Walking the show floor at Graph Expo it became very clear that there were almost no big iron presses and the two emerging digital printing camps: electrophotographic (EP aka toner) and high speed inkjet web presses. The EP devices are going through revolutionary changes and are used mostly for a wide variety of short run applications. While the inkjet presses are going through revolutionary changes and are targeted for high volume applications.
On the EP front, both Xerox and Kodak announced similar size upgrades (26”). HP showed the Indigo 7500 digital press, which added the new Vision System, which can detect unintended marks and reject pages and automatically reprint them even with variable data printing.
This was the first US show you could see the inkjet presses. Meeting with Aurelio Maruggi, Vice President and General Manager at Hewlett-Packard, I learned of the new HP T350 press, which prints at 600 ft/min., which is 50% faster than the T200. One of the nagging unanswered questions about the HP Inkjet presses is head life. According to Maruggi, customers are reporting they are replacing 1 print head every 3 shifts, which is 3 times longer than HP expected. Three other exciting inkjet presses were the Kodak Prosper 5000XL, Fuji Digital Inkjet J Press 720 and Dainippon Screen Truepress Jet520 ZZ (aka Ricoh 5000VP).
But the most interesting thing I saw at the show was an event in downtown Chicago sponsored by Cabot. Founded in 1882, Cabot Corporation is a material manufacturing company headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts. Its profit came in at $248 million for fiscal 2010, a reversal from the company’s net loss of $125 million in the prior fiscal year. Their Inkjet Colorants are part of their New Business Segment.
After the show, in the Grand Ballroom at the Peninsula Chicago Hotel, there was a panel presentation moderated by Andy Tribute with Mary Lee Schneider, President, Digital Solutions and Chief Technology Officer for R.R. Donnelley; Frank Delfer, Executive Vice President of Technology and CTO, DST Output; Chris Carosella, Vice President of Product Development & Regulatory Affairs, IWCO Direct; and Marco Boer, Vice President, IT Strategies.
The panel talked about many customized communication and inkjet related topics. For example, DST is the largest third-party First-Class mailer in the US. There is an interesting side note about DST that comes from the book “Data Driven Print,” written by Pat Sorces and Michael Pletka. In the book they talk about how DST is successful because they understand how to match printing technology with the right manufacturing cost to create cost effective customized communications. Sorces and Pletka describe how DST combines Oce VarioPrint technology with the Extreme Dialogue composition engine for effective and cost efficient transpromo 401K programs.
But the focus of the presentation was how some printers were installing color inkjet heads on their web presses and creating, in essence, a press that could print using offset printing, color inkjet printing or a combination of both. Some of the larger companies may have staff capable of installing these heads; other companies may hire integrators for the installation.
System Integrators, such as Adphos, are offering to add color heads to web presses. Adphos is a privately-owned company in southern Germany with subsidiaries and support offices worldwide. They have already done a proof of concept by adding color Kodak Prosper heads to a Goss Sunday Press.
An integrator in the US that specializes in adding inkjet heads is Buck Automation. According to owner Buck Crowley, there are a wide variety of heads available for different applications. Crowley talked about the importance of matching the heads to the specific application but discussed viable heads from Lexmark, Canon, HP, Domino and Versamark. According to Crowley, the costs to install are much lower than the purchase price of an inkjet press. Crowley described a recent project he worked on in which he added four color heads to a web press capable of printing at 800 ft/min. The installation of inkjets across 52 inches cost about half a million dollars and the resulting cost per page was 3¢. And that cost/page may be high because an advantage of adding heads is that you may be able to buy the Inkjet Colorants and, not unlike a microbrewery, make your own ink for much less.
Where do you stand in the battle of digital printing technologies?