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Trade Comment

Investing in Inkjet Printing Technology

With technology development giving offset litho an extended lifespan, and a strong toner market, Brendan Perring asks: “What is the argument for investing in inkjet printing technology?”

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Tatsuo Murakami, managing director, Riso UK

Revenue opportunities

Inkjet print technology has evolved and offers so much potential that actually the question people should be asking themselves is: why have I not yet invested in it?

That said, when you look at the larger production print, mailing, and fulfilment houses, for example, they have been adding inkjet to their fleet of printing equipment because they can see the benefits to their business now and in the future.

It could be said that inkjet was always playing catch up, that litho and toner were the front runners. That has changed. Larger devices will always have their parts to play, as will some toner and litho devices of course.

But inkjet enables the creation of more revenue opportunities, which is absolutely essential in today’s highly competitive market. The latest Riso cutsheet inkjet technology for example, such as the standout Com Color GD9630, delivers high speed, low cost, and efficient printing. The Riso T2 tandem printing solution is now also making a name for itself, with a print speed of 320ppm.

Inkjet enables the creation of more revenue opportunities, which is absolutely essential in today’s highly competitive market

Devices such as these, with their proven technology, mean there is no need to invest in additional expensive equipment.

When companies invest in inkjet, they invest in opportunity. Work that does not necessarily need to be printed on larger, more expensive devices, or requires a glossy finish can be diverted to the more cost-effective inkjet printers. So that could be a commercial printer, a production print specialist, or someone who deals with transactional print.
This presents an opportunity to free up the more expensive printers, and also to use the inkjet to channel new, appropriate work through.

Cutting costs

Steve Andrew, regional manager, Xeretec

Given the commercial challenges many printing companies face in an ultra-competitive market, not investing in inkjet printing could mean a printing company is not able to respond effectively to changing customer needs. And, in some cases, evolving customer requirements cannot always be met by offset litho or toner-based printers.

Take, for instance the growing demand for personalised catalogues. Inkjet provides the best response to this need, as it is fully capable of in-line finishing with all the manual processes removed. For those still not convinced by inkjet in a commercial application, you need to look at the progress that has been made recently. Considerable improvements have been made in performance, image quality, and media latitude. This progress is helping to increase the growing range of applications for the technology, which has the potential to bring in additional revenue opportunities for printers.

While inkjet printing is well established in the transactional marketspace, with the progress made with respect to IQ and media, I believe that more direct mail applications will migrate. If so, this will facilitate complex, image-driven personalisation, while also incorporating new technologies such as augmented reality, and that is a dynamic that is well suited to inkjet technology.

We are looking at advantages like inkjets being able to print at far higher speeds than current toner devices

The upshot of this is that we are increasingly seeing more commercial printers recognising the many benefits promised by inkjet that could complement their current toner and conventional offset capabilities. We are looking at advantages like inkjet sytems being able to print at far higher speeds than current toner devices and, importantly, at a greatly reduced cost. Thinking more broadly of the benefits, it gives print companies an automated end-to-end solution with the added benefit of reduced waste, inventory costs, and manpower. Printers with inkjet devices are probably in a better position to move to a true print-on-demand model, which aligns neatly with customer requirements.

If you look at how the technology has evolved, how much support there is behind it from major manufacturers and, crucially, how customer demands are changing, we would say there certainly is a valid argument for investing in inkjet printers and them working alongside offset litho or toner-based printers.

Market pull

Philip Easton, director, digital printing solutions, Domino Printing Sciences

My own instincts are that offset is in decline, toner has now peaked in terms of where it is going unless there is a novel innovation, and the growth market is inkjet. The main driver towards inkjet is its higher productivity and, in some cases, higher reliability and lower cost of ownership.

We are more focused on labels and packaging, but we have involvement in book printing, direct mail, and similar sectors. The consistent feedback we get relative to toner is that it is easy. It is not unusual in a large site with many toner machines to have a dedicated engineer from the supplier on site to support it. Some of our customers where we have installed inkjet, replacing toner, are relatively obsessed with how much service personnel we need when we do not really need it; it is purely because they are educated into thinking there is going to be a click charge and I am going to have lots of people coming to visit to keep it going.

The main driver towards inkjet is its higher productivity and, in some cases, higher reliability and lower cost of ownership

With inkjet you are looking at two different types—aqueous or water-based inkjet and UV-curable inkjet. Aqueous inkjet is designed for porous materials so the end application defines where it can be used. In our case, aqueous inkjet is for transactional documents like bank statements where it has been a substitute for toner. What you are seeing in that sector is a large number of toner machines being replaced by inkjet.

Where toner still has a position is where you have lower volume because what inkjet does not have is the same investment point as toner has, so it is useful if you want something low productivity and low cost. For mainstream producers of large volume, inkjet is the preferred option. Looking to the next five years, I think it is driven by volumes rather than the technology; it is more about market pull as opposed to technology push.

Challenging perceptions

Stuart Rising, head of commercial printing, Canon UK

Offset has traditionally been used, and is still used, for very effective long-run manufacturing. It is excellent for making copies of the same thing. As run lengths have declined and time-to-market becomes a driving factor, digital toner devices have offered a suitable alternative with a flat cost structure making them very effective for short-run and quick turnaround work. With the entry of production digital inkjet, the run length crossover point moves digital print into a new territory.

This new technology means that print providers now have a cost-effective alternative to offset and a process that is suited to high volume printing. It also retains all the advantages of digital print, including collation, just-in-time manufacturing, workflow automation, and of course very high speeds and productivity. Another advantage is the ability to deliver variable data printing.

Transitioning from an offset press to digital inkjet press enables improved time-to-market, greater job flexibility and run lengths, dramatically increased personalisation opportunities, and reduced waste. While able to do a great job, toner devices could typically not exceed productivity levels greater than 150 pages per minute. Now, with inkjet, customers can enjoy all the benefits of a flexible cut sheet operation, but at double the speed and half the costs of traditional toner devices.

With inkjet, customers can enjoy all the benefits of a flexible cut sheet operation but at double the speed and half the costs of traditional toner devices

Return on investment is also a key driving force. That is why we have introduced digital inkjet solutions such as the Océ Pro Stream series—a new breed of fast, high-productivity continuous feed inkjet presses combining the vibrant colours of offset with the variable-data versatility of digital printing. Our inkjet portfolio also includes the Canon Vario Print i200 and i300 cut-sheet inkjet production systems for white paper solutions.

Canon also offers market leading toner technology with the Océ Vario Print 6000 Titan cut-sheet monochrome production press that supports volumes of up to 10 million A4 size impressions per month. The Canon Image Press C10000VP/C8000VP colour digital press series meanwhile supports an average monthly print volume of up to 450,000 to 360,000 LTR images per month. The costs may be higher, but the returns are more prosperous.

We have been challenging perceptions of digital printing for over a decade by pursuing a programme of continuous innovation across all our technologies. UV Gel is just the latest example of our philosophy of working closely in partnership to help drive growth for customers. Our ongoing dialogue through a collaborative, partnership approach also helps customers work smarter, access new revenue streams, devise new print applications and business models, and differentiate themselves.

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