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Commentary & Analysis

Drupa 2012, the Inkjet Drupa…again?

This new series by David L. Zwang will focus on current production inkjet products and their application in the market today. This series will run every 3 weeks leading up to Drupa 2012. He will look at the current vendor product offerings, and how they are being used by some of their showcase customers. In this first article of the series, David discusses some background on drivers and obstacles to mainstream adoption to production inkjet.

By David Zwang
Published: October 14, 2011

Drupa 2012, the Inkjet Drupa…again?

It seems like I was just in Dusseldorf for Drupa 2008, where it was billed as ‘the event’ where Inkjet was going to be the prime focus. While there was production inkjet technology there, it was probably more of an inkjet intro event rather than an event focused heavily on inkjet technologies and products. Those of us who went there did get a chance to see some interesting technology, but only some of it ever made it to the marketplace, or should have.

Sheetfed commercial printers, and more importantly their customers, are used to working with many different substrates.

While it might sound like a strange thing to say, on one level it is probably good that there wasn’t a big push to mainstream production inkjet. There are many reasons for this. First is the the quality level, or more accurately, the comparable quality level to offset print. The current production inkjet offerings are achieving a quality level that is acceptable for certain very specific markets, as evidenced by the focus and adoption of the current production inkjet devices. It’s not that they don’t produce very acceptable output in those primarily web offset markets; it’s more that in order to mainstream production inkjet, a number of things need to be in place. The good news is that the current complement of roll fed products from HP, Infoprint (Ricoh), Kodak, Oce, Screen and Xerox are increasing their comparable quality levels. Most importantly, we will need a fast ‘sheetfed’ inkjet device, and almost all of the current offerings are roll fed. Fujifilm's J Press 720 is a good attempt at a quality sheetfed inkjet device, but probably not fast enough at 2700 half-size sheets per hour to differentiate it from EP or Offset. One benefit it does offer is a larger sheet size than EP, at a maximum sheet size of 29.5" x 20.8". Why is a sheetfed device so important?

Sheetfed commercial printers, and more importantly their customers, are used to working with many different substrates. In fact, a study I did a few years ago identified that the majority of printing companies used more than 8 substrates on a regular basis, and of course not all the same 8 across different companies. This is one of the reasons why sheetfed EP (electro-photographic) printing, without the substrate limitations inherent in a roll-fed environment (time and labor to change rolls for a substrate change) and for inkjet in general (need for optimized or pre-treated papers), has been able to have an impact on commercial offset printing. While paper manufacturers are increasing their ‘inkjet friendly’ substrate offerings, and some inkjet press manufacturers are offering pre-treating for substrates inline, the current substrate limitations are an obvious obstacle to mainstream adoption and use.

Another obstacle has been that there are only a few production inkjet manufacturers settled into the market at this point. This has a lot to do with the high cost of entry. Developing your own head technology, or licensing it from a third party and building the supporting technology, is a very costly and time consuming process. There is new head technology from Memjet that should reduce the cost of entry for production inkjet printer manufacturers, and we should see many new entrants and printer offerings as a result. In fact, Xante showed an early release of a printer using this technology at the recent Graph Expo event in Chicago.

However, even if these issues were resolved today, many printing companies do not have the infrastructure necessary to support the increased throughput that these devices will handle. Additionally, many don’t know how to take advantage of the new opportunities that these devices can offer.

Recently I had an opportunity to attend an event that the HP IPS group held at its headquarters in San Diego. A group of prospects in the Direct Mail space was invited. While HP did use the event to showcase HP and its products, more importantly the company used it as a way to educate these prospects as to what they would be getting into should they purchase a web fed production inkjet device. I have been to many of these vendor-hosted events in the past, but this one really stood out. HP educated the attendees, in a fairly agnostic way, on inkjet technology, substrates, data requirements, infrastructure requirements, and marketing, in addition to soft selling them on HP. Even if these attendees don’t purchase an HP device, they spent a valuable two days really learning the issues, ultimately preparing them for future purchases.

Ultimately, as a potential purchaser of a production inkjet device, it’s not only about the cost of the device. This type of education is crucial for the vendors, printers, and the industry as a whole. The opportunities that are afforded by this new technology, combined with the vast changes in the marketplace, demand that we all educate each other on how to live and work in this new landscape.

In the next article, I will continue the education by looking at the HP production inkjet offerings and applications. In each subsequent article we will look at a different vendor’s offerings.

