When asked what level of interest do you have for investing in a production inkjet press within the next two years, cutsheet or roll-fed, 27.5 percent of respondents indicated it was “high, very likely”, which received the second highest response behind “low, waiting but watching”.
Fifteen percent of respondents indicated their interest was “medium, investigating”, while 20 percent indicated they were “not interested” in investing in a production inkjet press within the next two years. One respondent commented they were waiting for an affordable 19 x 25-inch duplex machine, which echoes sentiment about the current high cost and high monthly production requirements of production inkjet systems.
What type of press
When asked if the needed funds were available, assuming relative pricing parity between machines, what type of printing press would you first invest in, the vast majority of respondents indicating “cutsheet production inkjet” at 47.5 percent. The remaining respondents included: Roll-fed production inkjet at 27.5 percent, followed by production-strength colour toner at 20 percent and five percent for a 40-inch sheetfed offset.
When asked what application or sector would you most want to target, assuming that you have purchased the appropriate inkjet press, 45 percent of respondents indicated “commercial print”, which clearly stands to gain the most installation attraction in the years to come.
The remaining respondents included: Direct mail at 17.5 percent, Transactional or statement at 12.5 percent, Labels at 10 percent, packaging (other than labels) at 2.5 percent, and publishing at 2.5 percent. Four percent of respondents indicated other print sectors, including B2C applications “which I would not really class as any of the above.”
When asked what do you see as the greatest challenge to making an inkjet investment, given the current state of the technology or market, the largest challenge was the “price of the presses". This again points to the fact that inkjet systems have not yet settled into a commercial printing friendly position under $1 million.
In fact, 35 percent of respondents indicated “press prices” was the biggest challenge, followed by the “price of inks” at 22.5 percent, “quality of work” at 20 percent, adding “necessary workflow/IT” at 10 percent, “available substrate range” at 5 percent, and the “speed of cutsheet presses” at five percent. One respondent shared a comment that is likely on the minds of most printers: “We have so much capacity with our current equipment, I couldn't justify spending money on a different press.”
Four of Canada’s technology leaders discuss the current state of production inkjet technology and what impact it is having in the domestic printing market.
After decades of intense research and development, supported by unprecedented technology partnerships, production-strength inkjet on the cusp of disrupting commercial printing. In mid-June, four of Canada’s technology leaders travelled to Burnaby, BC, to participate in a panel discussion focused on the business strategy of production inkjet at PrintAction’s one-day PrintForum West conference. The panelists included: Alec Couckuyt, Senior Director, Canon Canada, Professional Printing Solutions Group; Brad King, VP, Graphics Communications, Xerox Canada; Ray Fagan, Sheetfed Product Manager, Heidelberg Canada; and Edward Robeznieks, VP of Sales, Ricoh Canada. Below are key excerpts from their hour-long discussion.
Why should printers invest in inkjet today, are we past the bleeding-edge?
Alec Couckuyt: Yes – we are past the bleeding edge. There has been tremendous evolution in the technology with inkjet… The commercial printer right now is really looking at how can I better serve my customer and inkjet technology together with offset, wide format and digital are all services that are being offered. It really has gone from just putting ink on paper to how can I better serve my customer in a total cycle.
Brad King: Cutsheet inkjet is new from a strategic point of view. In Canada, we have one [Xerox Brenva] install that we can talk about and two others we cannot talk about, so it is still fairly new. There is a lot of interest from commercial printers about these products – how it fits, what are the applications, where does it play. More products and applications are coming and the inkjet space is very close to exploding.
Ray Fagan: If you think about cutting-edge or bleeding-edge technology it is still, in my opinion, in its infancy in terms of long-term development. We took the advantage of some existing platforms of the XL 106 sheet transport, feeder, delivery that have been around a long time.. and we partnered with Fuji for the inkjet heads using Samba technology and their expertise to combine both technologies into one machine. We got to market fairly quickly and launched it at drupa.
There are still a lot of learning curves, a lot of consistency challenges… But our first [Primefire 106] press has been installed in Europe with a beta site at a packaging customer and we will do another machine this year. The roll out will continue to be slow... By 2018 we will finish our beta testing and move into serial production.
Ed Robeznieks: Because we migrated to our [Ricoh] 60000 platform we are able to now go to commercial printers and say you can move offset work over. We can run coated stocks, thicker stocks… we are not running 300, 350 gsm, but we are running 250, 260 and that has opened up the door.
Copywell in Toronto put in a VC60000… They took an original application which was sold as an [offset] sheet run and have now billed 2.5 to 3 million feet a month, which are true offset transfer applications.
How does inkjet present new opportunities for printers?
Couckuyt: An example of a new application for one our clients is magazines… They are actually personalizing or regionalizing the advertising in the magazine. Part of the magazine is printed offset and then the variable part is printed on the inkjet web and then they assemble it. That is an advantage they can sell to their client – the ability of having regionalized information for a specific advertiser.
So it is a new way of approaching the market and creating new opportunities. The critical part is that we can now combine variability with static… The question of whether inkjet can replace offset is the wrong question. Offset and inkjet together open more opportunities for clients.
King: When inkjet came out it was roll-to-roll, big machines, two million plus investment in capital. You needed big volumes to justify the roll-to-roll devices and there were not a lot of printers who could participate in the economics of inkjet.
Now the technology is coming down for lower volumes, as an investment with cutsheet devices, so that mid-sized commercial printers can start playing in this game... You can do a short-run campaign with similar economics that the big players are using today. That is where inkjet is really going to open up big opportunities.
These devices are not $100,000 yet – still a pretty good number that you have to spend – but they are not $2.5 million roll-to-roll devices that need to be running 3, 4, 10 million impressions a month to have the economics make sense.
Fagan: Because [Heidelberg’s] Primefire is basically focusing on the packaging market, as we roll out the product, there are a lot of things happening in packaging that are forcing those printers to look at economics a little bit differently. As run lengths decrease in packaging, it is harder to make money because you do not have the pure volumes. The customer demand for individualization is growing and it is really in its infancy.
