Commentary & Analysis
Drupa 2012, the Inkjet Drupa…again? A closer look at Fujifilm
In this sixth article of the series, David looks at Fujifilm, its production inkjet offerings and applications.
By David Zwang
Published: February 3, 2012
Fujifilm Holdings Corporation, formerly Fuji Photo Film Co., Ltd., was founded in 1934 with the goal of becoming the first Japanese producer of photographic film. They ultimately succeeded in becoming the industry leader and Kodak’s major competitor in the global film market. And while film usage is on the decline, Fujifilm is still on a growth path. This is primarily due to the decision to diversify beyond film in the 1940s, into areas including optical glass, lenses, magnetic materials and medical and electronic imaging. In 1962, Fuji Photo Film Co. Ltd. and Rank Xerox Ltd. launched Fuji Xerox Co., Ltd., as a joint venture. Initially this joint venture was only a distributor of Rank Xerox products, but in the 1970s, Fuji Xerox began R&D efforts, and today is responsible for the development of many of the color printing devices sold by Xerox Corporation. Most of these products have been developed around electrophotographic technologies. Fuji Xerox continues to handle much of the distribution of Xerox products in the Asian and Pacific markets.
In 2005, Fujifilm bought Sericol Ltd., a UK-based printing ink company specializing in the inkjet, screen, and narrow web print markets. In 2006, the company followed with the acquisition of Avecia Inkjet Ltd., a UK ink manufacturer of dyes used in inkjet printers. Finally, in 2006, Fujifilm acquired Dimatix, a US manufacturer of piezoelectric printheads and fluid dispensing micro pumps utilizing MEMS (Micro Electro Mechanical Systems) production techniques. These three acquisitions, combined with its long history in developing and manufacturing digital printing machines, has led to the development of the Fujifilm J Press 720 sheetfed production inkjet press.
In case you missed it, I said sheetfed production inkjet press. All of the other production inkjet presses I have reviewed to date in this series have been roll fed. This difference should not be discounted. Of course, we would expect that the web devices would be faster, but so are web offset presses faster than sheetfed offset presses. Ultimately it all comes down to how it fits into your production and customer requirements. I will be discussing the application of all of these production inkjet technologies in much greater detail in future articles, so stay tuned!
A primer on Fujifilm Production Inkjet technology
The cornerstone of the Fujifilm inkjet technology is the FUJIFILM Dimatix SAMBATM piezoelectric drop on demand (DoD) printhead technology. Fujifilm’s MEMS manufacturing technology allows the head to achieve resolutions of 1,200 x 1,200 dpi with 4 levels of grey scale. As a refresher, MEMS is a general term that refers to technologies that are used to create 3-dimensional electronic and mechanical structures on silicon substrates on the micrometer level, and to manufacture a variety of parts using such technologies. By applying these technologies and parts to inkjet heads, it becomes possible to arrange high-precision inkjet nozzles with great accuracy and density, and to manufacture inkjet heads that are both mechanically and chemically stable. The FUJIFILM Dimatix heads deliver a dot size of 2 picoliters, which makes for a much smoother looking ‘offset like’ print. Each of the 4 colors (CMYK) has a print bar containing 17 heads that covers the full printable width of 28.3 inches. Each head has 2,048 nozzles, which totals almost 35,000 nozzles across the length of the print area for each color. The anticipated life of the heads is currently rated at one year, although they may exceed this, but it’s a little to early to tell.
The inks used in the system are water-based pigment inks. They are currently manufactured by Fujifilm in Tokyo, enabling them to keep control of the entire ink system. Inks ship in 10-liter containers and feed an ink reservoir for each color.
The Press Transport
The J Press 720 looks a lot like a ‘normal’ sheetfed offset press if you look at the feeder and delivery ends of the machine. However, that is where the similarity ends. The 20”x 29” four-color format was designed to fit into an existing pressroom as a new addition or offset replacement. It operates at 2,700 sheets per hour with a maximum sheet size of 20.8” x 29.5” with a printable area of 20.5” x 28.3”, big enough for 4 pages, which translates to 10,800 simplex pages per hour. The minimum sheet size it accepts is 15” x 23.1”.
