Many believed it to be the answer to the printers’ prayer (not the one about payment on time). Many thought it would never happen. Everyone thought it would happen sooner. But seven years after arriving with all the fanfare and showmanship that Benny Landa could muster, the first Landa nanography press is is no longer a beta test machine.
German carton printer Edelmann took delivery of the S10 press more than a year ago as the first beta installation outside of Israel. There have been frustrations since, upgrades, improvements to the software and most recently the implementation of seven colour printing.
Early door software issues were frequently down to the operating software across 16 different computers inside the press needing to communicate accurately and consistently. Each upgrade eased the pain. Support from Landa is praised and the manufacturer is determined that the service and support issues that marred the first years of Indigo will not recur.
The quality today is at a point that Edelmann and its customers are happy; productivity is at the same point and sustainability is considerably better than customers might have hoped for.
It has been put through its paces on all manner of jobs and all types of materials, mostly cartonboards, but including papers and synthetics. The press is now as solid as any machine in its extensive fleet. If there is a stoppage, the software is frequently the cause and it is a simple step to restart. The promise of 2012 is now reality.
The crates containing the press arrived at Edelmann's Heidenheim headquarters in southern Germany in February last year. In the meantime it had sent three operators to Israel for training. CEO Oliver Bruns says there was debate about who to send, was this more of a litho press or more a computer and thus demanding a different set of skills. It resulted in a decision to dispatch a litho press operator, someone from prepress and the departmental supervisor.
The press has been installed in the same press hall as a line up of 12 Heidelberg Speedmasters, no special enclosure, no air conditioning other than the standard humidifiers that are deployed across the group’s 21 production sites. The Landa would be subject to the same temperatures and dust as every other press.
The company is not producing food packaging, so there is no need for the anti contamination measures used in BRC registered operations, for example. Edelmann's stock in trade instead is threefold: pharmaceutical and healthcare; beauty products, including colour critical hair dyes; and general consumer packaging. All share quality demands that are challenging for different reasons: security for pharma, colour accuracy for haircare, for example. Edelmann calls its colour control process HM Quality and it is in place across locations in Germany, the US, India, Mexico and China. The Landa had to slot into this regime.
It has. The heart of the technology is an array of Fuji Samba inkjet heads which fire the nano ink to a heated transfer belt where the droplets form a membrane which is transferred by a heated impression roller to the substrate. The image is an absolutely consistent representation of what is on the belt. The paper transport is taken from Komori, the DFE is developed by EFI to handle eyeball watering data rates; the colour management and profiling is from GMG and inspection system from AVT. Because there is no direct interaction between ink and substrate, there is no risk of ink penetrating the paper’s surface. And the thinness of the ink film married with the sharpness of the dot combine to achieve a result which is frequently impossible to discern from offset.
Operation is a combination of prepress and MIS, the operator being able to open a file, adjust it, move its place in the print queue and “press the go button”. Nevertheless Edelmann has found that the best operators are those with the litho background rather than prepress. Its second batch of trainees all come off the presses.
The seven colour upgrade has been transformational. The press will now hit 97% of PMS colours and comes pretty close to the others. For a sector that is used to mixing inks this has been staggering. There is no need for a job to be lifted, the inking unit cleaned out and the remixed ink fed to the ducts – a time consuming wasteful process. Instead the colour is adjusted by bringing it up on the DFE, making adjustments by changing the levels of one or more of the inks and printing. Printing a set of patches enables customer to pick that he prefers. It is locked into the software.
On one occasion Edelmann managed a pharma job requiring set up and fine tuning of 25 spot colours on one sheet. It took two shifts but it was a success. Even a job of this complexity runs at 6,500sph the set speed of the machine. Landa is working on the uplift to 13,500sph and looking beyond this. There is no theoretical reason why the press cannot run to the speed that the Komori technology can feed paper, says Landa CEO Yishai Amir.
Practicality might prevent this as the amount of processing power would be even more daunting than it already is and feeding at high speeds can become more challenging. But the leap to 13,000sph is within scope without causing these sorts of problems.
And when it does the Edelmann machine and all others can be upgraded to the new standard. “The press is a platform,” says Amir. Each step forward can be shared across the user base as almost all will be software improvements.
As well as the colour challenge, Edelmann has run the press to its limits in trying to push it to breaking point, simulating continual operation for a complete shift printing 20,000 sheets of eight different jobs with substrate and varnish changes.
No problem. The imaging belt is changed every two to three weeks, though again this has been left on for a further week without any issues. It takes around an hour to remove, replace and the attach the ends with the glue which then takes 20 mixtures to dry. It is a job that is timed for shutdown on a Friday afternoon, so that on Monday the operator can switch on, run the test sheets to check register and colour and be into production. There is no further calibration needed though the day, though should anything be needed, running a test sheet through the Automatic Quality Management system brings the press back in line.
The printed surface receives a seal, either an aqueous coating or UV varnish as extra assurance that the sheet will not be affected by further finishing processes.
Equally the press will overprint litho with comfort. Edelmann has done this, adding the language versions to a common background artwork printed on its Heidelbergs. The job had previously been printed with all languages and options on the sheet, with a sticker applied to identify the contents.
At Edelmann's suggestion, the customisation needed to improve the presentation and eliminate the need for the sticker, was shifted to the Lands which made the improvements cost effective, for while cost of the ink and ownership are not high compared to other digital presses, there is still a limit where litho has to take over. Landa is alive, but litho is not yet dead.
By Gareth Ward