25 March 2019 Analogue Printing Technologies

Ricoh plays the drum for drying technology

The press provider is pitching its latest press at litho substitution work based around new inks and a breakthrough drying concept.

Ricoh chose Hunkeler Innovations Days for the first public showing of its VC70000, now the flagship of its inkjet family and the press positioned as the litho replacement machine.

Outwardly there is little to distinguish it from the VC60000, the press that requires a priming coat ahead of printing and a seal to protect the surface after printing in order to work on offset coated media. The new machine does not and can print straight to standard offset papers.

The breakthrough has been a new ink, itself exploiting the ability of the latest Ricoh piezo printheads to fire a more viscous fluid than a standard aqueous ink. While this comprises a greater amount of pigment to water ratio, it also includes compounds which hold the ink on the surface of the paper. Ricoh is saying nothing about how this is achieved, but claims a colour gamut that is wider than litho.

Even with less ink present, paper running at up to 180m/min is going to be drenched in water which has to be removed without distorting the paper. This has been the challenge that all technology providers face. Ricoh's answer is a large heated drum surrounded by smaller heated rollers and a series of no mark ceramic coated rollers.

As the freshly printed paper enters the drying section it passes across the smaller rollers before being turned to pass around the drum and then around the reverse surface of the heated rollers before leaving the drying section for a chiller and reconditioning unit before printing on the reverse side.

It is a solution that maximises the time in the dryer, so moderating its temperature (around 120ºC on the drum and 150ºC on the rollers) to avoid damage to the paper. If a book is bound before the paper has returned to its normal humidity the result will be obvious; likewise if the cover behaves in a different way and shrinks back after trimming.

There is a new operating interface built in HTML5 which will also be offered on the VC60000. This remains in the portfolio for those companies that are printing only on uncoated or inkjet optimised papers, or where in order to achieve that level of quality, the print speed has to be cut to a maximum of 75m/min because of limitations of the drying technology.

The company also ran the Pro V20100 at Hunkeler, a mono press running to a B2 sheeter to produce pharmaceutical leaflets. This has been enhanced from the Domino supplied machine that Ricoh started with, each minor change adding to the reliability and predictability of the press. It has also added an IPDS driver to guarantee the front to back verification that is needed in a transactional environment.

A colour version is now planned and will be shipped to the Telford Customer Experience centre in April. It will run at 75m/min with a 600x600dpi quality level. This will work on uncoated and inkjet optimised papers, not standard offset substrates.

The stand also featured the introduction of software to manage a print room. Ricoh Process Director is established in the CRD ADF world, but this is not really suited to commercial print where different jobs may share the same frame on a web and where the driver has to accept PDF.

Its solution is Ricoh Communications Manager. It shares the same functionality as Process Director in being able to relay information about job progress, press availability and fault diagnostics. It is able to batch jobs that share characteristics, the same paper perhaps or the same delivery date and address, into a single PDF file for faster processing and more efficient operation thanks to the elimination of makeready times.

It is a SaaS application, hosted in the cloud, making it simpler to integrate seamlessly with other cloud solutions for an automated workflow from file received to printed output. A hot folder option exists to connect to legacy systems, but the aim is automation.

A trigger to a print instruction might be a consumer interaction with an e-commerce website, resulting in a request for a brochure. This can trigger the production process, perhaps including a degree of personalisation with no operator intrusion needed. For highly commoditised print where margins have vanished, the elimination of touch points provides an opportunity for profit.

As it is a cloud hosted approach, the solution is scalable in both directions according to the volume of jobs processed and available capacity. This also ensures compliance to legal requirements and that the latest version of the application is the one used. It means too that the printer does not need to look after hardware.

The last piece of the puzzle is Supervisor, a dashboard view into the print production process allowing the user to see at a glance what jobs are being printed, how far through the process these jobs are and what is happening on press.
A legacy view presents daily, weekly or monthly reports while a real time view presents what is happening in real time, measuring production against a series of KPIs that are in place for the purpose.

By Gareth Ward