Back in Japan

The print industry calendar used to be dominated by four main trade shows: Drupa in Germany; Ipex in the UK, which is now defunct; Print, in the US, now inexplicably replaced by Printing United; and IGAS in Japan, which is still going strong, and judging by the recent edition, still offers a useful showcase of new technologies.

In truth, the International Graphic Arts Show, or IGAS, wasn’t very international. The show alternates between the International and a Japan edition roughly every two years and this latest show did feel much more like a Japanese show. There was very little information in English and it was sometimes a bit of a struggle to find someone to talk to in English and in some cases it took multiple visits to a stand to find the main item. However, the show took place only a month or so after the Japanese government relaxed its Covid entry restrictions for foreign visitors, which must have made it hard to attract an international crowd. Then again, the organisers didn’t have to run the show in the same week as the American thanksgiving celebrations, and this together with the ongoing Chinese covid restrictions all but guaranteed that the bulk of the foreign visitors would stay at home. As it was, I only counted two foreign journalists – myself and Morten Reitoft from Inkish – plus a handful of foreigners amongst the exhibitors. 

This was a shame because the show itself was definitely worth dropping by. For me, the main takeaway was the amount of automation on show, and in particular a lot of robots on various stands, mostly being used to load media or unload everything from printed sheets to book blocks. Toshiyuki Ishibashi, group leader for RMGT’s international sales and marketing, explains: “Many Japanese printing companies are facing small lot jobs with a lot of images. Plus the rising cost of materials and a lack of manpower.”

Fujifilm showed this robotic system for unpacking paper.

Fujifilm, for example, showed off a robot for unpacking paper. This mainly seems to be aimed at the Japanese market where paper is delivered in small packets so that someone has to unpack multiple packs of paper and stack them ready for printing. The robot can unwrap the paper and air the sheets and then stack them in a pile. There’s no need for this in Europe and the US as printers tend to buy their paper in palettes so it’s relatively straightforward to unwrap them ready to use. 

Meanwhile, RMGT showed off a 970 PF8 offset press fitted with a prototype Plate Supply System on the 7th and 8th colour units that removed the used plates from the print units and inserted the new plates. The practical demonstration at the show started with two autonomous guided vehicles, known as Nippers. One of these collected the plates from the platesetter and delivered them to the press. The smaller Nipper robot then picked up a palette with the paper and inserted that into the pile feeder for the press.

Many other vendors also created solutions around the smart factory concept, including Fujifilm which showed of the Revoria One Production Cockpit on the RMGT stand, showing production information for Fujifilm’s own digital presses, but also for the offset and post-press processes.

Horizon had one of the biggest stands at the show and showed off a number of new devices. This included a new roll-to-booklet saddle stitcher, the iCE Stichliner Mark V, which can produce 6,000 booklets per hour. This can individually score the sheets, which are then plow-folded before stitching to create sharp spines and tight folds. There was also a sheetfed version in the form of the new iCE Stitchliner Mark IV. 

More importantly, Horizon really took the concept of the smart factory to heart and developed networking links with other vendors to create more automated solutions. This is all based around Horizon’s ICE series of Intelligently Connected and Efficient finishing equipment, which can connect to cloud-based services and can help track job and performance data between devices. 

Consequently, Horizon demonstrated how one of the RMGT Nipper AGVs can take the signatures from the offset press to a line that featured a gatherer, book block feeder, 4-clamp perfect binder, and three-side trimmer all connected to create an inline book production system.

Horizon also showed this plow folder developed with Miyakoshi.

Horizon also showed off a plow fold book block solution in conjunction with Miyakoshi. This included an unwinder to hold a printed roll, together with a plow folder, both from Miyakoshi, which was shown inline with a Horizon book block feeder, perfect binder, and variable trimmer. The result is that printed rolls can be converted into books in a single line at a rate of around 800 books per hour.

Miyakoshi itself showed its MJP20EXG, a four-colour inkjet printer that prints in duplex and was complete with a perforating unit. It takes a 20mins wide roll and runs at 160mpm at 1200 x 600dpi but can also be run at 1200 x 1200 dpi at 80mpm. It uses a Global Graphics DFE and incorporates a camera-based inspection unit that can compare the printed output against the bitmap files across the whole page. Miyakoshi has already sold one of these presses to a Japanese customer.

