Inkjet – state of the art or sci-fi fantasy print?

Production inkjet is already driving change in the printing industry, both by enabling new applications and by capturing volumes previously produced with analogue technologies such as offset and flexography. This expert article by Sean Smyth provides insight into the state of the inkjet business, where it is enabling new opportunities now and into the future, and what we might expect to see when the printing community converges on Düsseldorf for drupa 2016. Sean has spent some 30 years in the industry in senior technology positions for a variety of print and packaging businesses across the supply chain, in hands on and consultancy roles. Today he acts as a consultant and journalist and as a non-executive director at several UK print companies. Parents know this refrain well – “Are we there yet?” – just as they know the answer – “In a little while.” I spend my working life with printing technology and have heard this for many years. In the case of inkjet, this is a recurring theme. And while we are not there yet, we are getting much closer.

Approaching the destination

Some print providers have arrived. A great example is REAL Digital International based in South London. In 2004, the company was founded based on the belief that transactional and direct mail production could be improved using a flexible inkjet solution. They invested heavily in securing premises and powerful workflow with finishing systems to cut, fold, collate and insert almost anything. They invented 650 mm wide high quality colour duplex web inkjet printing by mounting a pair of single pass inkjet presses on a flexible transport system. Further REAL Digital International developed new paper coatings to reach acceptable quality for leading brands, printing personalised carriers, mailers and magazines. The business proved out the belief, winning multiple awards, identified inkjet’s potential and went for it, making good money in the process.

REAL Digital’s journey continues by upgrading to a pair of Screen Jet520 duplex lines in 2014, but is not stopping there. They continue to monitor the technology to see what the future holds. David Laybourne, REAL Digital International managing director, comments, “Inkjet technology provided the flexibility enabling us to deliver solutions that address latent customer demand and to drive new demand in areas where we have seen further opportunities. The technology continues to evolve, and inks are more flexible with increased colour gamut, reducing the need for special substrates whilst increasing productivity.”

“As the ink manufacturers accept more viable pricing models, the proportion of the marketplace that inkjet solutions are able to address will only increase,” David Laybourne, REAL Digital International managing director.

Viable ink costs are key

Laybourne’s opinion about viable ink pricing models is informative. Ink cost makes medium to long runs with high ink coverage uneconomic in inkjet, as compared to analogue print. Suppliers want to maximise profit and this disconnect is holding back adoption of inkjet in commercial print, publishing and packaging applications. Printers using analogue presses think the ink is too expensive. There are several supply models for equipment, service and consumables (mostly ink, but cleaning fluids and replacement heads must be considered). High value recurring consumable revenue is attractive to suppliers, but print service providers are not used to this. They buy a litho press and negotiate for plates, inks and support from the established supply base – although some press manufacturers are competing there. And costly ink is turning some potential customers away from inkjet.

Substrates also important

Another historical barrier to wider adoption of inkjet, especially for commercial printing applications, was the need to use specially treated papers and the inability to effectively print on glossy coated stocks. The latest generation of production inkjet presses is rapidly eroding those barriers. According to Peter Wolff, director of Commercial Printing Group, Canon EMEA, “With the latest system introductions of the ImageStream, the reachable range of applications extends even further, due to the printability of offset coated material for matte, silk and glossy applications. With these new capabilities, additional applications like magazines, catalogue printing and others are now possible on inkjet with all the benefits in regards of personalisation and customer targeted content without additional cost related to special inkjet treated papers.” “This offers commercial printers the opportunity to combine a broad range of applications on one digital press with productivity and quality equivalent to offset,” adds Peter.

Books leading the way

It is important to note that the costing of inkjet production is different from that of analogue print. It has lower prepress and set-up cost, but ink – and until recently, paper – is more expensive, often much more expensive. This means long run, high ink coverage inkjet is not cost effective, so there is little appetite for printers to change. In book production, however, there are advantages in combining inkjet with in-line finishing, delivering finished blocks ready for cover application and final trimming. This is particularly true for monochrome books. Publishers and book printers have gone beyond just comparing print costs to considering the total cost of manufacturing, since inkjet can deliver folded, collated and glued blocks for a simple cover application and final trim for books in any format or pagination with minimal waste. The flexibility of inkjet allows book production to be re-engineered with overall cost and service advantages, enabling book publishers to reduce their stocks and their publishing risk. Colour books are quickly following the mono lead.

For other products, the benefits of changing manufacturing processes to inkjet are not so clear yet. Well-established analogue methods are meticulously honed to minimise cost while delivering high quality. This will change as more companies install inkjet equipment, learn the capabilities and exploit new opportunities. New inkjet equipment will provide higher return on investment for many print products.

Production inkjet: a growth opportunity

In 2015, there have been many inkjet early adopters and profitable users. Ricoh is at the forefront of quality with the high speed Pro VC60000 press launched in 2014. It has several early adopters, including HansaPrint in Finland, a €70m turnover firm specialising in retail and publishing. Jukka Saariluoma, HansaPrint Business Unit Director, says, “Prior to experiencing the Ricoh Pro VC60000, I did not believe that there would be a major shift from offset printing to inkjet. But the new press has changed my mind.”

“Our clients are very excited by the new level in quality and the increased flexibility offered and are moving significant amounts of their work from offset to inkjet,” Jukka Saariluoma, business unit director, HansaPrint.

“But the technology is also introduced in new areas never related to the printing industry before. This creates interesting dynamics in the industry,” Paul Adriaensen, Agfa Graphics PR manager.

The print world is certainly changing. All the key analyst organisations predict very high growth continuing for inkjet print volumes and values. Smithers Pira forecasts that the value of inkjet printing output for graphics and packaging more than trebles over 10 years, from €23 billion in 2010 to more than €70 billion in 2020 (in current values), with CAGR forecast of 12.7 percent between 2015 to 2020. HP alone reports that its customers have produced more than 100 billion inkjet pages since its first installation of a production inkjet press in 2009, a clear indicator of overall market trends, with other inkjet press manufaturers reporting rapidly growing volumes as well.

Beyond traditional print

The applications for inkjet are many. There is coding & marking, addressing, security numbering & coding, photo-printing, wide-format (sheet, roll-fed and hybrid), flatbed imprinting systems, narrow web, tube & irregular shapes, high speed wide web and sheetfed, to name a few. Outside of traditional printing and graphics, inkjet has revolutionised ceramic tile printing and it is growing very strongly in textiles and other industrial decoration applications – from pens and memory sticks to architectural glass and laminated decor.

“Inkjet has become the preferred decoration process for ceramics and other decorative materials,” says Jon Harper Smith, Fujifilm Speciality Ink Systems business development manager.

Thus, inkjet offers opportunities for expansion into related areas that may not normally be considered by traditional print providers. Paul Adriaensen, Agfa Graphics PR Manager, comments, “Not too long ago, inkjet was praised as an alternative to conventional systems for its ability to offer single-off sheets, short runs and personalised prints. In the meanwhile, the technology is challenged to offer higher speeds and higher volumes to replace some of the conventional systems.”

Mimaki and other manufacturers are bringing innovative digital inkjet solutions on the market delivering higher speed and productivity to meet demands of the booming textile market.

From a technical perspective, inkjet has a major advantage over all other print processes because it is the only non-contact, high quality, high performance process. The advances are primarily in new and better control of print heads, better inks and a much wider selection of readily available and more affordable inkjet treated papers. New applications are developing almost daily. For example, Canon has installed lines in Nigeria to print election ballot papers.

Think ink

Ink manufacturers spend lots of money on developing new inks that perform well in the heads and provide excellent print quality. Such research is not cheap. But the result is that ink properties have improved, with higher density levels that result in more offset-like quality with lower coverage. There are also now more substrates that perform well with inkjet, aided by colour management improvements. There are many routes to market for inkjet inks. Some equipment manufacturers formulate and manufacture their inks; others sell ink that is made under license by ink specialists.

“When customers see competitive pricing for the more efficient inkjet technology, it is easier to switch, and they are more willing to change,” Chris Rogers, Collins vice president sales & marketing.

In low-end wide-format inkjet, there are independent third-party ink suppliers competing with the OEM. That is probably the healthiest part of the market for end users, with thousands of machines sold each year consuming millions of litres of inks. This is not the case for high performance systems, where the equipment supplier typically provides the ink tailored to optimise performance within the overall system. There are indications, however, that this is changing. Collins Inkjet is an independent inkjet ink manufacturer who sells a range of inkjet inks, innovating in many applications including new electron beam curing. It makes water-based inks for many of the high speed single pass presses. It remains to be seen how effective this company and others will be in establishing itself as a third-party ink provider, in competition – or partnership – with OEMs.

