WhatTheyThink: Let’s start with where swissQprint positions itself in the overall display graphics market.

Erik Norman: We position ourselves as a manufacturer of high-precision, highly versatile, highly reliable and highly efficient flatbed and roll-to-roll UV printers predominantly within the mid- to higher-volume production segment. Our top-end device is capable of 3,229 sq. ft./hr., or 80–100 or so boards an hour in a practical sense. Our lowest-end device runs up to 969 sq. ft./hr. We have five models—four flatbeds and one dedicated roll-to-roll model, although all of the flatbeds will also do roll-to-roll or dual roll.

WTT: What types of customers comprise your user base?

EN: The bulk of them would be traditional sign and display, and also companies producing a lot of interior décor, art reproduction and fine art. When I say “interior décor,” the applications include wall coverings, commercial interior art, glass and other related décor for corporate, hospitality, hospitals, colleges and universities. And then we have clients that do true art reproductions, and also produce original art for retailers. We also sell into the industrial marketplace, where our products are being used for, say, membrane switches in the appliance market, the automobile market and then a whole host of other applications including printing for credit cards or even saw blades… you name it. This is where the versatility comes into play. Because of the robustness of our ink sets and the precision of the devices, they’re well-suited to a wide variety of applications.

WTT: The Swiss precision of the machines probably plays into that as well, especially for things like membrane switches.

EN: It does. And people in that space like the very heavy-duty build of the machine. They get long life, they’re very robust and they’re really going stand the test of pretty much any environment.

WTT: So provide a quick overview of the general portfolio.

EN: Our entry-level machine is called Oryx. It’s a one-row, nine-color option device with a 98 x 80 bed and max output of 969 sq. ft./hr. Then we have Impala, also a 98 x 80 bed but offers two rows and nine colors, delivering 1,938 sq. ft./hr. Next is Nyala, a 126 x 80 bed size with two printhead rows and nine colors. It produces up to 2,217 sq. ft./hr. Kudu is our latest flatbed and has three printhead rows, and 10 colors—so 30 heads. It operates on a 127 x 80 bed and delivers 3,229 sq. ft./hr. Finally, we have Karibu, our roll-to-roll printer. Karibu has two rows and nine color channels and a 133-in. print bed. It delivers 2,282 sq. ft./hr.

Michael Voight: Kudu is the first printer within our portfolio featuring linear drives, which increases carriage velocity, and tighter droplet placement. With up to 10 color channels it gives our customers the freedom to configure with six additional channels. Our dedicated roll-to-roll printer Karibu features a light booth for viewing backlit prints, mesh kit for printing mesh without liners as well as full bleed prints and camera recognition for two-sided printing. The Karibu, like our flatbed printers, has the max of nine color channels.

One of the big drivers supporting Kudu is that it enables companies to take the same square footage of space and make it more productive and versatile.

WTT: What are the resolution and the speed ranges?

MV: We’re currently able to achieve 1,350 x 1,350 as the max resolution and our lowest resolution is 1,015 x 450. Depending on the model, there’s a speed difference based on print head configuration and table dimensions, with the possibility to mirror CMYK print heads for Karibu, Impala, and Nyala into speed models with the max print speed of our portfolio ranging between 2,217–3,982 sq. ft./hr.

The swissQprint Kudu flatbed printer boasts 10 color channels and output speeds up to 304 m² per hour.

EN: We give operators tremendous flexibility to manage the output speed and resolution that they’re trying to achieve. Unlike some manufacturers that may just have a fixed resolution and then they just go from one pass, to two pass, to three pass, we can manage the resolution and the passes to give people flexibility to achieve the output quality and speed they require.

WTT: What are some of the hot new application areas and what your customers are getting into that they might not have before?

EN: We’re seeing a lot more attention to haptics through texture and other embellishments. And we’re seeing more use of print to replicate surfaces. Using a high-resolution scanner, somebody will scan a piece of tile, a piece of flooring, stone—whatever the object might be. We can then replicate that exact surface texture and color on a printed piece so that you can create a faux version of a wood panel or a concrete surface or whatever you want, and then apply that to a different type of material so you have a lower-cost alternative.

