Over the last few years as digital printing continues to make its mark on the printing and publishing industries, there has been much discussion about hybrid operations—that is, shops that have a blend of offset and digital technologies—and hybrid applications, those that use both conventional and digital technologies in their production.

drupa 2012 kicked this discussion to a higher level. Now not only do we see hybrid operations and applications, but we are now seeing a plethora of hybrid solutions that in some way incorporate both digital and conventional technologies. It goes beyond the engine; in fact, the hybrid concept includes front-end and back-end solutions as well, and I will talk about all three areas in this article, starting with the presses.

The best examples of the new hybrid are the B2 and larger digital sheetfed (and web fed) devices that are built—or planned to be built—using the decades of expertise within the offset press manufacturing industry, basically placing a digital print engine within the context of an offset press. This takes advantage of excellence in paper handling and control systems offset suppliers have developed over the decades, yet brings to the table the benefits of digital, including cost-effective short runs and variable printing. There were also liquid toner and inkjet entries that were developed from the ground up to be digital.

Hybrid Presses

The following B2 digital sheetfed products were shown at drupa (I am sure if I miss any, the suppliers will let me know!). Where there has been more detailed information about any of these presses published on WhatTheyThink, either prior to, during or after drupa, links are provided. There are also excellent articles by Andy Tribute and David Zwang that contain more technical detail. This discussion is meant to be a brief overview to demonstrate the future impact these new entries are likely to have on the market. The first two (from Fujifilm and Screen) have been in the market for some time, and both companies continue to enhance them. However, they both have significantly slower speeds than newer entrants, but I wanted to include them since they were the first to stick their necks, so to speak, out in this inkjet sheetfed market, and deserve some credit for that.

  • Fujifilm J-Press 720: This 2700 sheet per hour B2 sheetfed inkjet press was launched at Graph Expo 2010 and Fujifilm has continued to enhance it since that time. At drupa, Fujifilm was showing a folding carton version of the press, the Jetpress F, that can handle up to 24-point board and will be available in the 2nd half of 2013. According to Fujifilm, 9 units have been installed (7 in Japan, 1 at Gilson Graphics in the U.S. and 1 at Digital Edge in Canada).
  • Screen Truepress JetSX: This 1620 sheet per hour B2 sheetfed inkjet press was first unveiled at drupa 2008 and is a duplex device. It can support up to 20-point board in simplex mode. While feeding and delivery are offset-like, the paper transport more closely resembles an electrophotographic press.
  • Delphax elan: At 500 A4 impressions per minute, this duplex press using Memjet heads stands out for its low entry price of about $500,000. Memjet inks are also reportedly less expensive than competitors. Head life appears to be lower and head cost should be carefully considered in calculating total cost of ownership. The quality I saw at drupa was more than acceptable for many applications.
  • Ryobi/Miyakoshi: This liquid toner press will be distributed by Ferrostaal in North America and prints at up to 8,000 sheets per hour. Interestingly, this technology was shown at drupa 2008; since that time, Xeikon bought all of the rights to the intellectual property of Research Labs of Australia (RLA), who was working with Miyakoshi on earlier versions. Big question here: Is there patent infringement, and if so, what will be the outcome. The quality I saw at drupa 2012 looked more than acceptable. In a separate stand, Miyakoshi was showing a 7000 sheet per hour 8-color inkjet web-fed press as well as a B2 sheetfed (6,000 to 10,000 sheets per hour) liquid toner press with samples behind Plexiglas.
  • Landa Nanographics: You knew this one had to be on the list after all the buzz it created at drupa, even though an 18-month time to market seems a bit aggressive. One wonders if there will actually be Landa-branded presses in the end, or whether Nanographic presses will be brought to market through partners such as Heidelberg, Komori and manroland Sheetfed, among others, with Landa Nanographics making its money from licensing agreements and consumables. We have a special page set up so you can stay tuned on the latest and view our video interviews with Benny in case you haven’t seen them. In a small-group meeting I had with Mr. Landa, he indicated that there were a record number of letters of intent (LOI) signed at the show, a number that well exceeded the value of the record-breaking 1,000 letters of intent received for the Heidelberg Quickmaster DI in 1995. (Although potential buyers were under nondisclosure and Landa would not comment, we were told by several people that the LOI required a refundable deposit of €10,000, and you could either specify a machine or leave that open. One buyer I spoke with had signed such agreements with three vendors: HP, Landa and Ryobi; not likely he will buy all three!) Mr. Landa also indicated that unspecified digital press providers are also in discussions with him about partnerships.
  • The HP 10000 liquid toner B2 digital sheetfed press is scheduled to go into beta later this year, followed by the 20000 (web-fed, optimized for labels flexible packaging) and the 30000 (sheetfed, optimized for folding carton) in 2013. You can view my video discussion with Indigo GM Alon Bar-Shany on the 10000 platform and overall Indigo strategy. Throughput on this press is 3,450 sheets per hour or 4600 sheets per hour using Enhanced Productivity Mode (CMY printing). I spoke with a number of printers at drupa 2012 who are ready to place orders for the Indigo 10000. One benefit here is that it is a proven technology from an industry leader. As we have noted before, HP invested four years and used 400 engineers in the development of this press platform.
  • Komori: In addition to Komori’s partnership with Landa Nanographics, the company has its own digital sheetfed inkjet entry to the market, the Impremia IS29, using Konica Minolta heads. This 4-color half-size press was shown as a prototype and has a printing speed of 3,300 sheets per hour at 1200 dpi. Komori also showed a prototype web-fed inkjet press, the Impremia IW20, that reportedly prints at 150 meters/minute.
  • MGI ALPHAJET: This sheetfed inkjet press has speeds of up to 3,000 sheets per hour in up to 6 UV colors and offers inline spot or flood UV coating and was shown at drupa as a technology demo with commercial availability scheduled in mid to late 2013.

