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Commentary & Analysis

drupa 2016: Inkjet Technology and Print Application Trends

Despite occasional clouds on the horizon, there is no better place than drupa to get a first hand sense of the continuing importance and scale of the printing industry. The baton has passed from the offset press manufacturers to the digital printer manufacturers, with HP having replaced Heidelberg as anchor tenant and champion of print at drupa 2016.

By Marco Boer
Published: June 30, 2016

After a difficult period, offset printing has returned to some sense of temporary stability.  Offset press sales are showing flat to slight growth, have reached automation levels that for even shorter run lengths can rival digital production printing, and continue to draw interest from commercial printers. However, highly productive and automated offset presses face a market where low-value print volumes continue to be in decline, resulting a net long-term decline in need for offset presses. 

The long-term trend of a reduction in low-value, high-volume pages with high-value, lower-volume pages is driving the interest and growth in production inkjet technology, and drupa was the place to be to see the new developments in inkjet technology.

Production inkjet technology for transaction, direct mail, and book printing applications had past the early adopter phase. We are now entering a development phase where innovation in ink chemistry will dramatically expand the range of substrates production inkjet can print on, and in turn the range of applications production inkjet address. More on this below.

It should be noted that toner-printing technology continues to thrive as well, especially as seen in the HP exhibition hall. HP Indigo sales announcements dominated the tradeshow news, with at least count over 50 orders alone of the new Indigo 12000 to be delivered in 2016. Shutterfly and VistaPrint parent Cimpress announced large investments in Indigo during the show.

HP also showed a combination of Indigo, cold foiling, and inkjet technology to dynamically overcoat varnish in a single in-line system, illustrating the opportunity for various print technologies to co-exist.

drupa would not be complete without Landa Corporation, which is several years away from large volume commercial shipments continues to draw interest from nearly every attendee at the show. In perhaps an unintended way, Landa’s intermediary belt inkjet transfer approach received validation from Canon, which showed a B-2 sheet size intermediary drum inkjet transfer concept in its booth.

The upshot of drupa 2016 is that we’re poised to enter a new phase of digital print innovation and expansion, an era where chemistry innovations will be the key to success.  This may well be one of the most exciting times to be in the print industry. 

Inkjet Technology Trends

A predominant theme at drupa was inkjet ink chemistry innovation. The central objective is to be able to print with inkjet technology on a broader range of substrates, especially for document/graphics and packaging applications. 

Related Video: In Inkjet, "Ink is the thing that makes it all work"

Aqueous inkjet inks claiming to be able to print on offset glossy coated stocks were pervasive around the show, and several vendors introduced hybrid ink concepts combining aqueous and UV-curable inks together.

There are hints of a desire for universal ink, a type of ink that prints equally well on all substrates. It is unlikely that there will ever be truly universal inkjet ink, just as there is no universal ink in the conventional technology print world. 

UV-curable ink may well be closest to the definition of universal ink, but tradeoffs with UV-curable ink relating to cost and safety concerns have pushed some away from UV-curable inks. Most of the new aqueous inks are in the early stages of their development and are able to print on “certified” coated offset stocks and films.

 

 

 

Aqueous inkjet inks claiming to print on glossy coated stocks/film without a pre-coat

Aqueous inkjet inks claiming to print on glossy coated stocks/film with a pre-coat

UV-curable inkjet inks

Document/Graphics

Canon ImageStream


Landa S10P


Screen 520HD
 

Canon VarioPrint i300 with Colorgrip


HP T-series with HDNA and primer


Kodak Prosper 6000


Ricoh VC-60000

 

Konica Minolta AccurioJet KM-1

Corrugated packaging

 

HP T-series with HDNA and primer for pre-print

HP PWA C500 for post-print

EFI Nozomi


Durst Rho 130P

Folding carton packaging

Landa S-10


Xerox/KBA B-1 size concept

 Heidelberg Primefire 106

Konica Minolta KM-C B-1 size concept

Label/film packaging

Landa W10


ThinkingMachines with KAO inks

Kodak 7-color S-series concept with Uteco film transport

 

Wide format graphics

 

 

All wide format flatbed printers

Ink Chemistries claiming to print on non-porous substrates. Source: IT Strategies, Inc.

