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GE07: Building a New Digital Business from the Ashes of the Old

What do you do as a company when you come into your office and R&

By Andrew Tribute
Published: September 4, 2007

What do you do as a company when you come into your office and R&D building on a Monday morning December 12, 2005 and find the following situation:

The FFEI Office and R&D Block After the Explosion

FFEI, at that time a company owned by Fujifilm, was located next to the Buncefield Oil Depot in Hemel Hempstead, England, one of the largest oil depots in Europe that provided fuel for much of the SE of England and also to Heathrow Airport. On Sunday December 11, 2005 there was a massive explosion within the oil depot and the result that a large part of the large Hemel Hempstead Business Park was put out of business with many buildings totally destroyed or seriously damaged. Most companies that were further away from the depot have been able to recover operations on their sites. FFEI was not one of these and its total management and R&D facilities were written off with nothing being recoverable. Luckily FFEI’s manufacturing is carried out at a state of the art facility in Peterborough, which is around 50 miles from Hemel Hempstead. FFEI’s security procedures duplicated all management, financial and R&D data on both sites so no important data was lost.

Luckily for FFEI they received a rapid multi-million pound insurance payout, and were able to create new office and R&D facilities within a number of borrowed offices around Hemel Hempstead. A new building to bring everything together is planned but a location has yet to be found. This payout allowed for the very best facilities and technologies for the R&D group and this kick-started a major investment in new business areas of inkjet printing and life sciences scanning. Both of these areas were already under development but the investment in latest R&D tools boosted work in these areas. At this time FFEI’s business was predominantly in commercial and newspaper CtP, workflow and in a partnership with Innovatis in life style scanning. Graphic arts color scanning, a keystone of earlier FFEI business had been stopped at this time.

Life style scanning is for the medical industry and is for scanning tissue samples and identifying blood irregularities and other health problems. This approach uses a very high-resolution micro-scanning engine with auto focus and color image output. FFEI is working with a partner and a major announcement for the future of this can be expected soon.

Another key new development is RealVue3D, an Acrobat plug-in that creates a 3D simulation of any PDF print job. It simulates all the features of the printed job including varnishes, binding, special folds, viewing page by page including turning over pages, paper types, spot colors, etc. It allows a simulated finished job such as a multi-page brochure to be flipped through and looked at as though the printed product was in ones hands. This product will be launched at Graph Expo and will be sold as a standard version at $295 and the Pro version at $995.

FFEI’s main business at present is in the CtP area where its violet diode based products are sold through Fujifilm channels into both commercial printing and newspaper markets. While CtP is now a very mature industry FFEI has some new CtP products that will come to market soon. The company has also set up a new manufacturing facility in China, and this will be making CtP systems for the Chinese market.

The key products from FFEI for the future are seen to be industrial inkjet printers and the first of these will be shown at Label Expo in Brussels, Belgium later this month. This first product, Caslon, is a co-development with Danish flexo press manufacturer Nilpeter. Caslon is either a stand-alone industrial inkjet press or an add-on to a Nilpeter flexo press to allow for hybrid flexo and inkjet printing.

Caslon is the first printing press to use the latest Xaar 1001 printhead. This is a piezo drop on demand head that uses what is termed side shooter technology. This technology allows for better ink flows through the print head without risk of any air bubbles being generated and will allow for a much wider range of ink viscosities to be printed through the head than is possible with most other heads. The Xaar 1001 is a multi drop size head so while it is operating at 360 dpi it offers a wide range of gray scale with spot sizes from 6 to 42 picoliters to give very high image and text quality. The design of the product is very modular allowing it to be scaled in terms of imaging width, image quality, speed and the number of colors. The initial release of Caslon will be available with 330 and 410mm web widths (12.9 and 16.14 ins), and a later release will offer 508 and 559 mm widths (20 and 22 inches). The press prints onto a wide variety of web substrates using UV curable inks and has web speeds from 24 – 50 meters/min, dependant upon resolution.

The Caslon press without covers. The air extraction pipes are purely for use in the R&D area and are not needed on the finished press

The Caslon print engine is mounted onto a Nilpeter press chassis and reel transport system. This chassis is the standard chassis used for Nilpeter flexo presses and where required flexo print engines can be added to the system, or the Caslon print engine can be added to existing Nilpeter presses. Such presses can have a wide range of finishing options including inline die cutting for labels.

Caslon will compete against other digital printers for the label market. Currently this includes the HP Indigo 4050 and Xeikon 330, and from LabelExpo it will also include the EFI Jetrion 4000. Caslon is the only one of these that can operate in a hybrid mode adding variable or security data to flexo printed labels. Caslon and the Jetrion 4000 are the only digital presses that allow for linking inline finishing operations like die cutting.

With the future plans to take Caslon up to a 22-inch web width it can be seen that this product is aimed at a wide range of applications. It can be anticipated that with the partnership with Nilpeter that many flexo applications like flexible packaging printing can now move toward pure digital or hybrid digital printing.



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