19 May 2019 Events

Fespa pulls the crowds and the punches

Exhibitors delivered new machines, through as an indication of a maturing sector, few could be described as break though machines.

Fespa retains its appeal to large format display graphics printers, thousands of whom patrolled the aisles of the Munich exhibition centre last week. However, the approach to the entrance of the Messe was decidedly muted compared to the approach to the solar panel exhibition located in the other half of the site which had posters, banners and display boards at every step.

Perhaps the suppliers to the Fespa audience were confident that they did not have to work hard to bring visitors to their stands. Perhaps this is a sign of a maturing industry where breakthrough products are now relatively rare, especially with the 12-month gap between each Fespa. The gap to next year’s event is even less: Fespa 2020 takes place in Madrid in March to avoid a messy conflict with Drupa.

But if the breakthrough products were scattered, there were products to catch the attention of the highly interested and casual visitor. And the big beast HP showed off its Stitch dye sublimation printer. At least in public it showed the output on polyester clothing for Mamils, the booming 40 something cyclist able to afford expensive cycles and want to the look the part on pedals. Other sports are available and widely played, excluding golf apparel.

The initial dye sublimation machine itself was away from the stand and available to invited eyes only. The Stitch 1000 completes a three-machine line up. It is a 3.2m wide printer compared to the 1.6m wide Stitch 500 and Stitch 300. HP has optimised interaction between substrate, printheads, ink and software as its wont.

Canon UK addresses a perceived weakness of its Colorado UV Gel printer. The 1650 shares the same frame and the same 1.6 metre wide format as the 1640, but is able to deliver different levels of gloss on the same substrate, ranging from a gloss, semi and full matt for different applications. A wallpaper works best as a silk, a poster as a matt for example.

EFI came out with a new flatbed machine, filling a gap in its range and fulfilling a promise by new CEO Bill Muir that that innovation would be high on the agenda. The pro 30f is a 3.2mx2m machine running with full LED UV and pushes EFI into competition with the most productive flatbed machines on the market.

The Vutek H5 is the supersede role to roll machine which includes new print heads with a 7pl rather than 12pl resolution, linear motor for greater precision and speed on the head and full LED curing.

It was the first chance to see the SwissQPrint entry to the roll to roll market with the Karibu printer. There were new Dursts, with software to print six different jobs on six different lanes across the with of the printer simultaneously without having to coordinate the loading of each board. The printing is triggered only when the sensors on the head identify a new piece of material.

Mimaki brought a new faster entry level flatbed printer while the most appealing launch may have been the introduction of Big Printer to the Fespa audience. The Russian flatbed machine is being sold in the UK by Conversion and Colin Price was on hand to explain the appeal.

There is the cost (£142,000), the fact that the machine is immensely strong. It is using Renshaw controls, Konica Minolta printheads, Onyx front end. “There is a lot of bang for your buck,” says Price. “Russia is a bit like Madagascar – there has been separate development that we are only just discovering.”

The machine is not going to win prizes for industrial design, but certainly qualifies as solid. The company behind it had been an importer of large format machines from Japanese, US or European manufacturers before deciding to improve on these with its own development.

One of the factors is a edge in printing textured print, on tiles, glass, panels to provide high impact results. The precision is such that the printer on multiple passes can print 3D objects to 50mm high. The company also supplies routing machines (500 sold in Russia to date) and cutting tables with the same T36 aesthetic.

Cutting tables were everywhere, some with robotics, some using lasers for fabrics, most with multiple tools in the head. The most appealing was the X from German company VHF, a company with 30 years experience in cutting metal and difficult materials. Its tools are encased in a futuristic streamlined cutting head, which also hid a vacuum extraction unit. The head carried a single red character and a green neon light to show it was in operation. and for those thinking with design quality in mind, this stood out.

Also standing out were the directions for the show itself. The screen printing aspect remains, mostly for T-shirt printing. This is quickly being attacked by dedicated inkjet printers, not just from HP. Textiles and industrial printing filled a further one of the six halls used. Each of these seemed to have their back half filled by Chinese technology companies, looking for distribution in the rest of the world. At a passing glance most were me-too versions of more familiar machines. How many make it to Madrid will be an interesting question.

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