The perforating unit includes both horizontal and vertical perforations, which can vary dynamically from one sheet to the next to offer a completely digital post-press solution in line with the press. This was followed by slitting and creasing and a rotary cutter that can split the roll into two lines. Masahiko Kamei, general manager of Miyakoshi, explained that in order to get the most efficient use out of digital printing, it’s also essential to have digital finishing.

One of the main target markets is book printing with Kamei pointing out that there are many companies printing books that don’t have ISBN codes and are not destined to be sold in book stores and often have very short runs. He says that often the post press has not kept up, adding: “Our latest technology includes a digital post press solution so you can have perforations at any point on the sheet.”

Miyakoshi is a relatively small company that consistently punches above its weight precisely by coming up with useful ideas such as this. Miyakoshi also showed off a new initiative to support disabled artists by licensing their artworks and offering to wrap these images onto customer presses. Kamei also handed out face masks printed with some of these images that did add a welcome dash of fashion to what is otherwise a public health measure.

Interestingly, Miyakoshi is also developing a CI flexo press, the MCI 1000-W, which is designed to use water-based inks. It’s an 8-colour press with a print width of 850mm and a repeat of 1800mm. The print speed is up to 200mpm. It should be available in 2023.

Miyakoshi showed this MJP20EXG single pass full colour printer complete with perforation and slitting – shown here with the optical art wrap.

Fujifilm Business Innovation threw an interesting surprise in the shape of a new cut sheet dry toner press, tentatively called the B2 Revoria, that will target commercial print applications as well as photobooks, catalogues and transpromo. This takes a 750 x 662mm sheet that’s able to print six A4 pages or 28 postcards (which is a popular format in Japan). It will take a wide range of media from 64 to 450gsm, including coated paper, plain paper and non-woven materials. It can produce 2500 B2 sph or at least that’s the plan now though I’m told the machine is still not finalised. Naturally this speed is for single sided printing and the speed halves for duplexing. The target is for a monthly volume of 300,000 B2 sheets.

The current version prints CMYK but there is space for two further colours, with Fujifilm looking at gold, silver, white, clear and a pink that’s said to be almost fluorescent. This should give users a good range of options for competing for higher value jobs.

This means that Fujifilm will now be selling two B2 cut sheet digital presses, the inkjet Jet Press 750 and this new dry toner Revoria. Fujifilm says that the Jet Press has better image quality and is faster though I think that the Revoria will have an edge for short run double sided printing. Fujifilm expects that the dry toner device will mainly compete on offering a broader range of media. 

It’s also worth noting that Fujifilm announced the high speed version of the cut sheet Jet Press, the 750HS, as a new model for the Japanese market, though this was introduced into Europe last year.

Fujifilm’s B2 Revoria is a dry toner press.

Fujifilm made a great show of its B2 Revoria, blocked off behind a barrier in one corner of the stand. But, hidden behind the crowds craning around the barrier to see the Revoria, was a banner describing a roll-fed inkjet Jetpress. And not just one, but two new rollfed Jetpress models

These are twin engined presses for duplexing and take 520.7 mm wide paper rolls. They use Fujifilm Dimatix printheads with 1200 x 1200 dpi resolution and print CMYK using water-based pigment inks. The main difference between the two models is the inkset. The 1160CF – or Continuous Feed – uses what Fujifilm describes as a “newly developed high concentration pigment ink” which has been designed for uncoated and plain paper, where the paper can absorb some of the water content in the ink to reduce the amount of drying needed. It can run at 160mpm at 1200 x 600 dpi – around 2096 A4ppm – or 80mpm in its Image Quality mode at 1200 x 1200 dpi. This model takes 64 to 250gsm paper, though the press will slow down for media over 157 gsm. This version should warm up to operating temperature in 15 minutes.

The 2150CFG – Continuous Feed Graphics – has been designed for printing to offset paper without needing any kind of inkjet treatment or precoating. This press uses a different water-based pigment ink, which Fujifilm described to me as being a “sticky” ink where the ink is designed to hold the shape of the dots to give a sharper image and prevent any spreading into the substrate. For now. Fujifilm is only selling these presses in Japan though it seems likely to me that there would be strong demand for both of these in the US and European markets.

Fujifilm also showed off a new postcard format, whereby the toner acts as an adhesive so that the card can be folded in half to stop the post man or anyone else from reading the contents. Once opened, the card cannot be reseated so it’s obvious if someone has opened it. The post card format is quite popular in Japan, mainly because of a low cost postage rate specifically for these cards.

