After spending three days in Düsseldorf, the positive vibe and innovation displayed at drupa 2016 illustrates print is far from dead, even if how and when it will be produced is changing significantly.
This year I had the privilege to attend the drupa tradeshow again. I was in good company with seven students from the Graphic Communications Management program at Ryerson University and six of my colleagues. We spent three days at drupa exploring the trade show.
First of all, I would like to say that the whole show carried a very positive and energetic vibe. It was like a fest, almost a party, compared to the sombre tone from 2012. The halls were bustling with people from more than 188 different countries. Many pieces of equipment carried a Sold to… sign. I see this as a positive trend towards the future of the printing industry. Companies are investing again to modernize their equipment and add new services.
Yes, the hype of the show was HP, which had hall 17 completely to itself, as well as Landa, Kodak and Highcon. There were many exhibits in regards to 3D printing, functional printing and so on, but the majority of exhibitors were focused on supporting existing businesses and their needs from new inks to better knifes for a cutter. The paper manufacturers had a hall to themselves to show off many new products. What I also liked was the hustling and bustling in hall 1, occupied by Heidelberg.
Overall, 260,000 visitors visited the 1,837 exhibitors who themselves came from 54 different countries. These numbers are little bit less than statistics from drupa 2012, but, as I said before, the spirit was quite positive throughout the show. Messe Düsseldorf states 54 percent of the visitors came to drupa with concrete investment intentions and 29 percent placed orders and another 30 percent plan to place orders after drupa.
Digital print trends
Although previous drupa trade shows have been labelled as the digital drupa, this 2016 version was for sure the digital drupa. Benny Landa’s famous saying “Anything than can be printed digital, will be printed digital” was clearly on display at the show. The speed of digital presses using inkjet technology is continuing to increase and the print resolution is also getting better. Sometimes you really have to look closely (with a magnifying glass) to see the difference. Also more and more special inks are being developed for digital printing presses, which used to be available only in offset or flexo ink sets.
Kodak showed interesting new inkjet technology with the introduction of its Ultrastream platform, which was incorporated into its Prosper 6000C press. Landa, meanwhile, stated it will finally ship machines after the show to a number of beta customers.
Automation is still a big topic by all accounts. Due to the increasing number of short run jobs, the changeover between print jobs has to be as quick as possible. Expanded gamut printing is not only a trend for digital printing, it also for conventional printing. Expanded gamut printing uses CMYK plus OGV (Orange, green and violet, sometimes also called blue), to cover up to 95 percent of the Pantone book. Using expanded gamut printing eliminates wash-up or ink changing between press run. Digital presses and conventional presses were shown at drupa that used this technology during live demonstrations and the changeover time was a few minutes for new plates or plate cylinders before the next print job started printing.
Pantone just released a book that shows the Pantone colours and how they can be achieved using expanded gamut printing. Just think of it as the Pantone Bridge book, but instead of four colours, seven colours are being used. I also saw quite a number of vendors showing MIS technology. One would think that this is somewhat of an old hat, but there still seems to be quite a need for it. Another important item seems to be Digital Asset Management (DAM) systems. Local and cloud-based solutions were shown. I found it interesting that each user can have different levels of access, from low resolution, for position only, up to full editing rights. The important DAM trend is that the original image does not get edited, it is always a copy that is being modified. The DAM systems can also be searched to see which image was used for which product or campaign.
A clear indication of the changing print industry was that HP had hall 17 completely to itself. In 2008 HP had a relatively small booth in a hall. In 2012, the company occupied half of a hall, and it was one of the busiest booths at that show. In 2016, HP was the largest exhibitor at drupa 2016 with its hall measuring 6,200 square metres. It would be possible to write a complete article on all of the things HP showed in hall 17, but I am focusing on just a few items that sparked my interest. The first item is the HP T490 HD PageWide inkjet web press. It can run webs from 16 to 42 inches wide. The press can run in two modes, called performance and quality mode. In quality mode, the press runs at 500 feet per minute and at 1,000 feet per minute in performance mode. I asked a representative from HP what the amortization period for such a press would be and received the answer of 20 years. It was pointed out to me that the press is field upgradable in regards to the inkjet heads and also in regards to the digital front end (DFE). I also asked about ink costs. Although the inks costs are twice as much as offset inks, there are no costs for plates, make-ready or wash-up.
HP prides itself in the fact that the T-series machines are made from solid metal, even the small gears, and therefore built to last. HP is also experimenting with different kind of inks that used to be only available for conventional print processes. The company is experimenting with colour-shifting and glitter inks, fluorescents, spot gloss, adhesive, thermochromic ink, silver ink and also with digital lenticular ink. In order to show off the versatility of the inks, HP displayed a board with print samples produced on coated paper, compressed cardboard, synthetic paper, SBS, fluted PP, foam PVC, PE film, Acrylic and Polyester film.
