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Need To Know

Wide-format Flatbed Technology

As the wide-format flatbed market continues to expand in terms of its scale and scope, Rob Fletcher picks out some of the latest solutions available to the industry and finds out how they can help

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Agfa has a strong portfolio of wide-format flatbed printing technology such as the Jeti Mira

The bigger picture

When it comes to innovative technologies that really stretch the boundaries of an industry, we are rather blessed in print. While hardware printing kit continues to evolve at a good pace, we are also treated to new ink, paper, and other materials on a regular basis.

One area that stands out in particular for having progressed is the wide-format flatbed sector. New products and solutions in this sector have allowed traditional print companies to expand into markets that were once reserved for their sign-making cousins.

What makes wide-format flatbed stand out among other areas of the market is how technology here is being bracketed so as to appeal to certain types of user. For example, entry-level machines may suit newcomers to the sector, while mid-level and industrial may be more popular with established market players.

Here, we look at the scale and scope of progress in wide-format flatbed printing, as well as highlight some of the newest kit available to the market and evaluate what sort of companies this technology is best suited to.

Large growth opportunity

One of the leading names in wide-format flatbed technology is EFI, which is able to offer a number of solutions to companies active in this market. Paul Cripps, vice-president Europe sales, says it is now easier for companies to move into high-value, wide-format graphics printing, due to the development of new technologies.

Paul Cripps, vice-president Europe sales at EFI, says commercial print companies can now afford to bring wide-format production in-house

“EFI has developed a wide-format line of printers, including the 1.6m (62.9?) EFI Pro 16h hybrid roll/flatbed printer, that offers tremendous benefits, such as grayscale imaging, white ink, and single-pass, multilayer printing, and energy-efficient LED imaging,” Cripps says.

He adds: “The market growth opportunity is large from the standpoint that companies that are not offering these services now can affordably bring wide-format production in-house and gain a greater share of their clients’ marketing spend.

“In terms of market applications, we are seeing growth focused on high-quality point-of-purchase graphics, outdoor graphics, and some speciality/unique applications, such as printing direct to unusual substrates like wood or metal. While many customers want and need the flexibility to print roll-to-roll and flatbed on a hybrid device, the ability to print direct to rigid substrates continues to drive more value in terms of profit opportunity for our customers.”

With this in mind, Cripps goes on to pick out the kit that may be suited to certain types of work and companies in this sector. The EFI Vutek LX3 Pro hybrid-format printer is billed by Cripps as a “high-end workhorse” suitable for POP work. It is a 3.2m (126?) device that prints up to 94 boards per hour and even though it runs eight colours, the gamut of the printer’s inks is so broad that Cripps says that many EFI customers find they can achieve “high-quality POP work” using just the CMYK inkjet.

Also available from EFI is the Pro 24f, the company’s first LED dedicated flatbed machine. The new solution features EFI’s LED and variable drop grayscale head technology, and provides precision imaging, fine detail, and outstanding image quality.

Cripps adds: “The printer, which has a 4 x 8’ (1.2 x 2.4m) bed, prints in four colours plus white ink standard and is a highly strategic choice for signage, photographic backlit displays, art reproductions, membrane switches, graphic overlays, lenticular prints, and other specialty applications up to 2” (5cm) thick.

“Efficient hold-down with a multi-zone vacuum system eliminates masking while ensuring accurate registration for multiple over-prints or panels. EFI’s ‘cool cure’ LED technology ensures low power consumption, minimal waste, and compatibility with thinner and heat-sensitive substrates.”

Range of interest

Another leading manufacturer well placed to offer guidance in the sector is Agfa Graphics, which has a number of wide-format flatbed solutions on offer. Steve Collins, product marketing and channel manager for Agfa UK/Eire, picks up on the wide-ranging interest in this market, explaining that the company can cater for all types of print businesses.

Collins comments: “The market is currently very busy. We have plenty of interest from a variety of different market sectors. To help our customers, we define our product brackets in two ways: price and speed. For example, entry-level kit is between £50,000 and £120,000, mid-range £120,00 to £250,000, while £250,000 and above is high-end or industrial.”

