In 2011, David Zwang began a series that looked at the then-current production inkjet vendor product offerings and how they were being or could be used. He also examined at some of the new inkjet technologies that were just starting to be seen in product introductions and that were shown in new product demos and offerings during drupa 2012. Now it’s time to bring it all up to date in preparation for drupa 2016!
Well it’s almost that time again. drupa 2016 is only a few short months away, and the speculation as to what will be the main focus of this years event has already started and will continue to build and evolve as we get closer to the moment of truth.
We can all assume that there will be lots of new and interesting developments shown, and some of them may be game changing, although I believe that real story will be evolutionary. Either way, there will be significant shifts in the application and adoption of production inkjet. For those of you who have kept up with my series on production inkjet which started running in advance of drupa 2012, continuing subsequent to that event, you have had an opportunity to see what was promised, what was delivered, and where we can expect production inkjet to go.
If we look at the drivers for the adoption of production inkjet, they are fairly impressive. The promise is the ability to deliver the type of variable and on demand print that can be achieved with electrophotographic print combined with the increased volume and speed you expect from offset. And all of this at a much lower cost than can be achieved in electrophotographic print. Service providers with applications like transactional and book printing understand these advantages and jumped on the production inkjet train early. However, movement into higher quality applications like direct mail, marketing collateral and other even more demanding applications like packaging has been sitting on the sidelines waiting for the next stages of development. The primary impediments to wider acceptance and adoption have been reaching the offset or electrophotographic quality and speed bar.
In those early articles in the series, I laid out many of the factors that contribute to the quality and speed of production inkjet, and what would need to happen to allow it to move to the next level. In the four years since drupa 2012, we have seen many of those evolutionary changes take place. Those include some newer inkjet head technologies like HP’s HDNA High Definition Nozzle Architecture. Even more prevalent were the solutions that offered better control or implementation of existing inkjet head technology; the Ricoh VC60000 as an excellent example of that. We expect to see even more of these improvements in print head technology and use in the machines introduced at drupa.
We also saw significant development in the inks used, in colorants, pigment loading through ‘nano’ grinds and further refinement of the vehicles and additives that control how the ink lays and dries on the media. These changes help produce a much higher print contrast, or look of depth in the final printed product. And while all of this was going on in the labs of the inkjet press manufacturers, the paper manufacturers have been busy refining and expanding their production of inkjet-compatible media. These media manufacturers have not only had their sights on production inkjet, but also the exploding use of inkjet in the sign and display market. This synergy has helped drive the development of many of the shared needs of both markets, and it will help drive the use of production inkjet in many more commercial print applications going forward.
One of the impediments to adoption of production inkjet in commercial print has also been that most commercial printers use many different types of media over the course of a day, and even with some of the new handling technology, managing and handling rolls of paper is harder than managing cut sheets. In answer to that need, during the period between drupa 2012 and 2016 we saw the introduction of the Canon Océ i300 sheetfed production inkjet printer, and the Delphax elan is beginning to make its way into the market. We also saw the introduction of the Xerox Rialto 900, and the Pitney Bowes AcceleJet which go directly from roll to sheet in a very compact footprint. Both of these are targeting markets that include transactional and smaller direct mail operations.
There are other production inkjet presses that were shown at drupa 2012, but are just now beginning to see placement in production. In some cases they are still in beta, or just now making it to production. Those include some very exciting technologies and implementations from Konica Minolta, Landa, KBA, etc. We expect to see many of these finally move out of the gate and into the hands of service providers.
One of the most interesting new applications for production inkjet is packaging. While we have seen production inkjet used in label production for quite a few years from companies including, EFI Jetrion, Super Web Digital, and others we are now seeing other areas of packaging being targeted. These include folding carton like the Canon InfiniStream, which is technically liquid toner, and not production inkjet, but really addresses the digital packaging market. We have also seen recent announcements about the HP PageWide Web Press T1100S developed in conjunction with KBA, and the HP PageWide Web Press T400S production inkjet presses for corrugated. We expect to see a significant focus on digital print and finishing in packaging at drupa 2016.
Over the course of the months leading up to drupa 2016, and following the event, I will cover in detail many of the new developments in the production inkjet space. I hope to bring you lots of detailed information as we did in the past to prepare you for your visit to drupa. Or if you are not going, to prepare you for your investigation into production inkjet acquisition. In advance of the next wave of articles, I would suggest that you might want to do a ‘review’ of the original production inkjet and workflow series’ as a refresher. It not only covers the vendors and machines that have made it to market, but also the driving technology, requirements and impediments.