HP’s 3D printer is set to mix-up the 3D print market. The difference to most current models is that it does not matter if one copy or 10 copies of the same item are made, as long as they fit on the table inside the device. HP leverages Jet Fusion technology that uses bonding and fusing agents that are applied separately after the material has been deposited. Another unique feature of the 3D system is its ability to print in colour.
Kodak, as mentioned, introduced its Prosper 6000C inkjet press with Ultrastream technology, which is based on a continuous-feed inkjet system to achieve high print speeds. This allows users to print at an equivalent resolution of 1,200 x 1,200 dpi. The web width on this machine can range from eight to 97 inches. The web speed can reach up to 500 feet per minute and is limited to 150 feet per minute for vinyls and plastics. The inks are safe for indirect food contact. Due to the high printing speed of the Propser 6000C inkjet press, the roll unwind is handled by a MEGTEC roll stand and the in-line folding operation is done by a manroland websystems’ Foldline technology.
The new NexPress zx3900 has five printing units and can print white ink and MICR ink. The operator also has the option to change the fusion roller to achieve a different gloss on the printed material. This press can be equipped with a fusion roller for a glossy finish or a matte finish, without changing the toner.
Xeikon is known for its toner-based digital print machines delivering a high print quality. At drupa 2012, the Trillium toner technology was introduced, but at this year’s drupa a working roll-to-roll press using this technology was shown. The interesting thing about Trillium toner technology is its use of a liquid toner. The liquid toner gets transported via an anilox roller and a doctor roller onto the photoconductor drum. From the photoconductor drum, the image is then transferred onto an intermediate rubber-covered cylinder before the transfer to the substrate takes place. All this time, the toner is in a carrier oil. The Trillium technology is slated towards short-run book printing, transactional direct mail and transpromo printing. Xeikon also showed machines geared toward the short-run label market. The printing machine can be equipped for heat transfer or in-mold labels.
Delphax, a Canadian player in the inkjet printing market, uses the Memjet print head technology in its Elan 500 press. Interestingly, this machine has a relatively high speed for cutsheet inkjet printing. The top speed hits 500 sheets per minute in A4/letter size. The maximum print resolution can be 1,600 dpi and full duplex is possible in one pass. The maximum sheet size for the Elan 500 is 18 x 26 inches and the paper weight can range from 20 to 130 lb.
At drupa 2012, Benny Landa introduced the printing world to his Nanography branding. Nanography uses nano-sized pigment particles in a water-based inkjet ink. The difference to current inkjet technology is that the water gets removed from the inkjet ink before the printed image gets transferred to the substrate. In Nanography, the image is jetted onto a heated transfer belt, which removes all the water from the ink and turns the ink into a semi-plastic, before it gets transferred to the substrate. The design of the S10 sheetfed press has changed a lot from drupa 2012. The machine looks more like a conventional printing press with a cockpit at the end. The press also has coating capabilities if the customer so desires. Beta machines of the S10 presses will soon be delivered to selected beta-site customers. Quad-Graphics is one the selected customers for North America.
Landa positions its technology in terms of production between current digital print technology and offset print technology, at the run lengths between 1,000 and 10,000. This was shown during its theatre style presentation. It was also stressed that the quality of the printed dot on coated and uncoated paper is higher compared to current inkjet technologies. Images were on display that demonstrated this fact. Another advantage for Landa is, that the CMYK gamut of its inks is wider than the conventional CMYK gamut, as is the case with most inkjet systems. Landa can also print with an expanded gamut set that covers almost all of the Pantone colours. Interestingly, the ink containers are made from cardboard and can be flattened and recycled once the plastic bag that contains the ink concentrate is empty. The plastic bag for the ink can be recycled in the current plastic recycling stream. Prints made with Nanographic inks are also recyclable according to the INGEDE test method.
Landa also unveiled a new technology brand called Metallography, which is set to replace foil stamping for any kind of metallic ink effect on any kind of printing. The Metallography application unit can be retrofitted onto an existing press. This concept was shown on a narrow-web flexographic press. Metallography uses nano-silver which is attracted to the printed material via a trigger image and a donour roll applies the metallic flake to the print. Metallography can save a lot of metallic foil material. It was said that one kg of this silver material replaces 3,000 kg of foil stamping material. Another advantage of this process is that prints with Metallography can be used in a microwave without causing any fires or damaging electric discharges.
Conventional print trends
Although most of the hype at drupa was around digital printing, current industry powers were not sitting on their hands and waiting for things to happen. Many inventions were shown in press technology for offset and flexography that drive the use of automation and shorter time frames between printing jobs. True press and print automation can only be done if the press operator prints to the numbers. Some of the lifting that used to be done in the press room needs to take place in the pre-media portion of any job through profiling, but also the press has to be set for printing at optimal print conditions.
