New Panther shows Xeikon confidence

Xeikon will use Drupa to show off a new inkjet label press, the Panther PX3300HD, as well as showing off a number of its existing technologies as the company contemplates its future direction.

The main highlight will be the new Panther PX3300HD, which builds on the company’s existing Panther platform but with an increase in print resolution from 600 to 1200 dpi. 

Most of the Panther presses are based on the Neo Picasso SE from the South Korean manufacturer Dilli. The exception is the Panther PX30000, which was a rebadged Domino N610i and is no longer listed for sale. The Neo Picasso SE is mainly targeted at the budget end of the market. Dilli also sells the Pro and Plus variants with up to eight colours for the higher end market that Xeikon caters to with its dry toner presses.

Xeikon has added its own digital front end, the proven X800, which brings with it the streamer technology that generates the imaging data and gives more flexibility into late stage changes without having to re-RIP the files. Xeikon has also reworked some of the engineering, and of course used its own ink, developed with its parent company, Flint. Over the years Xeikon has also developed its own inkjet imaging expertise. Initially this was mainly around tuning the curing of the ink. 

However, the new model marks a distinct change in pace as Xeikon has now taken over responsibility for the printheads, changing from the Kyocera heads that Dilli favours to the Xerox W1 printheads. Jurgen Devlieghere, vice president of R&D at Xeikon, says: “Dilli supply the media transport and the chassis and the curing but we supply all the ink system and the imaging system so it’s a combination of the two technologies.”

The change in printheads has brought with it a number of advantages, including the increased resolution as well as a boost to the speed, up from 50mpm to 70mpm.

Xeikon’s PX3000 was its first inkjet label press.

Evaluating new heads

Devlieghere says that choosing a head supplier is a long term arrangement, noting: “It’s like a marriage because there is so much effort involved in getting to know the particularities of a certain head and also to establish a good relationship with the technical people at the other side because the documentation is never complete and you always need to know things before you can really get the most out of an inkjet head.”

Xeikon first began looking for a new printhead partner over four years ago as Devlieghere explains: “We wanted to choose a head that was not only suitable for the UV inkjet machine that we make but also in the longer term for the corrugated market.” That precluded some vendors such as Memjet, which only works with water-based ink. Devlieghere adds: “That also implies that you need a strong head, with a pumping power that can bridge distances of a few millimetres, not just one or two millimetres, and that was a weak point of the Dimatix Samba.”

Devlieghere says that another issue with the Samba was that the parallelogram shape allows the heads to be positioned very close together, which in turn means that service engineers have to be careful in replacing individual printheads to ensure that all the heads on the bar are aligned together. Xeikon also felt that the Samba’s nozzle plate was not robust enough though Devlieghere acknowledges that Dimatix has improved this over the last couple of years. 

Xeikon also ruled out using Kyocera heads because the waveform design was not open with Kyocera insisting on providing the waveform for customers. Devlieghere says: “But if you are an ink manufacturer like we are, you need to tune the ink and the waveforms heavily together and if you need to wait each time for one or two months before they are ready with the waveform then it doesn’t work.”  He adds: “Depending on the resolution, and the speed and so on, with different waveforms you can crank up your quality quite a bit.”

Working with Xerox

Xerox developed the W-series printheads for single pass printers, and uses this head in its own Baltoro HF single pass press. The W heads have 5,544 nozzles, arranged in 24 rows of 231 each, with an effective print width of 115mm. These are grey scale heads with a native 4pL drop size. They can handle ink viscosity of 3 to 7cP. They can be supplied as a single channel 1200 npi head, as the W1, which Xeikon is using, or as two 600npi channels as the W2. They’re compatible with both aqueous and UV inks, in temperatures up to 60ºC.

Xerox sells two versions, with the original one running at 64Khz, which equates to 70mpm at 1200 dpi. This is the version that Xeikon is using.  However, Xeikon is also working with the latest heads, which can jet at 80kHz and should be capable of producing speeds of up to 100mpm. That in turn means that Xeikon could switch to the faster heads in future to offer a more productive press. The faster heads also include full recirculation down to the nozzle plate, which is not required with UV inks, but would be a good fit in the future for use with water-based inks for the corrugated market. 

Devlieghere says that Xerox had quite a flexible approach, noting: “They not only taught us how to develop the waveforms, they gave us all the tools and even the source code behind the tools so that we could continue developing on those tools. So we now have internally people making waveforms that are much better than what anybody could supply.”

“It’s a good head but like every head it has its particular behaviour. One of the things that we liked about it is that it’s pretty robust, including on the nozzle plate, which is metal.”

Jurgen Devlieghere

He points out that temperature is extremely important in order to control the viscosity to have consistent drops, noting: “The Xerox head has quite good temperature control at a late stage in the head itself which can give you that accuracy of the last degree that you need, up or down, to have consistency in the viscosity, which defines the drop size, and the colour consistency and image quality.”

He adds: “It’s a good head but like every head it has its particular behaviour. One of the things that we liked about it is that it’s pretty robust, including on the nozzle plate, which is metal.” 

The Xerox heads also come with a built-in nozzle compensation, to map around blocked nozzles and to have some nozzles fire more frequently to cope with missing nozzles. Devlieghere continues: “We automated the system, so we built a camera into the Panther that is the full width of the web. You print a test file, it read everything, feeds back and the nozzle compensation is immediately and automatically applied. And we think that’s a requirement to have good uptime on the press. So at the beginning of a job you can print that test file and it compensates automatically and you know that everything is working fine.”

