Printing Trades Machinery and Equipment

SIC 3555

Companies in this industry

Industry report:

This category covers establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing machinery and equipment used by the printing and bookbinding trades, including printing presses, bookbinding machines, typesetting and photoengraving equipment, and a variety of specialized tools for the printing trades.

Industry Snapshot

According to industry statistics, 941 establishments operated in this category in 2009 with industry-wide employment of 19,878. Shipments for the industry were valued just under $2.1 billion. The recession of the late 2000s caused many firms to cut their workforces to trim costs and stay profitable under the poor economic conditions. Although demand returned slowly in 2010, as digital equipment costs slowly decreased, digital printing continued to gather market share away from the traditional printing machinery industry.

Organization and Structure

Leading members of the printing equipment industry banded together in 1910 to form the Printing Press Manufacturers Association (PPMA), with the purpose of convincing Congress to pass laws protecting the industry from foreign imports.

In 1933, the National Printing Equipment Association was founded for the purpose of helping the industry recover from the Great Depression. Industry codes enforcing fair competition proposed by the NPEA were accepted by President Franklin Roosevelt's National Recovery Administration (NRA) in 1934, but in 1935 the Supreme Court ruled unanimously ruled that the National Industrial Recovery Act, under which the NRA was formed, was unconstitutional. Although the NPEA code of fair competition was invalidated, the organization voted to continue as a source of information and education for the printing equipment industry.

The name of NPEA was changed to the National Printing Equipment and Supply Association in 1978, and changed again in 1991 to the Association for Suppliers of Printing and Publishing Technologies (NPES). In 2010, the association operated under the name NPES Association for Suppliers of Printing, Publishing and Converting Technologies. In 2010 NPES had over 400 member companies, including computer manufacturers and software companies, as well as traditional printing machinery manufacturers. NPES conducted market research and promoted international trade on behalf of its members.

Background and Development

Letterpress printing, using raised images to print on paper, was an ancient art developed by the Babylonians as early as 2000 B.C. for producing playing cards. However, the first printing presses, which were based on machines used to press grapes and cheese, were not invented until the early 15th century, more than 3,000 years later. The modern printing industry is generally considered to date from the mid-fifteenth century with the invention of moveable type by German printer Johannes Gutenberg. The Gutenberg press used a flat wooden plate, or platen, to press a single sheet of soft paper against a form containing letters cast in metal from clay molds.

The printing press changed very little over the next 400 years. When Stephen Daye established the first publishing house in Colonial America in 1639, his English-made press was not significantly different from Gutenberg's. Christopher Sauer, Jr., of Cambridge, Massachusetts, also followed the Gutenberg model when he manufactured the first press built in the Colonial America in 1750. However, printing machinery technology began to change radically in the early 1800s, with many of the advancements developed by U.S. manufacturers. Among the most important U.S. contributions to printing machinery were the development of the Columbian press, the rotary press, the Linotype machine, and the offset press. The United States was the leading manufacturer of printing presses from the mid-1800s until after World War II, when Germany began to challenge U.S. dominance.

Columbian Press.
In 1813, George Clymer, a printer in Philadelphia, replaced the cumbersome screw mechanism of the Gutenberg press with a much faster system of levers that allowed press operators to achieve sufficient pressure for printing. The elaborate system had a long handle known in the printing trades as "the devil's tail." Clymer's Columbian press was cast from iron and was noted for its intricate metal work, which included dolphins, flowers, and an intimidating American eagle perched on top. However, the Western expansion of the United States caused many U.S. printers to prefer lighter wooden presses that could be transported more easily. Clymer moved to England in 1817, where Clymer & Company manufactured presses until 1851.

Rotary Press.
The rotary press was a U.S. adaptation of the cylinder press. Friedrich Koenig, a German clockmaker who emigrated to England, developed the first practical cylinder press around 1811. Koenig replaced the flat platen with a cylinder that allowed press operators to maintain a uniform pressure as the type bed was moved horizontally. The first Koenig press, which could print about 1,100 sheets per hour, was installed at The Times of London in 1816. Koenig later returned to Germany, where he established the first printing press factory. The Koenig press, however, cost about 10 times as much as other presses and never became popular.

Richard March Hoe, a New York City manufacturer, built the first cylinder press in the United States in 1830. Hoe also realized that the greatest limitation to Koenig's press was the time it took to move the massive type bed back and forth. In 1846, R. Hoe & Company developed the first rotary press. Instead of using a flat type bed, Hoe mounted type around the outside of a huge cylinder, which was surrounded by four smaller platen cylinders. Instead of the back and forth motion of the Koenig press, the Hoe type cylinder revolved in a continuous motion. Each of the four hand-fed platen cylinders could print about 2,000 sheets per hour. This gave the Hoe rotary press a capacity of 8,000 copies per hour, which was later increased to 20,000 sheets. The first Hoe rotary press was installed at The Philadelphia Public Ledger. Hoe & Co. continued to manufacture presses and other printing machinery until 1968, when it declared bankruptcy.