We have seen jobs where a 100,000 sheet run is broken into batches of 500 cartons... and this is where the digitization of the industry and the industries around us in advertising are driving manufacturers to do something quite a bit different. Major brands are really forcing that upon packaging printers.
We also see a lot of legislation for packaging with batching and traceability of the package through UPC codes. It could be in the European market in the near future where every single box has an individual identification marker on it so that we can trace it back to its origins. And this is due to the amount of piracy.
Robeznieks: As the price goes down for devices inkjet will become more attractive. It is good for us in a way as manufacturers. Because there is so much downward pressure on operating costs right now, it is becoming difficult for us to make a profit because of servicing the equipment and toner-based technology requires a lot more service than inkjet-based technology.
So it is better for us in the long run, from our perspective, to move toward inkjet. Your gain [as a printer] is operating costs and flexibility where you can do variable, but you are going to be able to take advantage of significant cost savings with inkjet versus toner.
How do you describe total cost of ownership for inkjet to printers?
Couckuyt: Inkjet uptime is a really critical issue. If you are used to a digital press, uptime is in the 60, 70 percent range. If you look at [Canon’s] i300, for example, it has a minimum uptime of 95 percent. When we start talking about total cost of ownership, for a commercial printer and a specific job, that could mean dedicating three shifts [on a toner device] or doing it with inkjet in two shifts… when you look at the evolution of inkjet devices a lot of R&D effort went into building those machines so that they really look after themselves.
King: Inkjet is new technology, that over the next 15 to 20 years, I feel is going to change the printing industry. It allows variable print onto all substrates... It is going to allow us to offer our customers, and printers’ customers, some pretty impressive product solutions to help keep print alive... having strong economics to keep print relevant for people who use marketing communications.
This is really where inkjet TCO will help keep print alive, because it is variable and it will have something valuable to sell to the people who want to use print as a marketing vehicle versus just going digital.
Fagan: We do not see inkjet supplanting offset in a large way for quite some time. We think they are going to run in harmony based on what is being produced. And if you follow that philosophy, the total cost of ownership for the offset printing press can also be improved... because you have another alternative which improves the total cost of ownership on your other equipment.
You are also reducing costs in prepress and you are reducing costs in other areas of building. You do not have to warehouse products. There are a lot of other costs that inkjet lends itself to... that lends itself to a facility’s overall production cost.
Robeznieks: There are still heavy users of offset technology that are going to be difficult for us to strip away... it really comes down to a manufacturer partner who understands a certain vertical really well and who can help you understand your client base and then figure out where the footprint fits.
Why will variable be more impactful for inkjet than it was for toner?
Robeznieks: I’m going to give the non-politically correct answer but it is not. If you have a good working relationship with your client and can help them with variable campaigns, it doesn’t matter what you use – inkjet, toner, there are lots of ways to interact with the client.
What is very interesting is the next phase of inkjet which will be direct to shape... That is a whole different ball game, because now you are going to have things done on the manufacturing line. All of a sudden our devices are no longer creating labels, they are going directly to their object. And all of us are looking at how to get into that space.
Fagan: Big Data has been slow in being understood by a lot of people... in terms of managing the data and properly executing it into a portfolio of products. I really think Big Data in general, Industry 4.0, all of that growth we are seeing right now is accelerating at a very high pace and it is going to become much more manageable to do large variable data programs, computing that information, managing it and getting it where it needs to go. I see growth in that area with inkjet.
King: There is a [Xerox] customer in Toronto who has figured a bit of this out. When you go onto a Webpage and click on a couple of items you thought of buying – and then forget about it or leave to go somewhere else – they are actually grabbing that data. That night, they run a batch file with those three items you looked at, print it the next day on a direct-mail piece and it gets mailed out to that customer within 24 hours. That is where I see some of this very interesting data management… You can do a great direct-mail campaign on a very cost effective platform like inkjet.
Couckuyt: As a printer, you have to be involved in a lot more than just putting ink on paper... you have to be able to handle data, make sure it is being utilized and sent out to the client in record time to have relevance. This is where we as an industry have to be able to take in that data, configure the data properly, and get it out as fast as possible.
We are under pressure to really understand what it is that our clients are communicating, what they need. Inkjet technology and the combination of different technologies, where you go inline or near-line, whichever way you set it up, is an answer to producing relevant communications tools for your client.
The Samba GMA is described by the company as a compact, low voltage, full silicon MEMs print head designed for scanning applications such as textile, indoor signage, soft (dye sub) signage and high quality UV printing. Samba GMA print heads are based on silicon micro-electro-mechanical systems manufacturing (Si-MEMS).
With 384 individually addressable nozzles, the Samba GMA 33 print head has a native 300-dpi resolution and a native ink drop size of five picoliters (pl) that can jet a range of fluids like UV curable, solvent, and aqueous inks.
Fujifilm explains through continuous ink recirculation directly behind the nozzle and several innovations including nozzle plate design, specialized nozzle plate geometry, and waveforms tailored to specific fluids, known as RediJet, this process provides a range of potential of the Samba GMA print head. RediJet allows the print heads to be quickly and easily primed, explains the company, resulting in faster time to print, minimal ink waste and greater reliability.
Fujifilm’s VersaDrop jetting technology used by the new print heads allows multiple fixed drop sizes in binary mode and grayscale capability from one print head, with no loss to productivity. In binary operating mode, the Samba GMA print head is designed to eject adjustable drop sizes from five to 18 picoliters, and can support grayscale levels as defined by the users control electronics.
At PaperWeek Canada, the annual conference of the Canadian pulp and paper industry held in Montreal the week of February 13, 2017, one of the presentations discussed a new surface treatment for paper that could allow high-speed inkjet printers to improve quality and save money on their high quality print jobs.
Inkjet printing is achieved by spraying fine ink droplets on the printing medium from a print head. In order to obtain a good quality image on paper, the ink droplet arriving on the surface of the sheet must be immobilized, to prevent spreading of the ink and blurring of the image. There are two types of inkjet ink: pigment-based and dye-based. Pigment-based inks contain solid coloured particles which remain on the surface of the sheet. Dye-based inks, which are cheaper, absorb into the sheet and often produce duller images.
