Xeikon launches Sirius platform

Xeikon has announced the fifth generation of its dry toner technology, named Sirius, along with the first press to benefit from this, the SX30000. At the same time, Xeikon has also updated its Cheetah labels and packaging platform and announced a new entry-level label press, the CX300.

This SX30000 is the first press to be build on Xeikon’s new, fifth generation Sirius technology.

Xeikon splits its printing technology across two main platforms, with the new Sirius platform dealing with commercial print, while the Cheetah technology is used for the label and packaging presses. The two are fundamentally similar in that they are web-fed electrophotographic presses, using the same front end. However, they use a different type of toner, mainly because there are more requirements around food safety in the labels and packaging market and so it makes sense to develop a specific toner for that market. In addition, the fusing system is different with the commercial print machines using both heat and pressure for a contact-type fusing, while the Cheetah presses use a non-contact fusing approach. 

The major benefit of the Sirius update is that it runs much faster, up to 30mpm, and without slowing down for the heavier stocks, which adds up to a 50 percent productivity boost for some high value applications. To achieve this, Xeikon has borrowed the print stations from its Cheetah technology and improved the toner and fusing system.

The toner is basically a plastic compound that can hold a static charge. It consists of a carrier, which is mostly metal particles with a special coating, and with the toner particles sitting on top of that carrier. So for the new QA SR toner Xeikon has adapted its existing QA toner to ensure that it can hold the correct level of charge regardless of the print speed. Filip Weymans, vice president of marketing for Xeikon, explains: “There are charge control elements on the surface of the toner and we have adjusted these to make sure that they work at the 30mpm and also at the slower speeds.” 

There’s a new fusing system, EkoFuse, which has been designed to keep up with the faster speeds. This uses foil heaters in place of ceramic tiles in order to heat up and cool down very quickly. Nick Horemans, who leads Xeikon’s mechanics R&D team, explained: “We did a lot of testing to ensure that our temperature spread within the press is very consistent.” There’s also a 250mm water-cooled cooling roller to help prevent heat building up within the substrates.

Xeikon has also improved the way that it conditions the substrates with a much larger Print Media Box on the front of the press to manage the temperature and humidity of the media so that the stocks actually enter the press at roughly 25°C, and which should allow for the use of cheaper materials. Weymans says that tighter control over the media temperature improves the print quality pointing out that “when we apply heat to a material the dimensional stability alters as it can shrink or stretch.” This is inherently less of an issue for Xeikon than it is for other presses because Xeikon prints the images in duplex in a single pass with the print stations arranged on both sides of the web, which leads to very tight registration tolerances. Weymans explains: “So that at the point that we apply any heat it would affect both front and back and that is unique.”

There’s also a quality control system at the back of the printer, which includes a spectrophotometer for more accurate colour management. It also holds a registration camera that reads a small registration mark. 

Strangely, Xeikon also went on about its LED-based imaging system, with its 1200 x 3600 dpi resolution, though this does not seem to be anything new, just a different way of expressing what was always a 1200 dpi 4-bit system. In any case, modern Xeikon presses are capable of producing excellent results so I doubt that there’s any real need for a higher resolution imaging system.

Dimitri Van Gaever, market segement manager for Xeikon’s commercial presses

The first of the new presses built on this Sirius platform will be the SX30000, which uses Xeikon’s existing print width of 508mm on a 520mm web. This runs at 30mpm, which is equivalent to 404 A4 ppm, and remains constant even on heavier stocks. The press takes stocks from 40 to 350gsm. The standard machines have eight colour stations, which can be expanded up to 10. However, these colour stations are arranged either side of the web for single pass duplex printing so this translates into 4/4 or 5/5 colours. 

Dimitri Van Gaever, market segement manager for Xeikon’s commercial presses, says that it’s aimed at high value colour applications, adding: “This can be in the book printing segment or high-quality direct mail, but because of the versatility of the technology, it might also be in retail and signage materials, security printing and other general commercial print. Furthermore, we are looking at customers who need higher productivity combined with lower running cost and a compelling overall TCO.”