He adds: “The uptime of the new Panther system is significantly better than what we could do before, simply because if something doesn’t work then we compensate for it and off it goes.”

Although Dilli is still supplying the chassis, Xeikon now builds the print bars to its own design, giving it much more control over the imaging system. Devlieghere  explains: “The Xerox heads have the possibility to use two little stepper motors to do the roll and stitch to align them to each other and to align them perpendicular to the media direction. To do that you need to steer the two stepper motors and we do that ourselves because it goes through the same head interface that we use for the imaging data.” He adds: “We print a test file, measure it and automatically the little stepper motors align the head, so we automated it.”

Each print bar has three heads, arranged with the central head slightly staggered to complete the stitching. There are five printbars – so 15 heads in total. This allows for a standard configuration of CMYK plus White. 

The Panther 3300HD can reproduce 88 percent of the Pantone colours within a Delta E of 2, which can be improved up to 94 percent of the Pantone colours if customers are wiling to accept a Delta E of 3.

Another way to improve the colour gamut would have been to add extra colours, typically orange and violet. However,  there’s only enough room on the chassis to add one further colour, which would not fully address the gamut. Jeroen Van Bauwel, Xeikon’s director of solution design, points out that additional colours would increase the cost, and questions whether or not customers would want to pay that cost for a relatively small improvement in gamut, adding: “Most of our customers would prefer four plus white colours rather than having the expensive extra fifth and sixth colours.”

Van Bauwel also points out that the white ink has a very high opacity, so that there’s no need for a second white channel. He says: “Last year we moved to a LED-only cured ink and also the 1200 dpi platform will use a LED-only cured ink but it’s not exactly the same ink as the one we use for the 600dpi machine.” 

Devlieghere adds: “It has the same base. The pigments are the same and all the ingredients for the curing are the same but you have to fine tune the ink and adjust it to the heads. But the Xerox head is pretty flexible on the viscosity range so we didn’t have to tune too much.”

There’s no option to run the press at a lower resolution, say 600dpi, in order to have a faster speed. Devlieghere says that would have made the press more expensive and that there’s a cost involved already with the higher resolution heads. Van Bauwel adds that 70mpm is fast enough for most customers.

Inkjet or Dry toner

The new press brings with it a change in emphasis at Xeikon. The company’s roots lie in electrophotography and it was slow to embrace inkjet technology. The previous Panther inkjet presses have been mainly aimed at the more budget-conscious end of the market, with Xeikon steering customers asking for better image quality towards its dry toner machines. But the new press, with its faster speed and higher resolution now gives customers a genuine choice between the two print technologies.

Xeikon has introduced this LX3000 Lion dry toner printer.

Van Bauwel says: “We are still the only one who has both technologies in our portfolio, with dry toner and inkjet. And that gives us an ideal position because we can position it depending on the end application. For food applications or where there is a high requirement for food safety then you choose a dry toner platform. If the requirements are for more durability and chemical resistance than you would choose a UV inkjet platform. And of course there are always customers that have multiple applications so we can discuss together which technologies best suits them and give them independent advice.”

He adds that some customers have both and that this gives them a huge advantage because then they can use the same workflow. “They clearly see the specific benefits of both technologies. If they want to print on natural papers then dry toner is the obvious way but if they want to print to durable or health and beauty labels that require a tactile look and feel then they put them on the UV inkjet machine. So they made a clear choice to have both technologies next to each other and can use the optimum technology according to the application.”

Xeikon will continue to sell its existing Panther 3300 because there’s still a demand for lower cost machines and the 600dpi resolution still satisfies a lot of label production. Van Bauwel estimates that the new Panther is about 40 percent more expensive than the current Panther, which is broadly in line with the difference between 600dpi and 1200 dpi presses from other manufacturers. He says that 1200 dpi is becoming recognised as a standard for label printing, noting: “For me, the main benefits of the 1200 dpi are not only in the quality but mainly in the uptime and all the other benefits that we get from moving to this new platform. The fact that if a nozzle is not working and you can compensate it immediately, that gives you much higher uptime. And there is the higher speed from 50 to 70mpm and this with the higher uptime gives a lot of extra capacity.”

Xeikon at Drupa

Naturally, Xeikon will show the new Panther 3300HD label press at Drupa, alongside the Titon TX500 and LX3000 Lion dry toner machines that were also shown at last year’s Label Expo. 

This Xeikon TX500 uses the new Titon toner designed for food packaging.

Robert Welford, president of Xeikon, says that although the Titon technology was originally developed for the paper-based flexible packaging market it’s also being used for printing paper cups and wallpaper. He adds: “What’s new about this now at Drupa is that we have lined up the TX500 with a brand new module that we have co-developed at Kurz, 500mm wide for the first time, and that allows for printing and inline metallisation in one pass and gives you unlimited possibilities in high end embellishment. So we are very excited and this is the first time that we will showcase this.”

Strangely, Xeikon will not be showing its Sirius press at Drupa, even though this is Xeikon’s main offering for the commercial print market that Drupa mainly caters to. This is because the Sirius press was introduced during the Covid lockdowns, meaning that its only outing has been to the last Hunkeler Innovation Days. Monika Olbricht, vice president of sales explains that Sirius is an existing product with an installed base around the globe, noting: “We see that a lot of graphic art customers are looking to diversify so we expect that they will look more at labels and packaging solutions than eight years ago.”

Xeikon will also show samples from its Idera press that’s been designed for printing to corrugated packaging. Sadly, the press itself is too big to bring to Drupa. However, Xeikon’s roadmap for future products clearly includes using the Xerox heads for the corrugated market.

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