Fespa: looking beyond wide format

So, now that this year’s Fespa has closed and the dust has started to settle its time to ask ourselves what have we learnt from the show?

Fespa 2018 took place at the Messe Berlin.

Well, for a start, the Fespa organisers really should put more signage around the Messe to direct people to the show. I just followed the crowd on the first day and hoped someone else knew the way but no one seemed very confident and I overheard quite a few people complaining about this. If only there was a nearby building full of wide format printers where they could have had the signs printed…

The show itself was spread across 10 halls and appeared to be busy all the time I was there though the halls were relatively small. Nonetheless, there were long queues around all of the food vendors and the exhibitors that I spoke to all seemed happy with the sales leads they had gathered and reported healthy sales of kit. In addition, there were a lot of new printers, software and substrates announcements so that the wide format sector feels quite busy and upbeat at the moment and that was certainly my overall impression from this year’s show.

There’s no doubt in my mind that wide format is evolving, with the underlying inkjet technology making its way into other, more industrial sectors from textiles to packaging. Clearly, many of the established wide format vendors are taking the opportunity to diversify into these new areas. But it’s less clear to me that Fespa will really be able to capitalise on this.

Fundamentally, Fespa still appeals to a wide format audience, though it has successfully built on this through soft signage and some short run home furnishing and garment printing. But of course, this kind of textile printing shares its screen printing roots with Fespa, while other sectors, like packaging, really speak to a very different market, despite some crossover through the common use of inkjet technology.

So for me the corrugated corner felt a little forced, mainly because although you can print corrugated boards on wide format printers, the sector has really moved on to bigger, higher volume printers. The main printer running in this hall was an Inca Digital Onset X3, shown by Fujifilm complete with a robot for automated unloading. But I also chatted with Koenig and Bauer about the CorruCut post print flexo Press, which is about as far removed from wide format inkjet as is possible, while HP announced two new 2.8m wide PageWide presses despite not showing any corrugating machines and having only a tiny stand perched on the back of the Onset.

On the display graphics side, the most outstanding machine that I saw was probably HP’s new R2000 hybrid latex printer, now able to print to rigid media, and with white ink, two things that customers have long asked for. I’ve already written briefly about this printer and will come back in a few weeks time to explain the enormous effort that HP had to go to in order to achieve this machine.

Ricoh has showed off a prototype of its new latex printer to be delivered later this year.

It’s also worth noting that Ricoh is still working on latex printing. Ricoh’s first foray into latex was a co-development with Mimaki – Ricoh supplied the printheads and ink while Mimaki built the chassis. But HP released its third generation latex machines shortly after these printers were announced, neatly killing most of the advantages that Ricoh and Mimaki had. Mimaki quietly abandoned its latex, concentrating on its SUV printer, which also used the same chassis. Ricoh never seemed to have much success and most people assumed the company had given up.

But at Fespa Ricoh previewed a brand new latex printer, which it has built entirely itself. Naturally it uses Ricoh Gen5 printheads. There will be both 1.3m and 1.6m wide versions. Angelo Mandelli, wide format product manager for Ricoh Europe, says that the productivity has been improved. It can print at 40 sqm/hr in six pass mode on banner materials and at 25 sqm/hr for production quality on vinyl. The curing temperature is lower at 50º to 60º so that it will take some heat-senstive materials. It prints CMYK plus white for now but Mandelli says that Ricoh will probably add orange and green to expand the colour gamut. Expect a formal announcement over the next couple of months with the machines planned to ship later this year around November time.

Most of the other new printers were mainly iterative – slightly more productive versions of existing and well-proven designs. Clearly, the Ricoh Gen5 printhead is really popular as nearly all of the new printers that I saw at the show were using this head, including EFI’s Vutek H3, Agfa’s H3300 LED and Mutoh’s PerformanceJet 2508UF. Notable exceptions were Fujifilm’s Acuity Ultra and Inktec’s KX6U, both using Kyocera printheads and SwissQPrint’s updated models, which I believe use Konica Minolta.

The other big thing to my mind is the growing use of robotics. There have been a small number of robots in use in the last couple of years, mainly by companies like Zund and Esko for loading and unloading materials to their cutting tables. At the same time, there’s been an increasing use of auto and semi-auto loading systems for wide format printers so it was really only a matter of time before the printer vendors started looking at robots for their loading systems. This is the next step in increasing productivity – getting the substrates on and off the printers and then onto finishing is going to become increasingly important over the next few years and robots can offer a lot of flexibility in solving these issues.

This robot on the Canon stand loads media to the Arizona flatbed, and then unloads it to the cutting table.

Canon had the most eye-catching robot, with a single system placed next to an Arizona flatbed so that it could load the media to the printer, and then unload it direct to an Oce ProCut cutting table. The system was developed with a customer, Daniel Van Vliet, who owns Van Vliet Printing, as well as Rolan Robotics. Canon reckons the price of installing the robot and its interface is roughly £150,000. These robots are built for industrial environments and can easily last 10 years or more with little or no maintenance. Now think of the cost of adding a second shift over that period and it should really be a no-brainer. This also I will come back to in a later post with more details.

Elsewhere, Canon has abandoned its plans to get into 3D printing, apparently deciding that the market opportunity wasn’t big enough. In my opinion, 3D printing will be as important to manufacturing as digital printing has been to printing so this is the dumbest thing I’ve heard since, well, whatever this morning’s news about Brexit is. It’s the equivalent of Kodak deciding that it would be a good idea to pass on wide format printing all those years ago after buying Encad and now wondering why it can’t get into the emerging industrial print market.

That said, quite a few wide format vendors do have 3D printers but chose not to bring them to Fespa so clearly the market does not see much of a crossover between additive manufacturing and wide format. The exceptions were Mimaki, which bought its 3D printer but didn’t seem to do much with it, and Massivit which showed off its new Massivit 1500.

Massivit demonstrated 3D-printed display graphics alongside its new Massivit 1500 3D printer.

The other thing we learned at this show is that Berlin is amazing, the city really hums with life with big bold modern architecture and friendly people. Hopefully Fespa will take us back again soon though next year’s show will see a return to Munich, Germany, while the 2020 show will be in Madrid, Spain.

Still, when it rains in Germany, it really rains. And I live in England so I’ve seen rain before. I was congratulating myself on the first day for having the foresight to pick a hotel within a reasonable walking distance of the Messe when the heavens opened and I got soaked. But it was better than spending two hours in a queue for a taxi, especially if, like one of my friends, you happen to be pregnant. People, if you don’t have the common decency to give up your place in an extremely long taxi queue to an obviously pregnant woman in the midst of a rain storm then you’ll never find true happiness, regardless of which print technology you choose.

There are still plenty of other aspects of this Fespa to cover, particularly textile printing, which I’ll come back to it in a future post. So, watch this space! In the meantime, searching on the ‘Fespa2018’ tag should give you most of the new products that were shown.

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