Application Trends

There was a rush at drupa to show digital printing of packaging applications, often based upon claims of being able to print on non-porous substrates.  Both toner and inkjet production printers were shown printing on folding carton applications, flexible film, and corrugated.  We are seeing a move beyond digital label printing, which has become a well-established market.

One appealing aspect for digital packaging printing equipment manufacturers is that packaging is one of the few applications that are not under competitive threat from alternative communication technologies. The other appeal is it is mainly a simplex print application, which makes it technically simpler and faster to bring product to market. There may yet be another unspoken appeal: timing.

We are at the very earliest stages of moving packaging print from conventional print technologies to digital print technologies. This means the business development curve is still slow, buying time to further develop and perfect the digital printing technologies.  

One very large challenge will be to convince the existing consumer good manufacturers and packaging converters to accept disruption to their existing workflows in return for higher value creation. Historically package printing has conformed to the converting processes in place; print was mostly the low-value added component to a package.

With digital print, the packaging eco-system will have to either create more value using print or it will have to reduce the cost of print in the packaging production process.  On the value creation side, this means consumer good manufacturers will have to adjust to being able to absorb either very short-runs in the hopes of creating more value. The challenge however is not with the print and fill process, but rather the downstream processes.  Just because you can print a package quickly and can fill it quickly doesn't mean that you can promote it at retail any faster, not does it mean that giving consumers more choice will result in more product sales. 

The complexity of value creation through disruption of the existing business model process will likely be long and perhaps painful.  This means that the early focus on deploying digital printing into the package creation process most likely will have to focus on process cost savings.    This raises questions to whether one pre-prints or post prints in the case of corrugated, and whether one has to conform to existing in-line processes or whether an off-line print process can be accepted into the manufacturing process.

The good news in all of this is that digital printing of packaging is selling the dream of both value creation and process cost saving.   This leaves plenty of development time before the next drupa in 2020.

Beta/Customer Announcements

There was a battle for the court of public opinion to show the momentum of sales and success vendors obtained at drupa.  Landa commenced the battle on Day 1 of drupa with a press release stating that: “Subject to successful completion of beta testing, Cimpress intends to purchase up to 20 Landa presses for deployment worldwide”. 

Related Video: Robert Keane of Cimpress Commits to 20 Landa Nanographics Presses

One day later, HP announced that: “HP Indigo’s largest customer globally, agreed to purchase a fleet of the larger format next generation HP Indigo presses (circa 20, of which more than half will be installed in the second half of 2016)”.

HP then followed up with more press releases during the first week of the show stating it had taken orders for more than 50 Indigo 12000s, most of which are to be installed before the busy holiday season.   

Not all equipment vendors participated so publicly with press releases. There are likely to have been many other deals that were not announced publicly.

The Bottom Line

Clearly the baton has passed from conventional print to digital print.  As Benny Landa stated at the end of the show: “Drupa 2016 will be remembered as the inflection point in the industry's transition from mechanical printing to digital… It seems that the market leaders in packaging, commercial printing and in publishing have come to the realization that they simply must go digital.” 

drupa 2016 has set the stage for the next phase of digital print innovation and expansion.  Chemistry advances enabling print on a wider range of substrates will be the key to future success.  Let’s hope that the business model emphasis will finally shift from lowest cost per piece to most efficient cost and value of print.  With all the upcoming innovation and improved understanding of the role of digital printing in the industrial and graphics industry, the next four years may well be the most exciting times to be in the print industry.

Marco Boer, Vice President at I.T. Strategies, is recognized as a trusted consultant to the digital printing industry. He has a reputation for being able to put complex information and concepts into a context that is easily understood by his audience. With more than 25 years of experience in advising and guiding senior executives of Fortune 1000 and smaller innovative companies to successful business solutions in emerging digital printing markets, Mr. Boer has developed a deep understanding of ink jet printing technology and its applications.

 

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