Southern Publishing Co.

Visit to Southern Publishing Co. – 9th November, 1993
The twenty-four Association members who made up the party to the Southern Publishing Company, on the Hollingbury Trading Estate, were rewarded with an exceptionally interesting and informative afternoon, for which Mr. Steve Long, the
Production Manager at the plant, was responsible, and all our thanks are due to him.
The visit was programmed so that the printing of the “Final Edition” of the Evening
Argus could be observed from virtually start to finish.
The development of the present site was started in 1991 and was commissioned to
its present level in 1993, at an overall cost of twenty million pounds. Although not purpose-built for the Company, the building was readily adaptable when taken over from the Machine Tool Company, Kearney & Treaker. One of the main structural problems was the provision of foundations for the 100 tonne presses. This necessitated eight metre-long piles into the chalk to support the caps which were to take the burden of both machinery and paper, each roll of which weighs l.5 tonnes. Another small job was to raise the “press hall’ roof by three metres.
The group first saw the press and editing floor where journalists, editors and graphic-designers, receiving information from various sources, struggle to fit their pieces into column inches, later to be headlined and arranged on the relevant pages, before the finally accepted layout is transferred to the “plate making” department computer screens. Where would we be without a V.D.U. in every tool kit? Image processors interpret the displays and transfer them on to a black-and-white negative, which is used to transfer the page images on to a light-sensitive metal plate. These plates are electrically charged to attract ink and, when completed, are fitted into place in the press colour tower, ready to print.
From here it was up to the observation gallery to see the “run”. It was easy to see why the foundation work had been so important. Two presses, engineered and installed by G.O.S.S. of Preston, Lancs., were end-to-end, so that running both separately or, as it were, in series, is possible. The “run” started and a rate of printing of 53,000 copies per hourwassoonreached. Thepaper, drawnupfromtherollsonthe”reelfloor”beneaththe press, passes through tensioning rollers and the inked plates to be printed, and then on to the most intriguing piece of machinery, the “Folder”, out of which spews 53,000 copies, all cut, sorted into the correct order and folded, ready for the reader. The “run” is constantly monitored at the control desk, random copies being checked for “inking levels” and “roller pressures”, all to make sure that “what you get you can read”.
Another impressive operation is the joining of reels of paper whilst the press operates at production speed. Anyone who has problems sticking two pieces of paper together accurately, whilst they are moving at 18 m.p.h., don’t despair, ring G.O.S.S. at Preston! Two reels, one full, the other almost empty, rotating at different speeds, approach each other on counterbalanced rollers, their ends patterned with double-sided sticky tape; a warning bell sounds – splice near, the rolls meet and join, the new roll then takes over. A few copies printed over the join are automatically disgorged (about 30 copies).
Then, one hour after the run had started, all came to a standstill, all copies having been transferred to the publishing room, where Danish equipment had packed the papers into bundles of 100 copies. From there they are taken to the waiting fleet of vehicles for distribution.
Besides printing the Argus, the plant prints numerous other papers and brochures, for companies such as Debenhams, etc., these mostly on the night-shift.
The Southern Publishing Company is part of the Pearson Group, and the plant we had seen is the back-up plant for printing the Financial Times in an emergency.
I make no apologies for not trying to give “technical information” about the equipment we saw, as I found many of the techniques on display to be “new age”. If you don’t know about it, don’t lecture on it! After all, “seeing is believing”.
Thanks, once more, to Mr. Long, both for a fascinating afternoon and for the hospitality afterwards.
NOW, TO SUM UP, A FEW FACTS THAT MIGHT INTEREST MEMBERS An average issue of the Argus uses 180 miles of paper; 100% recycled from Aylesford Paper Mills, or 60% recycled from Sweden.
It take two hours each day to clean the machines before printing.
70% of Argus income comes from advertising, 30% from sales.
There are 250 million dots on an black-and-white page and a 1,000 million on a colour page.
Perhaps he, too, would recommend escalators between floors!
Arnold Marriott