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Need To Know

Digital Inkjet Presses

Once was the time that inkjet was touted by those in the know as the print technology that would take over the world. Russ Hicks finds out where it has got to in its mission of global domination

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The Komori Impremia IS29 inkjet press has been developed to offer enhanced usability ahead of its showcase at Drupa. Available to purchase at the show, with all orders shipping within the space of a year, the IS29 can be bought as a complete package or on a click charge model

Still in line for world domination

Inkjet will be everywhere, of course, but competing technologies from Landa, Xeikon, and other toner and liquid toner products will also be courting favour from the assembled business owners, directors, industry influencers, and trade press personnel.
Some products in the inkjet stable do not as yet appear to be able to deliver the productivity desired by a litho-biased world, though the majority would agree that the quality issue has been mostly solved. With regard to the actual cost of the press hardware, the jury is still out. Considerable investment is required for any piece of new equipment, of course, but investors need to be certain that they are buying into a future focused technology. Is that inkjet?

Printing and personalisation

Thinking purely in offset printing terms will not help to convince anyone that inkjet is the next correct investment. Wise heads will already be thinking of personalisation. Perhaps a fine example of how variable data can transform an existing printed product into a much sharper targeted advertising vehicle comes from the good people of HP. They recently contributed to the production of an American monthly consumer magazine.
Some 300,000 copies of an edition of Popular Mechanics magazine were delivered to US subscribers with a personalised cover. An outsert produced for Hearst by HP greeted the subscriber by name and showed a scene specific to their home town.
Within the publication was a localised advertising section giving readers the nearest locations for them to buy HP consumer printers. An associated competition offered some exciting statistics. With an HP desktop printer on offer for the top prize, the connected web page experienced over 12,000 unique visitors in 28 days. This was some four times the industry average response rate. Of those visiting the page 10,334 actually entered the contest. Marketing folk might well get excited by such activity. Hearst, we are told, continues to evaluate the potential of the technology.

Will Prosper prosper?

March of this year saw the announcement from Kodak that it was keen to talk to prospective buyers with regard to its Prosper inkjet business—a story that may see some further chapters added during Drupa, a show renowned for at least one big breaking news story to make the headlines.

Commenting at the time of the announcement, Jeff Clarke, Kodak chief executive officer, says: “The Prosper business has significant potential for accelerated growth. To achieve its full economic potential, Prosper will be best leveraged by a company with a larger sales and distribution footprint in digital printing markets.”

The Prosper business has significant potential for accelerated growth

The Prosper technology takes two particular forms. Firstly, it boasts a number of installations of its imprinting system, providing inkjet capabilities to existing newspaper web presses to facilitate the addition of variable data to mass produced newspaper products; and secondly, Proper units are configured into fully blown full-colour or monochrome inkjet presses, more than 20 of which were sold during the last year.

The imprinting version of Prosper highlights the speed capabilities of the technology, with units added to existing newspaper web presses that are able to keep up with the speed of such a unit. Avid readers of the Sun newspaper will have surely noted the unique code printed on the back page of the publication: this has been added by the Prosper units. German media giant Axel Springer has also had success with inkjet units fitted to its Manroland web systems presses.

The Prosper 6000C (commercial print) and P (publishing) press products are four-back-four configurations that can handle substrates from 42gsm through to 270gsm at very impressive speeds of up to 300m/min, producing “offset-class output” according to Kodak.

The speeds indicated above would seem to put these products in the number one spot when talking about inkjet and productivity. Should a sale of this division be announced at Drupa, the investor will surely be in an excellent place to make significant inroads into the inkjet market.

There will be live demonstrations of the Prosper 6000C press with inline finishing at this year’s Drupa, as well as Kodak’s extended gamut and varnish (XGV) technology for flexible films produced on narrow-web. Attendees will also get to visit the This is Inkjet! Loft, an apartment decorated completely with Kodak Stream digitally printed products such as wallpaper, countertops, and water bottles.

Kodak will also be launching its Ultrastream inkjet technology, which has been designed to move production inkjet into the mainstream printing market. The company has also developed a new Ultrastream inkjet head, which delivers a 3.75pl droplet for a resolution of 1800 x 600dpi at up to 150m/minute. Philip Cullimore, senior vice president of Eastman Kodak and president of the enterprise inkjet division of Kodak says this is enough for a B2 press to run at 12,000sph.

