Commentary & Analysis
Drupa 2012, the Inkjet Drupa…again? A closer look at Ricoh
By David Zwang
Published: January 10, 2012
Ricoh was founded in 1936 in Tokyo as Riken Sensitized paper, a company that manufactured photographic papers. As early as the 1980’s Ricoh began manufacturing copiers, fax machines and duplicators for many companies, including Pitney-Bowes, Toshiba, AT&T, Omnifax and AB Dick. Starting in the 1990’s, it began a string of acquisitions that included Savin, Gestetner, Lanier, Rex-Rotary, Monroe, Nashuatec, and the European operations of Danka. Additionally, Ricoh acquired IKON Office Solutions, Hitachi Printing Systems and IBM’s Printing Systems Division. This robust acquisition portfolio catapulted the company into being the printer manufacturer with the largest installed equipment footprint in the world. In 2011, Ricoh entered into a global strategic agreement with Heidelberg for its light production line. According to the press release, “This agreement enables Heidelberg to sell Ricoh’s latest color digital press, the Ricoh ProTM C901 Graphic Arts Edition - Ricoh`s high speed color digital press with Ricoh PxPTM Chemical toner, as well as appropriate future production printing offerings in Ricoh’s pipeline.”
In addition to the printer manufacturing business, Ricoh also retains and expands its roots in photography as evidenced by its recent acquisition of Pentax Image Systems.
While Ricoh has a significant production printing systems product line, in this article we will only be focusing on the Ricoh InfoPrint 5000 production inkjet printer and associated technologies.
The place to begin is with the fact that the InfoPrint 5000 family of presses is actually manufactured by Screen. These presses are ‘similar’ to the Screen Truepress Jet520 series of presses, but there are many Ricoh-designed differences in the available products. Ricoh has done a great deal of R&D on its own, and in conjunction with Screen, to enhance their respective machines as well as to tailor features and functions to better serve the Ricoh customer base. Furthermore, the size and scope of Ricoh, and the previous IBM branding, has enabled Ricoh to sell significantly more of the InfoPrint branded presses into the marketplace than Screen has been able to achieve. We will look at the Screen offering in a future article.
A primer on Ricoh InfoPrint Production Inkjet technology
At the center of the Ricoh inkjet technology is the Seiko Epson Micro Piezo drop on demand (DoD) printhead. Ricoh and Screen don’t publish this information, so I will give you what information I have been able to pull together through my own research. According to Seiko Epson, the piezo elements in these inkjet heads change shape according to the voltage applied, which enables precise control of ink drop size and ejection from the inkjet head. However, a piezo element by itself is not enough to facilitate the precise, even propulsion of the ink onto the media. They have found that through meniscus control it makes it possible for the piezo element to control the movement of the meniscus (the ink surface in the nozzle). This technology allows both high-precision impact point control and perfectly spherical dots and is a key element in the precise levels of ink ejection control characteristic of Micro Piezo Technology. The heads print at 2 bits per spot and offer stochastic screening, so the multi-drop technology is also able to generate extremely smooth gradations.
The inkjet heads are mounted in a single-pass multiple-head array. The distances between the inkjet heads for each color, as well as the distances from the inkjet heads to the substrate, are short, ensuring exceptional color-to-color registration.
The heads can print at up to 720 x 720 dpi, yielding an effective resolution of 1,440 dpi. The presses can support CMYK dye and pigment inks, as well as a MICR option. Ricoh has found that the life span of the heads is about 18 months regardless of hours of usage or whether you are using dye or pigment inks. This is attributed to the head’s unique and simple design.
The InfoPrint 5000 has an automated head cleaning system that is triggered by the operator. A test sheet is printed, automatically scanned, and any head or nozzle problems are detected and addressed with a cleaning or alert. Ricoh recommends performing this maintenance function either at shift changes or each day.