On the web-fed side, notable new digital entries include offset-based solutions such as the KBA Rotajet 76 (inkjet) co-developed with RR Donnelley, the Océ InfiniStream (liquid toner, 14,000 sheets per hour, targeted at the folding carton market) which uses a manroland paper transport, Fujifilm’s Jet Press W, and the Komori inkjet web-fed technology demo mentioned above, as well as digital ground-up designs including the IMPIKA iPrint series, the Xeikon Trillium (liquid toner), Founder Eaglejet P5000/5200 from China, the updated HP T-Series including the HP T410 and T230, the Kodak Prosper 6000XL. Landa Nanographics will also have web-fed offerings when it comes to market, probably in 2014 or beyond. Océ showed its ColorStream and JetStream (inkjet) technologies, and Ricoh its InfoPrint 5000 inkjet press. These are not new to the market but had improvements.

It should also be noted that Memjet was well represented by its OEMs throughout the show in both production solutions and with other offerings such as Xanté’s Excelagraphics 4200 wide format offering which can serve a range of printing needs, including folding carton and corrugated.

The other hybrid aspect is the utilization of inkjet heads on offset presses to add variable information in-line. This is certainly not new, but more players are entering the field. Kodak has been in this market for some time with its S-Series Prosper heads and Versamark heads before that; HP introduced its C800 Print Module at the show. And Impika has entered the fray as well with its iEngine 1000L. The Presstek 75DI is also a B2 sheetfed digital offset offering that now includes a variable data option with inkjet heads mounted on the press, a function that has been more common in the web-fed world. GSS and Adphos announced hybrid press partnerships with both HP and Kodak at drupa, perhaps hedging their bets. Memjet heads are also being used this way. Look for more integration of inkjet heads across the spectrum of offset presses as a way to continue to add value to offset printing.

Of course as speeds get faster and faster, with increasingly complex data, RIP speeds could become a bottleneck. The good news is that RIP suppliers such as EFI with its Fiery and Global Graphics with its Harlequin RIP that it OEM’s to a wide array of manufacturers, as well as proprietary RIPs provided by press manufacturers, have stepped up to the plate with enhancements that meet these extreme requirements. For example, EFI announced its HyperRIP technology for Fiery, reducing processing by up to 40%. Global Graphics announced Harlequin Host Renderer that allows multiple RIPs to be run on a single server, as well as the linking of multiple servers to provide fast enough processing to deal with presses such as the HP T410 at speeds of 800 fpm with a 42” width. RIT and InfoTrends research validated Global Graphics claims that these configurations could RIP at at least 2.5X the speed of the printer to allow for continuous throughput of data.

