18 July 2016 Digital Printing Technologies

HP sets its sights on litho printing

The HP PageWide T490 is the flagship of the company’s inkjet web press fleet and a press that is positioned to accelerate the conversion of offset pages to digital.

The HP PageWide T490 is the epitome of its inkjet printing presses. It is fast, running up to 300m/minute, it delivers high quality thanks to the new HDNA printhead and it is cost effective HP claims.

Giovanni Antonuzzo would substantiate these claims. He is chief executive of Rotomail , the Milan company which has had the PageWide T490 as a beta machine since December last year. It is now generally available following an appearance at Drupa and the first in the UK will be on its way to GI Solutions in October this year.

“The press can reach very high quality,” he says. “The quality is important to us and we expect it to get better in future. Already we have had at least one customer tell us he can no longer distinguish a difference between inkjet and offset.”

Rotomail , as its name suggests, began with transactional printing. It started looking at digital printing in 1996, moving through Xerox laser printing to a Scitex Versamark (described by Antonuzzo as a “Ferrari without brakes”) and then after meeting Antonio Maruggi, at the time head of HP’s inkjet operations, into HP.

Along the way there have been excursions in cut sheet and webfed Indigo, Xeikon and Xerox iGen. Today the company retains all the above among the 20 digital production lines it has.

As well as transactional print, the company is printing catalogues and direct mail and has developed extensive experience in print on demand book production. It has been working on digital book printing since 2006 partnering with Tecnau since 2008 and has been instrumental in helping develop that supplier’s book of one finishing solution.

The Bronte software Rotomail developed to connect to publishers and bookshops to manage incoming orders and batching them according to a delivery address is now part of HP’s PrintOS environment. The finished books are batched, wrapped and labelled by a CMC line which drops them into the appropriate mail sack for the chosen courier.

Now the company is looking at the point of sale potential that the HP PageWide T490 has. At an open day the company surrounded the machine with large retail style banners, each more than 2 metres high and the full web width across. These are not the sort of high quality close up inkjet prints that might be positioned on a make up counter or a backlit frame. They are intended to hang from ceilings and to be viewed from a distance.

Here they will be very effective, especially given the speed that the press can churn them out and therefore the cost advantages they could have over rollfed inkjet alternatives. Currently this is possible thanks to a frame length of 2,740mm the press works to. “We would like it to be larger,” says Antonuzzo, “though can create continuous frames by linking them together.”

Page printing will be the mainstay of the work that the press handles. And HP believes that this machine will push inkjet into areas that have yet to convert to this type of digital printing. Eric Wiesner, VP and general manager of the PageWide Web Press division, says that 50 billion pages have already been printed on the PageWide T series machines. “We may not have the most presses in the market,” he says. “But we do have the most productive presses.”

This is perhaps thanks to a range that encompasses 558mm, 762mm and 1,067mm wide machines while most competitors offer only the narrower width or perhaps the 762mm press. Nobody else offers a web press at the full 1,067mm width – at least not yet.

HP, says Wiesner, has addressed the key issues that have been barriers to widespread adoption of high speed digital printing. “We are competitive on cost. We have tackled the issues of quality, measured against the 52 parameters that people use to judge quality. With the 300m/minute throughput, we have the productivity.

“We can offer versatility of more than 300 qualified media because customers love to experiment: transactional printers today can be commercial printers tomorrow. And we have the economics as the press can be upgraded over its ten year depreciation path and this delivers an acceptable cost per page.”

The question is what those pages will comprise. Transactional printing is a given. There is scope in book printing as in Europe just 6.6% of books by volume are printed digitally compared to twice this in North America, according to a study produced by Infotrends.

The consultancy group has also questioned the millennial age group (18-34 year olds) about their attitudes to print. Perhaps due to the novelty of print, perhaps due to digital fatigue, perhaps due to the over intrusive nature of internet advertising, the age group is warm towards print.

Wiesner puts it: “People are realising that internet ads do not work, hence there is a revival in direct mail.”

It is not a return to pre-internet days when in the 1990s and earlier, personalisation was limited, expensive and crude. The explosion of data and improvements in consumer profiling has set the stage for more relevant mailings. And among a group that has grown up since the days of junk mail offering easy to obtain credit cards, direct mail does not have the same reference points.

It means, says Infotrends, that 77% of this group pay attention to direct mail, 73% to retail inserts and 54% to printed catalogues. Digging deeper, direct mail gets their attention for a full 1-2 minutes compared to the fleeting glance that banner advertising will receive.

This starts to build a strong case for the use of printed direct mail. Across Europe, direct mail is liked by 76% of respondents. There are factors which can elevate that response. More than one in five rate print quality as an important factor and 7.2% reckon that the quality of the paper used is important. In short the quality of presentation, print and paper has an impact for 58% of those questioned.

Infotrends reckons this gives marketers a green light to use print. Catalogues are equally important to those seeking to sell products. “Customers value catalogues,” says Infotrends consultant Rolf Scholzer. “And marketers are producing them with fewer pages, but greater relevancy. Print improves the customer experience, and personalisation and digital printing can improve that experience.

“With inkjet the cost per page of personalisation is lower than with other methods. There have been real improvements in the quality of inkjet with the latest crop of machines.”

The HP PageWide T490 falls into this category, though the fact that HP has introduced the HP Indigo 50000 as a B1+ format web press suggests there are some applications demanding the very highest quality, photo books for example, that the inkjet technology will not reach in this investment cycle.

The machine at Rotomail has a Contiweb zero speed splicer, which has a big impact on productivity. While the press still needs to stop for a reel change, it is running again very quickly. There are other features from the heatset web offset world, a remoist unit for example. The printed reel is rewound to a Hunkeler RW7 stand.

The HDNA A53 printheads deliver the quality and speed that is needed. There are two bars per colour and ten heads per bar which with the bonding agent adds up to 200 print heads in a press. The HDNA (High Definition Nozzle Architecture) printhead intersperses smaller nozzles between the two rows of standard nozzles.

It remains a binary inkjet process, but means that pixels can be addressed by eight different nozzles to produce a range of full and intermediate drops to give a smoother transition in areas of even tones where a step change would be easily noticed. That number of nozzles also provides resilience should one be blocked.

Most paper still needs to be treated before accepting the ink to prevent it soaking deeply into the fibres on uncoated papers, or to hold it in place on the impermeable surface of coated papers. HP now offers inline coating as a more cost effective replacement for the bonding agent. This can be an inline process for the narrower presses or either inline or offline for the PageWide T400 machines. The offline option can treat paper for more than one press.

There is also a greater range of inkjet optimised papers becoming available, both as uncoated or silk coated substrates and now as coated paper equivalents. “A lot more optimised inkjet papers are under development,” says HP media specialist Stephen Goddard.

On uncoated papers, the quality of output stands comparison with offset printing already, he says. On coated papers the finish has less lift than offset on the same type of paper. This can be changed by applying a coating to the paper after printing.

Epic Products has developed a coater and coating that tackles this and brings coated paper quality within the grasp of the inkjet press. This becomes entirely acceptable for mass market magazines or, of course, direct mail and mail order catalogues.

And it justifies Eric Wiesner's statement: “We have the capability to go after offset pages.”

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Rotomail celebrates

Rotomail celebrates

Rotomail was the first printer in the world with the HP PageWide T490 running as the beta site since the start of 2016. It has produced a wide range of work on the inkjet press including books and banners. Just ahead of Drupa, HP staged an open day to show off its capabilities to printers from across Europe.

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The HP PageWide T490 specifications

Rotomail in Italy