This year has certainly been the year of high-speed inkjet. This was particularly the case at IPEX where most of the highlights seem to be in this area. Inkjet printing is doing far more however than just the high-speed continuous feed presses and the new B2 format sheet fed presses. In this article I want to draw attention to a number of things that have come to my attention in recent weeks that show how inkjet is generating interesting changes in the market.
The first change was covered in an article I recently wrote on the ProteusJet press development by RR Donnelley, where the largest printing organisation in the world had developed its own inkjet press. When I wrote about this I received a number of comments indicating that only a company the size of RR Donnelley would have the resources to do develop such a product. I have found that is not the case and this is shown by developments at the German printer Bercker Graphischer Betrieb. They too have developed their own inkjet press specifically for the printing of books. This press, called IBPS (Integrated Book Production System) is a complete monochrome production facility taking digital data as input and delivering a finished book as output.
Bercker is a specialist book printing company producing around 20 million books per year in both hardback and soft cover formats. They use both Timson rotary and Heidelberg sheet fed presses. Bercker looked at technologies to produce on demand books in run lengths from 500 to 10,000 copies and decided that the machines available did not fit their needs. They therefore decided to develop their own press. The three years of development produced what is probably the largest high-speed inkjet printing press in the world. This is a press that was produced using technology from Kodak, E.C.H. Will and Kolbus. Kodak supplied the print heads and the ink. These heads are the well-established continuous inkjet heads used in the Kodak Versamark VT and VX series of presses. Kolbus supplied the perfect binding system and Will is responsible for the workflow and for the entire process up to the perfect binder. The press can print across a web width of 135 cm (53 inches). To get the full width requires the print heads to move horizontally. The press has a running speed of 150 meters/min and prints on uncoated substrates from 50 gsm upwards. The finishing system works in a similar fashion to the Magnum and Muller Martini systems used by CPI Firmin Didot linked to their HP T300 press. This works by slitting the web into ribbons that are sheeted and then gathered into book blocks and then transferred to the Kolbus binder. Covers are either printed offset on a Xerox iGen3 press. The system has been available since 2006.
In a totally different area of printing is the specialist Australian printer Le Mac. Le Mac's specialisation is shrink sleeves for packaging. In the 1990s they developed their own enhanced UV flexo press for printing sleeves and when this started in 1998 were the only company in the world with this technology. Among the key things that had to be developed at that time were special inks that had to have elasticity to go with the film as it shrunk around a container. The Le Mac business has grown consistently since the introduction of this technology and is the largest supplier in the Australian shrink sleeve industry. The company is now moving into the next stage of its development with digital shrink-wrap sleeves. For this it has installed the first Agfa Dotrix in Australia seeing the requirement for both short run packaging and one to one personalisation. Le Mac has worked closely with ink manufacturers and will be using UV ink specially formulated with both low migration and low odour and within food and drink packaging guidelines. It is Le Mac's belief that some 40% of the company's turnover will eventually come from digital printing. (This information courtesy of Printer Magazines Pty Ltd, Australia).
At IPEX one of the interesting introductions came from one of the world's leading inkjet companies, Domino, this being the Domino N600 label press. At the time in my IPEX reports I commented that this was an impressive technology but I felt that the quality was not as good as some of its competitors and that Domino perhaps needed to learn more about the market. Since then I have heard more of Domino's view of the label market and it is interesting to see how they see it developing. The key factor of the Domino N600 press is its speed at 50 meters/min at the full imaging resolution of 600 dpi with four grey levels or 75 meters/min with less grey levels. While this is not as fast as a flexo press, it is the speed of the inline services such as cutting and stripping that are linked to flexo presses. Domino believes that this press is not designed for the highest quality "designer" labels that are ideal for the HP Indigo and Xeikon label presses, but it is a quality match to flexo printing. With the future addition of white ink and possibly special colours the Domino N600 press will be a serious challenger in the labels market. It appears that this press may fit a market where it competes more against flexo presses rather than other digital presses. The press is due to enter beta testing at five firms in Europe soon so it will be interesting to get reactions from these companies on where the press fits in the market.
One other development we are starting to see is the printing of newspapers in areas far from the areas in which they are published. We have seen such printing mainly using xerographic monochrome technology in major cities for some time, but now we are seeing a new development. This is locating such presses in smaller markets mainly for holidaymakers and ex-pat communities. Kodak has been leading this development first with a Versamark VL series press in Malta, and they have just announced the sale of a Versamark VL4200 printing system in the Indian Ocean island of Reunion. This installation will mean that the island's residents can receive the French mainland newspapers on the day they are printed.
As can be seen from the above examples inkjet printing is not just for high-speed production of transactional documents, direct mail and books. It is also a technology that can change the way many communities can operate.