Courier-Journal upgrades newspaper handling system

Modern presses, in-plant logistics, and motion control allow late news, more advertising revenue, and faster delivery. For Louisville, Kentucky's then-132-year-old Courier-Journal (CJ) newspaper, stopping the presses was an ongoing and greater threat than the likelihood of missing a day's major news story.


Modern presses, in-plant logistics, and motion control allow late news, more advertising revenue, and faster delivery. For Louisville, Kentucky's then-132-year-old Courier-Journal (CJ) newspaper, stopping the presses was an ongoing and greater threat than the likelihood of missing a day's major news story. Given the slowness and propensity for breakdowns of CJ's over half-century-old presses, it was difficult to produce the daily news. Moreover, they weren't geared to modern, high-quality color or black-and-white content. CJ's credibility with both advertisers and readers was being affected.

So, five years ago, CJ approved an $85-million investment in three of Koenig & Bauer AG's modern, Colora double-wide offset-presses as part of a 135,000-sq-ft expansion. Situated adjacent to the existing facility, the new presses print 75,000 newspapers hourly with nearly all pages color capable. Moreover, production time was two hours shorter, allowing a later deadline for news and advertising and still meeting CJ's target of putting the paper in customers' hands by 5:30 a.m.

Product logistics

Newspapers often use buffer systems to bridge the speed gap between presses and downstream conveying systems. However, CJ didn't want to compromise its presses and dilute its investment. After surveying practices of its parent, Gannett Co., and others, CJ selected FKI Logistex to design, build, and integrate a purpose-built handling system of conveying, sorting, and controls. Key criteria included accuracy and efficiency in handling paper bundles as well as working within tight physical limits. The new system allowed CJ to nearly double the speed of its print runs.

Central to the logistics is the sorter. Solutions offered by others used dual pushers for sorting, using pneumatics to move a steel plate in directing bundles' flow, often damaging bundles enroute. However, FKI's UniSort-XV sliding-shoe sorter, provides high-speed, single unit sorting with zero impact for fast and accurate routing of newspaper bundles.

FKIUniSort system's ability to route from any input line to any output line was another big factor in effectively and flexibly directing bundle flow. CJ's old handling system sent papers only to specific destinations. Visits to FKI installations at United Parcel Service (UPS) and solidified CJ's interest.

Tight fit

Working with limited physical space was a critical issue; the handling system had what ever space was left after the presses were accommodated. The new production facility was on the Fifth Street side of CJ's property; the presses on the second floor fed conveyors to the first floor through inserting, stacking/compensating, and strapping machines. They then traveled by gripper conveyor to the second-floor before crossing over to the existing Sixth Street side of the property through the sorter, where the papers would be sorted and loaded onto the trucks.

CJ's prior handling scheme used a 40-year-old, two-tier belt system. Its drawback was that specific lines had to run on certain belts; any mistakes greatly increased the risk of a jam. The FKI system achieves needed speeds with a single belt. Some other systems required two belts to handle the number of lines. CJ didn't want to risk more two-belt challenges; also, a two-belt system would demand a larger footprint.

Overnight transition

The switchover had to be seamless, overnight; no downtime allowed. On the first night with the new system, the paper got out all three of its editions—to Kentucky, Indiana, and Metro.

For each edition, CJ prints about 56 pages during the week, in six sections, and more than 100 pages in Sunday's edition, in 12-15 sections. Edition print-runs are: Kentucky, 30,000 copies; Indiana, 35,000; and Metro, 180,000 on weekdays and some 325,000 on Sunday. Generally, more than a third of the weekday paper's pages are changed between editions.

During printing, papers exit the fast presses on to a belt conveyor. Gripper conveyors grab the papers, taking them down to the first floor. There, papers travel to the stacker/compensators to be stacked and rotated to form bundles that are then strapped.

With print runs for preprinted newspaper sections and other inserts that are added to the papers later, the strapper operator places a zone sheet on each bundle before sending it through the strapping machine. CJ's approximately 150 zones range from a fraction of a zip code to multiple zip codes.

Sophisticated controls

Newspaper bundles leave the strappers, rising on spiral conveyors to the mezzanine level, where they are fed to a series of FKI's Accumat newspaper conveyors. Accumat is a rollerless, zero-pressure, no-impact accumulation conveyor having a modular plastic belt as its conveying surface. It raises and lowers the belt-driving mechanism below its belt to convey or accumulate. In CJ's installation, the conveyors accumulate a slug of 6-10 bundles without the bundles contacting the running belt, and then feed the slugs to the UniSort sorter.

Unlike system sorting based on each item's code or RFID tag, CJ's system sorts its newspaper bundles for dock destinations without external bundle identification. Instead, CJ staff input each print run's information into an FKI-programmed control system. As bundles are conveyed to the sorter, the control system counts and tracks the bundle slugs. Remarkably, the segments of each edition's print run are identified solely by their status as they move through the production process.

To do that, CJ advertising and circulation staffs enter zone details for each day's circulation into the paper's in-house prepress/production computer software. It generates print zone reports for the FKI control system before the print runs. Together, the FKI controls and in-house systems allow the staff to monitor system efficiency.

Advanced sorting

Once information is entered into the FKI controls, the sorter determines the destination for each slug of bundles—either the dock area for the independent haulers or the cart loaders that stack the bundles on carts to be loaded onto CJ's trucks. Cart loaders track bundles going to CJ's trucks, and a set of bundle count displays installed by FKI at the independent hauler dock area tracks the number of bundles going to each hauler. Together, the systems prevent overages.

Eleven tie lines—the combination of a stacker/compensator and a strapper—feed the UniSort; there are eight in the new facility and three at the old plant that merge into two lines. From the 10 inputs, the UniSort outputs to nine destinations—five cart loaders and four extendable conveyors integrated by FKI at the independent hauler dock area. The sorter, with a maximum capacity of 132 bundles per minute, can accommodate bundles from any tie line to any destination without restrictions on rate or destination.

Instead of damaging the newspaper bundles, the system provides gentle, zero-impact handling while giving flexibility in bundle routing, providing a safety cushion in case certain destination lanes go down. And, since the system meshes with the new presses' speed with one machine, it reduced capital investment while fitting into the facility's close physical quarters.

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