Switzerland is full of surprises. The biggest at this year’s Hunkeler Innovations Days, held at the end of February in Lucerne, was the absence of snow. Instead of a crisp white blanket underfoot, conditions were positively balmy – closer to T-shirt than overcoat weather.
And because the four-day event overlapped with the start of the Lucern Fastnacht, its pre-Lent carnival, the sight of the normally staid Swiss dressed in bizarre customers and shops displaying grotesque masks added a further surprise.
Inside the exhibition halls, the surprises eased, but there was plenty to engage with in terms of technology and deep discussions about the direction of this sector of the industry.
Almost alone among print industry events, Hunkeler Innovation Days continues to grow. Visitors fly in from around the world, spend at least one night in the city and are deeply engaged with what they see. The eye watering prices for staple items like beer and relative inaccessibility of the city ensure that casual visitors do not come.
Officially everyone needs to be invited, but preregistration is generally sufficient. In all more than 6,000 visitors were expected to come. If Hunkeler were an exhibition company, it would be a very successful one.
Part of the appeal is that major companies are limited to the same limited format stands. Signage is minimal and hospitality takes place in a separate hall. And everyone has to run presses with at least one piece of Hunkeler equipment.
Its success and growth has not gone unnoticed by the professional exhibition industry. In the past Informa has tried to tempt Hunkeler with a management proposition; more recently Drupa organiser has tried to tempt the show to Düsseldorf. It is not going to happen. Stefan Hunkeler says: “We know how to organise this event.”
It will mean that space will be at a premium for 2019, but thereafter additional space at the exhibition centre become available. “We have the support of the big companies,” he continues. “Their support is appreciated and the return on investment for them is very high.”
It may become greater. The strong trend across inkjet is towards litho replacement quality. Having conquered transactional printing and heading that way with mono books, inkjet is knocking at the door of colour books and then on commercial printing.
However, the killer applications remain elusive. The supply chain benefits of print on demand can apply to colour books, particularly if quality and technology can come together to produce high quality illustrated casebound books in book of one quantities.
The lack of standardisation in this type of publishing will be a challenge in both optimising the use of paper on limited width presses let alone the intricacies of case bound binding this work. The limitations are not going to be technical.
Personalised educational books, either work books for individual students or customised volumes created for a specific course, also become much easier to produce though are hardly likely to deliver the 60 million pages a month that the latest inkjet machines are capable of producing.
High end direct mail, on the other hand, might. At the event, Kodak had a spread of this type of work using relatively simple personalisation produced either on Prosper presses or using Stream print heads. There were examples of leaflets where offers could be selected according to the needs of a corner shop owner, something that Gask & Hawley has developed in the UK.
Xerox proffered a direct mail catalogue comprising static web offset sections, custom sections of products within the profile of the buyer and a personalised cover and welcome page. It had shown a similar example at Drupa produced on its Trivor web press. In the intervening months there has been a palpable improvement in quality.
Canon went a step further with a cradle to grave campaign for =clothing company Hackett. Canon cameras were used on a photo shoot for the clothing company’s autumn designs. The latest ImagePrograph rollfed inkjet printer was on hand to run out an on the spot proof. An A5 format look book was produced for the launch of the clothing range and a larger format version as a hard cover lay flat volume for each store. Invitations to present and lapsed customers were printed as single-piece mailers inviting them to the store or car showroom.
The range of Canon equipment was used and was convincing enough for the car manufacturer to ask for more details. It has left such marketing jobs to the individual dealers in its network because this is where the data resides. And thus data management and manipulation rears its head.
There was possibly not enough emphasis on data at the show, the attention being drawn by the print quality arguments. However, Screen stressed its heritage in colour management and repro to point out that this enabled it to understand how to optimise the results from the new Truepress.
Just as important is going to be the help that the technology providers can supply in terms of helping printers understand and develop the applications that are going to feed the inkjet presses and lead to high volumes of ink sales. Applications to date, in transactional and mono books, are light on ink coverage.
This is not the case for catalogue or magazine printer, let alone the posters that Ricoh user Zalsman is printing on its VC60000 in Holland. Here high volumes are ink are on the menu.
Screen is partnering with Komori to give it access to commercial printers and Komori UK sales director Steve Turner was in Lucerne for the first time to learn about the potential for the technology.
Canon says it is putting together a team to take the ProStream into the commercial print market, something that Ricoh has already done with to support the VC60000. It has resulted in helping to create applications and to support users.
While most of the early adopters of the technology have come from those with experience in transactional printing, MBA for example, Zalsman moved from sheetfed printing to inkjet web printing and Finnish printer Hansa has been successful at winning offset work for the inkjet press, printing local editions for the Financial Times on the same papers and to the same quality as offset for example.
For the first time at the event, equipment spilled from the main hall to the second hall at the exhibition centre as this was divided in two to accommodate machinery from the likes of Kolbus, CMC, Duplo and Renz as well as the many information stands dotted around the edge of the room.
Among these was paper group UPM, demonstrating its Digimatch service to identify suitable papers for the printing process, Global Graphics to talk about the advantages of screening for inkjet printing and Optimus as the only standalone MIS company with its own stand. Managing director Nicola Bisset was on hand to lead the discussions of how commercial MIS and JDF can cope as the new applications are developed. She had secured a number of promising leads to justify the decision to accept the invitation to take part.
Also invited to join in was drying company Adphos. Its speciality is Near Infra Red drying, a technology which is tuned to the the molecules in water, meaning that these are excited by the energy, evaporating as a result. NIR does not add heat to the substrate, making it eminently suitable to drying aqueous inkjet and accounting for the number of Adphos equipped presses in use.
It had a demonstration rig that showed the impact of the technology rather effectively. A plastic bottle had been cut in half and daubed with water based ink. Placed on a stand it was then subject to exposure though the hand held halogen lamp designed to produce the NIR energy. As Martin Doherty swept over the half bottle, the ink was instantly dry.
The application is for direct to shape printing, where printing directly to a bottle or other 3D object promises to eliminate labels and paves the way to personalise promotional items has hitherto been dependent on UV inks and curing. NIR will also dry films without distorting them because no heat is created.
“We are working with people that are moving forwards and want to go faster on a wider range of substrates and more effectively than before,” says Doherty.
Packaging is the area that is showing greatest interest. Flexo press manufacturer Uteco has been working with Kodak Stream printheads using a priming coat to hold the water based inks on the packaging. Electron beam curing is also pitched as an alternative to UV for printing on films.
If inkjet is today obsessed with expanding into commercial printing, packaging is already on the horizon for tomorrow using pigmented aqueous inks. In sheetfed printing, Heidelberg, KBA, Konica Minolta and IIJ are working with inkjet. In flexible materials, Fuji has developed a press for the Japanese market.
Consumption of commercial print is on the decline; packaging represents a fruitful future. Even Hunkeler understands this. Stefan Hunkeler says: “We are looking for new sectors for our business and packaging is definitely an area that we are looking at – if we can find the right product and the right partner.”
The 2017 edition of Hunkeler Innovation Days brought around 6,000 committed customers to the Swiss city where develops in inkjet productivity and quality did not disappoint. It demonstrated how the technology is opening up new possibilities for digital printing.