Commentary & Analysis
Drupa 2016: The Future of Inkjet
The overriding message for drupa 2016 is that inkjet is now ready for prime time across a range of applications and is positioned to displace key conventional printing processes. This article provides a brief overview of the factors that will drive the expansion of the inkjet market during the drupa event and beyond.
By Barb Pellow
Published: June 2, 2016
Although drupa 2016 (taking place from May 31 to June 10 in Düsseldorf, Germany) will feature over 1,800 exhibitors, inkjet technology will clearly be the centerpiece of the event. This is the third time that the show will likely be viewed as the “inkjet drupa,” but much has changed over the years. Back in 2008, the concepts surrounding high-speed inkjet printing were only just beginning to emerge. By the time 2012 arrived, inkjet technologies had been successfully installed for book production, transactional printing, and direct mail applications. Today, in 2016, inkjet has truly materialized for the worlds of commercial printing and packaging. It is delivering higher quality levels on a much broader array of substrates. The overriding message for drupa 2016 is that inkjet is now ready for prime time and is positioned to displace key offset printing applications. At this year’s event, suppliers will be demonstrating a broad array of packaging and label applications, higher end direct mail catalogs, sales and marketing collateral, as well as books, magazines, and transactional communications.
Inkjet: Front and Center
InfoTrends believes that there are several factors driving the expansion of the inkjet market. Here is a snapshot of just some of the announcements that will help propel the industry forward.
The Next Generation of B2 Presses
The second-generation B2 presses are currently reaching the market. The B2 developments that were first announced in 2012 are beginning to materialize with products like the Fujifilm J Press 720S, the HP Indigo 12000, and the Konica Minolta KM-1/Komori IS-29. Not all of these are inkjet, of course—the notable exception being the HP Indigo 10000 and its follow-on product, the Indigo 12000. These B2-format digital presses will open up new applications in the commercial printing space, leading to greater versatility. This versatility creates cost-effective business opportunities for items like variable, personalized, or short-run printing of point-of-purchase displays and marketing materials as well as multi-up impositions and applications that don’t fit easily in smaller formats (such as book covers, multi-panel brochures, and pocket folders). With this format size, digital printing brings the benefits of mass customization and just-in-time manufacturing at longer run lengths and at a broader application set than previous A3+-format digital printers.
B1 Digital Sheet-Fed is at the Doorstep
Digital print has been expanding beyond its early roots in 2-up, A3 format for quite a few years now. Part of this was for the B2-format offerings described above and part has been in A3-format devices that offer long-sheet capability—yet the move to B1 is happening now and drupa 2016 will provide several clear examples. Fujifilm and Heidelberg are poised to strengthen their positions in the market with the first showing of a new B1 format inkjet printing machine, which will be demonstrated at drupa 2016 as the Heidelberg Primefire 106. In late 2013, Heidelberg and Fujifilm formed a strategic partnership for the development of a new industrial digital inkjet-printing machine. The new collaborative approach, which leveraged both companies’ R&D resources, has resulted in a brand new 7-color product in under 24 months. drupa 2016 will also be the next chance to see Landa’s B1 offering, the S10, which will ultimately become available in single- and two-sided versions. Landa showed numerous configurations at drupa 2012 but has focused on the B1 format for its first offerings. Providers of UV-inkjet systems for value-added gloss, dimensional, foil, and other special effects already have a history at B1-format. Wider inkjet arrays for packaging and industrial applications are also underway. Digital print in B1-format cut-sheet or wide-array continuous feed configurations will open up new opportunities in application segments that have been untouched to date by digital print.
Inkjet is Moving to High-Volume Cut Sheet and Roll-to-Cut
Production inkjet printing has moved downstream with the introduction of cut-sheet and roll-to-cut-sheet production color inkjet printers with acquisition prices much lower than roll-fed production color inkjet systems. With prices under $1 million, this new class of devices can bring major productivity gains to in-plant and commercial print organizations that can’t afford the more productive roll-fed systems. The technologies associated with Canon’s VarioPrint i300, Delphax’s elan, Pitney Bowes’ Accelejet, Superweb’s Digital Webjet 200D, and Xerox’s Brenva HD and Rialto are designed to make inkjet more accessible for print providers everywhere. These devices combine the low running costs of inkjet at a smaller footprint, yet with high levels of productivity.
High-Speed Continuous Feed Printing is Impacting High-Quality Applications
While offset printing technology will be around for a long time, vendors in the market are making a concerted effort to enhance the quality levels of high-speed inkjet systems to make them more competitive with offset. A combination of pre-primers, higher resolution heads, smaller drop sizes, and new ink formulations have already been introduced, and more will be coming, perhaps as soon as drupa. The Canon ImageStream, HP PageWide Web Press HD, Kodak Prosper, Ricoh VC 60000, Screen Truepress Jet520 HD, and Xerox Brenva HD production inkjet press and Trivor 2400 inkjet press all feature tremendous advancements that enable significant improvements in quality for higher coverage applications on coated stocks since drupa 2012.
The Bottom Line
There will also be significant news at drupa regarding liquid and dry electrophotography, including innovative higher-speed devices from a range of providers. No one should underestimate the long history that electrophotography has in terms of strong quality levels and support for a broad paper range, but something very symbolic is happening for inkjet at drupa 2016. The inkjet market has made a number of great strides since drupa 2008. The technology has migrated from concept testing to the production of book, transactional, and direct mail applications during drupa 2012. Today, it is a contender for a broad array of commercial printing and packaging applications. Inkjet technology is now more affordable for a much greater area of the market with the introduction of today’s cut-sheet devices. Although past drupa events explored the future of inkjet, this year’s event promises to prove that inkjet is now a market reality that service providers need to embrace.