Commercial high-speed inkjet printing has shown an annual growth rate of about 15 percent over the last five years in the U.S., according to a study by Poyry. Inkjet printing is already the leading digital printing technique on transactional print jobs such as credit card statements where mostly black ink is used, since dye-based inks are cheaper than toners. It is also increasingly used for new business models such as print-on-demand and custom publishing.
Market shift in print
Commercial inkjet printing is starting to take significant market share away from offset printing. There are many reasons for this, including fast setup time, ease of customization, less waste and lower cost per copy for shorter print runs.
High quality marketing communications such as catalogues and brochures are traditionally printed by offset printing on glossy coated paper. With inkjet machines, printing on these types of papers can be a challenge, because the water phase of the ink must pass through the coating while the colorant remains fixed on the surface. For this type of promotional printing, pigment-based inks are the inks of choice for inkjet printers.
To design a paper surface that works well with inkjet inks, there are two strategies. One is to coat the surface with positively charged particles, which immobilizes negatively charged ink pigment particles. An approach using calcium chloride in the coating formulation was developed jointly by HP and International Paper about 10 years ago and is trademarked as ColorLok technology.
The second strategy is to provide a surface treatment that rapidly absorbs the liquid phase while keeping it near the surface of the sheet, and minimizes the drying time required. Home and office inkjet printers print relatively slowly, and the drying time is not critical, but web-based production inkjet printers often need to use inline drying techniques to run paper webs at several hundred feet per minute without ink smearing.
KemPrint 17 in Montreal
An interesting research paper presented in Montreal was given by Bob Hardy from Kemira Paper Chemicals. Kemira has developed a new product, KemPrint 17, that can be applied at the size press of a paper machine. The product is a very high surface area cationic pigment and thus it uses both of the above strategies to immobilize the ink and minimize the set time. Ink penetration into the sheet is significantly reduced, creating high ink densities.
Kemira carried out lab printing trials with their product to demonstrate how it compares with a calcium chloride surface treatment, using either pigment-based or dye-based inks. A constant coat weight of 2.3 g/m² was used. The CaCl2 treatments used a 4:1 mixture of oxidized starch and CaCl2.
Two levels of KemPrint were applied, at 1/3 and 2/3 of the coat weight, mixed with oxidized starch. The results indicate, that for pigment inks, the black print density can be matched with KemPrint and coloured print density can be improved. The colour gamut, where a higher colour gamut value equals more vivid colour reproduction, was also improved with the KemPrint treatments.
The tests were repeated with dye-based inks, and here the KemPrint treatments all gave higher values of print density and colour gamut than the CaCl2 (ColorLok) treatment. This makes sense, as dye-based inks are non-ionic, so the cationic nature of the CaCl2 is ineffective at immobilizing this type of ink.
Print-through tests also showed that the KemPrint product could match or improve the print-through performance of CaCl2, a good indication that liquid penetration into the sheet is being minimized.
High-speed inkjet printers are always looking for the higher print quality for lower cost. This new technology from Kemira, which is now being tried out by a few papermakers and printers, should result in brighter, sharper images, and may allow them in the long run to move from more expensive pigment-based inks to dye-based inks for these high-speed jobs.
Production inkjet is already driving change in the printing industry, both by enabling new applications and by capturing volumes previously produced with analogue technologies such as offset and flexography. Over the past couple of years, there have been major advances in both technology and pricing models, with ink and substrates being front and centre in the future success of the production inkjet model.
MGI Digital Technology invests approximately 20 percent of its annual sales back into research and development.This astonishing number speaks to the company’s origins just outside of Paris, France, and why it has raised the bar amid what are now some of the industry’s mostpowerful technology suppliers driving the growth of digital printing.
PrintAction spoke with Kevin Abergel, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at MGI USA, about the company’s mantra of innovation.
How was MGI founded?
Basically it was 1982 when my uncle was fresh out of the military where he had worked on anti-aircraft missile technology and he had learned a lot when it was still really early days for computers. When you look back further, actually, my grandfather was an offset pressman his whole life and on weekends in the summer his three sons all went into that environment to make some extra money. The three brothers who created MGI went into my grandfather’s shop and really learned the business from a traditional standpoint, which is why we have always had an affinity for commercial printers, because basically it is our bloodline – it is where we come from.
Has invention always been in your family?
My great grandfather, on my mother’s side, actually has the first patent for the first pneumatic feeder – 1925 or 1927 – for an offset press and it is up in our offices. We have a very strong and rich history in printing that runs through the Abergel veins. The first products MGI came out with were not necessarily in the print industry. They were some of the first computer programs for accounting, also for hospitals, big old floppy disks. That is really where we got started and then in 1991 we developed our first press – with a three-man team that developed a roll of basically Bristol paper that was being printed on digitally with a cutter just making business cards. It was called the Mastercard.
And then the next generation of Mastercard all of a sudden it went from one colour to two colours to four colours, while also going from a business-card format width to 8 ½ x 11, then 12 x 18, and then we were doing plastics. We have really gone through 13 or 14 generations of engines in our history on the digital press side. That is really how we built up the business from nothing to a business today with a market-cap above 200 million Euros. And now we have partners like Konica Minolta, which really raised the profile higher.
What is the Konica and MGI relationship?
The Konica Minolta and MGI relationship goes back 20 years actually… The base MGI business model has been to use initial Konica technology, whether it is inkjet heads or toner-based print engines, and sup-up those engines. Two years ago we really started to get a closer relationship when Konica Minolta invested 10 percent into MGI – we are a publically listed company – and as a result of that we developed a smaller version of the varnish and iFOIL, called the JETvarnish 3DS, exclusively for their sales network.
