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Industry Insight

RR Donnelley and KBA announce technology partnership


By Cary Sherburne
Published: March 1, 2011

R. R. Donnelley & Sons Company, and KBA AG of Wuerzburg, Germany announced today an agreement to develop, manufacture and sell next generation piezoelectric digital inkjet printing solutions to the packaging, securities, commercial, and newspaper segments. This is another step in Donnelley's ongoing focus on development of printing technologies, which, according to a statement by Thomas J. Quinlan III, RR Donnelley's President and Chief Executive Officer in May of 2008, has been ongoing for more than thirty years. In yesterday's announcement, Quinlan said, “We look forward to having the combined R&D resources of nearly 1,000 engineers and imaging scientists bring forward the next generation of digital imaging technologies. This relationship will benefit the customers we serve today and enable RR Donnelley innovations to be introduced to customers in segments that we do not yet address.”

Earlier announcements included:

  • In May of 2008, the company announced the industry's first 1200 dot per inch (DPI) four color inkjet web press, developed in-house by RR Donnelley. The ProteusJet platform was initially launched with thermal inkjet technology and is currently migrating to Piezoelectric heads.

  • In May of 2009, Donnelley announced another imaging technology breakthrough under the code name Apollo, an inkjet process that utilizes offset inks to drive variable print. Direct mail and label imaging were identified as two key applications for this technology.

  • In September of 2009, Donnelley announced a technology alliance with HP to collaborate on the development of digital printing solutions for inkjet-based digital presses. It was anticipated that one of the first products to come out of that alliance was MICR capability for the T300 HP web press, expected in 2010. However, activities were sidelined for a time while the two companies resolved a patent infringement claim filed by RR Donnelley. According to Donnelley sources, “This matter has now been resolved, and we are excited about the next chapter in our relationship.”

In the case of KBA, according to a prepared statement we received from RR Donnelley, included in this licensing agreement in addition to a Piezo version of ProteusJet is the Apollo technology, a new imaging process that enables variable digital printing using inkjet printing and traditional offset inks. This is very different from offset/inkjet solutions we have heretofore seen, where inkjet heads are mounted at the back end of the press and image the variable data as the sheets exit. Here's one application of how we understand this unique technology to work:

  • Inkjet imaging heads are mounted within the inking units of the offset press. These heads jet a blocking solution to a specified area before ink is applied by the press, making that area unreceptive to offset inks.

  • As the paper passes through the press unit, offset ink is applied to both the static areas (as defined by the plate) and the areas where there is no blocking solution. The resultant print contains both static and variable images—all using offset ink.

According to the release, KBA is on tap to show it's Donnelley-based piezo inkjet  digital presses at drupa 2012, although it is not clear whether Apollo will be ready to show by then. This will certainly be a must-see at drupa (and almost makes you look forward to going!) … When Apollo is available, it will have the ability to extend the life of offset, combining the capabilities of offset and digital in a truly unique and breakthrough manner.

WhatTheyThink will continue to follow up on this story as it unfolds. Stay tuned!

Cary Sherburne is a well-known author, journalist and marketing consultant whose practice is focused on marketing communications strategies for the printing and publishing industries.

Cary Sherburne is available for speaking engagements and consulting projects. To get more information contact us.

Please offer your feedback to Cary. She can be reached at cary@whattheythink.com.



By Eddy Hagen (VIGC) on Mar 02, 2011


But what does it mean?
Is RR Donnelley lacking resources to make the development succesfull and therefor partners with KBA?
Has RR Donnelley really made a breakthrough and is KBA hooking its wagon onto the RR Donnelley train, as an answer to recent manroland and Heidelberg cooperations with digital partners?
Or another reason?

Whatever the reason is: it shows that development of new technologies is going on and I'm certainly going to take a look at it at drupa. :-)

BTW: I also wonder when the results of this joint development will become available at the market.

Eddy Hagen


By Cary Sherburne on Mar 02, 2011

good questions. Not sure about availability, but it sounds like after drupa. RR Donnelley is using or plans to use this technology internally. Partnerships such as the ones with HP and KBA are a means to commercialize the technology for use outside of RR Donnelley's production facilities.


By Chuck on Mar 02, 2011

I think it's really exciting to see another manufacturer getting involved in digital, inkjet.

I can hear the pundits now-- the inkjet web drupa!

I personally can only see this trend accelerating in the next few years-- more innovation, more companies involved, faster computers to drive the imaging, better workflow. It's a great direction for the industry.

These technologies will drive a revitalization.


By Andrew tribute on Mar 08, 2011

This development is very interesting. As Cary says the current R.R. Donnelley Proteusjet engines use a large number of thermal print heads to build the wide page width print arrays. R.R. Donnelley are working on switching to piezo print heads, and I would guess they will be using either Kyocera or Panasonic heads for this.

What is particularly interesting is the comment from Thomas J. Quinlan stating “We look forward to having the combined R&D resources of nearly 1,000 engineers and imaging scientists bring forward the next generation of digital imaging technologies. This relationship will benefit the customers we serve today and enable RR Donnelley innovations to be introduced to customers in segments that we do not yet address.”

One has to ask what does he really mean? My belief is that this is a two-way agreement between the companies in which KBA is accessing R.R. Donnelley's expertise in inkjet printing technology, and R.R. Donnelley will perhaps be acquiring its future press engines from KBA. Can we expect that the new press to be introduced by KBA at drupa next year will be the basis for the future R.R. Donnelley next generation Proteusjet presses.

The Apollo technology is also very interesting and I certainly look forward to finding out more about this and when we can expect it to be available. It may well be that R.R. Donnelley is in need of help from KBA in the offset printing space to make Apollo happen.

I think this agreement between R.R. Donnelley is potentially far more significant than the agreements between Heidelberg and Ricoh and manroland and Océ. manroland will be a reseller of the Océ presses and a partner in the development of workflow and finishing systems. As far as the Heidleberg/Ricoh agreement we don't know enough yet of what may be coming in the future and how much joint development of future products there will be.


By Erik Nikkanen on Mar 09, 2011

This is interesting. I am always interested in potential process innovations related to offset. The idea that fixed and variable output can be done with the offset unit is something I would like to see. Not that i would need it but because I am curious about how it would be done.

But the devil is in the details as they say. A 1,000 engineers or 10,000 engineers and experts will not necessarily guarantee success if they do not understand the problems that they will face. Money and that kind of manpower is not always enough. The problems have to be theoretically possible to solve and often engineers in the printing industry don't understand the rules.

The history of press and process development has had many examples of failed concepts due to lack of knowledge or just developers trying to solve the wrong problem. Other concepts don't fail but they also never meet the original expectations that were hyped.

One forgets easily how concepts were marketed and even sold but did not live up to expectations. Goss's Positive Keyless inking system, Dicopress, Single fluid inks, DI presses, waterless, anilox inkers on Karat, Genius, and Anicolor. Not all were failures. Some are useful but none of them represented a significant change.

All of these concepts could have been analyzed to show their ultimate failure or limitations but often manufacturers go ahead with only partial knowledge and waste time and money on a technology which will have limited success.

I look forward to finding out what the new KBA and Donnelley concept will be. It will not take much time for me to understand if they have a chance of success. The idea of having fixed and variable printing from an offset unit is not difficult analyze if one knows the rules. Managing the ink transport will be key.

Let's hope they don't waste a pile of money and time due to not knowing some critical issue. It happens all the time. What you don't know can hurt you a lot in the innovation business.


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