Xeikon’s tentative steps into corrugated inkjet

Xeikon has unveiled its plans to get into the digital corrugated market, announcing a new platform based around a single pass inkjet press. Xeikon has named the platform Idera though there’s very little detail on the press itself or what else the platform might include.

Xeikon used a virtual press conference to announce its yet-to-be available inkjet corrugated press.

That said, I have been discussing this press with Xeikon for the past year and now that the company has gone public I’m able to fill this out with a little more information on the press itself. It’s a sheetfed flatbed machine, designed for single pass post-printing to corrugated boards. It takes coated and uncoated corrugated sheets up to 1.6m wide x 2.8m long. Native resolution is said to be 600dpi and Xeikon says there is the “possibility to use variable drop sizes”.

The maximum speed is said to be 150mpm though I believe that 70-90mpm will be more realistic for anyone needing better image quality. In any case, it is strange that Xeikon has opted to quote productivity in terms of linear metres per minute when for a sheetfed flatbed machine it would be more useful to know how many boards per hour the machine can handle, as that figure would also take into account the time needed to put the boards on the bed, print and then remove them. 

It has a modular design with the boards fed from a pile and a stacker to unload the printed boards. The exact configuration depends on customer needs – coated boards, for example, would probably require an inline dryer.

Xeikon has worked with a partner which has developed the chassis and transport system, but won’t say who at this stage. So Xeikon itself is mainly supplying the imaging system and the front end, which will be based on the proven X-800 that’s powered all of Xeikon’s existing presses for some years now.

It will use water-based inks, developed in conjunction with Xeikon’s parent company, Flint. Frank Jacobs, product manager for Xeikon’s corrugated project, says: “Water-based is absolutely crucial for us because we are obligated to the high standards that Flint needs for food approval and so UV ink was not an option.”

Jacobs adds: “The development is basically a Xeikon development with the help of people from Flint. We have no access to that market from a commercial point of view and Flint does.” Flint already supplies both gravure and flexo inks to the paper and board market and has a number of UV inkjet inks but the water-based inkjet ink is a new development for both companies. Jacobs explains: “We built an inkjet competence centre in Lier and have quite some R&D capacity in terms of small batches and measurements. We hired specialists so we have a nice team and we also can rely on the competence that Flint has.”

Jacobs says that the decision to build a corrugated press followed a strategic review to see what markets Xeikon should be active in. For those less familiar with the corrugated market, post-printing means printing to the corrugated board after it’s been formed. The alternative, pre-printing, involves printing to a liner that’s then glued to the fluting to become the face of the finished board. But my impression is that the industry is moving to post-printing because it cuts down the number of steps needed and is logistically easier to manage. However, Post-printing can be tricky because there’s a greater risk of damaging the boards whilst transporting them through the printer so the feeder and stacker systems have to be designed with some care. The non-contact nature of inkjet means that there’s no issue with the printing itself but you do have to be careful that drying used for the ink doesn’t affect the adhesives that are holding the different elements of the board together. 

I believe that Xeikon’s original plan was to show the finished press off at the Drupa show that was originally scheduled for June 2020 and that Xeikon appears to be somewhat behind schedule, which to be fair is not unusual for any vendor developing a brand new platform. 

The current plan is to have a complete corrugated printing line installed at Xeikon’s headquarters in Lier, Belgium by September, and to invite interested players from the corrugated industry for testing. It’s likely that Xeikon will have a machine to show at next year’s Drupa though I believe that it will not be commercially available until later in 2021. 

That presumably explains why Xeikon has not been able to discuss what else the Idera platform might include, and does not yet appear to have an actual name for the press itself, or even a photograph or a mockup or any kind of image to illustrate that press that it’s comfortable sharing. Personally, without all these things, I would have kept quiet and not bothered making this announcement now, if only to avoid giving the impression that so far Xeikon has no idera on corrugated.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *