"Convergence" in the graphic communications industry can mean many things, but at Graph Expo, it describes what happens when vendors pool their R&D resources to create production solutions more formidable than anything they could have devised by themselves. Two such joint ventures-one between two industry giants, and another by two smaller but no less innovative players-are among the technical high points of the show.
On Monday, KBA announced the ongoing development of several digital press platforms incorporating inkjet technology from R.R. Donnelley. Xanté, meanwhile, unveiled a wide-format inkjet device for the small- and mid-sized print firms that it serves, offering these customers the first wide-format machine to use high-speed inkjet heads from Memjet.
Non-disclosure agreements between KBA and Donnelley limited the disclosure of details about their new press, which is to have its debut at drupa 2012. Mark A. Hischar, president and CEO of KBA North America, said that the press will be based on Donnelley's new ProteusJet piezoelectric inkjet press technology. Future joint development will include Donnelley's "Apollo" technology, a proprietary, variable inkjet technology disclosed by Donnelley in 2009.
Hischar described the Apollo technology as "an enhancement to offset" that also could be applied to other presses in KBA's portfolio. "It will be different. It will be the next generation" of conventional-plus-inkjet press platforms, he said.
Hischar acknowledged that recent technology partnerships by other offset press manufacturers-manroland's with Océ, and Heidelberg's with Ricoh and VUTEk-were a factor in KBA's decision to seek a digital joint venture of its own. But, he said, the principal motivation to work with Donnelley lies in the close match that exists between Donnelley's R&D capabilities and the print markets served by KBA equipment.
In the ongoing R&D cooperation, Hischar said, "the heavy lifting now is on the KBA side, with on-going support from the Donnelley side." He said that KBA was focusing on market applications as well as press technology as it works with Donnelley to ready the new platform for its drupa launch next May.
As print technology providers go, Xanté is not a large company, but it innovates at a pace that would distinguish a vendor of any size. Its desire to offer small printers an affordable wide-format inkjet production system led it to seek a partnership with Memjet, whose color inkjet advancements have been recognized with a 2011 InterTech Technology Award.
Robert Ross, CEO of Xanté, said that high-volume Memjet inkjet heads enable the 42" wide device, named Excelagraphix 4200, to print at a speed he described as "unreal"-more specifically, one foot per second in full color. Xanté built the printer platform and supplies the controlling software.
The Excelagraphix 4200, according to Ross, is 90% complete in terms of application intent. "We want the customer to tell us what the remaining 10% should be," he said. Xanté will use Graph Expo and other upcoming trade shows as market research opportunities to identify optimal end-uses.
Ross said he believes that the packaging market, in particular, is "screaming" for an inkjet solution that can create prototypes and economically handle personalized short runs. One such type of customer, he said, might be a pharmaceutical company with hundreds of SKUs that it typically distributes in very small batches.
Xanté expects to ship the Excelagraphix 4200 next spring, Ross said. It will be the first wide-format equipment built around Memjet printheads, which presently are used in office and label printers.
Len Lauer, president and CEO of Memjet, praised Xanté for bringing the device to technical completion within a year of the project's commencement. He said that Memjet has been striving for a commercial wide-format implementation of its printhead technology for four years and that Excelagraphix 4200 represents that milestone.
Michael Puyot, president of Memjet's wide format division, said that the Excelagraphix 4200 owes its exceptionally high speed to a stitched array of five 8.7" wide Memjet printhead channels comprising more than 350,000 separate nozzles. This array can print at up to 1,600 dpi on materials as thick as corrugated packaging stocks, thanks to an adjustable printhead-height feature engineered into the Excelagraphix 4200 by Xanté.
Both technology partners emphasized the affordability of the Excelagraphix 4200 for small- and mid-sized printers, a segment that can find itself priced out of the market for production inkjet systems.
Frank Romano, print technology authority and professor emeritus at RIT, was on hand for a Graph Expo media briefing at which the Excelagraphix 4200 was announced. He said that the device could be "disruptive" in enabling smaller firms to compete with big ones for inkjet market share.
The Excelagraphix 4200 is "a high-level machine for small companies," Romano said. "It is a new kind of machine for the marketplace that needs it most."