Because of the success that we had in that first year of bringing this product to market, Konica was now wanting to distribute the entire MGI portfolio and it was at that point in time that they went from 10 percent to 41 percent, which is a controlling interest in MGI where we have actually launched a new distribution agreement. Konica Minolta is now globally going to market and sell our entire lines of products. From a sales standpoint, it gives us much more visibility and from a service standpoint a much wider infrastructure.
How much has MGI grown in 10 years?
From 2008 to 2016, we grew something like 500 percent during some of the most difficult times in the printing industry. I think when times get tough people need to invest in something that brings a level of differentiation or innovation, so that they can actually compete on applications, not on price. That has really been our mantra this whole time. I do not care about how many pages you are printing per month. How much are you making on each one of those pages? If you are only making four or five percent that is not a good business model, but now if you can go to 60, 70 percent it is a different story.
Why is MGI’s new Artificial Intelligence SmartScanner, AIS, significant?
If I made a die or a screen, for example, I would never really be able to register any of what I am doing to a digital print for the simple reason that digital print moves page to page. The image registration maybe is going to be a little to the left or right, a couple of pixels up, a little skewed – every page is going to come out basically in a different position on the sheet.
So the most important thing is being able to move up, down, left, right and custom fit every single page by comparing it to the original PDF of the print file and seeing where the moves are. The key point here is that AIS is going to be creating – using artificial intelligence – a topographical map of your print. By comparing that live with the actual PDF of the print file, it is going to be able to stretch out all those points where maybe there is high ink density that shrunk the paper or maybe you laminated it so you have a severe slip, stretch or a fan. In screen printing maybe it would take me 20 minutes to stretch my screens out manually to get my fit right and I have to spend a lot of sheets to get my fit correct to be able to make up for all of those deformations once it is out of the press.
The scanner does away with all of that. Number one, your first sheet out is going to be perfect. Number two, you do not need that professional eye to understand where your stretch is in your sheet. It is all being done automatically as touch-less as possible. When you mix that in with the variable data barcode reading system… Not only will it varnish and foil the right image, but it is actually going to custom fit and custom register each one of those sheets as they are moving through. It has never been done before.
How much data is being processed to leverage the AIS topographical maps?
That was one of our biggest problems. If you look at the actual computer system that is just running the scanner alone it is basically doing five teraflops of information per second. It is a lot of information being crunched to be able to pull up the right file, trace the TIFF from the PDF, then be able to compare that file live to the actual print and be able to do all of the modifications automatically. For me it is the coolest technology we have ever done and we have done some pretty cool things.
What MGI technologies excite you most?
I also think that the fact that we have a B1 JETvarnish and a roll-to-roll JETvarnish or the fact that we are actually putting foil down with toner are all really fascinating products. I am most proud of the [AIS] scanner, because I know how much work went into it, almost four years of nonstop development and to see it actually work, knowing that it has been the unicorn. That was the codename for it, The Unicorn, because everybody was talking about it internally and hoping we would one day see it work.
What MGI technology is having the most market penetration?
Right now, the Meteor is having a large amount of success because, at the end of the day, it is still a digital press that can do all of the commodity stuff. But then you turn on the iFOIL and you start running envelopes or plastics or PVCs, or long formats, and put the foil down and it suddenly boosts your added value.
On the JETvarnish side, I would say that 95 percent of the people who are buying this equipment are getting into varnish and foil for the first time in their history. So from a market penetration standpoint, we are having more placements with the Meteor, but the JETvarnish is significantly up compared to previous years because I think the market is finally starting to accept digital embellishment. Out of all the JETvarnish products, we are having an incredible amount of success with our B1 JETvarnish and iFOIL… it really allows us to go after a whole new customer segment which is the packaging converter.
Is packaging ready for MGI’s digitization?
Packaging wasn’t one of our priorities. For the past 35 years, we have focused on commercial printers, but the packaging guys are the ones who came to us and pulled us into that market. The more we did research, the more it made sense for us to develop a 29-inch JETvarnish to be able to do those XL sheets and today that is our number-one selling unit and that is for the packaging convertors. A lot of commercial printers are trying to find ways into digital packaging as well, because, according to Infotrends, there will be 41 percent growth over the next two years in digital folding cartons. I do not know if you could show me one other statistic in our industry that is as incredible as that 41 percent.
How is MGI technology suited for labels?
I read a stat from LPC that said by 2020 three out of four new label presses will be digital. Most importantly, [with MGI technology] it not going to cost you a lot of money to varnish and foil jobs. It is going to be a low-cost job which you can still charge a premium for. The brands are the ones who are pushing it that way, which is a big part of what we do to educate the brands on the advantages of digital and being able to do this kind of work.
"Continued investment in technology and product development, together with strategic partnerships, are key elements of our 2020 vision," said Doug Edwards, CEO of Xaar.
Xaar states the partnership capitalizes on each company's expertise in bulk piezo printhead development and will leverage both companies’ technologies. Xaar also explains the partnership allows it to provide customers with a broader range of bulk piezo printheads.
As CTO of Global Graphics for the past decade, his knowledge is infused into the ubiquitous Harlequin RIP. PrintAction spoke with Bailey about the company’s new Fundamentals program to help inkjet press manufacturers overcome technical hurdles.
What is Global Graphics Fundamentals?
MB: For the last several years, a number of inkjet vendors have approached us with questions on whether we can help them build DFEs to go with inkjet presses that they have created or solve problems around the speed or quality on presses they are already shipping. And now Eric Worrall is heading up our [BreakThrough Engineering Service] and we’ve essentially formalized what we had been doing in a more ad-hoc manner. [Fundamentals] is designed to allow a press vendor to bring a new press to market more quickly and to be more confident that it is actually going to deliver the speed and quality and functionality that they want to provide to their users.
What area is of most concern for inkjet?
MB: We have talked quite a lot over the last couple of years, in particular, about halftone ink quality of using greyscale heads on single-pass inkjets. It is an area that a lot of people seem to be struggling with.
Why is there little inkjet screen discussion?
