20 September 2013 Printing Technology

Landa unveils new press design and admits delay

THE FIRST LANDA NANOGRAPHY press will be delivered to a carton printer somewhere in North America or Europe at the end of 2014. While this is 15 months later than the first machine might have hit the streets, Benny Landa says that none of the 430 letters of intent signed at Drupa have been withdrawn because of the delay.

The first press delivered to a commercial printer will be shipped in the first half of 2015 with web presses and other configurations to follow this. The first presses will be pilot machines, paid for by the printer rather than beta presses installed by the supplier, Landa says. Full production will be ramped up once these presses have settled in.

MEANWHILE LANDA HAS IDENTIFIED the location for a suitable manufacturing plant and has started to develop the first ink plant. Even so it will take some time to clear the 400 or so orders on the books, unless some of these machines are built under license by partners. The initial partners, Komori, Heidelberg and Manroland Sheetfed, are still on board, and others have signed up or have indicated their interest in becoming licensees. Their names are not being disclosed.

The press when installed will not look like the press at Drupa where a giant iPad-like touch screen dominated the side. While this was widely praised at the time, subsequent discussions with printers have led to the conclusion that placing the control panel in this position would lead to excessive walking for a operator who would prefer to remain at the delivery of the press.

INSTEAD LANDA HAS DESIGNED a cockpit, with controls accessed by touch screen, scanning board, screens for onboard cctv with a cup holder for coffee and dock and speakers for an iPod. Benny Landa likens this to the revolution wrought by John Deere when it redesigned tractor cabs with comfortable seating, full enclosure and heating. Other farm machinery companies followed suit.

There have been other changes following in depth talks and consultancy with 120 prospects. Access to print heads has been made simpler, so operators no longer need to crouch to replace these. And the design has been improved to allow for rapid replacement of these heads. The heads themselves are now delivering 1200dpi, compared to 600dpi from the Drupa specification. While these were widely considered to be Kyocera KJ4 heads, the company itself never confirmed this and again there is no name to the new, though Kyocera has recently introduced a 1200dpi head. head supplier.

AS THE INKS ARE WATER BASED, Landa has no difficulty in switching from one head supplier to another to benefits from the millions of dollars being invested in inkjet heads. The impact on print quality from the higher resolution heads is immediately clear, particularly in printing fine text and detailed graphics. This resolution is considered the minimum for packaging print.

The key image transfer belt will need replacing once a month the company estimates, though until machines are in real use the duty cycle is only an expectation. The secrets to this belt and the inks are contained within the patents which were filed en masse in April last year.

LANDA ADMITS THAT THIS WAS A RISK because others might file first, but there a drawback to this approach he says. Early filing, as he has learned, is followed by a further decade of product development and also alerts others to the direction of research. By the time products are commercialised there is only ten years exclusivity left in the patents he says. Landa's approach gives nanography 20 years protection.

He has learned too not to bring a machine to market until it is fully ready. That was a mistake made with Indigo when the first colour digital presses began shipping shortly after the launch in 1993. This time everything needs to be right. “We will not be shipping machines to customers until we have offset printing quality,” he says. “One mistake I will never make again is to ship a product before it is ready. This means that the product that gets into the customer’s hands will be a real zinger.”

IT IS CERTAINLY POINTING IN THAT DIRECTION. Samples that Landa now hands out are on a range of substrates, card, papers, films, and are almost flawless with beautifully rendered reversed out text impossible to read without the aid of glasses. Colours look good, though impossible to rate without a proof or alternative to compare against. Solid reds have a little extra gloss, but that is being ultra critical. Provided the samples are repeatable across a sheet and from sheet to sheet, they are more than acceptable commercially. In terms of quality if Drupa represented 25% of the possible quality, the current level is 85% of the way there Landa says.

At Drupa he says the samples looked good in spite of obvious flaws. Now those flaws have gone they look even better. There have been improvements to the inks to account for some of the change and work at the front end to better calibrate the press. Process colour inks will be supplied in larger drums than the collapsible container shown previously, mixed and pumped to the press because of the volumes of ink needed by a B1 press in full production. Additional and optional orange, violet and green inks will be available to boost the colour gamut.

LANDA IS PLANNING A CLICK CHARGE payment model for the ink and press, arguing that while commercial printers resisted the digital payment system at first they now recognise and prefer the digital way of doing things. It's a moot point, but has been discussed among providers of more conventional equipment as a way to encourage machinery sales. Landa’s click charge will cover ink and consumables, but not servicing as this comes under a separate contract.

Ink costs will come down in time as the installed base increases and as ink plants in America, Asia and Europe come on stream. Landa has clearly calculated a total cost of ownership package, but is giving away no details, saying only that price per page will be competitive with offset up to around 10,000 copies. His assessment is that the shorter the run length, the greater the importance of plate costs and make ready to a printer's costs. And with long runs being driven out in favour of short and more frequent jobs, these will deliver higher per page costs than buyers are willing to accept. Printers make their profits on longer runs, he argues. Some might dispute that.

What is not in dispute is the achievement in terms of quality, in terms of flexibility which is well beyond any other digital press and beyond other offset presses.

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