Commentary & Analysis
Dainippon Screen Joins the Push for What It Sees as the Irresistible Rise of Inkjet
Dainippon Screen wants to be a major part of the conversation about the rise of inkjet and the fall of old assumptions about print production. But, as inkjet comes to the fore, the conversation could get uncomfortably blunt for some.
By Patrick Henry
Published: October 28, 2013
Dainippon Screen Manufacturing Co. wants to be a major part of the conversation about the rise of inkjet and the fall of old assumptions about print production.
But Michael E. Fox, president of Screen (USA), cautioned that as inkjet comes to the fore, the conversation could get uncomfortably blunt for some.
Inkjet presses, he said, “will challenge the offset print market” by rivaling litho equipment in quality, productivity, and operating economy. Inkjet also is poised to dethrone other kinds of digital output, Fox said.
What it means to printers trying to make up their minds about inkjet’s place in their future is that “whatever I used to know, it doesn’t apply today,” said Fox. He added that Screen intends to be a driver of the disruption that the industry’s adoption of inkjet will bring.
Comments along these frank lines from Fox and other inkjet advocates marked a media/analyst briefing that Screen (USA) held recently at its demonstration center and headquarters in Rolling Meadows, Ill. On display to the writers were the company’s flagship inkjet systems for B2 sheetfed printing, UV label printing, and flatbed UV wide-format output.
If Screen (USA) lacks the footprint of its larger competitors in production inkjet, it isn’t outdone by any of them when it comes to marketing ambition and aggressiveness.
“High-speed inkjet is the future” of print production, according to Fox, who directs a staff of 67 people in Rolling Meadows, at a satellite facility in Irvine, Calif., and in other locations around the country. Inkjet’s future, he asserted, will herald the passage of some other digital printing technologies into the past—particularly toner-based web printing systems, which Fox said would be outclassed on all fronts by faster, more flexible inkjet devices.
“Every time we put an inkjet machine in, four or five web toner machines are out,” said Fox, predicting the eventual displacement of the EP web process by high-speed inkjet.
In their presentations, other Screen personnel said that conventional offset and flexo also could face displacement by inkjet in certain run lengths and applications. Fox said that printers weighing the merits of inkjet should avoid basing judgment on their experience with the older methods, which have markedly different printing characteristics.
Screen (USA)’s own experience with conventional and digital production has a long timeline. The company is the U.S. arm of Dainippon Screen, an enterprise incorporated in Japan 70 years ago. In its home country, Screen traces its origins to a 19th-century copper plate and litho printing business. The name derives from the ancestral firm’s production of glass halftone screens for photographic reproduction.
Screen established the U.S. branch in 1967 and set up the Rolling Meadows center in 1981. Initially, Screen USA was a distributor of scanners and CEPS—color electronic prepress systems—and later entered the market for CtP systems and digital plates. Today, Fuji, Agfa, and Southern Lithoplate are its OEM resellers for CtP in the U.S. and Canada.
Screen also produced what Fox said was the first browser-based production workflow (Trueflow, the precursor of Equios, its current workflow solution). The first digital printing venture for Screen was the Truepress 544, a four-color DI offset press it brought to market in 2000.
Screen established itself as an inkjet vendor in 2005 with the introduction of the Truepress Jet520, a continuous-feed inkjet press. The following year saw the debut of its first wide-format UV system, the Truepress Jet2500UV.
With the exception of plates, Screen sells most of its printing systems, workflow, and other products direct. During the media briefing, Fox and his team focused attention on three inkjet systems spanning commercial production, label/package printing, and wide-format graphics: respectively, the Truepress JetSX, the Truepress Jet L350UV, and the Truepress Jet W3200UV.
Aron Allenson, an inkjet sales support specialist for Screen (USA), said that printers would find the half-size Truepress JetSX a “utility infielder” device capable of many of the same things their toner and litho presses can do. He described it as a workhorse machine built to run static or variable jobs in full color “all day long” in formats up to 20.8 x 29.1 inches. Processing heavy variable input will not “starve” the press of data or slow it down, Allenson said.
In terms of cost efficiency, he said, crossover with offset occurs at about 9,800 letter-sized impressions. Above that quantity, offset prints more economically than inkjet from the Truepress JetSX. Below it, the Truepress JetSX delivers a lower cost per print. According to Allenson, since most offset volume is produced in quantities smaller than the cutoff point, the Truepress JetSX has an edge over offset in short to medium run length applications.
