As it stages its re-entry into the digital print equipment market, Heidelberg is out to make high-end digital presses from other suppliers “irrelevant.” That, at least, is the word used and the conclusion reached by the UK trade publication PrintWeek in a recent report on Heidelberg’s emerging digital strategy, including some unusually pointed comments by a high-ranking Heidelberg executive.

According to PrintWeek’s Jo Francis, the company is preparing to announce a solution consisting not just of a digital press, but teaming that device with an Anicolor sheetfed litho press and a software controller for parceling jobs between the two. In the article, Stephan Plenz, the Heidelberg management board member responsible for equipment, calls this hybrid package the digital printing expedient that most printers really are looking for, as opposed to the high-performance platforms that HP, Kodak, Xerox, and others have been trying to sell them.

Plenz explains his assertion in an accompanying analysis by Francis of Heidelberg’s digital ambitions. Citing breakdowns of typical job mixes for Heidelberg customers, he claims that the Heidelberg Speedmaster SM 52 equipped with the Anicolor zoneless short inking unit breaks even with digital equipment between 250 and 500 sheets. Since few of these jobs involve variable data, says Plenz, Anicolor is the most economical printing method in that run length range. For jobs smaller than that, the 80-90 ppm digital press from an as-yet-unnamed partner would come into play, with the software—presumably a module of Heidelberg’s Prinect workflow architecture—deciding what job goes on which platform.

For Plenz, the implications for Indigos, iGens, et. al., are stark. “If 250 is the breakeven for the Anicolor, how many jobs really require the quality of that performance digital product?” he is quoted as saying. When printers learn the advantages of the Anicolor/digital package that Heidelberg will bring to market, “the argument for that performance digital segment disappears,” Plenz declares.

In the stories, Plenz makes other tart remarks about the costs of digital equipment and their track records in shops where they have been installed. The PrintWeek coverage is the subject of a thread at PrintPlanet, and the reader responses at the PrintWeek site are illuminating as well. (Also see the tangential but informative essay by John Roche on landfilled waste paper as an agent for keeping carbon locked up underground and out of the atmosphere.)

It’s intriguing, to say the least, to learn that Heidelberg’s second foray into digital printing (after the NexPress, now wholly owned by Heidelberg’s erstwhile developmental partner, Kodak) is to have a conventional press as its key driver. Debate about the wisdom and the practicality of bundling both technologies in one package is certain to intensify as the formal announcement—expected by the end of Heidelberg’s current fiscal year on March 31—draws near.

In the meantime, kudos to Ms. Francis and PrintWeek for shedding fresh light on the most closely watched of all breaking news stories from the vendor side.