In addition to the feed and delivery, like an offset press, it uses drum and grippers for transport. The press uses a temperature control system to ensure production consistency. From the feeder, which supports a load up to 31.5”, the paper moves to the priming unit where an anilox roller system applies Fujifilm’s Rapid Coagulation Primer (RCP) across the entire sheet. This enables the press to support almost any offset paper from 70lb. text to 14pt. board, including both coated and uncoated stocks. As we have previously discussed in this series, pre-coating helps the inks bind to the paper surface with minimal dot spread. After priming, the coating is dried and moisture is extracted to ensure paper control throughout the print process.
From there, the paper moves to the inking unit. As previously discussed, there is a print bar for each of the four process colors, and once printed the sheet moves to the dryer unit. The hot air IR dryer ensures that the sheet is dry and flat for back printing or finishing when it comes off the press. After the dryer section, there is a sheet scanning QC unit. The CCD scanner scans the alternating color bars to see if the print quality is consistent and if any nozzles are misfiring, and automatically makes the necessary adjustments to the adjacent nozzles to compensate on the fly. The last unit is the delivery, which supports a maximum paper lift of 23.6” in height. When the paper comes off of the delivery, it is dry to the touch.
J Press Front End
The press has its own controller that manages the press functions and serves as a touch screen press console for the operator. It has a scalable Windows-based architecture to support user requirements.
Preparing the files and feeding the data to this press is the Fujifilm Workflow XMF. This complete premedia workflow solution has the Adobe PDF Print Engine (APPE) at its core. In addition to supporting the J Press 720, it is also designed as a complete plant workflow solution. The JDF-based system includes most functions needed to run the business and production aspects of a multi-device plant.
Putting it to use
The 3 primary consumables for the press are the inks, the head cleaner solution, and the Fujifilm Rapid Coagulation Primer. Fujifilm offers a range of maintenance contract options depending on your specific requirements.
Press start up, shut down, and maintenance are fairly automated. Normal startup at the beginning of the day would require approximately 30-45 minutes, only 15 minutes of which require operator attendance. In order to keep the press in run-ready condition, there are 3 dormant modes available: weekend, holiday, and overnight. With these preprogrammed modes, the press self maintains.
The first US installation of the J Press 720 is at Gilson Graphics, an offset and digital commercial printer in Grand Rapids, Michigan. They have a 14x20” Heidelberg and three 40” manroland multi-color offset presses. They also have 2 HP Indigos and a couple of Xerox Nuvera digital presses in addition to the J Press.
In a conversation with David Gilson, the President of Gilson Graphics, he indicates they had been looking for some time for a good digital press to satisfy the requirements of a high quality commercial printer. About 9 years ago, the company purchased a Xeikon, but due to the nature of their business and their clients’ specific paper requirements, Gilson ended up being stuck with lots of partial rolls of different papers. Additionally, the Xeikon press didn’t really live up to the quality expectations that had been set by Gilson’s offset press work. Subsequently, Gilson purchased an Indigo 3500, which was recently upgraded to a 7500 for more speed and media flexibility. However, even with the 7500, Gilson really needed a bigger sheet size, and more speed.
Enter the J Press 720. Gilson had heard about it in 2008 and finally saw it live at Graph Expo in 2010. He brought in different papers and jobs to test it, and found it would satisfy many of his needs. Gilson has been successfully running it a full shift since December, and expects to move to two shifts soon. Prior to that, the press was in shakedown mode for a few months. While the press can handle variable data, and Gilson has the experience and infrastructure to handle it, the company has found that currently the bulk of the work on the machine has been short run static.
While still early, Gilson sees this new press having an impact on his offset press volume, and also the volume on the Indigo, depending on the job. And while he would still love to see a larger sheet size, faster speed, and duplex capabilities, this press has been a great addition to his production platform.
In the next article, I will continue this pre-drupa educational series by looking at Screen production inkjet offerings and applications, including its new sheetfed duplex inkjet press. In each subsequent article we will look at a different vendor’s offerings, and how they are being used in production.