Xeikon extends label portfolio with Domino

Xeikon has announced a new inkjet label press, the PX30000, which is actually a rebadged Domino N610i press though Xeikon has integrated its own X-800 digital front end. But Xeikon already develops its own inkjet label printers so why sell another vendor’s print engine?

This Xeikon PX30000 inkjet label press is actually a rebadged Domino N610i but with Xeikon’s X-800 DFE.

The answer to this question comes down to the extent that the label market is ready to embrace inkjet technology. Xeikon was one of the first vendors to develop a digital label press, having adapted its dry toner technology for narrow web use leading to the 3300 label press launched at Drupa 2008. However, the widespread adoption of inkjet printing meant that Xeikon was losing market share in the label sector so in 2017 the company introduced its own Panther series of inkjet label presses, which includes the entry-level PX2000 and the slightly more upmarket PX3000, both of which offer 600dpi resolution and speeds up to 50mpm.

However, rather than simply develop these presses from scratch, Xeikon took a short cut and acquired EFI’s Jetrion business, which included the Jetrion label presses and what was at the time the largest installed base of inkjet label presses worldwide. This gave Xeikon the basic IP that it has built on to create the Panther series as well as a large installed base of potential customers to sell to.

However, it also constrained Xeikon as Filip Weymans, vice president of marketing for Xeikon, explains: “To be attractive to those Jetrion customers there was a certain price point that needed to be met, because they are not in the high end label market, meaning health and beauty or the premium beer market where price per label is different to the general market.” He added: “So from a cost perspective the PX2000 and PX3000 were the ideal way to transition that installed base.”

Xeikon’s original assumption was that it could tempt those looking for a higher end solution with its dry toner presses. However, the company found that there was a significant segment of label printers that wanted to replace older flexo machines, either with a new flexo or a digital press. Weymans explains: “If they look at digital then they want to be able to transfer that work onto a digital press that has similar capability in tems of colour gamut, and the same look and feel. UV flexo is a bit glossy, a bit tactile so migration of older flexo was more likely towards UV inkjet. With a toner machine you can bump up the quality level but that doesn’t necessarily translate into charging for a higher price so we saw there was a need to have something with a broader colour gamut. To do that on the existing Panther portfolio would have taken quite a challenge on the R&D level to achieve. So it made more sense to modify proven technology by connecting our X-800 and adding our own service.”

So the new PX30000 allows Xeikon to offer its customers a 340mm wide inkjet press printing six colours – CMYK plus orange and violet for a wider colour gamut – or seven colours, with the addition of two white ink channels. It can run at up to 70mpm in colour though this speed drops to 50mpm for the white inks. It can run standard self-adhesive substrates including paper and vinyl as well as all the Ps – PP, PE and PET. 

It could be argued that this press represents older technology as Domino itself has just launched a brand new label press, the N730i. Weymans says: “We deliberately didn’t go for the generation 7 because it has to prove itself first. It doesn’t mean that we wouldn’t go for it in the future.” He also points out that Domino’s generation 6 machines use the same Kyocera printheads as Xeikon’s own Panther series so that there’s more compatibility with Xeikon’s service network. 

Domino offers both its standard UV90 and a low migration food-compliant UV95 inkset for use with the N610i, and Xeikon is supplying these same inks, albeit branded as Xeikon PantherCure XT inks. Personally, I would have kept the original branding since Domino has an excellent reputation for its ink, and particularly the white, widely regarded as the best, most opaque inkjet white available. Xeikon does manufacture PantherCure inks for its own Panther presses, though EFI supplies the ink for the remaining Jetrion machines.

Filip Weymans, vice president of marketing for Xeikon

Market-led development

There is an obvious question – why didn’t Xeikon simply develop a seven-colour press itself for those customers looking for wider colour gamut?

Weymans explains: “Adding additional printheads comes with a challenge because your arch needs to be bigger and you need to have a different web guide because the distance of the heads is wider.” He adds: “It would be a big investment and it doesn’t make sense to do that kind of investment into a press platform like that.”

