In from the cold

The start of this month saw the welcome return of the Hunkeler Innovation Days, which normally runs every two years but was forced to miss the last outing due to the pandemic. 

The show is organised by Hunkeler and takes place in Luzern, Switzerland, close to Hunkeler’s base. It is a very tightly focused event, mostly around continuous feed digital printers and the associated post press production lines. It’s a small show, limited to one main hall plus a second overflow hall with small stands and a dining area. It has a no-frills aesthetic, with vendors banned from building excessive displays so that the concrete walls of the Messe Luzern stand out.

And it’s a very democratic show, with the main hall split into two sections and every vendor having the same sized stand within each section. Hunkeler doesn’t even let the vendors pay more to secure a better position – instead each vendor has to work with the space that’s allotted to them. That worked well for HP this year, which found that it had been given the prime spot right at the front of the main hall. Everyone rubs shoulders together, queuing for lunch and eating all together in the second hall, from CEOs and senior management right down to itinerant journalists. 

Ostensibly the show is mainly to do with post-press solutions, and I’ll come to those in the second part of this story later this week. Perhaps inevitably, it’s the presses that have come to dominate, and the show has gained a reputation as a place where press vendors launch new printers. This year did not disappoint, with a new press from Canon, the ProStream 3000, and a host of machines that were announced last year in the US but were making their European debuts in Switzerland. 

Canon launched this ProStream 3000 at HID 2023.

Canon’s ProStream 3000 builds on the existing ProStream concept but has been deigned to target higher value applications. The ProStream is a continuous feed single pass inkjet press aimed mainly at the book printing and direct mail markets. As with the existing 1000 series, it takes rolls up to 558mm wide. As before, there are two models, with the 3080 running at 80mpm and the 3133 producing 133mpm, the same speeds as the existing 1000 and 1800 models. Not surprisingly, the monthly duty cycle for the two models also remains the same at 3.7/ 6.1 million B2 sheets respectively.

The changes have mainly been to the way that the paper is dried with the external cooling unit now moved to inside the body of each engine to give better temperature control. In addition the drying units have been beefed up and the drying area in the second engine has been extended. The main benefit of these changes is that the press now runs heavier stocks before it slows down. 

In practice this means that whereas the 1800 could only run stocks up to 160gsm at the full rated 133mpm, the new 3000 can take stocks up to 200gsm at 133mpm. The 1800 would slow from 133mpm to 80mpm with papers over 160gsm up to 250gsm, and then slow further. The new 3000 improves on this, running paper heavier than 160gsm up to 270gsm at 80mpm, before slowing further up to 300gsm.

Thomas Hofmann, head of Canon’s continuous feed printing, says that Canon has traditionally had a strong market presence in transactional printing but that for higher value applications such as calendars and photobooks it’s necessary to target papers in the 150 to 230gsm range. So the ability to run 200gsm stocks at the full 133mpm will help Canon in its approach to these markets. Hofman adds that 270gsm is also important to the US direct mail market because this weight is stiff enough to be used for postcard and mail formats that attract a lower postage rate. For these substrates the new 3000-series is twice as fast at 80mpm, which is a substantial productivity jump.

Ricoh demonstrated this VC70000e

Ricoh had first announced its VC70000e press last year in the US but used this event to give the press its first European showing. The ‘e’ apparently stands for Enhancements with Ricoh having made improvements to both the hardware and software.

There’s a new undercoater unit in front of the print engine which flood coats the substrate with a primer. This allows it to handle offset coated and uncoated papers as well as inkjet treated stocks, which is clearly the direction this market is moving toward.

There’s a new Pro scanner option which can check for a number of issues and can be used to automatically set the press up. The hardware comes fitted to the press as standard with customers having to license different levels to unlock the features. This includes checking the quality of the prints when running and looking for missing nozzles. It can automatically send an alert to an operator if a head needs replacement. Mario Riani, product manager for continuous forms printers for Ricoh Europe, says: “So we record what you are producing and you can double check any part of the image. You can automatically check for jet-outs with a flash line printed on top of the sheet.”

However there’s no compensation such as mapping adjacent nozzles to cover the missing one though Ricoh is looking at this for the future. Riani adds that the printheads are very reliable, noting: “We check at the beginning of the production and then we can print the whole roll without having any kind of issue. We have this real time inspection to check for issues but there’s not a real need for automatic compensation at the moment.”

Otherwise, the press is the same as the existing VC70000, with the same Ricoh Gen5 printheads, same ink and drying and same running speeds. It takes 520mm rolls and can run with 600 x 600 dpi resolution at 150mpm though this slows down to 120mpm on papers over 157gsm. It can also run at 1200 x 1200 dpi at 50mpm and there’s an intermediate speed at 600 x 1200 dpi of between 75 and 100mpm depending on paper weight and coverage.

