The Ricoh VC60000 is a much bigger machine than the InfoPrint 5000, Ricoh's first continuous feed inkjet press. It is also offering an extra dimension in another vital respect. Where the older press is used by transactional printers with an element of direct mail colour or book printing, the new machine is very much a commercial colour press, that will also be used for some transactional printing.
The VC60000 has been developed to print on standard offset papers, including coated papers by using an undercoat station ahead of the print units. The ink receptive coating is applied through an analog roller, with a doctor blade set to deliver low, medium or heavier coatings according to the paper used. Inkjet optimised papers will not need coating, nor some uncoated substrates, but for gloss coated papers there is currently no viable alternative.
The web is dried and passes to the print engine proper where the paper is tensioned and held in position for the imaging step. Sensors measure the position of the edge of the paper, used to ensure precise registration by shifting the print head arrays the micro steps that may be needed. The print heads themselves are Ricoh piezo heads made from stainless steel. These are not considered consumable parts that need replacement at regular intervals. The heads deliver four droplet sizes, the smallest at 2-3pl, with a real resolution of 1200dpi in both directions and rapidly enough for 160 metres a minute throughout.
The heads fire Ricoh inks, supplied in ten-litre containers with buffer reservoirs at the pump end and close to the print heads. Constant running is not going to be a problem.
However, the press currently needs to stop for a reel change. This is not a permanent state of affairs. Using a new designs of splicer from Tecnau (owner of Lasermax), the press will be able to run continuously. This is only of use when connected inline to a finishing system, if running to a rereeling unit, there is no benefit to running continuously.
After the four print head arrays, there is a position for a fifth print bar. This might be used for a second black, for a MICR ink, which is unlikely to appeal to commercial printers, for a brand colour. Ricoh has made no statements to this effect.
Currently also the printheads remain in position above the web when not in use, printing mono for example. However, by the time the press ships in commercial numbers next year, the plan is to withdraw the head arrays and to cap them when not in use.
The freshly printed web is dried by running around the circumference of a heated drum, assisted by air knives. Prior to this there is the option of applying a protective coating to guard against scuffing or scratching in the finishing process.
The web proceeds via turner bars to the second print unit. There is no need to condition the paper, to add moisture or chill it, before printing the next side. Sensors monitor back to back registration and will trigger adjustments to ensure precise positioning.
What is essentially the same machine is sold by Screen as the TruepressJet 520HD. Screen builds both versions around the Ricoh heads and includes its drying expertise. The big difference is in colour management and workflow, where Screen has more experience of the commercial market (gained from studio cameras through CTP and workflow over the decades) while Ricoh is stronger in transactional.
Screen will also recommend the use of optimised papers rather than promote the coating unit.
The Ricoh VC60000 is a significant step forwards from the InfoPrint 5000. Its name is indication that this is a new line of thinking for the supplier, which having a strong presence in transactional printing is now looking at opportunities in commercial print.
The imaging system is an all new Ricoh design, while paper transport and drying comes from Screen. Unlike the IP5000/TPJ520 where the machines were almost identical, there are significant differences between these machines.