Chris Rogers, vice president of sales & marketing at Collins, optimistically, says, “Low consumables costs promote growth and easier adoption.”

“Our business model is a traditional ink company; our manufacturing scale allows us to price inks at lower profit margins. This long-term strategy has proven successful over 25 years and it seems that OEMs are now starting to agree. They realise the easiest way to grow market share is to price their consumables fairly and we can help them with that.”

Inkjet: driving new market opportunities

Inkjet has been around for some time. Today a huge amount of money is being spent developing printheads, inks, substrates, control software, transport, drying and turnkey print systems. While these investments have forced changes on the world of print, it is nothing compared to what we expect to occur over the next few years. The inkjet markets today are largely new. As productivity grows, inkjet is becoming greedy, with suppliers now turning toward siphoning volume from analogue print markets for additional growth and offering directly competing solutions. The productivity, quality and economics are pushing inkjet firmly against sheetfed litho and narrow web flexo, and it has larger format flexo and web offset in its sights.

While a few inkjet suppliers may be guilty of hyperbole (sorry, they are very guilty of it in some instances!), it is good to see users and customers voting with their feet and their wallets. That being said, we will continue to see enhancements to productivity and boosts to the cost performance of inkjet. Some totally new formats and systems are coming to market. At least a couple of these will be on show at drupa, in new formats and markets. What is also new is that these will be firmly aimed at the heartland of offset and flexo printing. Choice of printing methods changes because of one or more reasons: to reduce cost, to improve quality, to achieve greater levels of service, or to do new things. Inkjet allows printers to do all four – and no doubt there will be other new reasons going forward. Flexibility. Agility. Power.

See the future of inkjet at drupa 2016

In addition to graphics and packaging, inkjet is making rapid progress in textile printing, ceramics and industrial/architectural decoration. Then there is the new arena of 3D printing, where inkjet is an important enabler. These have the potential of opening huge new opportunities for companies that are smart enough and brave enough to explore the potential and exploit new markets.

In technology terms, inkjet is state of the art. In business terms, inkjet is being used to re-engineer supply chains, making money. That certainly is not fiction. Go to drupa to find out what inkjet can do for your business.

drupa World Tour takes off!

Over 40 drupa events on all five continents, around 4,40,000 flight kilometers on business for drupa.

Things have really started hotting up for the drupa 2016 World Tour with a series of presentations, press conferences and trade press interviews in Asia, Europe and the US. Over 40 drupa events of all kinds will take place well into February 2016 to drum up business for the world’s leading trade exhibition for print and crossmedia solutions and to learn about the most important trends and innovations. They range from expert and press meetings in small groups, one-day industry workshops right through to presentations with several hundred participants.

“The drupa World Tour plays a central role in our communications and marketing mix of advertisements, direct mailings, online campaigns, sponsorship activities, PR and press relations. We speak to our visitors and key advocates directly and inform them first hand about the latest drupa happenings,” says Sabine Geldermann, director of drupa, underlining the function of these events. “Another advantage: In direct dialogue it’s possible to find out where the specific interests and needs lie. Alongside personal conversations with visitors, this is of course another inestimable advantage.” In addition, by the end of this World Tour, “drupa ambassadors” will have travelled around 4,40,000 flight kilometers; in other words, going round the world almost eleven times.

It started on September 12 with a presentation at IGAS in Tokyo, directly followed by a press conference on September 14 for the North American media as part of the Graph Expo in Chicago. Activities focus on Asia and America with fourteen and eight drupa events. New on the drupa World Map: Almaty (Kazakhstan) with a Print Promotion Workshop. The destination furthest away from Düsseldorf is Auckland (New Zealand) – around 18,000 flight kilometers from the drupa city of Düsseldorf.

Driving the technology forward

The component parts of inkjet systems have achieved a maturity enabling high resolution and high reliability printing. Surface technology and ink developments have enabled the performance required, whilst software databases and electronic components have followed Moore’s Law to enable the vast amount of data to be managed. We are now seeing second and third generation digital print systems come to market.

