Ticket to Ride

And we’re back. Sort of. Much to my relief, the endless round of trade shows, of early morning flights, bad coffee, and hurried interviews has finally restarted, at least for me, with last week’s Fespa show in Amsterdam. 

This year’s Fespa took place at the RAI in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Although the show was reasonably busy, it did not feel as crowded as previous shows have done, and covered a much smaller area, but there was still a noticeable buzz with everyone glad to take another step together towards some sort of normality. 

Usually vendors will hold back new announcements until a big show, which gives the impression that lots of new products are part of the experience of a show. This also means that some shows become identified with particular trends because there is a rash of similar product announcements. This year, of course, has been different with vendors introducing new products as and when they are ready. The result is that, at first glance, there weren’t many new products announced at Fespa because they had already been announced some months earlier. But on reflection that probably says more about journalists – or maybe just me – having a very low threshold for boredom. 

Instead, the show itself was the main focus, simply the fact that it went ahead, that we could all meet face to face, shake hands and sit down together. And most vendors that I spoke with said that visitors had come with the intention of investing in kit. Philip Van der Auwera, Agfa’s marketing manager for display graphics commented: “All the customers have come looking to invest. They are not just here to ask questions. They are interested in buying so it’s much better than I had hoped.”

And of course there were plenty of things that were being exhibited for the first time. SwissQprint showed off its new fourth generation flatbeds, which were announced just before the show and are available now. I’ve already covered these here but the main update is that the printheads have been switched from Konica Minolta 1024i to the new Konica Minolta 1280i heads. The print modes and speeds remain the same, but marketing communications manager Petra Fetting says that the latest printers are more productive because users can run more jobs on the faster modes without compromising the print quality. Certainly, the results that were being printed on the stand did look very good. 

Durst brought a couple of recent printers but its main efforts went into introducing Vanguard Digital, the American manufacturer of wide format printers that it acquired last year. Durst will now start distributing the Vanguard printers in Europe through its own network though Vanguard is planning on setting up its own European distribution. Vanguard is also established its own European facility, in Brixen in Italy, next to Durst’s main base. Vanguard will take advantage of Durst’s workflow software, though Vanguard also seems intent on keeping its own separate identity

David Cich, president and CEO of Vanguard, which is now part of the Durst Group.

David Cich, president and CEO of Vanguard, also introduced a new entry level flatbed printer, the VR6D-HS. Cich told me that he is a fan of Kyocera printheads, but he’s used Ricoh Gen6 heads for this printer to keep the cost down. These are greyscale heads with drop sizes of 5, 10 and 15pl. It can be fitted with up to 10 heads and takes CMYK plus white and varnish. The company quotes the speed for its quality mode at 74sqm/hr. It will take media up to 3.09 x 1.57 metres and up to 10cm in thickness. 

Alongside the Vanguard flatbeds, Durst also showed off its P5 Tex iSub, a very fast dye sublimation printer that was launched just a couple of months ago. Durst has already sold 10 of these, including six to one US customer. This can print both direct to textile and to transfer paper. It has an inline fixation unit that uses infrared and heated plates and can cope with speeds of up to 172 sqm/hr direct to fabric. However, this speed rises to 380 sqm/hr for transfer paper, and its also sold without the inline fixation unit as the P5 Tex. It has a print width of up to 3.3m wide but can also handle split rolls up to 1.6m wide. The resolution is 800 x 600dpi with a single 7pl drop size, or 400 x 600dpi, with a combination of 7pl, 14pl and 21pl drosizes. It can be configured with up to eight colours.

Agfa has had a busy year and this was reflected on its stand with a number of recently-launched printers. This was one of the busiest stands at the show, making it hard to actually see and photograph the printers, suggesting that Agfa has really listened to what its customers want. This includes the Avinci CX3200, a 3.2m wide dye sublimation printer that was announced earlier this summer. It’s aimed specifically at the soft signage market, with Reinhilde Alaert, marketing product manager for Agfa’s high end sign and display segment, explaining that as customers expand they become more interested in soft signage. Unlike the Durst iSub, the Avinci does not have inline fixation but Van der Auwera says: “We found that the quality is much better if you transfer from paper.” He says that the final print quality in dye sublimation depends heavily on the quality of the calender unit and that it’s easier to maintain consistency across the full width with a dedicated calender. He also points out that a single calender can handle the output of several printers. 