Ricoh also brought a monochrome printer, the VC2100. This is not a new printer, and is based on a Domino engine with Kyocera printheads. Ricoh has added a controller developed with TAGG. It’s a single engine duplex printer. The standard VC20000 can produce 75mpm at 600 x 600 dpi or 150mpm at 600 x 300 dpi but the VC20100 version has a double row of printheads and can run at 150mpm at 600 x 600 dpi. There’s a choice of print widths of 558mm using five heads or 445mm using four heads in a row. There’s also a colour version. 

Riani explains: “We are very successful with this engine. We have multiple customers printing manuals with the mono engine.”

HP’s PageWide Advantage 2200 inkjet press made its European debut at HID 2023.

HP showed off its PageWide Advantage 2200, which was previously launched last year in the US but for this show HP announced that it had increased the speed in its Quality mode from 101mpm to 152mpm. The printheads can produce two drop sizes but the press only uses both drop sizes for all four colours in the Quality mode. Barbara McManus, director of R&D for HP’s PageWide Industrial division, explains: “We have new electronics and new firmware and we found that we could fire both the low and high weight drops at the 152mpm. It’s really just making sure that we had enough data going through and that it wouldn’t cause us other challenges.” 

There are six print bars in total, with each having ten printheads or five for each side of the paper. The colours include the optimiser plus cyan, magenta and yellow and two printbars for the black ink, which allows the press to print monochrome at 244mpm but also helps to fill in shadow details in the colours. McManus says that the fast monochrome speed is mainly to appeal to the book and transactional markets, adding: “We are really just trying to push paper through as quickly as possible. And more of our customers are looking at different markets so this is really giving them options.”

The press has an interesting design, with the paper following a convoluted path from the unwinder, over the print arch and past the printheads to print the first side, and then through the body of the press and past the drying units, before turning and coming back underneath the press, and back up to the print arch to print the second side. From there the paper snakes back through the drying area to exit to the rewinder. The drying itself is done by heaters producing hot air, which is circulated through the drying area with the complicated paper path designed to allow the paper to take maximum advantage of this heated air.

There’s a choice of one, two or three drying zones. More drying uses more energy but allows the press to handle heavier materials. The model shown in Luzern had two drying zones, meaning that it can take papers from 40 to 250gsm, which should be suitable for most direct mail and photobook applications. Darren Podrabsky, worldwide product marketing manager for HP’s PageWide Web presses: “We have purposefully given customers a wide range of drying temperatures to choose from because power usage is a big issue.”

Kodak’s Prosper Ultra C520 as shown at HID 2023.

Kodak brought along its Prosper Ultra 520 press. Kodak is unique amongst the major single pass inkjet press manufacturers in using continuous inkjet and the company says that this approach allows it to achieve higher ink coverage for more demanding jobs whilst maintaining a high print speed. It has a 520mm print width and can print a maximum page length of 3.8m. The Ultra 520 runs at 152mpm, which equates to 2020 A4 images per minute printed two-up duplex or 12,950 B2 sheets per hour printed four over four. Resolution is 600 x 1800 dpi, which Kodak says is equivalent to 200 lpi. 

There are two versions, the C520 that was shown in Luzern plus a P520. The main difference between the two is the number of drying units. The drying is intelligent near infra red from Adphos. The C520 has been designed for high ink coverage applications on papers from 42 to 270gsm and has four drying units. The P520 is designed for medium to low ink coverage applications, on papers from 45 to 160gsm, and only has two drying units. The P520 can handle heavier stocks than 160gsm but might see a reduction in speed. It’s possible to upgrade from a P520 to a C520.

Yukiyoshi Tanaka, president of Screen with the Truepress Jet520 HD+.

Screen demonstrated its existing Truepress Jet520HD+ running a new ink, the SC+ ink. This is the same ink that was shown at last year’s IGAS show in Tokyo. essentially it improves the black density as well as the colour gamut and gives better resistance to bleeding and abrasion. These features should allow the presses to cope with a wider range of uncoated media, which in turn means that users will be able to take on a wider range of applications, including higher quality jobs. In Luzern, this press was shown with Hunkeler CS8 Cut & Stuck module.

Screen also showed off its new Truepress PAC 520P, which has been designed for printing to paper-based packaging. This uses newly developed water-based pigment inks that comply with appropriate food-safety regulations for sustainable flexible-packaging applications. This is the same unit that I saw at the Tokyo IGAS show, which Screen has now shipped to Europe and is using to test the substrates for the European market. The idea is that the machine will ship with a complete set of profiles for all the available packaging materials that can be used with it, which will save customers having to make their own profiles.

Screen also showed off a new colour management tool, MYIRO, which is essentially a desktop spectrophotometer. The idea is that users simply feed a printed colour chart into the unit and it automatically reads all the colour patches. This has been developed by Konica Minolta’s Sensing division, which has a first class reputation for developing sensors and measuring devices for various applications, including colour management. This will now be supplied with all of the Truepress Jet 520HD printers will now come with this.

