06 February 2019 Digital Printing Technologies

Inkjet print needs to uncover the applications

Inkjet print can deliver the quality printers need, it makes logical sense on paper, but the applications that will persuade the bulk of printers to move away from litho are in short supply.

Inkjet technology is poised to supplant litho as the dominant printing process, at least according to those investing so heavily in the technology.

Inkjet has been around for the best part of 20 years, but with a limited role to play. One by one the barriers holding inkjet back are being removed making inkjet viable for some key applications. However, it has failed to transform other areas in the ways that many pundits have predicted.

Continuous feed inkjet has successfully replaced laser and electrophotographic printing for variable content statement printing. It is a drop in replacement and others the opportunity to print on white paper, eliminating the need for litho preprint. Inkjet can print the colour that had to be printed ahead of time and contributed to high waste levels when reels had to be thrown away because the static terms and conditions carried had changed.

Very few IBM, Xerox or Océ toner presses remain in operation. The users have transitioned to inkjet printing, buying Canon, HP and Ricoh machines instead. But it is now a replacement market in this area.

Inkjet has also driven change through book printing, most visibly in the closure of Timson. Few book printers will be buying litho presses in future, at least for mono work. The rise of inkjet has been accompanied by greater efficiencies in publisher supply chains. The ability to print on demand, in ultra short print runs at production speeds and with an affordable impact on unit cost, has reduced warehousing and over production costs for books and has opened the way to lights out production.

But outside academic publications where tints are more important than four-colour, inkjet is not driving change in colour book printing. The technology comes up against cost and quality concerns, at least in webfed  printing.

Sheetfed production is another question. There are examples where Fujifilm and to a lesser extent Konica Minolta and even Canon presses, are printing colour books. Within the restrictions of the B2 format, inkjet can argue its place. But to date few committed book printers in the UK have made the transition. It is not for want of trying. In Poland digital book printer Totem is using a KM-1. In the UK Push has installed a Fujifilm Jetpress 720 to print high quality art books on a range of papers. The company argues that this is the first digital press to deliver the consistency that the printer needed.

In contrast Pureprint has stuck with Indigo technology, now with three HP Indigo 12000 HDs. Improvements to the colour management and control system as much as the imaging resolution have addressed the issues of consistency, and these are able to print on both sides of the sheet which the Fuji cannot.

This is a continuing concern that printers have, despite Fujifilm proving that barcode readers will identify each sheet and what is to be printed on it during the second pass, even if the sheets are fed out of sequence. A second issue is the perennial price of ink question.

In the UK Fujifilm has developed an app it calls Get FIT (Fujifilm Inkjet Technology). The prospect is asked to download its basket of jobs and the programme will run a calculation based on run length, format and cost of ink to show that inkjet ie eminently affordable – or not. “It will deliver TCO figures based on ink coverage, run length and running a pseudo imposition. It is accurate to 5%,” says Mark Stephenson. The cost of inkjet is also compared to the cost of plates, waste at makeready, consumables, amortisation and labour costs.

“It tells you how much time is saved and how much that saving is in pounds, shillings and pence and therefore how much more time is available on an offset press by moving the short run jobs to the inkjet press.”

Printers that have installed the Jetpress, Emmerson and Kingfisher Press among them, will endorse the belief that inkjet is good for the litho press as well. At Emmerson the company’s Indigo has been moved out as everything that the existing digital press could do is better on the Jetpress.

Other users have installed the B2 inkjet press for specific applications: CPI to print short runs of book jackets and covers; Bluetree to print business cards. Now with the launch of the new version, the Jetpress 750S, Fujifilm is aiming at packaging applications. It had originally shown a version at Drupa 2012 designed for carton production, but this never saw light of day.

Now half a decade later, the company is looking at packaging applications for the same print on demand advantages that have swept over commercial printing. The water based inks are potentially safer than UV for food applications and use components that already meet the Swiss Ordinance on food safety.

The addition of new scanners will ensure consistency that brands require and an application which converts brand colours into the wide gamut four colour inks that the press uses is specifically to address this aspect. There is an option of a bridge to a Harris and Bruno coater to add the protective coating to protect a carton against scuffing. A similar, offline, arrangement is in place at Bluetree to protect business cards.

Most important perhaps is an increase in speed as well as slight increase in sheet size to deliver a 30% increase in productivity, and make more short run high quality jobs accessible to inkjet.

Konica Minolta is also eyeing prospects in carton printing for the LED UV equipped KM-1. Its first machine at Colourfast will attack an online print market as a number of European customers do, but the greater opportunity lies with packaging. Komori also sells what is very much the same machine as the Impremia 29. It has been sold to Lexon Group in Newport where the application is about high end, short run packaging.

KM has created a four-man team to lead sales of this machine and the MGI digital enhancement machine, reckoning that printing, foiling and digital embossing work well together. While the four, Jon Pritchard, Grahame Megilley, Steve Lakin and David Evans, will be the experts in the the technology and related services, initial contact will come through the staff of the industrial print business unit, who will receive the training and material to establish the prospect.

“We want to increase the activities to raise the profile of the KM-1 in this country,” says Pritchard. “We have had the products for two years and have achieved installations around the world, but have lacked the breakthrough in the UK.”

Thus Megilley and Evans, who had previously focused on one product, will now be selling both ranges, with MegilleyPritchard.

“There’s a need to build awareness across this sector,” says Pritchard. “And we need to deal with new types of customers with inkjet, different applications and customers need to have a level of confidence in what they are investing in.”

This is an experience that is repeated across the spectrum. Much of the inkjet development is coming from companies that have evolved from providing toner presses, with a relatively low price tag and faster decision cycle. The people trained to sell these are not automatically suited to selling high ticket items to commercial printers, or carton converters.

This will have to change to make the breakthrough, if indeed a breakthrough is possible. Like Komori, Xerox has had limited success with its inkjet portfolio. An early version of Trivor was installed at Printondemand Worldwide but was removed shortly after, leaving the beta machine at First Move producing direct mail and statements. A Brenva, the Xerox sheetfed inkjet machine is at McLays in Cardiff, but while Iridesse sales have been strong, Brenva has not taken off in the same way.

Likewise Canon has a few i300 installations, the latest at Severnprint to print colour books, it is more successful with presses to run established applications.

If commercial printers in this country are slow to seize the opportunity that the suppliers insist is there for the taking, perhaps packaging printers will be quicker. Heidelberg's Primefire 106 is in place at a carton printer in Germany, Koenig & Bauer has theVarijet 106 under development in collaboration with Durst. Both will be hugely expensive machines, around the same investment as the equivalent litho machine with coaters, foiling and so on. But while the throughput of a litho press from either manufacturer is 18,000sph, an inkjet press will be running at 3,000sph.

For some the shorter runs and automation that inkjet can provide will be convincing enough to make the investment. Others will hold back. If inkjet is the future, suppliers need to convince that it can tick all boxes that make offset litho the dominant printing technology.

Gareth Ward

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