At The Inkjet Conference, which was held in Düsseldorf (October 7 – 8, 2015) focused on inkjet engineering and chemistry, explore both the current state-of-the-art components, from ink and software to printheads and electronics.

With proven print quality and print performance, the focus is now moving from “can we do it” to “how can we ensure a total digital system”, with greater attention being given to software and data transport in the digital print system and applying the technology across different applications and market sectors.

As a non-contact print process, inkjet enables printing directly onto articles, thus removing paper and film from many applications. Inkjet is proven technology in many manufacturing processes, from ceramic tiles, glass and textiles to newspaper and cardboard boxes. Inkjet is revolutionising how a wide variety of items can be produced and decorated.

drupa innovation park 2016: the heartbeat of innovation

Few areas at drupa 2016 will be so packed with innovations as Hall 7.0 – the home of the drupa innovation park. In six themed areas, around 130 exhibitors will showcase their innovations in workflow processes, automation and the latest print technologies. For the first time there will be an area devoted to successful business and marketing concepts. dip therefore offers visitors to drupa the unique advantage of being able to discover innovations and market-ready applications for creative print products and technologies in a convenient compact form. The solutions on show will be ideally complemented by presentations, panel discussions and interviews on the dip stage.

The key theme in the print industry is still process optimisation and automation – a theme that is the focus for CIP 4, which is once again a cooperation partner for dip. “Automation and Optimisation are topics that are not only current, but they are also essential objectives to accomplish in order for print service providers to strive in today’s print marketplace,” says Julie Watson, spokesperson for CIP 4. “JDF is the industry’s Job Definition Format standard capable of automating a multi-vendor environment composed of software and hardware vendors. Visit the drupa innovation park to see how JDF can help save time, consumables, and ultimately maximise the bottom line.”

In view of the growing relevance of cloud integration, the print industry is increasingly interested in security aspects. This calls for smart solutions – like those offered by Essenbased i1BOX and exhibitors in the Process Optimisation & Automation area. The maintenance-free miniserver stays within the customer’s premises, offers a sophisticated system concept and serves as the platform for many applications (such as data and job management, CRM, e-mail, groupware, file sharing and asset management), which can be configured ready for use. “It was important to us to develop professional server concept that allows the end user to use all the features and programmes they need from day one without committing their own resources,” explains Roland Orlik, managing director of i1BOX. The USP of Eggenstein-based Obility GmbH is the simplification of procurement processes. The online-based systems allow both print service providers and their customers to simplify their in-house business processes by sharing print, web and IT technologies. “We’re delighted that Obility will be contributing to the heartbeat of innovation at dip again in 2016,” says Obility’s managing director Frank Siegel. This is just one aspect covered in the Web-to- Media & E-Commerce area. This area also focuses on solutions for web-to-publish or web-to-print, E-commerce & shop platforms, cloud publishing and web editors for design/ print and HTML 5.

In the Innovations in Printing Technologies area, exhibitors will present key technologies in modern printing and finishing, applications for functional printing, printed electronics and 3D printing and solutions for prototyping, visualisation and workflow. One of the exhibitors in this area is modico GmbH, which specialises in laser paper finishing, UV direct printing on objects up to 150 mm thick and 3D printing. When it comes to innovative print products, one of the first things that comes to mind is lenticular printing, the only finishing technique which allows images to be printed with the illusion of movement. One of the pioneers and leading names in the industry, DPLenticular, will once again be exhibiting at dip. “The drupa innovation park is an excellent opportunity for us to present what is still an innovative printing technology and reach new target audiences,” says Daniel Pierret, founder and managing director of the Irish company. The Lenticular Award will once again be presented at drupa, on June 2.

The other themed areas at dip are: Multichannel Publishing & Marketing Solutions: This area covers topics such as the management of cross-media contents/assets, web and app publishing, database publishing, and marketing and brand management solutions.

Added value in print: The focus here is on finishing, further development and the advanced added-value of print products, including innovative substrates, new finishing methods, packaging, label printing and displays, green printing and secure printing. Business models: Alongside technological changes, new business concepts and models have an ever more important role to play. These and strategic cooperation and marketing platforms.

Winter Consulting, a marketing, communications & events agency, was once again tasked with realising and coordinating the drupa innovation park

Group Publications