R. R. Donnelley & Sons Company, and KBA AG of Wuerzburg, Germany announced today an agreement to develop, manufacture and sell next generation piezoelectric digital inkjet printing solutions to the packaging, securities, commercial, and newspaper segments. This is another step in Donnelley's ongoing focus on development of printing technologies, which, according to a statement by Thomas J. Quinlan III, RR Donnelley's President and Chief Executive Officer in May of 2008, has been ongoing for more than thirty years. In yesterday's announcement, Quinlan said, “We look forward to having the combined R&D resources of nearly 1,000 engineers and imaging scientists bring forward the next generation of digital imaging technologies. This relationship will benefit the customers we serve today and enable RR Donnelley innovations to be introduced to customers in segments that we do not yet address.”

Earlier announcements included:

  • In May of 2008, the company announced the industry's first 1200 dot per inch (DPI) four color inkjet web press, developed in-house by RR Donnelley. The ProteusJet platform was initially launched with thermal inkjet technology and is currently migrating to Piezoelectric heads.

  • In May of 2009, Donnelley announced another imaging technology breakthrough under the code name Apollo, an inkjet process that utilizes offset inks to drive variable print. Direct mail and label imaging were identified as two key applications for this technology.

  • In September of 2009, Donnelley announced a technology alliance with HP to collaborate on the development of digital printing solutions for inkjet-based digital presses. It was anticipated that one of the first products to come out of that alliance was MICR capability for the T300 HP web press, expected in 2010. However, activities were sidelined for a time while the two companies resolved a patent infringement claim filed by RR Donnelley. According to Donnelley sources, “This matter has now been resolved, and we are excited about the next chapter in our relationship.”

In the case of KBA, according to a prepared statement we received from RR Donnelley, included in this licensing agreement in addition to a Piezo version of ProteusJet is the Apollo technology, a new imaging process that enables variable digital printing using inkjet printing and traditional offset inks. This is very different from offset/inkjet solutions we have heretofore seen, where inkjet heads are mounted at the back end of the press and image the variable data as the sheets exit. Here's one application of how we understand this unique technology to work:

  • Inkjet imaging heads are mounted within the inking units of the offset press. These heads jet a blocking solution to a specified area before ink is applied by the press, making that area unreceptive to offset inks.

  • As the paper passes through the press unit, offset ink is applied to both the static areas (as defined by the plate) and the areas where there is no blocking solution. The resultant print contains both static and variable images—all using offset ink.

According to the release, KBA is on tap to show it's Donnelley-based piezo inkjet  digital presses at drupa 2012, although it is not clear whether Apollo will be ready to show by then. This will certainly be a must-see at drupa (and almost makes you look forward to going!) … When Apollo is available, it will have the ability to extend the life of offset, combining the capabilities of offset and digital in a truly unique and breakthrough manner.

WhatTheyThink will continue to follow up on this story as it unfolds. Stay tuned!