The most disruptive technology on view at the Hunkeler Innovation Days is one that has recently celebrated its silver jubilee: colour toner printing.
While almost every other printing machine was running with inkjet heads and other suppliers were discussing the benefits of inkjet printing, Xeikon proposed that its technology was the most disruptive in the room. It supported this with a prominently provocative statement. “Here to invest again in inkjet printing? Again?”.
In contrast here was a 30m/min webfed toner press producing print at 1200dpi on offset papers with no questions about quality, nobody examining the sheets to see if nozzles had been blocked or the ink had mottled. But it was largely ignored. Toner for many people is yesterday’s technology.
Not for Benoit Chatelard, CEO of the Flint group owned company. Prior to joining Xeikon he had been senior vice president at Ricoh where inkjet is part of the blood and which with the Pro VC70000 had one of the highlights of the event.
He knows about inkjet. He knows that the technology is still temperamental, that it cannot always be relied upon, that it cannot be guaranteed to run all kinds of paper, that it is still far from maturity. And he knows that it is expensive.
‘I have been developing the theory that we have discounted toner too quickly,” he says to begin with, before sketching a chart to show where cut sheet digital printing ends in terms of cost and productivity and where webfed inkjet printing picks up on the same terms.
“Cut sheet toner is good for up to 1 million pages a month, continuous feed inkjet works from 4 million to 20 million pages a month. What if you are printing around 2 million pages a month, can you afford the $2 million investment in inkjet? We think there is a big gap between 1 million to 4 million pages a month.”
Xeikon’s toner technology fits this gap, running 4-5 million pages a month on a press that has an uptime of more than 90% and which is versatile enough to take on new markets, say wallpapers, with a much lower investment. “At Hunkeler Innovation Days, this is the disruptor machine,” he says.
The machine that allows him to make this pitch is the XM500, the twin-engine single-tower press that uses the same print technology as the CX3 single engine machine for label printing.
A new toner set adds to the applications that are addressable, wallpapers being a prime example. The company sold four presses to print wallpapers in Germany last year and expects to sell a further four machines this year as the home decor market begins to understand about digital printing. Questions about matching one side of the wallpaper reel to the opposite edge do not come up as they do with inkjet.
“And there are a lot of printers that want to attack these markets that simply cannot afford to invest in inkjet,” he continues. And if the 30m/min threshold is limiting, he explains that there is no law of physics that prevents a toner machine reaching 60m/min. The first Xeikon machines printed at 5m/min, 25 years on reaching 30m/min, a steady increase in speed that can continue.
He spices the argument with figures to show that the toner engine will use these power, fusing being more energy efficient that hot air or heated drum drying “and at full coverage it’s cheaper to run a job on the Xeikon.
“And it is a lower risk investment. There is no need for the level of investment in infrastructure around an inkjet press that increases the cost.”
The message is getting through. Chatelard points to one US customer that has four sites across the country wanting to print closer to the point of use. It means two machines in each site, a total of eight presses. Opting for the Xeikon technology makes this affordable; inkjet currently is not.
“There is a very good business benefit to buying toner. You can make money with this machine today. The future is about all the technologies. We think we can have a very nice coexistence, so do not dismiss us too quickly.”