We’re seeing the use of our inline varnish for a lot more effects such as drop gloss or lenticular effect, or it might be a buildup of varnish to create different matte to gloss finishes to give it a specialty look. We’re also seeing some trends toward metallics—not metallic inks, but a metallic substrate or a high-gloss gold or silver combined with our inks to achieve a wide range of metallic color effects. Lastly, we’re seeing bright, vibrant colors that leverage extended color gamut. That, and a lot more pastel ranges.

Customers are using our orange and neon inks to extend the color gamut and produce thousands of additional color variations. You can get probably 94% of the Pantone spectrum.

WTT: That texture is created, I would imagine, by layering ink or varnish or some combination of both.

EN: Correct. And managing curing time by optimizing our UV lamp settings.

MV: One of the biggest advantages of LED technology is all about targeted UV intensity compared to legacy mercury systems. LEDs allow the ability to adjust segments so that there’s very minimal curing, to no curing, to back to full curing. This allows users to create a multitude of different effects based on curing. That was something that wasn’t as easy to achieve with mercury systems.

EN: A differentiator for us is while many manufacturers let you modify your lamp settings and segments, we have a much more open system. We give an operator more latitude than other OEMs, generally speaking, to modify those settings to attain the output they want.

So the three big trends that we’re seeing are bright, vibrant colors, metallics, and a lot of haptics. And we see a lot of it around interior décor. We see emerging markets in the print space for hospitality. That’s moving upstream a little bit and we’re seeing people trying to draw their customers in by creating more of an exclusive environment—meaning they want a higher-quality piece and they need a device to be able to do that. So you see less of the long high-volume runs of the same thing, and more small but individualized jobs. Fewer pieces per job, but with a higher quality level.

WTT: Is that the big hotel chains or more of the boutique hotels?

EN: It’s boutique hotels for sure, but even the larger hotels are upping their game based on the clientele they’re trying to attract. And spas and retreats—vacation destinations—are upping their game. Even corporate art seems to be taking on a higher end vs. a mass market approach. We’re seeing a lot more specialty feature pieces versus mass corporate art. There is an emphasis on the corporate environment and making it more attractive for hybrid workers. And part of that is the aesthetic and how they’re approaching design to make it more welcoming than they used to.

WTT: Have you found customers looking to expand into adjacent areas, whether it be certain kinds of packaging or corrugated or even textile production or even commercial print?

EN: We still see commercial printers integrating large format. Some of that is the consolidation of print disciplines which is still happening. I recently talked to a traditional trade show display production facility who’s now moving into the corporate hospitality space and also into a more boutique packaging space because they have the capabilities. If they’re talking to clients about their display work, why not talk to them about some of the other aspects of their business? We are seeing companies being creative and offering more unique products. They’re taking their skillset and trying to translate it into additional products to drive new revenue off of their core production capability.

WTT: So the watchword today is automation. If you ask 10 people what automation is, you’ll get 10 different answers. What does automation mean to swissQprint?

EN: Automation to us right now, and our R&D approach so far, has been to make our printers friendly for third-party automation. If somebody is plugging in their feed or takeaway system or their own robotics, we have a device that makes it easy to integrate. At the same time, many printers today are small to midsize shops and are space-constrained. They don’t have room for big front-end or back-end systems. If they’re building something, it’s customized to their facility or to the product they’re trying to produce. So rather than us building an automated system to sell to them, they’re bringing in a third-party automation integrator to build a system. Therefore, our device has to communicate with those devices. We do have some clients where we’ve collaborated in the development of their automated workflows. And we do have our own robotic system we call Rob, so if somebody wants a consistent robotic worker for a third shift, we do have a system that loads boards with a lot of precision or takes items off the bed. But we find that, for most people, it’s not exactly what they’re looking for. They have their own ideas in mind, so we help them integrate with third-party solutions.

WTT: And automation isn’t just hardware.

MV: One thing that we do with our customers is set up a lot of automation from the prepress side of things. We’re creating modes, workflows and hot folders so that you don’t need someone on a RIP station. Graphic designers can drop a file into a folder and it’s sent to the machine automatically. Our big thing is limiting the time their employees spend doing tasks that could be automated without all the added cost of robotics or other things. We can set it up with anybody whether or not they’re using Caldera, PrintFactory or other tools. We create a lot of benefits for our customers that way.

EN: Our devices, regardless of how good they are, are there to enable a printer to try to achieve a result. And our goal is determine if our device the right solution for them, but beyond the device, how do we help them leverage getting the most out of it? Can we help them on the pre- and post-printing side of that so that that process is smooth as possible?