Other features of the Truepress Jet SX that Allenson said printers would find appealing are its ability to handle digital and offset stocks in thicknesses up to 24-pt.; its 1,440 x 1,440-dpi, grayscale resolution; and its fast-drying aqueous inks, sealed with a post-coat for instant handling and processing. The Truepress JetSX prints 1,620 simplex sheets or 810 duplex sheets per hour—equivalent, says Screen, to 108 letter-size pages or 13 eight-page sections per minute.
The press, launched commercially at Drupa 2012, lists for about $1.5 million, Allenson said.
The label-printing advantages of the Truepress Jet L350UV were outlined by Jeff Corley, a digital label and flexible packaging specialist for Screen (USA). He said that UV inkjet is gaining ground in label production because it is faster and more reliable than EP label printing, less complicated than flexography, and better suited than both processes to short-run, versioned, and on-demand label output.
The Truepress Jet L350UV is aimed at what Corley said is a label market that will be worth $40 billion globally in 2016. Technically, it is a 600 x 600-dpi, four-color, UV-curing press built to print at up to 164 feet per minute on a 13.7-inch web. Repeat lengths can be from 2 to 94.4 inches. According to Corley, the proprietary CMYK inks it uses can reproduce 80% of the Pantone color gamut. Opaque white ink is available as an option.
Corley’s crossover example showed the Truepress Jet L350UV breaking even with a flexo label press at about 80,000 feet of output, with each press printing 1,000 labels for $18 at that stage. Within the job parameters Corley described, the Truepress Jet L350UV’s biggest cost advantage came at 25,000 feet, where production CPM was said to be $20 for UV inkjet versus $50 for flexo.
The Truepress Jet L350UV also beats flexo in quickness of press setup and job changeover, Corley said. He mentioned that the device will be available with an inline finishing option next year.
Screen stepped up its pursuit of the wide-format inkjet market with the acquisition of Inca Digital Printers, a U.K.-based manufacturer of industrial inkjet systems, in 2005. Heather Kendle, Inca’s director sales and marketing, spoke about trends in the wide-format equipment market and about Screen’s plan to gain share with the Truepress Jet W3200UV.
Kendle said that since UV-curable inkjet first came into use around 2000, its quality has improved considerably from the “horrifyingly crude” results the process was known for in its early days. Now, she said, tiny droplet sizes, precision droplet placement, and grayscale imaging are among the features attracting “serious attention” from commercial printers and other providers looking for opportunities in wide-format inkjet UV.
Inca Digital’s strategy in developing the Truepress Jet W3200UV for Screen was to fill a gap between low-end flatbed UV inkjet devices and the kinds of high-end machines that Inca Digital supplies. It was thought that a mid-range machine would appeal both to low-end users with its greater speed and quality and to high-end customers with its comparative economy.
The result, launched commercially at the FESPA expo earlier this year, is the Truepress Jet W3200UV, a 62.9 x 125.9-inch flatbed device that can up to print six colors of UV ink plus white at 600 dpi (yielding an apparent resolution of 1,000 dpi, according to Screen). Production speed is 904 square feet (84 meters) per hour, which Screen calls best in the system’s class.
Customers whom Inca Digital spoke with during the development of the Truepress Jet W3200UV rated output quality more important than printing speed as a performance requirement, Kendle said, noting that need for speed can vary widely from shop to shop. She also pointed out that in assessing inkjet quality, dpi isn’t the principal benchmark—drop size and precision of drop placement are what determine how good the print will look.
The program also made note of Screen’s commitment to PDF/VT, a version of PDF for variable and transactional printing released by Adobe Systems in 2010. Allenson called PDF/VT a “best of all worlds” solution that combines core PDF functionality with the ability to handle large numbers of records efficiently both in full-color variable production and in variable black imprinting over preprinted shells.
Screen’s Equios workflow is built around an Adobe print engine that supports PDF/VT. The PDF/VT-ready Equios workflow has been used to optimize the performance of the Truepress Jet520ZZ, a variable, full-color web inkjet press, as well as that of the Truepress JetSX.
Thanks to its consistent ability to rise to production challenges, inkjet is making strides “in every possible market,” according to guest speaker Ron Gilboa, director of functional and industrial printing for InfoTrends. That research organization predicts that by 2016, inkjet will account for better than half of all digital color production worldwide.
“Color inkjet is what’s driving most of the volume” in digital production now, Gilboa declared. “The change is not going to stop.”
Dainippon Screen would not want it to. Fox said that the company intends to bring “very disruptive technologies” to the inkjet market next year, the better to drive the “drastic” transformations that the industry should be bracing itself to experience.