Editor's Chair Breaking the Speed Limit at Océ's Open House By Noel Ward, Executive Editor, On Demand Journal April 3, 2006 -- The Volvo's speedometer was leaning on 180 kph as the autobahn unrolled from the airport into Munich on Sunday morning. We were running well above the posted 120 kph limit on the empty road and I remarked to the driver that such speeds in the U.S. would provoke a lengthy conversation with a law officer, a wallet-puckering fine, and application of many points to one's driver's license. Yet even the most basic cars today can easily exceed the speed limits on any road in North America, so speed limits are artificial rather than physical, restrictions. In printing, though, the speed limits are real, enforced by electromechanical realities of moving and imaging paper. Print providers have built their operations around this core measure of production capacity, typically buying additional machines to meet critical production volumes and service level agreements. On digital presses this limit has been up to 180 letter-size pages per minute for one-sided (simplex) printing with some machines slowing to half their top speed in duplex mode. Even the latest HP-Indigo press 5000, with a simplex speed of some 270 pages per minute (2-up) slows significantly in duplex mode. But as digital printing encompasses a broader range of documents, printing on both sides of a page has become more important and the limitations of existing machines affect workflows and productivity. Yet the old speed limits remain. Outside of Munich last week that limit changed. At its annual Open House in Poing, Océ rolled out its new VarioPrint 6250 cut-sheet machine, calling it the world's fastest duplex printer. And at 250 letter-size duplex prints per minute that claim is one no other manufacturer can make. The VP6250 uses Océ's new Gemini Instant Duplex technology to image both sides of a page simultaneously. So although the machine is running at a moderate 123 sheets of paper per minute, it is actually putting 246 images on each letter-size sheet. That doesn't sound like much until you realize it is printing duplex pages some 70 percent faster than the leading cut-sheet digital printers in the market. Increase the sheet size and it runs132 ledger-size prints per minute, or run 6 x 9-inch pages four-up on its maximum 12.6 x 19.2-inch sheet size and it produces 528 duplex prints per minute. Such volume puts more demand on the equipment, so the VP6250 has a monthly duty cycle of at least 6 million impressions. Designed to Duplex Océ's market research found that some 80 percent of cut-sheet documents printed are duplex, so the new box was designed from the get go as a duplex printer. This makes it attractive to any print provider who needs to produce books, manuals and other materials where two-sided printing is a standard part of the job ticket. The new technology uses transfer belts which press toner into both sides of a sheet at the same time. This means the sheet is heated only once (to about 221 degrees Fahrenheit) reducing thermal stress on the sheet and lessening the tendency of pages to curl. Combined with Océ's new Advance Active Registration technology, imaging both sides at once helps ensure the pages retain front-to-back registration, an important factor in book production. "In fact," noted Guy Broadhurst, Senior Director of Product Management at Océ Digital Document Systems in Boca Raton, Florida, "the VarioPrint 6250 is really a digital perfecting press." The research also showed that print providers wanted more operational productivity. To address this, the new box has a paper capacity of up to 13,800 sheets in 12 paper drawers, any of which can also be used for interposing pages into the finished document. A new technique called Paper Logic makes paper loading simple--just put it in the way it will appear in the final document. For example, load tabs (which can also be duplexed) with the tab to the right; put three-hole punch paper in with the holes on the left. The papers used can range from 50 to 200 gsm and all weights run at full-rated speed. Image quality is also very good thanks to 1200 x 600 dpi resolution and linescreens of 141 lines per inch. Both paper and the mono-component toner (no developer required) can be added without stopping the machine, which can run for about four hours without interruption. Like any other operator panel, the touch screen display on the VP6250 shows the job queue and lets jobs be moved around easily. But this one also indicates in color whether the amount of toner and paper on board is adequate for the jobs in the queue, and how soon either will need replacement. This helps manage production time more effectively and reduces the chance of unexpectedly running low on supplies during a job. On the back end there are options for stacking, set finishing, a new Watkiss PowerSquare booklet maker than can produce a 200-page book, and a DFA (Digital Finishing Architecture) interface for connection to third-party finishing devices. Related to that, the VP 6250 is a departure for Océ's production-class devices in that it runs left to right rather than the company's usual right to left, opening the machine to a wider range of finishing devices. Open House was the first showing of the VarioPrint 6250 which is being rolled out this week at IPEX. The U.S. launch will be in May at the On Demand Show in Philadelphia. The first customer deliveries are scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2006. Pricing is yet to be announced but is expected to be between $230,000 and $250,000 with one set of paper drawers and a single stacker. Click charges have also not been defined but should be announced before much longer. Word has it that there may be some innovative ways of looking at clicks with this machine, so stay tuned. My Take It seemed like the speed limit for cut-sheet printing had hit a wall, and plenty of high-volume cut-sheet print providers I know have expressed frustration at needing to have multiple machines to accommodate customers' production needs. I suspect the VarioPrint 6250 will be a compelling option for such shops when it becomes available later this year because it can reduce the number of machines required and thus lower operating costs. The most obvious applications are for books, manuals, forms, sell sheets and the like, but certain kinds of statements, (especially multi-up) are likely to make their way through some VP6250s. In some cases its speed will be a attractive to customers who aren't ready to make the leap from cut-sheet to roll-fed but who need more production capacity. The VP6250 may not be for every shop with a Digimaster, DocuTech, or high-end Canon, but where steady duplex production is the name of the game the VP6250 might be the solution a lot of print providers have been waiting for. But you be the judge. If you're reading this at IPEX this week or if you'll be at On Demand in Philly, take a close look at this box. Ask a lot of questions. And let me know what you think. More to come from Open House The VarioPrint 6250 was some of the biggest news to come out of Océ's Open House, but there is still more. We got a good look at the next step in the evolution of the VarioStream 9000 line, some new book bindery systems and new wide format devices as well. I'll be covering that next time. The driver of the new E-Class Mercedes taxi that hauled me back to the airport on Wednesday ignored the speed limit, pushing 165 kph a good part of the way. Speed is time, and in the printing business, time is money. And that makes breaking the speed limit a good thing to do.