As is the case with most of the production inkjet printers, there is an increasingly wide range of papers supported that includes newsprint, uncoated offset, laser and premium inkjet compatible papers from 64gsm to 157gsm. The InfoPrint 5000 can support a web width of 6.4 in. to 20.4 in. Ricoh has currently evaluated hundreds of in its R&D lab in Boulder, CO with over 300 of those papers in production around the world. One of the areas Ricoh R&D is focusing on is the heater technology to ensure support for higher duplexing speeds as well as a wider range of papers, such as the NewPage TrueJet tm Digital Coated Papers, as covered here.
The Press Transport
The Ricoh InfoPrint 5000 roll fed presses come in 3 models, each one targeted to different speed and applications. The MP (Multi-Purpose) is the entry level platform. It can print monochrome or on-demand MICR at up to 420 ft/min. Or it can be purchased or upgraded to print full color at up to 210 ft./min. The GP (General Production) can be purchased or field upgraded to print full color or monochrome at up to 420 ft./min with optional integrated MICR. The VP (Volume Platform) can print full color at up to 722 ft./min. The MP and GP can print in 2-up duplex mode at up to 1,832 letter-size pages/min., and the VP up to 3,150 letter-size pages/min. As a note, any of the presses manufactured from 2007 on can be field upgraded to the latest technology and performance.
The duty cycle for the machines runs conservatively from about 20 million impressions per month for the MP and up to 80 million impressions for the VP.
The press interfaces allow them to be compatible with most standard pre and post finishing equipment in the market. This supports the primary customer application requirements for statements, manuals, books, direct mail, etc.
Ricoh InfoPrint Front End
Not surprisingly, since InfoPrint was originally an IBM company, the Ricoh InfoPrint controller uses scalable IBM server technology with multiple blades that can be scaled to ensure that input processing can keep up with the press at full speed for your required application. The engine natively supports AFP, TIFF, GIF, JPEG/JFIF, and IOCA (FS11 and FS45). It also uses Adobe CPSI core RIP technology to support native PDF level 1.6 and PostScript Level 3, as well as Encapsulated PostScript (EPS) objects in AFP/IPDS data streams. It has full color management support.
The controller also supports the InfoPrint ProcessDirector that provides a customizable process management system automating many tasks that have previously been handled manually. In addition to InfoPrint ProcessDirector, the InfoPrint 5000 can also be driven using InfoPrint Manager and PSF 4.2.0 for Z/OS.
Putting it to use
Ricoh offers an assortment of flexible maintenance and support options, depending on customer needs. These include self-maintenance to full maintenance and just about everything in between. The only consumables are ink, and a cleaning wick and waste ink tank which need to be replaced about every 6 weeks. While heads do need to be replaced approximately every 18 months, it might be a stretch to call them consumables since they need to be replaced so infrequently.
Interestingly, Ricoh claims that the InfoPrint 5000 has the lowest energy consumption by a long shot over any of the other production inkjet devices currently in the market. If this is so, it could be an important cost consideration.
While their customer base continues to find many new ways to use this equipment to satisfy their client requirements, including direct mail and transaction printing, one of their clients BR Printers of San Jose CA has found the InfoPrint 5000 as a great way to transform their production.
Immediately after installation the InfoPrint 5000 provided cost-savings for BR Printers. Previously, the company was outsourcing most color jobs and utilizing Xerox cutsheet offerings for the monochrome jobs in-house. By replacing these models with the InfoPrint 5000, thereby eliminating the need for outsourcing, BR Printers was able to realize bottom line increases instantly.
“It was important for us to re-evaluate our operations to find ways to upgrade our equipment and enhance our output quality – keeping our customers’ needs a priority,” said Hugh Loveless, sales manager, BR Printers. “With the InfoPrint 5000, we’ve seen speed and capacity increases of up to 25 percent, and we now have the ability to provide high quality short-run book printing directly from our facilities. Overall, this has given us the opportunity to broaden our client base while also improving overall revenue and profitability.”
In the next article, I will continue this pre-drupa educational series by looking at Fujifilm production inkjet offerings and applications. In each subsequent article we will look at a different vendor’s offerings.