Epson demonstrates label press concept

Epson showed off a concept label press on a corner its stand at Drupa. The new machine is essentially a much improved version of its SurePress L4000 series, which all use an aqueous inkset, with both better image quality and higher productivity. 

The press uses a new version of Epson’s water-based resin ink technology. As with the existing machines, the Surepress Concept uses a six colour resin inkset. But Epson has separated some components out of the ink. Thus there’s a new optimiser liquid that is jetted just ahead of the colours, to better control the placement of the dots on the media. This is followed by the colours and then an overprint, that’s said to aid with the drying. All of these fluids are water-based. 

Most digital label press manufacturers are working to develop machines capable of printing with water-based inks, which is partly because water is seen to be a more environmentally friendly base than UV-curable ink. But it’s mainly because water-based inks have a better chance of being certified as safe for indirect food contact, thereby expanding the applications the press can handle from labels to also include a wider range of packaging, including pouches. In that regard Epson is ahead of most of the other players, having spent years developing its AQ water-based resin inks. 

However, the drawback to Epson’s approach is that it is not a continuous print system, which drastically slows down the production speed. Instead of the roll advancing continuously, it pauses to print one frame at a time with multiple passes. This is becoming an increasing issue for Epson as inkjet label presses are becoming faster, with most now able to reach 70 or 80mpm, and some up to 100mpm. In contrast, the current SurePress L4733 is limited to a maximum speed of 8.2mpm. 

So the main advantage of this concept model is a jump in speed to around 13mpm, which Epson might yet manage to improve on since this press is still a work in progress. This improved speed is partly down to the use of a new printhead. Epson was a little coy about exactly which printhead it’s using other than to hint that it might be a variation on Epson’s new D3000 heads. It’s not unusual for Epson to adapt some of its heads for its own printers.

It prints at 1200 x 1200 dpi resolution, which is an improvement over the existing 720 x 1440. The concept press still prints one frame at a time but in this case the page wide array makes just one pass over the length of the frame, and then moves on. Marc Tinkler, head of product marketing for the commercial and industrial division at Epson Europe, says that the existing systems use multiple passes, adding: “So the quality is better because its single pass so less chance to get satellites and so on.”

The new head has also allowed Epson to improve its nozzle verification technology or NVT. On the existing models the nozzles are checked during cleaning or at the start of a job. But for this new model the nozzles are continuously monitored in real time Tinkler adds: “And it will compensate if a nozzle is not firing. You don’t have to stop the press, it just happens in the background.”

Tinkler told me that the demonstrations at Drupa had been well attended, noting: “A lot of people seem quite excited that we have moved forward with our water-based ink development.”

You can find further details on Epson’s existing label presses at epson.co.uk, but not the new machine since that is not a production model.


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