Commentary & Analysis
FREE: Graph Expo Reflections: Production-Level Digital Presses
Commentary by Andrew Tribute October 31,
By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: October 31, 2006
Commentary by Andrew Tribute October 31, 2006 -- Graph Expo in Chicago was the major American print exhibition this year. It suffered however in terms of new product introductions from being in the same year as IPEX in the UK. Many major launches of digital equipment took place at IPEX, and Graph Expo therefore was just the North American launch for these products. Despite this situation I found many interesting new products and announcements in the digital print space at Graph Expo that had not been seen before at other public events. In the digital color press space, the two new products I saw were both continuous-feed models. These are the Xeikon 6000, which had been announced some weeks before at Xeikon private launch events, and the HP Indigo press ws4500 for label printing. The Xeikon 6000 is a development of the successful Xeikon 5000 and is seen as being the base for future Xeikon developments. It has a unique new toner, FA Toner, which appears to combine the benefits of conventional ground tonerï¿½being able to be fused at high speedï¿½with the advantages of chemical toner: smaller, smooth-shaped particles allowing better color and tonal definition. This press with a speed of 160 A4 page images (printing two-up across the 50 cm/19.69" web and concurrently on both sides of the web) is the fastest ï¿½offset qualityï¿½ digital color press shipping at the present time. The new Indigo press ws4500 is a development of the HP Indigo press ws4050 that established Indigoï¿½s strong position in the digital color label printing market. This press is geared for continuous operation with rapid spot color changes. On the HP stand there was a very good example from one customer showing just how many label jobs could be printed in an eight-hour shift. This showed there was a real market for such a product. Xeikon also makes its Xeikon 330 press for this market. The example of work presented by Indigo really showed how productive such presses can be for producing a wide variety of short run, often personalized labels. It is also interesting to note that EFI will also be competing in this market in the future through its purchase of Jetrion, which introduced a prototype inkjet based continuous feed digital color label press at the recent LabelExpo event. IBM Makes Its Bid IBM announced its entry into the high-speed color document printing market with a technological demonstration of its future color printing approach. As IBM does not manufacture printers but sources them on an OEM basis from other suppliers, the print engine it is using came as no surprise. IBM is taking the color print engine of the Truepress Jet520 from Screen. At Graph Expo, this was shown running with Screenï¿½s controller, but IBM introduce will introduce this as a product with its own controller. When IBM was asked when it would be introducing the printer using its own controller, we were advised it would be within 24 months. The reason for the two-year delay is that IBM will have none of its applications software, color management, its print controller, or its customer base ready until that time. The controller architecture is following the practice we are seeing elsewhere with a multiple-processor architecture. In IBMï¿½s case, this can consist of up to 256 processors sharing the workload to drive the printer. Other companies that are using or moving to such a multiple-processor architecture for print controllers include: ï¿½ EFI, with a range of Fiery controllers; ï¿½ Xeikon, with its X-800 controller; ï¿½ Screen, where 16 HP PCs link together to drive each Truepress Jet 520 print engine; ï¿½ HP Indigo, with its new HP Indigo Scalable RIP Solution (SRS) in which up to 16 multi-processor RIPs using HPï¿½s Blade computer architecture can work together; ï¿½ Creo, with many of its Spire controllers; ï¿½ Xerox, which has moved its DocuSP controller from a Sun Sparc platform to a multiple Intel processor platform. Today, to run fast with personalization at their rated speeds, digital presses need a huge amount of computing power. The cost of controllers is becoming a significant part of the total cost of a digital press. Another new development from HP Indigo is the introduction of Photo Image Enhancement for automated enhancement of digital photographs. This obviously is a key development for the growing application of digital color photo books that is being offered by many of the color press suppliers. Only a few weeks ago Xerox also announced its Automatic Image Enhancement for the same function within its DocuSP RIP and Freeflow workflow applications. Xerox Enters Ocï¿½ Territory Graph Expo was also the scene for a few announcements in the monochrome and highlight color markets. Here Xerox decided to steal Ocï¿½s thunder when it announced the worldï¿½s fastest sheetfed monochrome printer: its Nuvera Digital Production System running at 288 ppm. Previously Ocï¿½ claimed this title with its VarioPrint 6250, which produces 250 ppm. The Nuvera takes a unique approach of building two Nuvera print engines into a single unit to handle duplex monochrome printing. The target market for such printers is in areas like digital book printing. Xerox also introduced its DocuTech 180 Highlight Color System for printing items like books, brochures and catalogs with a highlight color. With this product, Xerox is also offering custom blended color technology for creating customer-specified colors. Once again it is pushing into areas where Ocï¿½ had previously had a unique position. Xerox has had highlight color presses before but not with the ability to print specific custom colors. The above purely are items introduced for the first time at a show. Of course there were lots of other digital color and monochrome presses from all the industry suppliers, but all of these had been seen before at other events. I apologize to other suppliers if I missed any new production-level digital presses that were introduced at Graph Expo.