IPEX, the biggest printing-industry trade fair this year, just closed in Birmingham, UK, and once again the talk of the town is digital—namely, digital package printing and converting technology. My thanks to consultant Kevin Karstedt for bringing back these details and images direct from the show. Here’s a Converting Curmudgeon rundown on some of the big standouts. Don’t miss the “What This Means For You” section at the bottom.
By Kevin Karstedt
HP Indigo – The “800-pound gorilla” in digital printing for packaging showed itself well at IPEX. Their demos focused on their strengths and on the weaknesses of the systems they are supplementing, namely conventional presses. The demos were ideally suited to show the system at its best. White inks were used effectively, both first down and last down, and they don’t shy away from discussing the double bump of white when needed. The WS6000 (left) was well-received, and converters in both the label and flexible packaging sectors will embrace its productivity.
Xeikon – Introduced their new 3500 press for the label and packaging market (below). This press takes the impressive imaging engine of their flagship 8000 press and brings it to the packaging market for single-sided printing. In addition to printing up to 20.3 in. wide and at 63 fpm, the system now has a fifth color station and a very opaque white toner that can be used there. The label and flexible sectors will find this a good option. The very high image quality of the 3500 places it as an option for use in both offset- and flexo-printing operations where offloading of inefficient short runs from conventional presses to a digital one is seen as an operations-productivity advantage. The 3500 can also play in the carton sector for applications that use lighterweight board of up to 350 mm (13.5 mil).
Epson – Debuted their new SurePress L-4033A (left). On first glance, the press appears to be too big and slow for the mainstream user. But upon deeper review, it really is positioned between the desktop units such as Primera and the Jetrion 4000. The price will be a bit lower than Jetrion but firmly in the high-end inkjet market. Productivity is very low now, but I cannot help think that Epson has something brewing in two to three years’ time. That’s especially considering the system is using Epson’s own printheads and inks. I believe this is just an entry machine for them. Stay tuned!
Domino – Also introduced a digital label press at IPEX—the N600. Using Kyocera heads, the system is fast, at up to 246 fpm, and has good-quality imaging with both UV- and aqueous-ink systems. With white ink in development, the N600 (right) could be a player, if not a spoiler, in both the label and flexible-packaging markets. It’ll be interesting to understand better the throughput capabilities and costing model of the system once that is better understood in the real world. With a good name in the market, Domino is initially positioned well. Time will tell if they are able to gain a foothold against HP and Xeikon. The system will be a strong competitor for the Jetrion presses.
Durst – New at the show was the TAU 150 (left), which was impressive with 175-fpm throughput using the Xaar 1001 heads and UV inks. Image quality is good compared to the other UV-inkjet systems and is comparable to UV-flexo presses. Combined with the Rotoworks finishing system that can include a full UV-coating, the normal “orange peel” look of UV inks is diminished greatly.
Impika – Showed their iPress 2400 using Panasonic Piezo printheads running aqueous inks (right). The press will have a very hard time finding footing in the packaging sectors with this ink set. The one sector that may find some traction is folding cartons. There is some impressive engineering in this machine; key to its success will be finding the right ink set for the packaging sectors it’s going after and to figure out where it can really play…no small feat.
Rapid Label Systems – Here was the most interesting offering to me. Rapid Label System has integrated the finally-ready Memjet heads into a product. They had two machines running on the booth showing very fast imaging and good quality images. The RapidX1 (left), a 3-in.-wide, tabletop, roll-to-roll system is priced at less than $20K, and the bigger RapidX2 can handle a larger material roll than the X1 and is priced less than $30K. Both systems are “killers” for the desktop label market and will challenge some of the more established suppliers as an entry-level inkjet system.
Nipson – Also interesting was the Nipson system (right). Its speed and productivity will work nicely for a very small niche of users. It’s made of the electrophotographic breed, but with special (Cold Flash) fusing technology that allows it to image on thin film and paper substrates. Only running black but very fast, the system will have some very strong niche applications. I was by the booth a half dozen times, and the machine was always running a roll of thin film at about 150 fpm, slower than the system’s max but fast for that film. Did I mention that it’s fast? The specs put the speed at just under 500 fpm. That’s not a typo…it’s really 500 fpm. And this is an industrial-strength machine.
Agfa – Shown was the Dotrix Modular with the new Agorix Low-Migration Inkset (left). This is the first time I’ve seen the Modular with all six colors in the SPICE, this one was configured with the CMYK-OV. It’s clear that Agfa is going after the carton sector with this system, and it’s very suited for the job. The 25-in. platform is at the low side of the press size needed but will handle a better range of options than the Xerox or Xeikon platforms. By adding modular finishing, they have a complete system. While not a hybrid press in the way Nilpeter and Stork have entered the market, the Dotrix is more pure digital with conventional added on rather than conventional with digital added on. The system will not last much longer with the Ttech heads it currently is using. I look for a major rework with another printhead set within the next two years. If they can get the price below $1M for the entry system, this will help them get more adoption as the new head set will likely be much faster than the current 100 fpm. I would look for a wider version as well.
Xennia – Not really a production system, this “test bed” in the Xennia booth (right)was easily the most interesting for me. Inside this box were heads from a variety of manufacturers including Xaar, Kyocera, Dimatix and Trident, not your garden-variety system. It’s designed to show how the company has mastery in developing systems with many different technologies.
Jetrion – Was a no-show at the show, conspicuously absent from my perspective.
What This Means For You:
For Package Printers and Converters: The good news is there are many more digital choices today than there was just four years ago. More good news: Digital systems now play in more market sectors. The bad news: You guessed it – there are more digital choices and digital systems now playing in more market sectors. Choice is great, but you have your homework cut out for you.
For Systems Developers: The label, flexible and carton sectors are seeing more digital systems trying to enter. The list above of companies and digital systems is a good example of how crowded the market is becoming. With this crowd will come even more mixed digital messages and confusion. Systems developers will need to show they understand the needs and characteristics of each specific market. Being “digital” is not enough anymore; providing a “proven and reliable tool” that addresses the needs of each sector “out of the box” will be the key to success. Failure to have the appropriate message and product for each sector will make selling to that sector difficult at best.