David Zwang travels around the globe helping companies increase their productivity, margins and market reach. He specializes in production optimization, strategic business planning, market analysis, and related services to companies in the vertical media communications market. Clients have included printers, manufacturers, retailers, publishers, premedia and US Government agencies. He can be reached at david@zwang.com.



By Kevin Karstedt on Oct 14, 2011

Great Article David,

First, I agree that Drupa 2012 will showcase inkjet and how it has progressed from its introduction to its second coming out (which is a notch or two short of 'mainstream' which may be the theme of Drupa 2016...

Second, your focus on education on how the technology works and fits into the production environment is right on. I look forward to the next article myself...



By greg goldman on Oct 14, 2011

Great Article. As you point out Drupa may be the second pass for ink jet technology offering lower costs and increased quality levels for print manufactures. Your one point on infrastructure, that all print providers should pay close attention to, may be the missing link regardless if you are moving to Inkjet, EP or any digital production for that matter.

The print providers heading to Drupa should be looking at IT infrastructure components for their companies that automate sales, business and production processes. Unfortunately at Drupa attendees have the tendency to focus on the print engine technology rather than infrastructure that surrounds the device. Many of my customers are having me arrange "guided tours" to keep their focus on infrastructure and not get blinded by the vast number of print output technology. Most tell me their plant does not have a capacity issue, but rather a throughput problem. I look forward to your next article. Keep up the good work David.


By David L. Zwang on Oct 14, 2011

Exactly... while it may sound cliché. Moving into any high volume or variable data imaging production really requires a holistic approach. It really isn't just about the press..


By Peter Vanderlaan on Oct 14, 2011

Hi David –

Great idea for a series…looking forward to seeing the rest of the articles.

I did want to point out one correction to the information you have here. There appears to be some confusion between the Screen product and Fujifilm’s Digital Inkjet J Press 720.

The device you’ve described is the Fujifilm J Press 720, which runs at 2,700 half-size sheets per hour and has a maximum sheet size of 29.5” x 20.8.”

I’d be happy to show you the J Press 720 first hand (it’s now in our technology center outside of Chicago) and, of course, can always answer any questions.

Peter Vanderlaan
Director, Product Marketing
FUJIFILM North America Corporation
Graphic Systems Division


By David L. Zwang on Oct 14, 2011

Hi Peter:

thanks for the clarification.. as someone who looks at all these devices, with OEM relationships, name changes, etc. it can get a bit confusing -)


By Eric Vessels on Oct 14, 2011

We made the change in the article to refer to Fujifilm J Press 720 instead. Thanks for the comment Peter!


By Pat McGrew on Oct 15, 2011


Great article, great idea for a series and a great time to start looking at the technology.

First, thanks for the kind words on the HP event in San Diego. We were thrilled that you were there, and we're ahppy you caught on to the plan to create a venue for education and discussion!

Thank you for saying "Ultimately, as a potential purchaser of a production inkjet device, it’s not only about the cost of the device." As in most large purchases you'll make in your life, like houses and cars, it's important to shop, but it's also important to take a step back and see how each vendor might work with your team to build the best long term results for your business.


By Rossitza Sardjeva on Oct 16, 2011

I also agree, the focus on education is very important, especially on different variants of inkjet technology - continuous, thermal, piezo.


By Gerhard Maertterer on Oct 19, 2011

Yes David, drupa 2008 was only the inkjet intro, but drupa 2012 will be the break-through. Read my experiences since 4 years:

At the drupa 2008, AlphaPicture already presented the high speed imaging generators that are needed to create +100,000 personalized
images per hour. But at that time we had not yet found a print machine manufacturer capable of providing an acceptable toner coverage for high speed printing of our personalized images.

Now in the run-up to the drupa 2012 the latest generation of inkjet machines even masters our most precisely modulated AlphaPicture motifs, as shown by a test series four weeks ago with 900,000 AlphaPictures sized DIN A 6 to
DIN A 4 at Dainippon Screen's Democenter in Amsterdam.

Until drupa 2016 the new high speed inkjets will revolutionize the high volume direct mailing market as well as the transpromo market. Being more than ten times faster as conventional toner-based digital printing machines, this considerably reduces production time and the price per unit.

Before long, digital printing will be less expensive than two-stage hybrid production with web offset / laser-personalization. The
question on whether or not to go for full color one-to-one personalization of direct mailings will no longer be a matter of cost but rather a matter of creativity.


By Buck Crowley on Nov 24, 2011

The least expensive approach is to add inkjet variable printing modules to your existing printing equipment. Keep all your current investment in workflow processes. The modules are low cost.
Buck @ BuckAutomation.com


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