The market is currently very busy. We have plenty of interest from a variety of different market sectors

Delving further into the Agfa Graphics product range, Collins picks out a number of machines that feature in these brackets. For newcomers to the market, Collins highlights the entry-level Anapurna H2050i LED and Anapurna FB2540i LED.

The H2050i LED is billed as the “perfect fit” for digital printers, photo labs, digital printers, and mid-size graphic printers that want to combine board and roll-to-roll print jobs. The machine can print at a width of 2.5m (8.2’) and at speeds of up to 104sq m/h (1, 119sq ft/h) in draft mode. Meanwhile, the FB2540i LED can hit speeds of 96sq m/h (1,033sq ft/h) and is described by Agfa as the “ideal engine” for both step-and-repeat work and for printing multiple jobs on different sized media.

Within the mid-range bracket, Collins says the Anapurna H2500i LED is one of the most popular products currently on offer from Agfa. This machine can print at a width of 2.5m and at a top speed of 115sq m/h (1,238sq ft/h) in draft mode. In addition, the new Anapurna H3200i LED is a 3.2m wide (10.5’) machine that has only recently come to market, priced at £175,000.

For customers on the lookout for high-end solutions, Agfa can offer the Jeti Tauro H2500 LED. Measuring in at 2.5m wide, this model has a top speed of 275sq m/h and can produce high-end materials for the sign and display market.

Growth path

Elsewhere, Canon has noted an increase in interest in its flatbed printers, with the manufacturer seeing signs of increasing confidence with print firms investing in new equipment. Duncan Smith, director of industrial and production solutions at Canon UK, says it is important for kit to be bracketed to help the many different types of company in this sector identify the best solution for their business.

Smith comments: “The entry-level and mid-volume devices are by far the most popular and more affordable for printers looking to invest in flatbed technology, offering a growth path to either add additional printers or trade up to faster machines as business grows.

“Many are using flatbeds as a business development tool, not just to increase their productivity and profits by printing straight to substrate, but to develop more margin rich applications. That helps attract more business from existing and new customers as well as enter new markets.“

Canon offers the Océ Arizona series of flatbeds that range from entry through to high-volume. Smith says that the largest and most popular is the mid-volume market, where it sells the Arizona 1200 and 2200 series. These come in two bed sizes—2.5 x 1,25m and 3 x 2,5m, with production speeds up to 23sq m/h and 43sq m/h, respectively. (8.2 x 4.1’ and 9.8 x 8.2’ —247.6sq ft/h and 462.8sq ft/h)

Canon’s series of Arizona flatbeds range from entry-level machines, through to high-volume solutions. Pictured: the Océ Arizona 6170 XTS

Smith adds: “We offer ten different configurations in total from four, six, and eight channels with both the four and six channel configurations offering the possibility for upgrade in the field to eight channels, to help with increasing productivity or image quality. For added versatility a roll media option can be fitted, offering instant switching between flatbed printing and roll-to-roll printing.”

Also available from Canon is the high flow vacuum option for the Océ Arizona 6100 series. The new vacuum option has been designed to improve handling of challenging rigid media such as corrugated board, plywood, MDF, and fibreboard.

Smith comments: “Compared with a standard vacuum system, the new high flow vacuum option generates more than fifteen times the continuous air flow to the media surface, making it easy to print without the need for adhesive tape or gripper mechanisms to control the substrate.

“An extra-large vacuum surface of 2.5 x 3.2m allows for extra board sizes and the standard pneumatic registration pins ensure easy, repeatable rigid media loading.”

More popular than ever

Also active in this sector is Mimaki, which is represented in the UK and Ireland by its exclusive distributor, Hybrid Services. Brett Newman, chief operations manager at Hybrid Services, says this market “continues to thrive”, as print providers look to the next step and diversify from roll-to-roll printing into the flatbed remit.