In amongst all the single pass inkjet machines, Xeikon showed its SX30000, a roll-fed press that uses Xeikon’s Sirius dry toner print technology. This was first launched back in 2020 but because of the pandemic and lockdowns this show has been one of the first opportunities to see it running live in Europe.

Xeikon brought its Sirius SX3000 toner press to HID2023.

The SX30000 is a single engined machine that prints duplex images with up to five colours, with 1200 dpi resolution. It takes a 520mm wide roll but only prints 508mm wide. It prints on uncoated papers, digital coated papers in silk, gloss or matte, and standard offset papers from 40 to 350 gsm. Xeikon says that its aimed at book printing, direct mail, security documents, and general commercial printing.

The press runs at 30mpm, which is equivalent to 404 A4 ppm or 2,545 B2 sheets per hour. As such it is much slower than the inkjet presses shown in Luzern but is also said to be much cheaper.

Xerox showed off two sheetfed presses, including the Baltoro HF, which is an entry-level inkjet printer aimed at the transactional, direct mail and catalog markets. This does use Xerox’s own W-series drop on demand piezo inkjet printheads with 1200 x 1200 dpi resolution. The ink is Xerox’s High Fusion pigmented aqueous inks, which contains binders within the ink to attach the pigment to the substrate so that there’s no need for any precoating or priming process. It will take paper from 60 to 270 gsm. It is a very compact press, largely due to using near infrared lamps to dry the inks.

Alongside this, Xerox also had an Iridesse, which is a dry toner device that can print metallic gold or silver dry ink plus CMYK and clear dry ink in a single pass. The advantage of this is that its relatively easy to create quite stunning images for higher value work.

In addition, there were a couple of light production printers in hall 2. Riso showed off its new Valezus T2200 which is essentially the same machine as the existing T2100 but with a number of internal improvements. This has resulted in a faster print speed at 330ppm and is good for a longer duty cycle of up to 60 million pages. Riso takes an unusual approach in that it uses an oil-based pigment ink with five colours – CMYK plus grey. The ink has been reformulated to improve the colour gamut and to minimise show through. The first units have already shipped but there should be wider availability from April.

Kyocera Document Solutions also brought along its TaskAlfa Pro 15000c, an inkjet printer that takes SRA3-sized sheets and can print 75ppm, which equates to 150 A4 ppm in both colour and black and white. It uses Kyocera printheads with 600 x 600 dpi and prints CMYK. It doesn’t use primer and prints to plain paper and inkjet-receptive media from 52 to 360gsm. However, Kyocera is in the process of developing another inkjet press that will print to coated papers and should be available next year.

Xerox showed this Iridesse toner printer that can create metallic effects.

There are a couple of conclusions to be drawn from all this. For me, the dominant theme is that continuous feed digital presses, which have traditionally been targeted at relatively low value transactional printing, are now being pushed toward high value applications. Before the pandemic slowed everything down, the direction of travel was towards inks that could print direct to offset papers. This has continued though there seems to be a greater acceptance now for using a primer or optimiser. Not surprisingly many vendors have also tweaked their drying systems to handle heavier papers without slowing in order to pitch for higher value work.

Some vendors are now talking about competing directly against offset presses. Kodak has been the most vocal but most of the other vendors have also quietly said that this is the direction that they are moving in. I expect that more press vendors will talk about this as we get closer to next year’s Drupa show. Now, commercial printers have generally favoured sheetfed presses because of the flexibility this gives them to match substrates for each individual jobs. But sheetfed inkjet presses don’t have the sort of productivity to take on offset presses – only the continuous feed inkjet machines can move the paper through the press fast enough for that.

So it remains to be seen if some offset printer companies are willing to sacrifice media flexibility and switch to roll-fed presses. That’s largely going to depend on the balance between running costs and run lengths. But it’s worth noting that many book printers found that publishers were willing to work with a reduced choice of papers if that helped to keep the costs down. 

The other thing that struck me is that there’s still plenty of life left in the monochrome market, at least as far as continuous feed printers are concerned. This shouldn’t be a surprise given that books are a major target market for these presses and many books do just consist of monochrome text. But this is the reason for Ricoh’s success with its VC2000-series and for HP giving its Advantage 2200 a much faster speed in monochrome than colour.

Finally, the presses are just the marking engines and continuous feed printers only really make sense when we consider them as part of an overall production solution. So the second half of this story, which will come shortly, will look at some of the post press solutions that were shown. Watch this space.


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One response to “In from the cold”

  1. Dustin Graupman avatar
    Dustin Graupman

    As always Nessan a very comprehensive yet succinct recap. It certainly seems like the industry is coalescing around heavy coverage 20-inch+ width, and cut sheet solutions, as the next major opportunities. Not surprisingly the only major omissions at the show IMO were some of the larger format B2+ cut sheet like Ricoh Pro V75, Landa, KM-1 and the FujiFilm JetPress simply because the DNA of this event has long been rollfed solutions and associated finishing.

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