William Bullock, a Philadelphia printer, perfected the first rotary press able to print on both sides of the paper. In 1880 he also developed the first high-speed press to print from a continuous roll of paper. The Goss Printing Company, founded in Chicago in 1885, was the first company to combine multiple high-speed rotary presses into a single machine that could print entire newspapers in one press run. In 1889 Goss installed a set of six presses for The New York Herald that could print 72,000 newspapers per hour.

For 400 years after Gutenberg invented moveable type, printers composed lines of type by hand, one letter at a time. When the printing was completed, the letters were returned to a type case. It was a tedious process, and one that resisted all attempts at mechanization. American History Illustrated once called it "the century's most perplexing invention problem." By one account, more than 200 inventors attempted to solve the enormous engineering problem posed by typesetting. Most ended up frustrated, and many went bankrupt. Mark Twain lost most of his fortune when he backed the Paige Compositor, which turned out to be an impractical failure. An examiner in the U.S. Patent Office reportedly went insane trying to cope with the technical complexity of the many patents filed on mechanical typesetters in the late 1880s.

In 1884, Ottmar Mergenthaler, an immigrant German clockmaker working for a scientific instruments company in Baltimore, invented a machine he named the Linotype. The Linotype allowed an operator sitting at a keyboard to compose lines of type from brass molds, or matrices. Separate lines of type were then cast in metal and slid into galleys for printing. The brass matrices returned to their original position until they were needed again. After printing, the type was melted down and the metal could be reused.

The Linotype, which Thomas Edison called "the eighth wonder of the world," solved several critical problems. First, there was no need for a large pre-cast supply of type because the brass matrices were immediately reusable. Since every line of type was newly cast from an alloy of lead, tin, and antimony, printers always received a quality impression. The Linotype also justified each line of type automatically by sliding wedge-shaped pieces of metal between each word. The first 12 Linotypes were installed at The New York Tribune in 1886. Within 10 years, there were Linotypes in use throughout the United States and Europe.

The Monotype, a machine similar to the Linotype, was invented in 1887 by an American named Tolbert Lanston. The Monotype cast individual letters from brass matrices and was especially popular with book publishers because it could cast special symbols or non-Latin alphabets. Additionally, corrections could be made by changing a single letter rather than an entire line of type.

The first photo typesetting machines were patented about 1880, but did not become practical until after World War II when the graphic arts industry began to grow. Linotype and Monotype typesetters were used almost universally by commercial printers until photo typesetting machines began to replace them in the 1970s. By the mid-1980s, most major newspapers had switched from "hot lead" to "cold type."

In 1992 The Wall Street Journal printed a story about "The Last Yiddish Linotype in America." Linotype machine No. 23,211 was one of nine made for the Jewish Daily Forward in New York in 1918. Outfitted with Hebrew letters and converted to compose type right to left, the 3,000 pound machine was in operation until 1991, when it, along with a host of other equipment, was replaced by a single desktop computer.

Another U.S. development in printing machinery was offset printing. This process is often attributed to a U.S. printer named Ira Rubel. Offset lithography had been used since the 1880s to print labels directly on tin containers. In 1905 Rubel was operating a rotary press when he unintentionally transferred an image onto the rubber impression cylinders. When he then fed paper through the press, he noticed that the images left by the rubber cylinders were much sharper than the direct image left by the raised type. For many years, offset printing was used for high-quality work. In the 1970s, offset presses also began to replace letter presses for projects requiring high speed, such as newspapers.

The 1939 New York World's Fair.
In 1939, more than 100,000 people visited a display of printing machinery technology at the New York World's Fair, including the original Stephen Daye Press, then owned by the Vermont Historical Society. More than 200 companies participated in the exhibition, which covered 50,000 square feet in the Grand Central Palace. Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia declared the last week in September to be "Printing Industry Week," and the U.S. Post Office issued a 3-cent stamp commemorating the 300th anniversary of printing in the United States.

World War II.
Rationing of critical supplies such as steel and rubber nearly shut down the printing machinery industry during World War II. Many manufacturers compensated by accepting government contracts to build weapons. As early as 1939, before the United States entered the war, the Goss Printing Company turned down a major contract with the St. Louis Post Dispatch because the newspaper was unwilling to accept a clause excusing Goss if the war prevented it from fulfilling the contract. Goss negotiated a contract with the U.S. Navy to build gun mounts, sighting mechanisms, and other weapons machinery.

After the United States entered the war, the War Production Board (WPB) halted the manufacture of all printing equipment for civilian use. By July 1942, nearly the entire industry had been converted to the production of war material. Industry leaders, including Goss, R. Hoe & Company, and the ATF-Webendorfer Company, built recoil mechanisms for anti-aircraft guns. Mergenthaler Linotype Company made fire control instruments, F.P. Rosback Company made parts for anti-aircraft guns and wing tips for P-38 airplanes, and the Miehle Printing Press & Manufacturing Company made shell casing and naval ordnance.

