Commentary & Analysis
Inkjet On Fire at Graph Expo 2015
Production inkjet held center stage at Graph Expo 2015, proving that has gone mainstream. Senior Editor Cary Sherburne looks at some of the announcements and the North American debuts for this game-changing technology.
By Cary Sherburne
Published: September 21, 2015
The last two drupas have been dubbed “inkjet drupas,” and as can happen with drupa, the initial unveiling of production inkjet presses in 2008 was ahead of the market. But not anymore. Actually, we are into the third generation of these presses, and they have come a long way. I challenge any of our readers to complain about the quality from any of these presses, and the speed … well, it competes with offset. The other big change over the last year or so is the ability to print on a wider range of substrates, both treated and untreated, and the price of substrates has come down as consumption volumes have increased. All of this adds up to enough critical mass that two manufacturers – Canon and HP – have established user group communities dedicated to production inkjet, thINK and Jetcomm, respectively.
Many of the products that were announced or teased at drupa 2012 are now installed in customer sites, or soon will be. Others are well on their way. Be sure to review WhatTheyThink articles by David Zwang for the technical details. Not all of the presses were on display at Graph Expo, but they were certainly being talked about. And sheetfed inkjet is coming into its own. Research firm InfoTrends predicts that by 2019, 55% of all production inkjet unit sales will be sheetfed, a startling prediction considering that we are starting at nearly zero now.
- Canon has been busy, with arguably the largest number of new production inkjet products in the industry. In addition to the Océ ImageStream 3500 announced in May of last year, our readers will remember that the company introduced the Océ ImageStream 2400 last February at Hunkeler Innovationdays. These were its first full-color presses in the Océ inkjet product line to be able to print on offset coated paper stocks. Also announced at that time was the naming of the Canon VarioPrint i300 (formerly known as Niagara), recipient of the prestigious 2015 PIA InterTech Technology Award, the first of the new generation sheetfed inkjet presses. We had the opportunity to see both of these in operation last June at IWCO Direct. While the VarioPrint i300 was not shown at Graph Expo, it was unveiled publically for the first time at the Canon Expo in New York the week before. Also shown at the Canon Expo and at Graph Expo was the new Océ ColorStream 3000 Z. Originally designed for the space-constrained Japanese market, this slimmer version of the ColorStream 3000 is now available in North America.
- HP was touting its next-generation High Density Network Architecture (HDNA) heads, available as an upgrade to existing HP production inkjet presses sometime next year, and shipping with new presses at that time. I expect to see these in action on an upcoming visit to HP in Corvallis OR. The company also rebranded its HP Color Inkjet Web presses to HP PageWide Web presses. PageWide will be a common branding across office, enterprise, large format and production products in the world of inkjet. The company also announced two new presses, adding to its expanding production inkjet portfolio and featuring HDNA: the T470HD and the T480HD, with speeds of up to 800 fpm (a 33% increase in throughput), and an upgrade path that includes a variety of quality, speed and drying options. These presses will be shown at drupa 2016 and will feature duplex priming for the ability to print on standard offset coated stocks. HP is also aggressively going after the packaging segment with inkjet, adding the T1100S targeting flexo printing and likely to be used in centralized locations, to the already-announced T400S targeting offset printing on corrugated topliner and suited for distributed production locations.
- Kodak’s PROSPER 6000, also a recipient of the 2015 PIA InterTech Technology Award (Kodak has been recognized with 40 of these prestigious awards over its history!), is also generating a great deal of interest, running at up to 1,000 fpm with the commercial version able to run on glossy offset stocks and produce an offset-type finish running at 650 fpm. Our readers will recall that Kodak produced 2,400 copies of Dr. Joe Webb’s book, This Point Forward, for Graph Expo last year in two versions and 90 minutes. The company has announced several installs worldwide as it rolls the press out commercially.
- Komori is upping its inkjet game as well. We don’t usually think about Komori and inkjet together, but the company has been involved in inkjet R&D for many years, “waiting for the technology to catch up with our reliability and quality requirement,” according to Jacki Hudmon, Senior Vice President of Sales. The company has partnered with Konica Minolta in the development of the Impremia IS29 sheetfed inkjet press (branded the KM-1 when sold by Konica Minolta), and announced that direct marketing solutions provider SG360° will be its beta site. And now Komori has stepped deeper into the fray with its announcement of a merger of its sales force with that of Screen Americas, adding Screen’s new Truepress Jet520HD web press to the mix. We understand that the Impremia web press is also still on track, giving the company access to a broad range of solutions. Screen Americas leverages Komori’s market footprint and strong customer base, while Komori is able to access the digital and solution selling expertise at Screen.
- Pitney Bowes was showing the new AcceleJet, a roll-to-sheet solution with a small footprint, targeted at printers and mailers that generate 4 to 10 million transactional or direct mail printing impressions per month. The roll-to-sheet approach and small footprint (25.3 feet in the case of the AcceleJet) offer an easier transition for sheetfed printers than migration to a full roll-to-roll workflow. Its 1200 dpi perceived resolution, lower entry price (well under $1 million) and speed of up to 246 fpm (75 m/min) will be attractive to printers and mailers who depend upon Pitney Bowes’ expertise in the world of mail.
- Ricoh updated its line of production inkjet printers last year with the Ricoh Pro VC60000, printing at 50 m/min at a native 1200x1200 dpi resolution. This press has begun to get some traction in the marketplace, with several installations announced worldwide. Its front end uses the Adobe PDF Print Engine (APPE) in addition to some of its own core technology to support legacy AFP/IPDS formats, in alignment with its IBM heritage.
- Xerox used Graph Expo as its North American debut of the Xerox Rialto 900, based on the Impika technology the company acquired out of France. The Rialto 900 was the first product out of this merger that reflected Xerox trade dress and was first shown at Hunkeler Innovationdays. It has an amazingly small footprint, probably the smallest on the market, and packs roll-to-sheet production into a compact package. It is a narrow web (9.84 inches/250 mm) and enables market entry at a lower price point. Samples coming off the press at Graph Expo were stunning.
Production inkjet is truly on fire and Graph Expo was a great demonstration of that. I encourage our readers (especially those from North America) to head to Dusseldorf next May, where you will be able to see all of these products and more, all in one place. I say especially North America because we don’t typically have a very big attendance at drupa. I don’t think you are going to want to miss drupa 2016, especially if production inkjet investments are in your future. We’ll see you there!