Heidelberg’s hall was quite full the day I visited. Many people were talking with representatives from Heidelberg and a flair of excitement was in the air.
Heidelberg showed its Speedmaster XL106-8-P with UV LED curing, which is technology I saw at other well-know press manufacturers. It seems that UV LED, although not new, is to become more mainstream. On the XL 106, Heidelberg introduced the concept of autonomous manufacturing, printing one job after another with the operator there to stop the press, not to start it. Heidelberg calls this principle Push to stop. During the short presentation of the XL 106, three small jobs were completed. The operator only needed to take the plates from job #1 out from the automatic plate changer and load the plates for job#3 into the plate loading system. The press starts automatically based on the lined-up jobs.
Of course, the main attraction for me in the Heidelberg hall was the Primefire 106, a digital inkjet press built in co-operation with Fujifilm. Heidelberg contributed the paper handling and coating unit, while Fujifilm provided its inkjet print heads. The showcased press was configured for 7-colour printing with expanded gamut and the print resolution is 1,200 x 1,200 dpi. One feature I liked a lot on this press is the fact that the operator gets a pulled sheet by the touch of a button on the control table.
Gallus showcased its Labelfire 340 which is based on UV-inkjet technology with in-line finishing. The press prints at 1,200 x 1,200 dpi with up to eight colours. The 8th colour is white plus CMYK and OGV. Again, expanded gamut printing is used. The print speed ranges from 50 to 150 feet per minute.
I walked onto the KBA booth when a demonstration of the Flexotechnica XD LR started. The common impression cylinder flexographic printing press showed that it is possible to print with water-based inks on clear PET film. The press can also be configured to run EB-curable inks. Another development from KBA, in co-operation with Xerox, is the 40-inch VariJET 106 for the folding carton market. This press prints at 4,500 iph and is geared toward short-run applications of folding cartons. The press can be configured with coating, cold-foil, rotary die-cutting, creasing and perforating units.
Esko shared a booth with other companies now belonging to Danaher, including X-Rite, Pantone and Enfocus. Together with seven GCM students and six colleagues we had an extended tour of the booth. For nine out of 10 major brands, Esko solutions are used to produce packaging. One interesting new Esko product is the CDI Crystal 5080 imager, which can be used for HD Flexo and Full HD flexo plates. Esko has simplified the operation of this imager with a touchscreen mounted to the left of the device. The operator more or less just pushes a start or stop button. The machine features a fully automatic plate loading and ejecting system. The imager can be combined with the XPS Crystal 5080 for the exposure of the plates. The unique feature of the plate exposure unit is that front and back exposure are done in the same moment through an exposure bar that travels over the plate with UV LED exposure for the back exposure.
Esko also introduced a combination of a robotic loading and unloading with a Kongsberg table for cutting and scoring. The unique thing is that the cutting table and robotic loading arm “talk” to each other, so both machines know what the other one is doing and do not try to execute conflicting operations.
The German company Bobst might be familiar to most people for its die-cutting machines, but it also builds flexo and gravure printing presses. Bobst showed its M6 flexographic printing press for food packaging. The demonstrated press ran in extended gamut configuration with UV-flexographic inks. The press has two unique features, including tracking the curing of the UV ink after each print unit and the ability to change plate cylinders on the fly. The press has one plate cylinder in use, while the other one is in a waiting position. When the operator presses the button for a complete plate change, the press slows down to make-ready speed and a system lifts the current plate cylinder into a storage position, while the other one slides into printing position. The automatic register control system adjusts the register quickly and the press can ramp up to production speed. Bobst claims that the press has an uptime of 95 percent. After the new plate cylinders are in use, the plate cylinders from the previous job can manually be removed from the press and fitted with plates for the next job. This is a highly productive printing press.
The surprise of the show was the exhibit from Highcon, an Israeli company that has specialized in manufacturing 3D objects with the help of laser-cutting. Its machines can cut up to two-mm thick material. Depending on the machine type, the 3D object can either be manually assembled or the machine can do it for you. On display was a wine-bottle stand that took roughly 30 minutes to cut and assemble out of cardboard. The displayed wine stand was at least one metre tall. Trying to create the same item with 3D printing would have taking quite a number of hours. Highcon first introduced its technology to the print world at drupa 2012, but its products in 2016 made quite an impact on the visitors at the show.
Although it is simply impossible to see everything at the drupa there is always an overall trend most visitors get out of the show. For me, the overall trends from this drupa are: Print is alive and coming back strong, the how and when has changed, and digital printing is making strong inroads into the offset print market with increased print speeds and high quality.
It was great to attend drupa again and see where the printing industry is headed. Its landscape will become quite diverse, but it will still be print.
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