On Print | Inkjet at drupa

Folding carton was the primary packaging application for commercial inkjet presses shown at drupa; enough to fill a good part of my time. A few examples of rigid board (corrugated and heavyweight) and a handful of inkjet label presses completed the active offerings for inkjet in our markets. The OEM’s interest in packaging, however, is very evident because nearly all have someone dedicated to development of this market.

My strongest drupa inkjet memories are:

  • Kodak Prosper 6000XL running 1,000 fpm duplex with primer and top coaters.
  • Numerous partnerships between inkjet and traditional press OEMs.
  • Landa presses drying aqueous ink independently of the substrate.
  • High degree of confidence in inkjet for publication and commercial printing.
  • Integration of software by OEMs for complete production control.
  • Maturing of MEMs technology for print heads.

Kodak has quietly been placing Prosper 1000 monochrome and 5000XL color presses around the world. Book publishers in particular have been strong buyers. At 1,000 fpm, the 6000XL is about 50% faster than the 5000XL and faster than any other digital press at drupa. The extra speed has been accomplished by paying attention to paper physics, as much as anything else – the print engine is capable of up to 3,000 fpm, as has been proven by the Prosper S-30 heads installed for imprinting on high speed web offset presses. Although I knew it printed on standard offset papers, I was still surprised when reading my copy of Technology Watch, printed on high gloss paper, to learn it was printed by a Prosper and not by offset. The Prosper can handle papers from 45–300 gsm, so it could print a useful range of packaging papers, although its 25-in. width is restrictive. I couldn’t help looking at the primer station (from Faustel) and envisioning a coating for thin film. It won’t be easy, but I have a sense it is not a pipe dream.

As an innovator, I encourage partnerships between companies with complementary skills. The time to develop a new product is geometrically related to the number of new components, so combining the skills of two OEMs, one supplying the print engine and the other the frame and substrate handling, seems like common sense. Many of the new presses at drupa come from such collaborations. FujiFilm’s J Press, introduced in 2008, was an early example. Others include Landa and Komori (40-in. web press); Komori and Konica Minolta (29-in. sheet and 20-in. web presses), KBA and RR Donnelly (30-in. web press), as well as Timsons and Kodak (53-in. sheet press). Agfa developed the :M Leopard in partnership with a screen press manufacturer, and Miyakoshi cooperates closely with Ryobi. Land Digital also was actively courting other press manufacturers—there was an announcement regarding Heidelberg.

Retrofitting existing analog presses with digital engines for full graphics has been a way for many companies to add digital capability. Kodak has been very active supporting this directly or in cooperation with others like GSS, but most others have been by independent integrators, although now even HP is supplying engines for this.

Landa Digital received the most attention at and after drupa – certainly its announcement was the most spectacular. As I wrote from the show, this technology is the first I’ve seen well suited for flexible film packaging. It is food contact capable (the handicap with UV inkjet and liquid toners), uses only moderate heat (dry toner’s drawback), and the substrate does not need to be absorbent (normal aqueous inkjet). The W10 digital press, capable of printing 40-in. wide thin film, should find many homes in our industry. Packaging is a key market for Landa Digital, and we will be following the developments.

Software integration has always been an issue for manufacturing companies. It used to be that no one vendor ever provided a single installation that fulfilled all the functions any sophisticated user wanted. Many operations still run different systems for different parts of the operation, from prepress through finishing. Integration has most often been for an individual operation and so was semi-custom at best. When runs are long, there is time available with which to mange the inefficiencies—the run takes longer than setting up the instructions. But when runs are short, and especially if there are frequent changes in finishing, presses will have idle time.

Clearly this is a situation that does not match one of the main justifications for a digital press. OEMs have been recognizing that to continue the pace of press placement, these system bottlenecks had to be relieved. Hence they know they must provide systems that handle the work from end-to-end, from web interface to shipping. Fortunately in this field, the not-invented-here syndrome is being avoided by inclusion of programs that have been proven in standalone or other integrations. For example, EFI’s Fiery RIP is in use on a number of packages, as is the imposition software, ImpoStrip from Ultimate Technographics Inc. The results are digital printing production lines that can handle not merely many different print jobs but also many different finished constructions, lines of much greater value to the short run production company. Indeed, the integration with finishing should become a standard expectation when selecting a digital press.

Head cost is a significant factor with inkjet. Micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) technology substantially reduces the cost per nozzle. Fujifilm Dimatix Samba heads are proving themselves in the J Press – they should begin showing up elsewhere soon. Memjet heads have been available on desktop and label printers since last year. Xanté is about to release its Excelagraphix 4200 sheet press (short run folding carton is a target market), and Delphax will be following later with its sheet press, the élan. Together with Colordyne TechnologiesCDT 1600 PC 130 fpm label press, these devices are harbingers of the future. Memjet’s recent restructuring should bring more focus on customer satisfaction. The limitation to dye-based inks will remain a drawback for our markets.

Some other notables from drupa: Xerox’s CiPress 500 web press with solid ink has unique capabilities that will find additional niches. Timson’s 53-in. sheet press demonstrates that wide for publication inkjet printing is actually now a big dimension. Agfa’s :M-Press Leopard was imposing but handles large sheets and panels with ease. HP’s 40-in. wide T410 web press was running very smoothly at 600 fpm. And the list goes on.

And at last there is little concern about inkjet presses running for long hours, with little waste and high uptime for mainstream printing. Inkjet still has limitations with speed and substrate, so there still needs to be care to ensure that its appropriate for the task. After that it becomes, or should become, a business issue—how the sales are generated and fulfilled. We suggest taking advantage of the tutorials and business development assistance of at least two of the selling organizations. So what is there to look forward to at drupa 2016? Direct inkjet for flexible film packaging—that’s what I hope to see. It can be done and it will be done, but press configurations for a start have to be different. And seeing just how much transformation Landa’s transfer printing has brought about.

Printing expert Dene Taylor, PhD, founded Specialty Papers & Films Inc. (SPF-Inc.), New Hope, PA, in 2000 for clients seeking consultation for technical management, new product design, development, commercialization, and distribution, as well as locating/managing outsourced manufacturing. Contact him at 215-862-9434; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; www.spf-inc.com.

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