MB: There [is] very good technology in the wide-format space – multi-pass, fairly slow speeds, with many inks and levels of droplet size on the heads... but we do not see people doing significant work on the half-toning in the high-speed, single-pass production space. We do find that there are real problems there. That the drop placement isn’t as accurate as you would really like it to be, partly because of dot shape deformations, because you get elliptical marks where the drop actually hits because the substrate is moving so rapidly.
You tend to have pseudo random coalescing of adjacent dots. It is quite not random enough though. There tends to be a directionality to it, so that at normal reading distance you get a visible texturing. We have been working with three or four press vendors for a couple of years now to improve the output they can produce on their presses – to absolutely minimize the texturing effects and simultaneously ensure we are hitting the maximum total area coverage, ink lay down.
What is the best screening approach?
MB: There are good reasons to do the screening in different places depending on the workflow. In many cases, it makes sense to do the screening inside the RIP, if you can, simply because you are moving less data around post-RIP... When you consider that the fastest inkjet presses at the moment consume something around 20 gigabytes of raster per second then reducing that data transport requirement is a very significant gain.
But, in other cases, there are good reasons why people want to do the screening at the last minute in order to do on-the-fly recalibration, or head-to-head calibration, because of the width of the press, etcetera, and do that in a near close-loop environment… There are people who are using other people’s RIPs and unhappy with the quality they get from the screening or the speed they get at the screening. It is a very useful first step for them to say, ‘I am going to throw away the screener that came with the DFE… I am going to plug in Global Graphics ScreenPro because it is a lot faster and gives the quality I need.’
How are inkjet speeds and DFEs related?
MB: Building a DFE for one of these very, very high speed [inkjet presses] requires as much emphasis on systems engineering as it does on the RIPping, colour management, etcetera… that is hitting 1,000-feet-per-minute speed, which is aqueous. A lot of the people we tend to be working with at the moment are on UV and it is coming out at about 230/250 feet per minute. So far it is a lot slower than aqueous. I do not know if it is going to stay that way.
When will inkjet move deeper into commercial print sectors?
MB: They are pecking away at a number of different sectors to start with… Obviously, the direct-mail market as a sort of adjunct to the transactional space, where inkjet has been used for decades, but now pushing into much more graphically rich work.
They are being used in the book and publication space. It is also being used in some of the newsprint markets, which is kind of relating to book. It hasn’t really gone into magazines yet, because it is only fairly recently that aqueous inkjet presses have got to the point where you can print at a sensible price on coated paper. That has been a fairly big breakthrough in the last year, 18 months.
The continued growth of inkjet printing systems was once again the major force at drupa, eight years removed from the cutting-edge system introductions of Fujifilm’s cutsheet Jet Press 720 and HP’s PageWide web press platform, which presented new possibilities to a sector largely dominated by the continuous-feed systems of Océ and Ricoh. At drupa 2012, another range of primarily concept production-inkjet machines were introduced by powerful players like KBA, Komori, Konica Minolta, Landa, Miyakoshi and Xerox.
At drupa 2016, all of these companies and many more had expanded their production-inkjet platforms with serious new players like EFI and Heidelberg joining the mix, setting sights on the packaging world. Several new technology partnerships between paper-transport experts (offset press makers) and print-head developers speak to a concerted effort to drive inkjet into the mainstream.
The past decade of inkjet R&D investment alone, collectively stretching into the tens of billions of dollars, by so many prominent technology suppliers rings the loudest chorus of reality – inkjet is building a new foundation for the future of printing. Still, the question remains with most printing companies for when inkjet systems, even with an ability to match 40-inch format size (unlike toner’s electrophotographic drum), will be ready for prime time in the commercial printing market. Key issues like quality and speed, press and consumable costs, have been a major challenge for the mass adoption of inkjet, even as this fascinating printing process has been disrupting pockets of publishing, transactional and direct-mail printing.
Commercial print influence
Alec Couckuyt is one of Canada’s most-experienced printing leaders in the field of digital printing. Twenty years ago, serving as Vice President of Direct Marketing at Transcontinental’s innovative Yorkville plant, Couckuyt was driving variable data to Xeikon’s Chromapress to produce personalized automobile booklets. Building files from VIN numbers, the facility printed cover forms featuring specific car models and colours, while also applying variable text and dealership locations, to entice customers into a new rig before their leases ran out.
“We were forerunners at that time, but it was far from being fast enough and you had to be in a highly controlled environment,” recalls Couckuyt, who was also integrating inkjet print heads on web presses at Yorkville. “Twenty years later, look at how far we have come… you can feed [an inkjet press] with so much data and the output is so cost efficient. The sky is the limit and this is an exciting time.”
Prior to his digital-printing work with Yorkville, Couckuyt began his career in 1983 as a Product Manager for Agfa Canada, ultimately serving as the company’s Vice President of Graphics Arts Systems for 10 years until joining Transcontinental in 1996. Today, as Senior Director of Canon Canada’s Professional Printing Solutions Group, he holds a unique knowledge set to describe the adoption of production-inkjet systems in Canadian commercial printing.
“We are targeting commercial printers right now with the experience that we have acquired in the transaction market, combined with the quality levels that inkjet has reached, when you talk about the VarioPrint i300 and the ImageStream, as well as the capabilities of printing on coated offset stock,” says Couckuyt. He joined Océ in 2008, as Vice President of Production Printing Systems, shortly before the company (purchased by Canon in 2012 for approximately $1 billion) installed one of Canada’s first web-fed production inkjet systems.
“We have more than eight years of experience with a similar technology that has evolved to a point where it is now ready for prime time in commercial printing,” he says. “You always have to take into account the volume, the production capabilities of equipment, and I think there is bigger potential for cutsheet inkjet devices in the Canadian market, more so than continuous-feed inkjet.”
Near the back of Canon’s drupa 2016 booth, the company ran a new web-fed ImageStream inkjet press, which is a class of technology Couckuyt feels some commercial printers will look at depending on their needs. “It is the same technology,” he says, relating the VarioPrint i300 to the ImageStream platform. “You are using 1,200 x 1200 native inkjet heads, combined with smaller droplets, different types of inks, coated stocks, proper drying systems, and now you are playing into the commercial printing field.”
