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Commentary & Analysis

Drupa 2012, the Inkjet Drupa…again? A closer look at Delphax

In this tenth article of the series, David looks at Delphax, and its new production inkjet offerings and applications.

By David Zwang
Published: April 6, 2012

Headquartered in Minneapolis MN, Delphax, an industry leader in the digital print space for over 30 years, was one of the pioneers in the development and manufacturing of production class EBI (Electronic Beam Imaging) electrophotographic printers. Delphax Systems was initially started in 1980 as a joint venture between Dennison Manufacturing and Canada Development Corp. In 1981 Check Technology Corp. was formed in Minnesota to produce printers that banks could use to print their own checks. Over time it expanded through buyouts and joint ventures with Xerox and Olympus, which led to development of its EBI technology. They ultimately bought out Xerox. Delphax develops and manufactures both cut sheet and continuous roll-fed solutions in its Canadian facility.

Delphax is currently the leader in worldwide market share in security check applications, and claims to have the lowest toner-based running cost and highest speeds in its EBI devices. Its devices are also used for transactional, book, legal and financial, direct mail, and packaging insert applications. Thus, Delphax understands what is required for a high-speed printer to meet the demanding requirements of a production print environment.

In addition to developing and manufacturing the printers, Delphax also has a software development group that creates process solutions to support its printers in different market applications. Delphax has subsidiary offices around the globe, and its products, along with a support infrastructure, can be found in over 50 countries. Interestingly, the current products being reviewed are not Delphax’s first foray into inkjet print technology. Its CR2200 product currently offers a hybrid option that uses a Kyocera head to get increased production speeds for monochrome operation.

In this article, we will look at the new Delphax production inkjet offerings. This currently includes 2 sheetfed presses; the elan 250 and elan 500.

A primer on Delphax elan Production Inkjet technology

The new Delphax elan printers use the Memjet ‘Waterfall’ inkjet technology, which currently centers around the 8.77” wide printhead that can deliver up to 700 million 1.1 picoliter drops per second. It prints through 70,400 nozzles at either 6 inches per second at 1600 x 1600 dpi or 12 inches per second at 1600 x 800 dpi, making it one of the fastest inkjet systems available. The head includes 11 integrated circuit (IC) chips and five ink channels that can print CMYKK. Delphax has also incorporated additional printheads to enable up to two spot colors. Delphax has also added a patent pending pigment based MICR option to support the security needs of its client base. Delphax uses 2 of the print heads across the width of the sheet in the 250 model and an array of 4 heads in the 500 to double the speed (still 2 across) for a 17.4 inch print width. The 250 is field upgradable to the 500 to double the speed if production requirements change. The heads requires minimal warm-up time and print in one pass without moving back and forth across the sheet as some other printheads do.

The basic consumables are the ink and the printheads. Currently Memjet inks are water-based dye inks that are specifically designed to work with Memjet printheads. The inks and drop size allow significant ink laydown and quick drying on inkjet compatible papers. The ink densities and resultant print contrast provide an impressive production print product. Printhead life expectancy is based on the volume of print and ink used in a production print environment. The approximate cost of a Memjet replacement head currently falls at less than $550 for Delphax.

Head maintenance is delivered through a cleaning system that, on command, suctions the heads and cleans and primes them. A quick clean takes about 30 seconds and a full cleaning can take a few minutes. The frequency of cleaning is very dependent on the type and cleanliness of the substrate, although it is recommended that you do a cleaning at least once a shift at a minimum. Delphax has engineered a patent pending paper and transport cleaning system in an effort to minimize the need for frequent head maintenance.

The Press Transport

Delphax offers two primary duplex configurations for its new elan line of sheetfed production inkjet presses. The elan 250 prints at 250 inches per minute, while the elan 500 prints at 500 inches per minute, which translates into approximately 15,000 letter size pages per hour.

The elan presses accept sheet sizes from 8” x 8” to 18” x 25.2”, at paper weights from 60 gsm to 350 gsm, although it will only duplex at up to 250 gsm. Delphax used its expertise in high speed EP transports to develop a new patent pending transport system for the elan, one that will handle the speeds, duplexing, and sheet size the press requires. Interestingly, the elan prints with a different aspect ratio than one would expect. They feed the short end of the B2 sheet, not the long end. Delphax developed the transport and the press as a whole to require minimal maintenance that can usually be handled by the plant staff. There are 4 optional paper bins to feed a variety of sheet combinations during a run. The large capacity feeder and stacker can handle 5,000 75 gsm sheets, and plans are to support a roll-to-sheet option is also available that would allow support for longer runs by sheeting a roll on the fly. 