Heidelberg and Fujifilm

When Heidelberg enters a market you know that there has to be some serious potential in that sector. This Drupa will see Heidelberg unveiling a new B1 inkjet press that has been jointly developed with Fujifilm. B1 is something of a new arena for inkjet. Interest and take-up of such a machine could be pivotal in the future of the technology.

The Primefire B1 inkjet press offers a high quality, industrial level solution that is expected to turn heads in the packaging market particularly, according to Heidelberg, but also in commercial sectors. Primefire 106 took just over 15 months and intensive expert exchange between research and development, as well as engineering teams in Japan and Germany, to come to fruition.

The Heidelberg Primefire 106 sees the litho giant make its first incursion into the production inkjet market with its own technology

Combining the inkjet know-how of Fujifilm with the application expertise of Heidelberg, the Primefire 106 can handle short runs and personalisation including bar codes, QR codes, and numbering. The feeder is adopted from the Speedmaster XL 106. The water-based ink applied by the 1,200 x 1,200dpi seven-colour inkjet unit is food safe—the seven colours consisting of the four process colours plus green, orange, and violet. Heidelberg says this combination delivers both high quality print and an even greater colour gamut than is possible with offset. The press can print on substrates up to 0.6mm. Post printing, two more units dry and coat the sheet (full or spot) before it reaches the delivery.

Fujifilm to the fore

Fujifilm has enjoyed considerable success in the B2 inkjet arena with its Jet Press 720S product. The company claims some 70 installations of the machine worldwide. The product features Fujifilm’s own new generation SAMBA print heads, with each B2 width print bar containing 17 individually replaceable modular print heads, each of which incorporates 2,048 nozzles, ensuring the press can achieve native resolutions of 1,200 x 1,200 dpi.

The Fujifilm Jet Press 720S is a well-established inkjet system that has gained significant market share due to its balance of affordability, quality, and productivity

Enhancements that have been made to the product during the last year have now made it suitable to print carton board, increasing the potential of the product considerably, as instanced by a recent installation at Belgian packaging producer Packaging for Professionals (P4P).

Established to fill a gap in the European packaging market for high quality, low volume packaging, produced on demand, the company has been built around the Jet Press 720P. Commenting on his company Mohamed Toual, co-founder and chef executive officer, says: “Traditional printing in the packaging sector has always been problematic in two important areas. Prototypes were always inferior to the finished product—offering at best an indication of what the customer could expect—and there was also, inevitably, a time lag for the production run due to the amount of manual labour involved in the production process. The Jet Press 720S—which I believe is now the benchmark platform in this sector—has changed all this. Its quality, flexibility, and efficiency means that these challenges have been overcome.”

With regard to print quality, Mohamed adds: “Traditionally, clients in the packaging industry have doubted the ability of a digital press to match the quality of litho or flexo printing. However, our customers have been hugely impressed with the quality of the products we have produced on the Jet Press 720S."

Traditionally, clients in the packaging industry have doubted the ability of a digital press to match the quality of litho or flexo printing

With a more commercial print focus, UK Warwickshire-based Emmerson Press recently announced its investment in a Fujifilm Jet Press 720S. “We’re really excited about the new business opportunities that this investment is going to provide,” says sales director John Emmerson. He adds: “The improvements in make-ready and turnaround times, the increased capacity, the efficiency savings, and the potential to profitably print bespoke, short-run jobs for high-end customers are all very exciting developments.”

Emmerson’s prides itself on the level of quality it delivers when producing promotional material for high-end retail customers. For operations director Jamie Emmerson, the quality on offer from the Jet Press 720S was the clincher: “We visited the Fujifilm Advanced Print Technology Centre in Brussels, as well as printers in Germany and the Netherlands, in order to see the press in operation,” he says, adding: “What we saw on those visits convinced us that the quality of the Jet Press 720S is unrivalled. Without that quality standard we would never have been able to make this investment.”