Ricoh showed its Pro Z75 B2 inkjet press at IGAS 2022.

Ricoh showed off its new B2 sheetfed single pass inkjet press, the Pro Z75, where it was right at the front of Ricoh’s stand at the recent IGAS show in Tokyo. The press has been developed entirely by Ricoh, using the expertise in designing cut sheet paper transport systems gained from its dry toner presses, combined with its own printheads and ink technology as seen on the rollfed VC70000-series inkjet presses. 

It will print to offset coated plus plain and inkjet coated paper from 60 to 400gsm without using any kind of primer. It takes B2 sheets up to 585 x 750mm, which is suitable for printing 6-up letter size pages. It can print 4500 images per hour, and includes full auto duplexing where the speed for double-sided printing is 2250 per hour. 

Ricoh says that the Pro Z75 will target a broad range of commercial print work including packaging, direct mail, posters and display graphics. That suggests that the press will have to be competitive against offset as well as other digital devices, such as the B2 HP Indigo 100K and 50K as well as Fujifilm’s Jet Press and Konica Minolta’s KM-1 series.

Kyocera Document Solutions showed off a new monochrome inkjet production printer, which is essentially a black-only version of its colour TaskAlfa Pro 15000c. It’s runs at the same speed of 150 ppm but will be around 30 percent cheaper. It should be available this month. Shinichi Uchida, general manager of the R&D division, says that it was designed specifically for the Japanese market, pointing out that there is a strong monochrome offset tradition in Japan and noting: “Japanese customers are now considering switching to digital for monochrome.”

He says it’s mainly designed to compete against monochrome laser printers, adding: “We asked the overseas sales companies how they felt about it. The US did not want it but it will be in Europe in 2023.”

Kyocera Document Solutions has developed a monochrome version of its TaskAlfa Pro 15000c inkjet press.

Kyocera is also in the process of developing a brand new cut sheet inkjet printer that will take it much further into the production print market. The new machine will take SRA3/sized paper and can print to coated paper, which the current 15000c cannot do. It will use a new water-based ink with a new drying system that uses Near InfraRed. Naturally it will use Kyocera printheads – KJ4 with 1200 dpi resolution. 

This is possibly one of the most significant developments that I saw at the show as it signals a new player in the commercial end of the inkjet production print market, one that comes with a proven track record and that has access to its own IP as well as an established international sales operation. The press itself should start beta testing next year, with commercial availability possibly by 2024, presumably just in time to launch at Drupa.

Screen announced a new SC+ ink for its Jet520 HD series press. This improves the black density as well as the colour gamut as well as improved resistance to bleeding and abrasion. and will allow the presses to cope with a wider range of uncoated media. These features should enable users to handle a wider range of applications, including higher quality jobs. Screen will supply a kit to existing customers to wash out the old SC ink and install the new SC+.

Screen is also planning to introduce a new NP ink for its Truepress Jet520NX. This is a water-based pigment ink that doesn’t require any primer or inkjet coating for the media. It will enable a new high speed printing mode for the NX to run at up to 180mpm. It’s also said to offer greater density for the black ink, which Screen says will make the 520NX more suitable for printing catalogs and books.

The IGAS 2022 show was quite busy.

IGAS turned out to be a fascinating, frustrating show, full of interesting machines though some of these, such as Fujifilm’s rollfed inkjets, weren’t actually at the show and there other things that I discussed that I cannot yet write about. Strangely, very few presses were running at IGAS though I believe that this was mainly down to the limited amount of time given to vendors to set their stands up for the show.

For me personally, leaving aside the individual machines, the most interesting thing that I learned from IGAS is that the Japanese market does seem to operate on different priorities from Europe, which values speed and profit margins whereas it appears that very high image quality is still paramount to Japanese customers. I saw many very high quality samples and many of the digital vendors spoke of the need to compete against offset quality even for very short run jobs.

Besides this, IGAS also offered me a chance to catch up with old friends, many of whom I had not seen since the start of the pandemic. Beyond IGAS, Tokyo remains one of the most fascinating cities in the world, a blend of ultramodern cutting edge technologies mixed with old-fashioned customs. In some ways, the city is reassuringly familiar, just like any other capital city in a highly industrialised country with the same brands even if it’s hard to read the station names on the metro. And in other ways it’s strange and unusual, but never dull and definitely one of the highlights of a trip to IGAS.

…with a little help from my friends

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