Delphax incorporated an inline pre-coating station to allow for the support of most substrates. The presses also include 4 variable temperature IR dryers inline after the pre-coater, and in each of the front and back printing units. The Real Time Vision system is an inline camera system that identifies imaging defect problems in the print and can activate a head cleaning process, readjust the nozzle output to overcome the problem and/or notify the operator of a problem, depending on the issue. There is an auxiliary inspection tray for preview, error recovery, or utilitarian purposes like performing device calibration or color management characterization.

The elan includes a remote diagnostic support system that allows Delphax to log in to the machine to identify and troubleshoot problems that might occur, and work with the operator to fix them. The elan DFE also includes a visual indicator of paper path status as well.

Delphax Front Ends

Adobe PDF technology is at the core of the new elan front end. Delphax has developed its DFE with a very open standards-based architecture to facilitate flexibility in workflow requirements and integration with existing production systems. As in the case of many of the other production inkjet systems we reviewed, the elan DFE is based on a scalable hardware system. As needed, you can add server blades, RIP instances, and memory to support the needs of complex variable data projects at machine speed. It supports JDF communication as well as a comprehensive reporting system that can deliver detailed metrics on job production and the printing system itself.

Delphax has worked with many 3rd party workflow solution developers to ensure that its open architecture would support the variety of needs and workflows of its broad customer base.

Putting it to use

The primary consumables for the presses are the inks and printheads. Delphax offers a range of maintenance contract options depending on specific requirements. The company expects to install its first elan printer later this year 

In the next article, I will continue this pre-drupa educational series with Part 2 of the ‘Are you prepared to acquire production inkjet?’ Part 2 will cover transport technology and DFE’s. You should find this article as well as the whole series useful if you are looking at purchasing or implementing production inkjet, and for pre-planning your visit if you are attending drupa. It will help you sort out your priorities as you undertake the mega-experience that drupa always represents. Following and/or during drupa, watch WhatTheyThink for news on new announcements about production inkjet that we have not been able to cover in this pre-show series.

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 Clint Bolte on Apr 06, 2012

I'll take a minority position on this Inkjet Drupa drum that several of my colleagues have been beating. At this stage in the technology there is a hoard of false economics ... all built around the longer run niche that the manufacturers want to tap into.

While the expendables are logrythmically cheaper than toners, the potential for even lower prices is substantial, because of the simplicity of the chemistry involved.

In targeting the higher volume, longer run digital print market the manufacturers are trying to write off their R&D expense very quickly by charging huge premiums for the "razor." Again the manufacturing costs for many if not most of the inkjet units is substantially lower than the toner-based digital print units.

While this may not be a bad marketing strategy, the market penetration won't be reached anywhere close to its potential until the "razors" get more realistic in price (a lot cheaper) and the "razorblades" are offered at the same prices though a fraction of the volumes now being offered under contract.


By David L. Zwang on Apr 06, 2012

I would agree, although I believe we are starting to see the price of 'the razor' starting to come down, as evidenced by the recent Delphax announcement. I am sure now that the necessary market infrastructure (i.e.; papers) is starting to get established, this technology will start to become more mainstream.

BTW... the wave of new liquid ink devices should also add and interesting twist to the marketplace


By benton jacks on Apr 06, 2012

As a self-publisher I have a particular interest in resin coated photo glossy sheet that is single pass fed for producing book covers. The price of "the razor" is substantial in short on-demand runs from using inkjet printers with high quality color photo copy results that exceed present laminate finish methods.
The single pass inkjet technology using resin coat multilayer substrate stock seems to be a key in eliminating the need for laminate finish. Is there any manufacturer data on economical support alternates for photo stock process media possibly being produced using the "waterfall" process?


By Buck Crowley on Apr 09, 2012

The ink and consumable cost for high volume inkjet applications (greater 100fpm) now are at a per sheet cost that competes with offset printing. And it will continue to fall fast as the ink suppler is separated from the equipment manufacture. Several US printing companies now make ink inhouse.

In addition, when you add inkjet printing on your existing printing equipment(hybrid) combining inkjet and offset, you double the workflow throughput and cut the production cost in half.

Buck at BuckAutomation.com

PS: Good job David Zwang, Thank you for your hard work.


By Chuck Gehman on Apr 09, 2012

Very good coverage Dave, I am looking forward to learning more about this machine at Drupa. Thank you!


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