Newman expands: “We’ve seen the industry continue to evolve over the last year as people grow in confidence and creativity with the opportunities that flatbed printing provides. It’s more popular than ever before.”

In terms of bracketing products in this sector, Newman says this is important as each area offers a “unique opportunity” to tap into a different area of the market.

Newman explains: “Entry-level options such as the Mimaki UJF series desktop, LED UV flatbeds are exciting in that they offer direct printing onto a vast array of small- to medium-sized objects which has revolutionised personalisation and promotional printing.

“Mid-level products, such as the Mimaki JFX200 and industrial products like the larger Mimaki JFX500 bring a whole range of printing options, so the bracketing system allows bed size, productivity, and budget to be easily assessed.”

Hybrid Services says the mid-level Mimaki JFX200-2513 continues to be a popular choice for companies moving into the wide-format flatbed market

With this in mind, Newman draws attention to solutions available from Mimaki and Hybrid Services, namely the Mimaki JFX200-2513. Newman says this 4 x 8’ LED UV flatbed printer continues to be a popular choice for those stepping into the wide-format flatbed market.

Newman adds: “Companies are looking to reduce costs and printing direct-to-substrate using LED UV technology has a strong commercial argument, such as reduced consumables and labour costs and no investment required for a laminator, along with increased productivity.”

Steady market

Elsewhere, Inktec Europe reported a strong finish to 2017 after signing off on a number of deals for Jetrix wide-format flatbed kit. Ben Woodruff, sales manager at Inktec Europe, describes the current market as “steady”, with the different brackets of products helping customers find the right solution for their business.

Woodruff expands: “For me, there are four categories: entry-level, mid-level—which is where we sit with Jetrix—high-production, and OEM or non-printers. We are seeing more interest in customers who are looking to print for their own use. I see this is a big growth area for Jetrix next year.”

Focusing in on kit, Woodruff picks out the Jetrix KX7 as the most popular option currently available from Inktec Europe, with more than 25 units installed in the UK alone. The machine has a bed size of 2.5 x 3m and is able to print at speeds of up to 60sq m/h.

Available from Inktec Europe, the Jetrix LXi8 is the first machine in the Jetrix family designed for the high-production market

Also available from Inktec Europe is the new Jetrix LXi8, designed for and aimed at the high-production market. This LED model features a 3.2 x 2m flatbed and has a top speed of more than 150sq m/h.

Woodruff says: “The LED ink is unique and has excellent adhesion on difficult to print substrates such as glass, acrylic, and corrugated plastic. It also comes with light colours, which increase the colour gamut.”

In addition, smaller options include the Jetrix KX3, which, billed as the ‘baby’ of the range, measures in at 1.2 x 1.2m.

Atlantic Tech Services is the UK distributor for the European built Matrix range, which is available in three sizes for UV, direct-to-garment/textile, and direct-to-substrate, with high quality printing at 2,880dpi.

“Azon Matrix represents an ideal solution for gaining a significant return on investment and will lower running costs,” says Keith Pratt, director of Atlantic Tech Services.

He continues: “The Matrix can be placed anywhere in your building as it is supplied with ethernet connection to your network and does not have the restrictions that come with USB cabling. It has a larger flatbed size, which is nearly three times larger than the nearest alternative, to increase productivity and production print flexibility.

“To meet customer quality demands, the Matrix is supplied with the Turbojet UV Ink bulk system built into the printer, which offers vibrant colour printing for as little as £0.85sq/m on any type of material, such as acrylic, glass, canvas, ceramics, plastic, wood, metal, and stone.”

O Factoid: Johannes Gutenberg developed the first flatbed printing presses in Germany in the mid-15th century. O

Azon Matrix offers unparalleled print capabilities and the company says it is the only wide-format UV-curable inkjet flatbed printer with the ability to print up to 200mm  (7.87”) in height.

With so many options on offer in this market, it is easy to see why so many companies have opted to expand into the sector. Manufacturers are keeping their end of the bargain by developing new kit on a regular basis, the task is for print firms to indentify the machine best suited to their own needs and abilities.

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