Hybrid Up-Front

But the expanded hybrid concept isn’t limited to printing presses. There were a lot of new developments on the front end. The big news here is the number of cloud-based solutions that are now available or soon will be, across a wide range of application types, from the cloud-based Fiery Dashboard from EFI to PixFizz Cloud-to-Print for photo applications; and PantoneLIVE, a cloud-based solution that leverages a database of spectral color measurements to ensure consistent color across locations, substrate types and output devices. You can see lots of information here about PantoneLIVE, including video interviews. Fujifilm also launched XMF ColorPath (formerly Taskero), a cloud-based color management system that can work across multiple print processes, including offset, digital and screen, to help maintain color consistency.

You will be reading much more on WhatTheyThink about the importance of cloud computing to the printing and publishing industries over the next few months, but for now, it is important to understand that cloud-based applications also have a hybrid aspect that was clearly evident at drupa 2012. In some cases, such as PixFizz, the entire application is hosted in the Cloud. In others, such as EFI’s Monarch Portal or Fiery Dashboard, cloud-based tools make an on-site hosted application or product more accessible and effective. In still other cases, a single application may be split between the cloud and on-site hosting to take maximum advantage of the strengths of both implementations.

One example of using the cloud to improve accessibility is EFI’s Fiery Dashboard, a cloud-based service that allows owners and production managers anytime access to production data from any browser, including mobile phones and tablets. This is a good use of cloud-based computing to untether owners and production managers. Clearly, the Fiery servers they are monitoring must be co-located with the printing press, but by making data accessible via the cloud, management of multiple devices, within a shop and/or across a production network, becomes much easier.

There were many cloud-based web-to-print solutions on offer, including HiFlex, now part of HP; and a number of small companies exhibiting in the drupa innovation parc (dip). This might be the most logical application area for printers to begin dipping their toes into the world of the cloud.

Xerox is assembling a cloud consortium to leverage collaboration with partners in bringing more cloud-based offerings to market.

And Don’t Forget Finishing …

Finally, hybrid also applies to finishing. One example I saw was from Standard Horizon, a configuration that allowed simultaneous input from offset and digital devices for assembling book blocks, including the ability to interleave offset pages with digital pages.

Another very interesting example was the enhancements to Muller Martini’s SigmaLine technology, which currently can support up to 60” web widths, although 42” was the maximum we saw at drupa. It includes new folder technology that can support speeds of 800 fpm and beyond. And what I found to be most interesting is SigmaControl Connex, the software control center for SigmaLine. In a sense, it turns book finishing technology on its head with the finishing device in essence controlling the process.

Connex interfaces directly with the prepress department, who sends a preflighted non-imposed PDF to Connex and the software takes over from there. It queues up the job, using intelligent planning to gang like jobs for more efficient production of shorter runs; auto-imposes the PDF file using Ultimate or other imposition solutions; links the original PDF to the imposed PDF in a JDF workflow that ensures job integrity from the very beginning; and sends the imposed PDF to the digital press DFE. Other intelligence built in includes communication between the press and SigmaLine to ensure that no pages within the signature contain a splice (SigmaLine kicks out the offending signature and the press reprints it); communications with the press if other reprints are needed due to other types of errors; and basically eliminates the need to print overs. Anywhere along the line, Connex knows the reject point and can initiate communication with the press to ensure proper quantities are produced.

Duplo also introduced the DC-745 Slitter/Cutter/Creaser, providing single pass finishing for a wide range of digitally-printed applications.

These are examples of more features and functionality being incorporated into finishing solutions through vendor developments or partnerships and alliances that allow integration of multiple products/capabilities. The hybrid theme works here as well, as we see these configurations crossing the boundaries between offset and digital as well as loading up on more features and functionality.

So was this the Hybrid drupa?

I obviously think so, but would love your feedback. For me, the hybrid theme overrides, and yet incorporates, the other themes folks have put forward. I believe in hindsight we will look back at drupa 2012 and mark it as the point where hybrid became table stakes and not just a novelty.

Packaging … more to come later

The other aspect of drupa that is not covered here, but will be in a future article, is packaging. Everyone was jumping on that bandwagon, trying to get in on both the fact that it is one of the few growth areas in printing, and the early stages of its analog-to-digital transition. Lots of exciting stuff to cover here … stay tuned.