That suggests that Xeikon didn’t think through the design of the Panthers in the beginning because having a bigger arch right from the start would have opened up the potential to offer more print channels in the future. But Weymans says: “At that point in time, the Jetrion platform was a very mature platform, and we were looking purely for an alternative, a new generation, a next platform which our Jetrion customers could step into and at that time there was not necessarily the demand for multiple colours.”

He adds: “The investment costs that a converter is making is a very crucial component from our perspective. As soon as you go into a platform with multiple print stations then your cost explodes. It’s not just adding one more and then another. There’s something sitting in the background with all your ink management systems and all the other stuff that is way more complex, Also your UV power that’s required to cure everything, so therefore it was a choice. If you go with the full monty then you come with a platform that’s just too heavy, too costly to serve the broad market. But the PX2000 and PX3000 are still extremely valuable in our go-to market. Not everybody is looking for a 6- or 7-colour machine.”

He continues: “And 1200 dpi is something that we are evaluating but there is still a relatively high cost for those heads in relation to what they actually bring. Because if we really want to go for the high quality applications then we have our dry toner systems. There’s no way that inkjet will ever go beyond that because EP is a contact printing technology so we have more accurate dot positioning and dot formation, compared with UV inkjet where you always have to go for frequency moderated screens because of the variation that you have on the dot positioning and then the dot spread, so some competitors are forced to go for 1200 dpi to step into that high quality area. But we are not, and we believe that in inkjet, 600dpi today is the most cost-effective solution for the label printer.”

Point of differentiation

Besides, Weymans points out that Xeikon hasn’t simply rebaged the N610i but has also invested some effort into integrating its own X-800 digital front end into the Domino press. He explains: “Our X-800 is a true digital front end so for us it’s crucial to have the X-800 connected to any machine in our portfolio. Our workflow allows machines to be cloud connected so that it communicates into the cloud, leaving data behind so that a production manager or financial manager can access that data and translate it into information that he can use to make decisions that are fact-based and not about sheets that are filled in by an operator.”

I think that it’s worth pointing out that Xeikon was ahead of the game in recognising the value that the DFE could add, but that just about every press announced this year has some degree of cloud connectivity and the option to record production data. However, the X-800 workflow does allow for a high degree of automation for label production, particularly in areas such as the optimum positioning of labels on the web to reduce costs, as well as handling complex variable data jobs or track and trace functionality. 

This Xeikon FEU label finishing machine is based on an MGi JetVarnish 3D web.

Last month Xeikon announced the FEU, a new label converting machine that is a rebadged MGI JetVarnish 3D web, also with the X-800 front end. So clearly Xeikon’s intention is to build a portfolio of machines, some developed in-house and with some coming from other vendors, but all distinguished by the X-800. 

Weymans says: “It will always be an evaluation if we are going to do our own print technology or if we are going to take another product on board. Using the X-800 system helping reduce our time to market. And we do see the biggest value is the digitising of the workflow.”

The question remains as to whether or not the front end workflow is enough to set Xeikon apart from its competitors. Weymans notes: “There are so many UV inkjet label presses so the differentiator between those presses is becoming difficult to see. We believe that it will lie in digitising print manufacturing, for things like being able to have consistent colour across the different platforms. And the existing colour servers from GMG and Esko are not as flexible. We are way ahead of the others in terms of workflow.”

It’s certainly an interesting strategy, with the great advantage that it allows Xeikon, which is a relatively small player in the overall market, to concentrate its R&D efforts where it can achieve the biggest bang for its limited budget. Thus we have already seen Xeikon overhaul its dry toner presses with the Sirius range that was announced earlier this year, as well as the plan to step into the corrugated packaging market with the Idera inkjet press that was hinted at this summer.

Weymans concludes: “Our view is that there will be a shakeout in the inkjet label market because the market is not that big and there is not enough oxygen for suppliers.” It’s difficult to fault his logic, and the current pandemic crisis that’s sweeping the world won’t have helped matters. And it is worth noting that just about all of the digital label press vendors are currently attempting to expand into the wider packaging market, especially in the corrugated sector.

You can find more information on the PX30000 from xeikon.com.

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