Commentary & Analysis
"Too Good" Was (Almost) the Phrase for Print Production Technologies at Graph Expo (Part 2)
Whatever may be happening to the demand for print, Graph Expo 2011 made one thing abundantly clear: never before have printers had as many options as they now possess for adding beauty, charisma, and value to a piece of paper.
By Patrick Henry
Published: September 28, 2011
Agfa dedicated much of its square footage to UV-curable, wide-format inkjet equipment, including the 63" :Anapurna M1600 and the 80" :Anapurna M2050. Its flatbed example was the :Jeti 3020 Titan FTR, a 126" x 79" device with a flat-to-roll option that enables it to print banners and other grand-format graphics in lengths of 100 feet or more.
The :Jeti 3020 Titan FTR can be field-upgraded from its base configuration of 16 inkjet heads to a maximum of 48. With 48 heads, the device can print at a rate of 2,432 square feet per hour and deliver an expanded gamut of light magenta, light cyan, white, clear, orange, and green inks. Oz Wille, a digital imaging specialist for Agfa's Pitman division, said that the enhanced ink set enables the :Jeti 3020 Titan FTR to color-match about 90% of the Pantone spectrum in signage, display graphics, door panels, and similar applications.
A traffic-stopper at the Sun Chemical stand was the GFI Mx-12 blending machine, the unit around which the ink manufacturer has built its Dispensing Program. The do-it-yourself, mix-on-demand approach can save printers up to 46% of their overall ink spend, says Sun, which introduced the program about 18 months ago.
Inside the programmable, camera-monitored machine are slots for cylinders containing the base colors from which various Sun inks can be formulated. Users can specify the exact amount to be blended, reducing the likelihood of overstocking. Most of the standard Pantone colors can accurately be built from among 12 colors in the unit's basic configuration. The machine contains a total of 18 slots for precise brand-color matching. Program participants, according to Sun, can have access to formulas for more than 100,000 color's in the company's SmartColour Global Shade Library.
The Dispensing Program is most cost-effective for blending inks in quantities under 100 lbs., according to Sun, which targets it at printers who produce at least 30% of their volume using spot-color inks. Users can install and operate the blender free of charge as long as they commit to purchasing specified quantities of the base inks from Sun. Charles Murray, Sun's president for inks in North America, said that about 100 units have been placed since the program's inception.
Heidelberg has added e-commerce capability to Prinect, its many-faceted workflow architecture. Called Prinect Web-to-Print Manager, the software product was introduced at Graph Expo along with another new Prinect component, an MIS module named Prinect Business Manager.
According to Ray Cassino, Heidelberg's director of product development for Prinect and CtP, the touchstone for Web-to-Print Manager's development is the idea that behind every virtual storefront, there must be a fully efficient, thoroughly automated printing plant-"or it's all for naught," Cassino said.
One way in which the new module supports production efficiency is by automatically routing jobs to digital presses if they contain variable data; or to offset equipment if they're suitable for gang running. Another feature, to be shown at drupa, will enable Web-to-Print Manager to do in-RIP preflighting and generate data for soft proofing and plates. A separate module, Prinect Color Toolbox, provides the color management.
The e-commerce portals that printers' customers will see are adaptations of Pageflex from Bitstream, with which Heidelberg has a developmental partnership. Web-to-Print Manager can be implemented either as a licensed installation or as SaaS. All support will be provided by Heidelberg.
Cassino described Prinect Business Manager as a scalable, easy-to-use MIS that "looks like Microsoft Outlook" and meshes with Web-to-Print Manager (the connection will be demonstrated at drupa). Business Manager will be offered free of charge to current users of Prinance, Heidelberg's original MIS, which the company will support for another five years until it is wholly replaced by the new product.
Should an ink maker also make presses for its inks to run on? INX emphatically answered that question at Graph Expo by introducing the NW140, a seven-color, UV-LED curing, narrow-web label press with inline laser cutting. Designed to operate with specially formulated INX inks, the machine is said to be capable of producing labels directly from design files at about half a cent apiece.
Jim Lambert, vice president and general manager of INX's digital division, is the former principal of Innovative Solutions, acquired by INX four years ago. That company's technology underlies the piezo inkjet print engine of the NW140. Spartanics supplies the laser cutting station and other press components. The result, says Lambert, is an all-in-one system that can RIP, print, cut, and deliver short runs of finished labels in about 25 minutes from file input.
