Commentary & Analysis
drupa 2012, the Inkjet drupa...again? A closer look at KBA
By David Zwang
Published: October 29, 2012
In this series, we have previously discussed companies that have added production inkjet to their existing digital offerings, whether they are EP (Electrophotographic), or EI (ElectroInk). We have also looked at different hybrid offset and inkjet solutions. However, there are also a number of companies that have historically offered offset press technology, but have decided to enter the production inkjet space as well. Previously we looked at Komori and its inkjet offerings slated to be available next year. In this article, we will be looking at KBA (Koenig & Bauer Group).
KBA's new RotaJET 76 production inkjet offering is unique on many levels, and presents an interesting story.
KBA roots go back to 1814, when Koenig's steam-driven cylinder printing press first printed 'The Times' newspaper. Founded in Würzburg Germany by Friedrich Koenig and Andreas Bauer in 1817, this company has always been at the forefront of technology. Its first industrial production line was set up in a secularized monastery 25 years before the industrial revolution reached Germany. In 1868, the fledgling company shipped its 100th press and introduced a new improved press. That was enough to generate an explosion of sales, which reached 2,000 machines by 1873.
In 1910, KBA developed its first four-color cranked movement sheetfed press and by 1911 was in production and selling Planeta sheetfed offset presses. By 1922, KBA was selling web presses. Maintaining a strong foothold in the printing press manufacturing market, KBA subsequently developed presses for gravure, letterpress and flexo. While it's not practical to detail all of the company's innovations, which included perfecting, waterless offset, etc., its delivery of leading edge print technology has continued throughout its long history.
KBA's first entry into digital press offerings began in 1997 when the company entered into a joint venture with Scitex to create the 74 Karat. This digital offset press was previewed at Imprinta, and gave the industry a peek at what was really possible in a digital offset press. By 2000, the Karat was in production and the presses are still used in production today.
At drupa, KBA showed its latest entry into the digital press arena with the introduction of the RotaJET 76 perfecting production inkjet press. This high-volume web-fed piezo inkjet press was designed to handle the on-demand and variable data requirements of today's marketing programs. This new press is another example of KBA's continuing drive to bring leading edge printing solutions to the market.
A primer on KBA Production Inkjet technology
As it has done in the past, KBA chose to work with a partner to develop this new press technology. In this case the partner is a printer. Okay, well, RR Donnelly is more than a printer, but they do understand the market requirements.
RR Donnelly has been developing its own inkjet technology for many years, and in addition to creating the 600x600 dpi ProteusJET 4 color inkjet web press, has been collaborating with a number of press manufacturers including KBA and HP, to extend the use of RR Donnelley inkjet technology. The KBA RotaJET 76 is one of the first examples of this collaboration. In this new product, KBA integrated the RR Donnelley inkjet head and image control technology into their press system.
It uses a 56 head printhead array of Kyocera piezo printheads with a total of 112 printing heads, that each can jet variable droplet sizes controlled by an optimized screening algorithm to enable high quality image printing. The heads produce a native resolution of 600x600 dpi, but the 2-bit multi level variable drop nozzle control allows for a visual appearance of a much higher resolution. The printing system provides for automatic alignment of printing heads to address stitching. The RotaJet 76 is an aqueous based pigment ink system can reach a web speed of 500 fpm, and a duty cycle of about 85 million pages per month.
KBA RotaJET 76 Transport
As a manufacturer of a variety of printing presses for almost 200 years, designing printing press transports is something that KBA excels in. The RotaJET 76 is another example of its innovative approach to building presses.
The press uses a simple web lead without turning, in conjunction with a large central impression cylinder. The web lead supports precise web tension, and excellent registration. It uses a compact low-energy infrared dryer combined with a warm air system for the web.
In addition, as a result of the intelligent web lead, the RotaJET is only 22ft 9 in. long, excluding inline finishing, and 12ft 9in wide. It has a height of 11ft 5 in., making it a comfortable fit for most printing companies.
It supports a web and print width of up to 30.74 in., with a reel diameter max of 50 in., and a maximum weight of 2,860lbs. It supports an optional connection to the KBA Patras reel logistics system, which "automatically determines residual quantities and ensures optimum control of the reel logistics."
KBA RotaJET 76 Front End
KBA has long been a proponent of production system workflow and automation and a strong supporter and implementer of JDF workflows. At the top is the KBA Logotronic management system that controls all of the KBA sheetfed and web presses. This provides continuous data flow from prepress through the printing presses to the finishing machines. This system can be integrated with compatible JDF MIS systems to create a very automated and controlled production environment.
The Front End for the RotaJET 76, like is KBA's first foray into front end development. They chose to use the Adobe PDF Print Engine Core (APPE), which offers KBA a great base to build on in the future. This facilitates a native PDF workflow for high volumes of data to support the requirements of industrial scale PoD applications at maximum print speed. The front end also controls the inkjet imaging, automatic web tensioning and quality control.
As is the case for all KBA web presses, they have worked with many 3rd party pre- and post-press vendors to ensure integration compatibility.
Putting it to use
KBA expects to go into customer beta in Europe in the next few months, and later in the US. As you can see, KBA has been supporting high-volume printing of newspapers, magazines, catalogs, direct mail, and other commercial applications for almost 200 years. This new digital entry is designed to handle the type of production that its existing and future customers expect.