Web-fed inkjet, traditionally referred to as continuous-feed systems, has a significant existing install base because its paper transport naturally runs substrates much cleaner through the imaging system, whereas a turned-up ear can easily jam a cutsheet press. This cutsheet inkjet challenge is being addressed, however, as offset press makers become heavily involved with inkjet development. Despite the experience advantages of web-fed systems, Couckuyt points to the business realities of Canadian commercial printing, which for decades has been built around cutsheet workflow. “It would only be a logical step to also add an inkjet cutsheet device,” he says. “Basically, it offers quite a bit of additional application opportunities to the commercial printer.”
Downtime becomes uptime
“When you run an offset press, you are always making sure that you have the least downtime possible, which must be minuscule when you look at your total production time,” says Couckuyt. “In digital printing, people talk about uptime – just the opposite. If they had 50 to 60 percent uptime [on toner] they were happy, but that doesn’t cut it for an offset printer.”
Canon’s cutsheet VarioPrint i300 system is promoted as having an uptime of more than 90 percent, often approaching 95 percent: “Now you are talking about a production machine – in addition to the quality and capabilities of printing on multiple papers – that fits right into the offset world,” says Couckuyt. “Those factors are extremely critical and the reasons why we believe it is ready for the commercial printer.”
To improve cutsheet inkjet uptime, for example, the VarioPrint i300 is a self-contained system, meaning it is temperature and humidity controlled, and all external elements have been eliminated (a noticeable trait looking at the body of the machine). Even the input trays of the i300 are sealed for temperature control. The unit has to be decompressed when opening up its doors. With its doors open, the first thing you notice about the i300 is a massive drying system. Canon engineers ultimately surmised a sheet needed to travel in the drying system for two seconds at full running speed to properly condition the paper – hitting it with infrared, conventional heat and air systems – before reentering the duplex imaging system.
Couckuyt explains this unique drying system is critical because operators do not need to slow down the i300 when applying heavy ink coverage. “It is actually a production machine and it is built in such a way that even if you have high coverage you will not slow down the press,” he says. To further improve uptime, the i300 employs a Sentry Unit that ejects wavy, earmarked or unwanted papers, again at speed, before first entering the imaging system. “A jam in digital printing on a cutsheet device is always your biggest nightmare.”
Commercially released more than a year ago, there were 42 i300 systems installed globally before the opening of drupa 2016, which actually marked the system’s availability in the Canadian market. A key new feature of the i300 introduced at drupa is called ColorGrip, which applies a primer specifically where expensive inkjet ink needs to go, instead of blanketing the sheet.
A critical goal for all inkjet system developers, particularly for commercial printing adoption, is to improve their inks to a level that can more easily adhere to both coated and uncoated papers without the need for applying a primer. This will take time, but systems like ColorGrip, which actually immobilizes the ink to stop it from convalescing into big, ugly dots, are providing a vastly superior level of quality output than older generation inkjet systems. “ColorGrip keeps the right colour in the right position,” says Couckuyt, “so you are basically extenuating and giving more pop to your colour – Even a good sheet, you make a lot better.”
One of the greatest advantages of digitized sheetfed offset presses, and why the technology remains core to the vast majority of printers, is application flexibility – an ability to throw almost any commercial print job at it, regardless of ink coverage, stock or format. For a printer to invest more than a $1 million into an inkjet press, even if today’s systems can handle a greater range of work, it becomes critical to understand the production cost of specific applications.
“With the VarioPrint i300, where it becomes viable for a commercial printer to enter into that field, you are looking at a million and up impressions per month – all the way up to 10 million,” says Couckuyt, explaining a typical web-fed system requires at least five million impressions to become a viable investment.
“We spend an extreme amount of time with the customer before a sale takes place,” says Couckuyt. Canon will run a job file from a printer’s existing offset infrastructure at its Océ facility in Boca Raton, Florida. “We will make a complete analysis of the files, ink consumption, press time, everything, so that the client really knows in advance what they are embarking on.”
Targeting a production gap between high-end toner and low-end inkjet presses, the Xerox Brenva is a cut-sheet inkjet press that Xerox initially expects to disrupt light direct mail, transactional and book markets. The Brenva incorporates many of the paper-path components of the Xerox iGen press line, as well as an inline spectrophotometer to assist with calibration and profiling; object-oriented colour management to distinguish text, graphics and images; and a K-only mode to run as a cost-effective monochrome press.
“We do over a million digital colour impressions monthly now, but we’ll be able to triple that with the Brenva,” said John Hume, President of Hume Media, whose facility is based exclusively on Xerox print technology. “We’ll also increase our competitiveness when printing books approaching volumes of 1,000 per title. In the short-run segment, Brenva will make us faster, more productive and cost-effective without sacrificing the quality our clients expect – with pricing that is very competitive.”
The Xerox Brenva press is currently on display at drupa 2016 in Germany.
On the drupa floor, EFI is displaying the 1.8-metre-wide, single-pass Nozomi C18000 press, targeting short-run, on-demand work. EFI describes the direct-to-corrugated board press as its biggest inkjet product development to date, with expected availability set for 2017.
The Nozomi C18000 can reach speeds of up to 75 linear metres (246 linear feet) per minute, producing up to 9,000 80 x 60-cm boards per hour using what EFI describes as a double-lane printing feature. EFI explains it prints up to seven colours, including white, at a 360 x 720-dpi resolution, and can handle materials of up to 1.8 x 3 metres – and thicknesses up to triple-wall board – at full rated speeds.
Its LED, continues EFI, can image on just about any board substrate, including traditional Kemi, model, bleach and kraft materials. Packaging produced with the press, according to the company, is certified for repulpability and recyclability.
“The focus EFI has placed in R&D to improve every part of the digital production chain results in a unique, breakthrough and innovative offering that we are very excited to present at the world’s largest printing tradeshow,” said Guy Gecht, EFI’s CEO. “The breakthrough new platforms we are showing for the first time could be game changers for customers as the world moves from long runs to customized, on-demand manufacturing.”