With the on-press application of a pretreatment fluid, the NW140 can print on any label or film stock. Maximum production speed is 80 linear feet per minute on an 8" web with a printable width of 5.5", followed by precision laser cutting to any shape or fineness of detail. The press, which utilizes Xaar 1001 printheads, lists for $389,000 and operates without click charges. Its most cost-efficient run length range, Lambert estimated, will be somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000 labels.
What appeared to be a tabletop, workgroup office printer at the ECRM booth turned out to be a compact but capable device that sales director Paul Norton characterized as a "digital production press for $300 a month."
That is the leasing cost of DPP 1200, launched earlier this year by ECRM as an economical alternative to bigger investments in high-end digital printing systems. The full-color, two-up, toner-based press features an industry-standard RIP that can be part of the same workflow that drives a shop's conventional production, according to ECRM. Using an electrophotographic engine and crushed-particulate toner from Okidata, the device can print, at 175 dpi, items ranging in size from 3" x 5" index cards to banners as large as 12.9" x 47.2".
Built-in color profiling tools are said to make the DPP 1200 suitable for offset proofing. Features also include an estimating function that gives a breakdown of costs based on coverage. There are no click charges or mandatory service contract fees on top of the monthly leasing cost-users pay only for toner and media consumed.
As its full name, Advanced Vision Technology, implies, AVT manufactures automated inspection systems for print process and quality control. Primarily serving the commercial heatset web market, AVT addressed that segment at Graph Expo with the announcement of PrintVision / Neptune, a monitoring solution that keeps the entire web under continuously illuminated camera surveillance for the duration of the run.
In this way, said Marc O'Connell, senior product manager, PrintVision / Neptune's recognition algorithms can detect hickeys, solvent stains, ink / water imbalances, color density variations, blind spots on plates, and other quality defects wherever they occur. According to O'Connell, it is the first such solution available from a manufacturer of press auxiliary equipment.
A feature called SureSell minimizes the spoilage that routinely occurs during blanket washing, a step that takes place on a web press without interrupting the run. By detecting the first spoiled copy when washing starts and then the first good copy when the procedure is complete, SureSell makes certain that only the bad copies in between are diverted to the ejection gate of the press. Preserving hundreds of hundreds of good copies that would otherwise be thrown out "just to be safe" can add up to considerable savings in a busy web plant, O'Connell noted.
Much was shown or announced at the Kodak stand, including the Photo Platform version of the Nexpress electrophotographic digital press and new, small-footprint editions of the Versamark inkjet printing system. Kodak also had the distinction of bringing some of the largest pieces of printing equipment to Graph Expo: the Prosper S imprinting system. Two versions of the platform were on display at the adjoining booth of Adphos, a maker of IR (infrared) drying, heating, and curing equipment.
Launched two years ago, the Prosper S series consists of one inkjet platform that can be field-upgraded to higher running speeds: from the 1,000-fpm S10 to the 2,000-fpm S20 (now available) and the 3,000-fpm S30 (entering beta testing). Printing width is 4.16", and in the S10, four printheads can be arrayed side by side for a total printable area of 16.64".
Depending on configuration, Prosper S can lay down monochrome black, CMYK, metallic inks, scratch-off materials, and other specialty coatings inline with web offset presses and finishing equipment. Kodak says that Prosper's variable-data capability suits it for the production of inserts, versioned ads in magazines and newspapers, and direct marketing applications.
Not long ago, QR codes were novelties at the GASC shows. At Graph Expo 2011, they seemed to be everywhere: on signage, in handout literature, and even on floor graphics denoting booth numbers along the aisles. Among the exhibitors hoping to capitalize on the industry's rising interest in 2D barcoding was CodeZQR, offering what it said was a unique approach to bringing the 1-to-1 communication power of QR codes to print,
The CodeZQR solution is a data-processing routine for delivering individualized QR codes to each document in high-volume, variable data print streams. Joe Barber, a security analyst for the company, said that the technique will work with all document composition systems and all computing platforms. Unlike QR code systems that do their computing in the cloud, said Barber, CodeZQR can be securely operated behind corporate firewalls.
For $59,000, printers can install a component set that includes tools for generating 2D barcodes, PURLs, mobile web pages and coupons, analytical reports, and other elements of QR-code based marketing campaigns. After that, an annual renewal fee amounting to 20% of the purchase price becomes the only ongoing charge, Barber said.