In my last article, I covered what I felt were the key trends in digital printing at drupa. In this article I want to look at some of the trends and try to put them into context in the market.
The key trends that I want to look into were the B2 sheet fed press market, the new generation of liquid toner presses, and the Landa Nanographic printing technology and presses. In a sense all of these are aiming at the same market.
In the B2 press area we saw what was almost a scrambling by vendors to get on to the latest trend. All of the new B2 presses were technology demonstrations and were all some way from coming to market, and as I said before this looks like a market that will really start after IPEX in 2014 when most of these products should be ready to ship. Apart from Fujifilm and Dainippon Screen it is only the HP Indigo 10000 that I see will be operational in the market before IPEX. I also wonder if there is a large market for many of these presses. The problem I see with most of the B2 presses is they are not true digital presses but in reality offset like presses that print with inkjet heads. A true digital press has to have the ability to be an integrated production unit. This means handling more than one substrate at a time with more than one paper feed; the ability to have integrated inline finishing; and the ability to print duplex automatically. Without that you cannot really do personalized printing, and in reality you have an analog press that prints without plates or make readies. Of the new B2 sheetfed digital presses only the HP Indigo 10000 and the Delphax Elan appear to meet that specification. One must also consider if one really needs a B2 (or SRA2 as is the case with the Delphax Elan) or whether the extended length format of the Kodak Nexpress SX3900 with its new 36-inch long cut sheet option will satisfy ones needs. This is a true high-quality digital press.
It is a very nice approach to build one B2 press on an existing offset press chassis for excellent paper handling and solid registration, as well as not having to develop a new chassis, but I believe you give up a lot in terms of required functionality. I would have thought that the new suppliers would have learnt about these limitations by seeing the situation of the Fujifilm JetPress 720. For this reason I feel that the Komori Impremia IS29 and matching Konica Minolta KM-1, and he Ryobi/Miyakoshi presses while much faster than the Fujifilm press, will suffer in the market from lack of functionality.
It is good having a digital press if it can act as a true digital press. If it is just a press that has a zero make ready start up, but a higher running cost than a matching size high technology offset press, I fail to really see the benefit. For example if one looks at the new Heidelberg SM XL75 Anicolor or the Presstek 75DI and certain other presses with their very short make ready time, very low paper waste, the ability to run more than four colors including perfecting (duplex printing), low running costs, and at least double the speed of the fastest B2 digital press, can one justify the higher cost of the digital press just on a saving in start up time? That is not to say there are no real applications for these offset equivalent digital presses. There is a single sided market where inline finishing is not appropriate. Large posters and complex folding arrangements are examples, and of course there is the folding carton market. Currently there is only a tiny digital segment of the folding carton market however this will grow with the demand for short run cartons where personalisation is not a requirement.
To show the possibilities of this I was impressed with a capability shown in demonstrations of the Dainippon Screen Truepress JetSX. This press is unique in the B2 digital space in that the paper handling has a straight paper pass without using any rollers. Screen were showing printing of pre-creased and cut folding carton material for the gift and promotions market where the output from the press was ready for making into the carton without further work. This look like a really interesting application in the gifts area that would not be possible if the pre-creased and cut substrates had to pass around a roller system.
The biggest talking point at drupa was the Landa Nanographic technology and the Landa range of presses. A large number of printers, mainly HP Indigo customers with faith in the Landa ideas put down deposits to get in the queue for Landa presses when they should come available within the next two years. The Landa Nanographic approach is really impressive and I think the key for this is not the Nanographic ink with its nano size pigment particles, but the ability of taking the water out of the ink before the ink is transferred to the substrate. The inks are very important but I believe if it is required that other suppliers could also create similar nano sized pigment particles. There is a superb assessment of nano technology for inks in the Seybold Report of May 7 this year by Bill Ray, Chief Scientist of Nth Degree Technologies. Bill is one of the people whose knowledge I have immense respect for, and he believes that using nano technology for ink pigments is somewhat an overkill approach. He does see it would be highly appropriate if used for the expensive ingredients for printed electronics. The Landa approach of having ink that is transferred as a polymeric film to the substrate rather than a liquid that has to have is water content removed is a massive development that other companies have tried to achieve before. This allows a number of major things to happen. First it allows a much wider range of substrates to be handled. Second it allows for very high ink coverage, which is not possible on other inkjet devices without running slower, and with much more dryer capacity, and third it allows for very high speeds to be achieved without the drying problem other devices have.
The question that is asked is does the Nanographic printing process replace offset in the mainstream of the offset market as Benny Landa claims? By this he means in run lengths of 10,000 copies or more. In this I go back to my comments above and say we have to compare these modern digital presses with modern offset presses. It is interesting to look at some of the market leaders in the web to print business. In this I think about Vistaprint, Flyer Alarm in Germany and Pixartprinting in Italy. These companies use digital printing but for most of their work they use advanced automated offset presses. Recently Pixartprinting installed two of the new Komori Lithrone GL840P eight-color B1 presses. They state they are achieving the following:
“The figures we are recording with the new Komori are to say the least mind-blowing: 20 copies for make-ready; 12 make-readies per hour and we think that we'll reach 15 soon; 1,000 tonnes of paper per month; less than 2 minutes to have the first sheet we can sell and a break-even point on the digital press that is truly amazing; 17 copies for posters, 150 for flyers and brochures.”
There is a lot of work still to be done before the Landa presses come to market. I see already some of the problems that Indigo faced and took time to correct. These are the ability to do excellent flat tints and get consistent solids. The samples Landa produced at drupa were very similar to early Indigo samples with strong vibrant colours and predominantly large halftone images. They will need to be able to show high consistent quality in a continuous running operation for tints, small type, images, vignettes, etc. I have no doubt they will achieve it as Landa has a great team with real experience gained in getting Indigo where they are today. I believe that the Landa technologies, whether implemented by the Landa company or via affiliates such as Komori, manroland and possibly Heidelberg, will have a big impact in the market.
The Landa technology also faces another competitor and this is the arrival of the next generation of liquid toner presses. We already know how good liquid toner can be when one sees the superb quality output of the HP Indigo presses that are liquid toner based. The HP Indigo technology however has serious limitations in terms of potential speed as it is a process that requires all colors to be printed on a single engine rather than multiple print engines in sequence. It also has a drying (fusing) process that requires volatile toner carrier oil that has to be evaporated, and it is also difficult to recycle HP Indigo prints using the de-inking processes in use today by most of the world’s paper mills. The new liquid toner approaches of Océ and Xeikon get around these problems. I cannot comment on the Miyakoshi approach, as they have not outlined how they are working. What I can see is with these new liquid toner approaches we will get HP Indigo like print quality with high-speed inkjet speeds. We will however have to wait until IPEX in 2014 to find out more of this and how good it can be.