At drupa, EFI is also showcasing its new AquaEndure inkjet technology that the company explains will be used across many of its platforms and segments in the future. The water-based inkjet platform runs and cures inks which EFI describes as requiring much less heat, enabling a wider range of media. AquaEndure inks also have no odour, explains EFI, and are aimed at markets like wall coverings, wraps and flexible signage. The system is expected to launch in 2017 with expanded media types and capabilities suitable for food-contact packaging following after that.
EFI is also exhibiting its new Fiery XB digital front end (DFE) platform, a scalable, high-volume blade server technology for high-speed inkjet presses, as well as Fiery Navigator, a cloud-based print management platform for Fiery-driven production presses. The company also introduced new software in the EFI Corrugated Packaging Suite and the EFI Publication Suite.
VariJET 106 combines offset printing and finishing technology with inkjet technologies, the latter developed by Xerox, in a highly modular system that can be tailored for customer requirements, including optimized inline processes.
The press presentation via video at drupa included post inkjet options, double coating and drying, rotary die-cutting, pre-treatment and drying, corona treatment, offset units, opaque white and cold foil application.
KBA explains the press is suitable for industrial production and can run a range of substrates. Described as “digital sheetfed for folding carton,” KBA expects the system to be complete in a few months for 2017.
Komori will also demonstrate its B1-size Impremia NS40 printing system based on the branded Nanography technology under license from Landa Corporation, which first introduced the process at drupa 2012. Komori explains the system will reach speeds of up to 6,500 sheets per hour.
At drupa 2016, Komori will also showcase the Lithrone GX40RP as a one-pass, double-sided press that reaches print speeds of up to 18,000 sheets per hour. The GX40RP requires no flipping of the sheet, explains Komori, making it suitable for package printing with double-sided, multi-colour printing.
Komori’s Lithrone GX40 with coater will also be at drupa demonstrating printing control and a print inspection system aimed at high-speed package printing and specialty printing. The machine exhibited will be shown with optional accessories that include PDF Comparator System, Sheet Numbering System and automatic mask creation software for inspection in packaging applications. All offset presses on the drupa floor will be equipped with Komori’s H-UV curing system and K-Supply H-UV ink.
In Düsseldorf, Komori, among other systems, will debut the new Lithrone G29 29-inch offset press with a renovated design. The press maker will also debut the new Lithrone G37 with a 25 x 37-inch maximum sheet size to produce A1-size products.
Fujifilm explains EUCON (Enhanced Under Coating and Nitrogen purging technology) is ideally suited for printing on the underside of flexible packaging. The proprietary EUCON technology in the new press is composed of three core components: a newly developed, high performance UV ink; a unique undercoating technology used to prevent ink bleed; and a Nitrogen purge technology, which is used to significantly reduce the characteristic odour of UV ink.
Fujifilm’s new LED-UV inkjet press is currently working with a productivity level of up to 50 metres per minute using CMYK + White ink channels. LED-UV curing reduces the heat applied to flexible substrates.
The ink used in the new LED-UV press takes advantage of technologies developed for Fujifilm’s wide format applications, with enhanced adhesive strength for film that prevents peeling or cracking of the ink even when the print surface is heated. EUCON applies a new primer as an undercoat before depositing the CMYKW ink, which reduces ink bleed and better enables colour reproduction.
Targeting a production gap between high-end toner and low-end inkjet presses, the Xerox Brenva is a cut-sheet inkjet press that Xerox initially expects to disrupt light direct mail, transactional and book markets.
The Brenva is to incorporate many of the paper-path components of the Xerox iGen press line, as well as an inline spectrophotometer to assist with calibration and profiling; object-oriented colour management to distinguish text, graphics and images; and a K-only mode to run as a cost-effective monochrome press.
The Xerox Trivor 2400 is a scalable continuous inkjet press initially targeting speeds of up to 551 feet (168 metres) per minute in colour and 656 feet (200 metres) per minute in monochrome. The small-footprint press will initially be targeted at catalogues, magazines and colour books. A new print server developed in partnership with EFI, the Xerox IJ Print Server powered by Fiery, will handle multiple data streams for various application types.
“We are focused on expanding our inkjet portfolio with more choices and greater capabilities for print providers to grow their businesses,” said Robert Stabler, Senior VP and GM, Global Graphic Communications Business Group, Xerox. “With the addition of Brenva and Trivor, we’re making inkjet more accessible and affordable to a larger number of print providers.”
Availability and list price for the Xerox Trivor 2400 with the Xerox IJ Print Server will be revealed at drupa. The Xerox Brenva HD will be available in Europe in May 2016 and in North America in September 2016. Shipments will begin in June 2016. The list price starts at US$649,000.
The inkjet technology was built leveraging Heidelberg’s offset technology and the inkjet developments of Fujifilm. Heidelberg explains its core competencies of technologies like non-contacting paper sheet guide, feeder and delivery are incorporated into the system. Primefire 106 is aimed at short to medium production runs.
“With the world premiere of the Heidelberg Primefire 106 we have reached another milestone in our digital strategy: achieving success in working with partners to bring systems to the market within the shortest time,” Stephan Plenz, Member of the Management Board and responsible for Heidelberg Equipment. “This will help our customers to address the increased market challenges in a digitized world in the future also.
“Now we are the first provider to enable the industrial and integrated production of digital printed products in the Smart Print Shop,” continued Plenz. “At the same time, in doing so we are also opening up opportunities for the future growth of Heidelberg.”
World premiere of the “Fire” product line: Heidelberg introduces a standardized portfolio name for its entire digital printing offering
As of drupa 2016, Heidelberg will introduce its entire digital printing portfolio under a standardized product line name, called Fire. “The name Fire for our digital printing portfolio stands for performance, dynamism and growth – and also for digitally transmitting data and ink onto different surfaces,” said Jason Oliver, Head of the Digital Division at Heidelberg. “We want to send a clear message to our customers that we have one of the highest performance digital printing offerings in our industry.”
