgen Strahl, Agfa Graphics (r.): Five Polaris platesetters take care of the plate supply to print 850.000 newspapers per day at Axel Springer in Ahrensburg.

Tried and tested process, new plate

This process has been used intensively in Ahrensburg for a number of years and is steadily being optimized. As of February 2011 Agfa Graphics' chemistry-free N94-VCF is also used. The imaging area was adapted to image and process the chemistry-free printing plate. The Haase developers were converted at the beginning of 2011. A number of steps disappear for the imaging and processing of the chemistry-free plate. Instead, a pH-neutral washing gum was used, which requires no extra replenishment. The violet-sensitive aluminum plate is imaged and preheated . The printing image shows up latently right after the imaging; the preheat fixes the latent printing image, and the pH-neutral washing gum removes the non-imaged areas. In the process pre- and post-wash disappear. The Haase developers also need two steps less in the process. "There is no need for extra chemicals, which leads to further savings", confirms Wolfgang Stamer. According to his calculations, 210 liters of replenishment per engine and per month is being saved. The development tray is only filled with washing gum nowadays. In addition, the cleaning of the engines is much easier. In most cases rinsing with water does the job.

Agfa Graphics as active partner

Decisive for the conversion to the chemistry-free environment-friendly plate was the ecological and sustainable organization within the framework of the complete company philosophy, says Wolfgang Stamer. "In addition, we had very good experiences with the Agfa Graphics team during the conversion process", he is happy to share. Agfa Graphics has for instance developed a roller soluton in the gumming unit, which enables a steady hydrophilization of the non-imaging areas while also guaranteeing that the applied gum mix is as thin as possible. "This configuration is very effective while it minimizes the use of gum on the one hand and warrants that almost no gum is transferred to the subsequent stages of the plate production", explains Stamer. The chemistry-free printing plate from Agfa Graphics is stable up to a run length of 160.000 according to him. The complete process for the plate production is stable and automatic at Axel Springer's; in practice, only the printing plate has been exchanged and the developer process modified. The IT specialist is particularly pleased with the small amount of cleaning that is needed. "Today we need about one man hour per cleaning cycle versus five before". Cleaning is being done after ten to twelve thousand plates. In total Axel Springer saves on chemistry, water and working hours. "In addition, using this environment-friendly printing plate fits into our company excellently", stresses Wolfgang Stamer, since the printing company attaches great importance to environmental certificates such as EMAS, FSC/PEFC. The support of Agfa Graphics is first-class. "We were satisfied about the way Agfa Graphics met our demands, as well as about the support and counseling they offered; the total project management was good," confirms Wolfgang Stamer.

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