Tech giants make relatively small but important gains in toner, inkjet and wide-format hardware to enable printing companies with a growing need to produce a larger range of print products with a single investment.
Advances in automation and digital print technology are driving the innovations being showcased on the drupa 2016 exhibition floor. While conventional offset technology perseveres in most high-volume print environments, significant gains are being made in digital print, large-format inkjet and digital finishing technologies. giving printers the ability to produce a wider range of products for their customers.
Xeikon’s missing link
Since acquiring Xeikon late in 2015, the Flint Group has put the company at the heart of its recently formed Digital Printing Solutions division to expand its corporate focus into this burgeoning market. With the acquisition, Flint expands its portfolio of digital printing solutions through a combined offering of hardware, consumables and services across its global markets. In its first major show since the acquisition, Xeikon has a major presence at drupa 2016 showcasing its first digital printing press using unique liquid toner technology.
The Trillium liquid toner printing process, debuted by Xeikon at drupa 2012, has been integrated into the Trillium One digital four-colour web press being demonstrated at this year’s show. The Trillium One is the product of a joint venture between Xeikon and Miyakoshi, a leading Japanese press manufacturer. The new press is capable of running at 60 metres per minute at a resolution of 1,200 dpi across a 500-mm web. All print can be fully variable, and is dry to the touch and ready for post-press production as soon as it feeds onto the take-up spool.
To achieve this, the Trillium One relies on Xeikon’s Tonnik, a liquid toner that combines the advantages of a dry toner (economical and efficient) with imaging quality that, according to the company, compares favourably to conventional offset technologies. Tonnik consists of very small toner particles (less than two microns) suspended in a high-viscosity carrier liquid derived from bio-materials. The press mechanically recycles the liquid while the toner particle accurately transfers from roller to substrate at very high speeds.
Xeikon is positioning the Trillium One to compete with the economy of offset litho for longer runs while offering all the advantages of digital printing such as variable print. The first Trillium One presses will ship from Q2 2017.
The company is also showing Fusion at drupa 2016 – another potentially game-changing digital imaging technology. First demonstrated at Labelexpo last September, Fusion is aimed at the high-end label and packaging market. Xeikon’s Fusion Technology will be implemented through a number of modules released over time that add digital embellishing capabilities to a Xeikon press. Fusion Technology will combine four-colour printing with a number of digitally rendered effects potentially including: hot or cold foiling; matte or gloss, spot or flood varnishes; and digital Braille. The advantages of producing these effects digitally through integrated embellishing modules include a high degree of automation and content variability – something unheard of with conventional finishing. While Fusion is initially targeting the label and packaging industry, it could really shake things up in the commercial print world.
Esko on the cutting edge
Esko proclaimed its ‘Packaging Simplified’ mantra at a pre-drupa press conference held in Bruges, Belgium this past March (PrintAction, May 2016) as the company rolled out its latest software solutions. Now Esko is following through with some significant updates to its digital finishing workflow as well as Kongsberg cutting, creasing and milling table portfolio. By introducing the latest version of its i-Cut software suite for artwork preparation along with enhancements to Automation Engine and ArtiosCAD, Esko promises users greater throughput with significantly less operator intervention and a 50 percent reduction in training time.
Meanwhile, the Kongsberg table collection has been simplified into two lines – Kongsberg X and Kongsberg C. The Kongsberg X product family is aimed at the prototyping market, and users requiring a great deal of creative control over the products they cut. The X tables come in a variety of configurations and offer the user an ability to add a range of creasing, cutting and milling tools to meet the needs of a growing business.
While the Kongsberg C line of tables is well known to existing packaging shops, Esko has extended the family to include a smaller table sizes aimed serving short run packaging and signage production needs. Wisely, Esko has configured an entry-level table for each line with as an upgrade path to reduce the capex for new players in the hot packaging industry.
A big problem with elaborate prototyping and production tables is the extensive amount of time needed to setup for a job. To address this, the new Kongsberg tables feature an Auto Adjust Tool with camera inspection that adjusts tools at the start of each project and memorizes the settings for individual substrates in a comprehensive materials database. When changing configurations, the Auto Adjust Tool recalls and automates the setting for the new substrate – saving operator time and reducing spoilage. And according to Esko, new operators benefit by getting expert ‘advice’ from the Kongsberg system on how to setup the job and which tools to use, enabling efficient setups and changeovers.
Agfa automates VLF
Agfa’s Jeti and Anapurna solutions are well known in the wide-format and very-large-format world of industrial inkjet printing. However, automation has always been a challenge, especially when dealing with printing on rigid substrates such as gator board. At drupa 2016, Agfa introduces the latest iteration of the VLF production workhorse – The Jeti Tauro, a six-colour UV inkjet printer sporting an elaborate ¾ automation package including a board feeder and unloading unit.
Seeing the automated Jeti Tauro in action is like watching a mechanical chorus line. A single operator can feed multiple boards onto the 2.5-metre-wide table where they automatically align before going under the inking print heads and coming out dry on the other side. The unloading table is equipped with multiple suction arms that lift the finished boards and stack them neatly offline.
Besides automating VLF, Agfa is moving online with the announcement of PrintSphere, its take on a cloud solution. In addition to standardizing data exchange, PrintSphere is being positioned as an answer for users needing secure back-ups of production databases for their Asanti, Arkitex and Apogee workflows – a necessity in this cloud-based world we live in!
Agfa also introduced its ECO3 initiative at drupa, which stands for “Eco-friendly, Economic and Extremely convenient.” Agfa has gone to great lengths to expand and improve its chemistry-free printing-plate applications with some new clean-out units for its VCF plates, and brand new Azura TU VLF chem-free plates for very large offset presses. On the thermal CTP side of the fence, Agfa launched its new Energy Elite Eco no-bake positive thermal plates promising extended run lengths for both sheetfed and heatset web use.
X-Rite marks the spot
In late May (just in time for drupa), X-Rite announced the next-generation of its non-contact, automated colour measurement solution – the IntelliTrax2. This new device still meets the demands of the sheetfed printer, but also has added capabilities to appeal to folding carton converters. The IntelliTrax2 now supports M1 measurement illumination conditions – in plain speak that means it can accurately measure colour on substrates containing optical brighteners, or printed with fluorescent inks. The system includes an integrated look-ahead sensor that automatically adjusts the scanning head to locate colour bars as small as two millimetres.
In a nod to the burgeoning packaging printing and converting industry, the IntelliTrax2 can scan much thicker materials than its predecessor – up to one millimetre – and supports all the latest measurement standards in case your shop runs to G7 or FOGRA standards. According to X-Rite, the IntelliTrax2 can automatically scan a typical colour bar in less than 15 seconds while effectively measuring Pantone colours, PantoneLIVE colours, paper colour and, of course, process colours.
Married to offset
The potential to leverage Xeikon’s Fusion technology and print variable data in foil or varnishes in a commercial print environment will be too good to pass up for many still married to offset. And with the high-level of automation and ease of training promised under Esko’s Packaging Simplified mandate, the knowledge barrier is being lowered for adventurous commercial printers wanting to test the waters of the lucrative label and packaging industry.
Although legacy sheetfed and web offset configurations continue to dominate the commercial printing world – especially in large-volume and high-quality print and finishing applications – economical digital print and custom digital finishing technologies are moving to the forefront of the label and packaging stage. It won’t be long before these technologies find their way into commercial print and start eroding offset’s dominance.
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