As a result, the Heidelberg digital printing portfolio will have the following structure as of drupa 2016: Primefire 106; Versafire CP/CV is the new name for the existing Linoprint CP/CV digital printing systems (launched in cooperation Ricoh in 2011); Gallus Labelfire 340 is the new product name for the former Gallus DCS 340 for digital label printing; and Omnifire 250/1000 is the new name for Heidelberg’s 4D printing systems, replacing the former name Heidelberg Jetmaster Dimension 250/1000.
When the HP T1100 is released into the market, the companies explain it is to feature a 110-inch (2.8-metre) format width for the pre-printing of corrugated top liner. The press is projected to print at speeds of up to 600 feet (183 metres) per minute and produce up to 300,000 square feet (30,000 square metres) per hour.
At drupa 2008, HP introduced its first Inkjet Web Press, which has now expanded into a portfolio of 10 presses across five web-width platforms.
During the first press conference of Graph Expo 2014, Mark Hischar, President and CEO of KBA North America, announced Koenig & Bauer Group will collaborate with HP to develop new roll-to-roll inkjet solutions for the corrugated packaging market.
The co-developed solutions, with KBA providing its expertise in paper transport systems and HP its inkjet knowledge, are to be marketed under the HP brand. HP estimates the corrugated package printing industry represents an addressable market of US$2.5 billion. Hischar also pointed to segment trends like SKU proliferation, micro-segmentation and shorter product lifecycles as driving demand high-speed inkjet press technology.
Both companies would not elaborate on the systems under development beyond stating they are focusing on roll-to-roll thermal inkjet systems. KBA North America also announced a new strategic alliance to jointly market Tensor printing equipment to the semi-commercial, insert and newspaper print markets worldwide. Under the terms of the agreement, KBA will actively promote Tensor’s single-width printing solutions.
At Graph Expo, KBA North America also introduced its new RotaJET L Series Inkjet Press designed as a modular system, available in various web widths, maximum printing widths, and color content. The series is aimed at markets like book, direct mail, magazine, newspaper, packaging and industrial printing.
The new KBA press series includes five RotaJET printing systems that can handle web widths ranging from 895 to 1,300 mm (35.2 to 51.1 inches). KBA explains it is possible to upgrade a KBA RotaJET 89 (web width 895 mm/35.2 inches) to a RotaJET 100, RotaJET 112, RotaJET 123 or the high-end RotaJET 130 (web width 1,300 mm/51.1 inches). It is also possible to modify a monochrome system into a four-colour system.
KBA’s existing RotaJET 76 system is still available but its printing width of 781 mm (30.7 inches) cannot be extended.
KBA North America plans to unveil its newest RotaJET L Series inkjet press at Graph Expo 14. Specifications on modular press platform are to be released at the Chicago trade show, running from September 28 to October 1 in Chicago.
The RotaJET platform was first unveiled at drupa 2012. In early 2013, KBA introduced a new pigment ink called RotaColor, designed to extend the printable range of untreated papers.
KBA describes the RotaJET L-Series as being well suited for segments like the books, direct mail, magazines, newspapers and packaging, among other industrial printing markets.
“The new RotaJET L Series represents the ultimate high-end system in high-volume inkjet printing,” stated Mark Hischar, President and CEO of KBA North America. “The high-performance RotaJET can be optimally configured to suit the respective market and industry environment due to its modular design that can be retrofitted with future print head generations. This gives users of the new RotaJET platform a huge advantage allowing them to react quickly and economically to changing market conditions and customer demands.”
Fujifilm Corporation and Heidelberger Druckmaschinen AG have reached a new global strategic partnership in the area of inkjet printing, which is described as a broad alliance aimed at strengthening existing business and establishing a platform to drive new business.
“In Fujifilm, we have found an internationally recognized partner with innovative strengths in future-oriented areas – consumables and inkjet technology," stated Gerold Linzbach, CEO of Heidelberg. "This marks a significant step forward in our corporate strategy. Fujifilm's prepress capabilities and their technologies in the area can enhance and grow existing business.
“With Fujifilm's inkjet technology we can build on the experience in digital printing gained through other partnerships and quickly move into the peak performance segment,” continued Linzbach. “It is our goal to also become a global player in the growing digital printing applications market… Within three years we envision a sales potential for Heidelberg in the digital business of more than €200 million."
The alliance is to focus on developing future inkjet systems and providing access to each other’s prepress technologies. Along these lines, Fujifilm’s expertise primarily sits with print-head and ink development, highlighted by its established J Press line, while Heidelberg brings decades of experience in engineering platforms for sheet transfer and systems integration.
“Fujifilm and Heidelberg have led the printing industry in each domain. Heidelberg's reputation among world's printers is unique,” stated Shigetaka Komori, Chairman and CEO of Fujifilm Corp. “Its strong customer network opens important new possibilities for state-of-the-art inkjet technologies… With Heidelberg's manufacturing know-how we will be able to enhance innovation and develop technologies that will open new roads in digital printing.”
This move marks the second significant partnership between Fujifilm and Heidelberg in relation to Canadian printers, after the two companies announced in May 2013 that Fujifilm Canada reached a thermal plate distribution agreement with Heidelberg Canada Graphic Equipment Limited.
Paris-based MGI, now in its 30th year of operation, has historically developed unique toner presses within its Meteor line, including the recently introduced Meteor DP8700 XL with a 13 x 40-inch format size (via manual bypass) and a top speed of 4,260 A4/letter pages per hour.
The ALPHAJET is a 6-colour inkjet press with UV coating capabilities (spot and flood UV) seen previously on MGI’s JETvarnish (B2 format) and JETcard systems. According to MGI, the B2-size ALPHAJET, featuring a format size of 20 x 29 inches ( 52 x 74 cm), is to reach production speeds of 3,000 sheets per hour and a top resolution of 1,200 x 1,200 dpi. The prototype machine is also set to handle substrate weights of up to 500 gsm.
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