03 March 2019 Events

Hunkeler Innovation Days shows quality of inkjet is now capable of litho quality and costs are coming down

Is this the letterpress moment when litho is replaced by high volume digital printing, or another false dawn for commercial printing?

The world of continuous feed digital printing headed to Lucerne last week for the Hunkeler Innovations Days, accompanied by a growing number of commercial printers.

One of this number has been tracking the evolution of high speed inkjet printing and now has to pick which supplier to opt for. “This is the letterpress to litho moment for inkjet,” he says. Another of the visitors was Adam Carnell, chief executive of Bluetree, whose journey to the installation of inkjet presses began in Lucerne two years ago.

The majority of the 100 UK companies flying to Switzerland were, however, transactional, direct mail and book printers, where there was plenty to occupy them. They swelled the total attendance at the four-day event to 6,500, the highest visitor count yet.

There were first outings for the Ricoh Pro VC70000 inkjet web press, the Screen TruepressJet 520 HD+, an automatic splicer from Hunkeler and a preview of a fully automatic slitting and cutting unit that can run inline to presses running at more than 150 metres/minute with fully variable pages. If this sort of unit has helped make cut sheet digital printing viable by reducing the labour element of finishing, the Hunkeler opens the way to do the same for high speed digital printing and make inkjet applicable to commercial print.

All press suppliers emphasised book printing, however, with copious samples of coffee table books on display, demonstrating the ability to print high quality high coverage images. These feed into automated binding lines from Muller Martini, Horizon and Meccanotechnica on show and in full flow taking blocks produced on Hunkeler lines, the Bookline able to deliver 4pp, 6pp and 8pp sections at speeds up to 200m/min and the Flyfolder able to switch dynamically between folded four- and six-page sections instantly according to information printed on a 2D barcode.

The Hunkeler technology belongs to its Gen 8 portfolio, enabling Industry 4.0 through the instant passage of information and automated integration. A pallet moving robot wandered across the aisles moving boxes of work in progress without harming any of the visitors that swarmed around it.

The information gathered was universally displayed on dashboards showing operational status, work in progress and allowing companies to drill down to understand the dynamics of their business.

The differences between machines comes from the inks used, all enabling print on standard coated offset papers, and the drying technologies applied. While previous Screen and Ricoh presses have closely mirrored each other, the models seen for the first time in Lucerne take a very different approach to drying. The Screen TruepressJet 520 HD+ uses an Adphos NIR unit to enable printing on all kinds of substrate including thermal paper. The Ricoh Pro VC70000 has a newly designed system with a paper path that winds between heated rollers and a drum that minimises contact on the printed surface.

Canon has a lengthy drying oven for the unsupported web, not unlike a conventional heatset web path. HP, which had Hunkeler’s flying splice at one end and a turret rewind at the other of the press, continues to uses a priming coat to keep ink on the surface of the paper.

But it was not inkjet all the way. Nipson, after recent absences, returned to the show with the 300m/min Magyspeed which is a mono only toner press. Hunkeler needed to push its own unwind and rewind technology to cope with the this speed.

Running at a tenth of this speed, Xeikon showed its XM500 twin engine press. CEO Benoit Chatelard explained that at 30m/minute there is no question over the quality of the output, no problem with running on any papers, and a proven capability of running non stop for shift after shift. This 95% uptime means that overall productivity is a match for an inkjet press running at twice this rate with only 50-60% uptime. Along with a lower cost of ownership, this could be a persuasive argument for those hesitating about an investment in inkjet. To emphasise this, a sign on the stand asked: “Here again to invest in inkjet? Again?”

All were in Lucerne to look at inkjet. Many were in Lucerne to now decide about the technology.

By Gareth Ward

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Lucerne in the sunshine

Lucerne in the sunshine

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