Agfa showed off this Avinci CX3200 dye sublimation printer aimed at the soft signage market.

Agfa also showed the latest version of its Jeti Tauro, the H3300 UHS, complete with auto-loader, which I’ve already covered here in some detail. Interestingly, Alaert says that around 15 percent of customers take the full automation but some 70 percent take one of the roll-to-roll options, noting: “That means the hybrid concept is working, which was a gamble. People say you always need a flatbed because you can never have a vacuum on a hybrid that would be good enough.” 

In addition, Agfa demonstrated the Oberon roll-fed printer. This is a 3.3m wide UV LED machine. It has six colour channels and users have a choice between using two whites or light cyan and light magenta alongside the CMYK colours.

Flora showed off this new hybrid, the Xtra 2000HUV, a UV curable printer with a choice of Konica Minolta printheads.

The Chinese vendor Flora, which is also known as Shenzhen Runtianzhi Digital Equipment Co, showed off a number of printers courtesy of its Polish distributor, Color Laboratory. Amongst these was a new hybrid, the Xtra 2000, launched just a couple of months ago so this was its first showing in Europe. This uses Konica Minolta printheads with a choice between the 1024i heads or the faster 1024a heads. Both types of heads have the same 6-18pl drop sizes and resolution up to 1440 dpi. The basic model takes four heads and prints CMYK. It can be fitted with up to 12 heads, and configured with six colours, including light cyan and light magenta, with white and varnish as an option. The ink itself is Kao Chimigraf UV LED. It takes media up to 205cm wide and 51mm thick. 

Flora also showed off a new dye sublimation printer, with a 2.6m wide version, the TX2600EP, and 3.2m wide model, the TX3200EP, both of which print only to transfer papers. Interestingly, this printer uses Epson’s brand new T3200 printheads, with the basic model using four heads and running at up to 310 sqm/hr and an option to fit eight heads to double the speed to 620 sqm/hr. It has eight colours, including CMYK plus orange, blue, fluorescent yellow and fluorescent red. Resolution is up to 1200 dpi. 

Paddy O’Hara, business development manager for Epson with, from left, the S800, T3200 and D3000 printheads.

Epson itself did not have a stand in Amsterdam though I did bump into Paddy O’Hara, business development manager for Epson’s printhead business, who showed me some of Epson’s latest printheads, including the S800, T3200 and D3000. The S800 is much smaller than I had imagined and will be ideal for direct to object printers where it’s easier to get small heads closer to the surface. The D3000, which has full recirculation and is really aimed at industrial applications, is much bigger than I thought! In any case, it’s useful to remember that the size of the printhead is a major factor in the design of a printer, particularly where multiple heads have to be placed close together, and close to the substrate surface. 

I also came across Seiko Instruments, which is separate from Epson, though it’s not always obvious. Seiko produces a number of printheads, including the RC1536, which generates nearly 80 percent of the company’s revenues and is used in a number of industrial printers such as EFI’s ceramic printers. 

This InkTester Digital was developed by People and technology.

At Fespa Seiko shared space with the Spanish company People and Technology, which develops solutions for developing and maintaining inkjet systems. This includes various solutions for cleaning printheads, which is often overlooked but is vital to prolonging the life of these expensive components. The company also brought its InkTester Digital device, which allows developers to test different inks, including those based on water, solvent and oil as well as UV and soluble salts, and can work with a range of printheads from most of the common head vendors. This allowed Seiko and People and Technology to demonstrate a number of specialist inks for both textiles and for non-contact food packaging, as well as coatings to affect the way liquids bead on a fabric, which is useful for rainwear. 

Canon’s main news from the show was a new IJC358 ink for its Arizona LED printers, which gives a more matte finish than the existing IJC357 ink, which has more of a semi-gloss finish, so customers can choose between the two. 

Canon also showed off its Colorado printer, having introduced a new entry-level Colorado 1630 version earlier this year. Canon also had a complete wallpaper printing solution set up on the corner of the stand, which is a combination of a Colorada with a Fotoba unit inline – its quite an effective and relatively low cost way of printing short run wallpaper and Canon has had quite a lot of success with this.

There is a second part to this story, which I will publish in a few days time so stay tuned!

…with a little help from my friends

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