O Factoid: The use of ‘dots per inch’ (DPI) as a measure of printed output quality from an inkjet press can be somewhat misleading. This is because the actual saturation of ink onto a substrate and the accuracy of droplet placement can vary quite widely from manufacturer to manufacturer within the bracket of, for example, 1200dpi.  O

Commenting on the success of his company’s B2 inkjet product and the forthcoming Drupa showing, Takuo Ito, director, Fujifilm Global Graphic Systems, says: “Fujifilm has built the industry’s leading printhead, ink, and image optimisation technologies, which form the heart of our new ‘Fulifilm Inkjet Technology’ brand. And we will continue to develop unique web and sheet-fed systems, such as the B1 industrial inkjet press jointly developed with Heidelberg, to expand the reach of these technologies and our portfolio of inkjet digital presses.”

A co-operative landscape

Heidelberg working with Fujifilm is far from the only collaboration in this sector. Konica Minolta has been working with Japanese press giant Komori to create the KM-1/ Impremia IS29. The result is a sheetfed duplex B2-format digital inkjet press, using UV-cured inks. It has been in beta-test and will be shown and available for order at Drupa 2016, though it was actually previewed in 2012 and then again at the Ipex show of 2014. The company refers to the product as the “first machine in the industrial inkjet heavy printing segment”, predicting that it will match offset quality more closely than any other digital press to date.

Kodak’s Prosper imprinting unit has been a real boon for the imaging giant as the demand for variable data printing services continues to grow

The KM-1 combines Konica Minolta’s UV inkjet technology with Komori’s paper handling know-how to provide impressive colour quality and reliable digital throughput. Approximate throughput speeds of 3,000 sheets per hour simplex or 1,500 duplex might be viewed as pedestrian though when compared to something like Kodak’s Prosper products, although of course many in the market simply do not need the massive productivity of a Prosper and the price tag attached to it.

The KM-1 from Konica Minolta is a twin to Komori’s Impremia IS29, with the duo able to hit 3,000 sheets per hour simplex

Unsurprisingly therefore, something remarkably similar will be launched on the Komori stand at Drupa. Its Impremia IS29 B2-format inkjet is an LED-UV based digital press with similar specifications. Komori sees the IS29 as a complementary machine to the H-UV equipped Komori offset presses.

Ricoh in the big league

Ricoh is another key digital print player which has successfully transitioned into inkjet technology development. With regard to machines actually being installed, MBA Group, based in Warrington and North London, has signed for three Ricoh Pro VC60000 continuous colour digital inkjet presses as part of a £5m strategic investment programme. The first machine has been installed in Warrington and is due to go live any time now, with the remaining two units to be installed at the company’s Tottenham site.

Shown for the first time at Hunkeler Innovationdays, the Ricoh VC60000 is the jewel in the crown of this rapidly growing digital print player

Initially announced in September 2014, the VC60000 offers a web width of 165 to 520mm and runs at up to 120m/min. The 1,200 x 1,200dpi multi-drop inkjet technology puts the product very much into a quality niche. It can produce a highly impressive 50m/min at that resolution, and claims a whopping 120m/min when producing at 600dpi, or 100,000 A4 duplexed pages per hour. As one might expect from such a powerful system, do not expect too much change from £1.5m.

The imaging system is an all-new Ricoh design, while paper transport and drying comes from Screen. The unit has been developed to print on standard offset papers, including coated papers using an undercoat station ahead of the print units. The collaboration with Screen is no accident: an uncannily similar machine is sold by Screen as the Truepress Jet 520HD. Screen builds its product around Ricoh heads but incorporates its own drying expertise.
Perhaps the key differences between the two product offerings are in the software department, where Screen offers more experience in both the colour management and workflow areas. Ricoh has historically been stronger in transactional print.

The VC60000 has been developed to print on standard offset papers. For coated papers an ink receptive coating is applied via an anilox roller, with a doctor blade set to deliver low, medium, or heavier coatings according to the paper used. Whilst inkjet optimised papers will not need coating, along with some uncoated substrates, if gloss coated papers are in use, pre-coating is an essential.

As one more addition to the ‘who’s product is that’ game, recent news suggests that Komori will now take on the direct sales of the Screen Truepress Jet 520HD version of this machine in its subsidiary operations in Europe, including UK, Germany, France, and Italy, providing the Japanese manufacturer with better potential sales coverage.

So, with all that now swirling in this heady mix of heavy-duty technology, software, and manufacturing might, it seems the market may now be well primed post-Drupa to fully embrace the inkjet insurgency. Will it be the world-beater many promised? Perhaps not, quite yet, but is certainly a technology area you should keep a very close eye on.

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