The SX30000 is considerably faster than any other electrophotographic press, which is perhaps not surprising since its web-fed rather than sheetfed. Nonetheless most other toner-based printing systems can only achieve 120 or 150 A4 ppm. Even HP’s new series 5 engine, the Indigo 100K, produces only 230 A4 ppm with 4/4 colour. The new Xeikon is also faster than most sheetfed inkjets though most continuous feed inkjets can run at much faster speeds, even if slowed down to an average 50mpm to achieve 1200 dpi resolution. Nonetheless, the SX30000 is cheaper than most high speed continuous feed inkjets, and is a lot less fussy over the range of substrates that it can handle. I suspect that for a lot of customers the productivity and image quality combined with the wide range of acceptable substrates will prove to be a compelling offer. 

Xeikon has introduced this CX300 label press, based on its updated Cheetah 2.0 architecture.

Xeikon has also updated the Cheetah platform that underpins its label and packaging presses, though this is more subtle since Cheetah 2.0 delivers the same 30mpm productivity as before. It can take up to five colours including CMYK and single-pass opaque white but can also support colour gamut expansion, custom or security colours. As with the current machines, the Cheetah 2.0 platform can support media from 220mm to 512mm widths.

Weymans says that although the fundamental Cheetah architecture is the same, there have been many improvements to increase the Overall Equipment Effectiveness, or OEE, adding: “We looked at the quality aspect of the OEE to get a better bit rate density along the printing web.” 

Xeikon has also ugraded the components that it uses within these presses, so that they are more reliable and less likely to require replacement, and has improved the cooling drum so that it can take a wider range of materials. 

Weymans says that there’s also been a big change in the electronics. This includes a new machine-to-machine interface that allows different modules to be connected and controlled through the press. The presses also use light panels that change colour so that an operator can see the status of the press, even from a distance. Weymans says that Xeikon is also developing an app that will communicate more information to a smartphone so that in future an operator can see what’s happening with a press without necessarily having to stand next to it. This of course will also make it easier for a single operator to run multiple presses.

Xeikon has also introduced a new entry-level label press, the CX300, which takes media up to 330mm. This replaces the CX3 and can be upgraded to the wider CX500 label press. The basic specifications remain the same between the CX3 and CX300 – same productivity, type of substrates and so on, though it does benefit from the updated Cheetah 2.0 architecture.

Filip Weymans, vice president of marketing for Xeikon

The Cheetah 2.0 updates should lead to both more consistent image quality and lower running costs. But there is much stiffer competition in the digital labels market than in commercial printing. There are several inkjet label presses that can run considerably faster, even at their maximum 1200 x 1200 dpi resolution, and of course Xeikon does also sell its own Panther range of inkjet label presses. It’s true that Xeikon’s Cheetah dry toner technology takes a wider range of substrates, but the inkjets should be good for most label stocks, particularly any paper-based or pressure-sensitive labels, while those people primarily printing to film-based materials could also consider the HP Indigo machines, such as the new 25K that can also run at 30mpm. I’ve no doubt that Xeikon will be able to make a good case for its Cheetah machines, in terms of the overall combination of productivity, machine up-time, total running costs and substrate flexibility. But it will be a tougher sell than the Sirius machines, albeit that the opportunity in the label and packaging market is probably bigger.

In addition to the new presses, Xeikon has also developed a new cloud-based analytics system, whereby the press automatically sends information back to a cloud server. This includes remote maintenance information as well as the status of consumables and can automatically order new consumables if desired. But it also includes information on the jobs run that can be used to tighten up efficiencies, though customers can still choose to route that information through an MIS. There are now quite a number of vendors offering data analytics services for a whole range of equipment ranging from conventional and digital presses right up to finishing equipment but I’ll deal with that subject in a separate story later in the summer.

The SX30000 should be available from June, with the CX300 shipping later this month in April. Van Gaever says that Xeikon is planning to phase out the current 8000 and 9000 series machines with further Sirius launches later. Both engines will cost slightly over €500,000. You can find more details from xeikon.com.

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