Eventually, the WPB allocated some material to manufacture spare parts for printing equipment, but between 1943 and 1945, the printing machinery industry nearly quadrupled its pre-war output with over 80 percent for the war effort. The WPB later reported, "No other segment of the metal-working industry showed a higher degree of conversion to war work." According to the Board, 22 printing machinery manufacturers were awarded the Army-Navy "E" for production excellence, including every manufacturer of printing presses.

In 1938, Chester F. Carlson, a patent attorney in New York with a degree in physics, invented a process for transferring images he called "electrophotography." The Battelle Memorial Institute, a nonprofit research organization, and the Haloid Co., a producer of photo supplies founded in 1906, later renamed the process "xerography." In 1961, Haloid became the Xerox Corporation. Xerography began replacing job presses for many printing functions in the 1970s.

The printing machinery industry experienced tremendous changes in the 1970s as computer technology replaced or significantly changed the type of machinery used by the printing trades. This included developments in photo typesetting and photocomposition, as well as increased automation of traditional printing press operations.

With the development of photo typesetting, photocomposition, and non-impact printing, the printing trades evolved from a craft to a high-technology industry. Consequently, the printing machinery industry evolved as well. In the early 1990s, the need for the massive presses that dominated the industry and the equipment necessary to run them continued. However, just as Linotypes gave way to computer typesetters, industry leaders predicted that non-impact printing would someday replace the huge presses. In 1992, AM International Inc., a Chicago-based manufacturer of printing machinery, unveiled the Electrobook Press, a non-impact press based on electrostatic imaging. The Electrobook Press was developed jointly by AM International, publisher McGraw-Hill Inc., and commercial printer R.R. Donnelly & Sons. McGraw-Hill expected to use the new press to publish customized textbooks for university professors.

After peaking at $3.96 billion in 1998, the value of industry shipments dropped to $3.6 billion in 1999 before recovering slightly to $3.82 billion in 2000. The cost of materials followed a similar pattern, falling from a high of $1.91 billion in 1998 to $1.64 billion in 1999, before rebounding to $1.85 billion in 2000. In the early years of the first decade of the 2000s, shipments from this industry segment were valued at $2.9 billion, well below industry highs. However, by the end of 2003, shipments increased along with other manufacturing industries. While digital and smart products dropped in price, overall unit sales increased.

In 2007, industry shipments decreased to less than $3.3 billion, down from $4.13 billion the previous year. Most of the companies engaged in this industry were small, with nearly half having four or fewer employees. One of the exciting developments in this category has been in specialty printing. For example, the segment manufacturing machinery for printing labels was producing portable systems to conform to the radio frequency identification (RFID) labels many of the markets for printing products were demanding. By the second half of the decade, printing machinery with WiFi also was becoming more commonplace.

Current Conditions

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the value of shipments declined from $2.88 billion in 2007 to $2.76 billion in 2008. Printing presses accounted for roughly 31 percent of industry shipments in 2008. Binding machinery and equipment made up about 11 percent. According to statistics provided by Dun and Bradstreet, the value of the industry fell to $2.09 billion in 2009 as the printing industry was negatively affected by the global recession. For example, industry leader Agfa Gevaert NV of Belgium reported a 20 percent decline in demand for printing plates and a 50 percent decline in printing equipment during 2009. Another world leader, Heidelberger Druckmaschinen cut roughly 1,500 jobs during 2009 to reduces costs during the poor economic conditions. In the United States, printing press manufacturer Goss International reduced its workforce by nearly one-third during 2009, from 1,250 to 800.

Although the economic recession highlighted the downturn in the traditional printing trades industry, the printing industry continued its path toward all things digital. For example, U.K. printer Stralfors removed four of its printing machines at the end of 2009 to make room for digital technology. Obsolescence, declared John Carter, the firm 's managing director, was not far away: "Our heritage has always been in forms printing, but the decline in that side has really gathered pace in the last 12 months. It isn 't the video tape just yet, but it will disappear as technology takes over."

According to Dun and Bradstreet, of the 941 firms in business during 2009, 49.5 percent fell under the category of printing trades machinery. This sector employed 10,923 and generated $897.2 million. Firms engaged primarily in produces printing presses numbered 178, employed 2,345, and generated $182.9 in revenues. There were 110 firms engaged in producing printing plates, which employed 3,147 and had revenues of $131.1 million. Firms engaged in manufacturing a variety of printing parts, attachments, and leaders numbered 115, employed 1,157, and generated $825.3 million. Firms engaged in making engraving machinery; type casting, foundry, or melting machines; book binding and collating machinery; and other various printing machinery such as lithographic stones, typesetting machines, and stereotyping machines made up smaller segments of the industry.

Industry Leaders

Belgium's Agfa Gevaert NV, with worldwide 2009 sales of just under $3.95 billion, was the leading presence in the U.S. market with more than 11,000 employees internationally. Goss International Corp. of Bolingbrook, Illinois, had 2009 sales of $1.0 billion and 800 employees. Rounding out the top industry leaders was Heidelberger Druckmaschinen, which operates in the United States as Heidelberg USA of Kennesaw, Georgia. In 2009 Heidelberger Druckmaschinen had total sales of $3.1 billion and employed roughly 16,500.

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News and information about Printing Trades Machinery and Equipment

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