Friday, October 31, 2014
Since 2012, production inkjet technology has continued developing. While machine speeds have remained fairly static with minor improvements here and there, as we expected, image quality has made some good progress. This progress can be primarily attributed to continued development in inkjet heads and the enhanced manufacturing of inkjet inks using nano pigment grinds. With the increase in resolution and even more importantly, the increase in pigment loading and dispersion on the sheet, we are seeing a much wider use of inkjet in higher quality applications like Direct Mail, Commercial Print, Labels and Packaging.
Up to now, many production inkjet manufacturers have been ‘tweaking’ their existing products; however, we are now starting to see newly redesigned offerings. The latest example of this is the recently announced Océ ImageStream 3500 from Canon (aka Océ JetStream 3500 GA in Japan).
This new ImageStream 3500 press transport takes a 30 inch wide roll, and has its roots in the successful JetStream Wide press. It prints 4/4 running at 262 fpm at a resolution of 1200x1200 dpi or 525 fpm at a resolution of 1200x600 dpi. It has been designed to ensure relatively low energy consumption, and has the most compact footprint in its class.
Canon claims that this new press can run almost all stocks, including standard offset coated, without any bonding agent or primer. Of course, the implications of this are significant in reduced media cost and increased availability. According to some calculations presented by Canon, the potential cost savings on 3000 MT of media use per year using conventional papers versus inkjet treated or optimized papers can range from about $1MM to $7MM/yr. Using standard offset media not only reduces cost, but also creates opportunities for many new applications, like high quality books, brochures, magazines and personalized catalogs, and introduces efficiencies into shops that have both offset and production inkjet presses. Canon has already tested many conventional offset stocks as you can see in the graphic below:
Océ uses the 4.25 in. piezoelectric drop on demand (DoD) Kyocera KJ4B-Z print heads. These are the native 1200 dpi heads we originally highlighted during our drupa coverage in 2012. They are reported to be the fastest native 1200 dpi piezo printheads available today for production print applications. But resolution and speed are only part of the story. These heads support multi-level droplet sizes of 1.3pl to 2.8pl, which further enhances the ability to balance higher pigment laydown for richer mid-tones and shadows and still enable smoother highlights. To take advantage of these new print heads, Canon developed a new, albeit more expensive, aqueous pigment ink. This new ink brings a higher print contrast as a result of the higher pigment concentration, bringing the final product appearance closer to offset (the benchmark). They have also added micron-level print head alignment for tighter control.
The ImageStream 3500 is supported by the scalable Océ SRA® MP controller, which is used across its production print product lines. Combined with the Océ Prisma workflow software, it can prepare and process most input formats. These include Adobe APPE for native PDF processing, as well as support for AFP/IPDS and PCL.
I originally looked at the Océ production inkjet line in 2011, during the early stages of their acquisition and integration with Canon, and it is obvious that they have not sat still in developing new technologies. The new Océ ImageStream 3500 joins the ColorStream and JetStream, VarioStream, and the upcoming InfiniStream production printer series based on inkjet and toner technologies, giving Canon (under the Océ brand) “the broadest product range for continuous feed printing with a production capacity of up to 30,000 B2 format sheets per hour in black & white and full color.” The new Niagra sheetfed press and the InfiniStream folding carton press are both coming close to release, and the ImageStream 3500 will be available the beginning of 2015. While we expect many of the other vendors to introduce new high speed production devices in the near future, the ‘new’ Canon/Océ marriage seems to be bearing lots of offspring. The ImageStream 3500 is projected to sell for between $3MM and $4MM, but pricing will, of course, vary based on configuration.
We are anxious to see what the other vendors will be announcing in this space. Stay tuned…
Thursday, October 30, 2014
In June 2014 Kodak announced its next generation Kodak PROSPER 6000 series presses, currently the fastest production inkjet press in the market. For Kodak, this is a new milestone on a number of fronts. First of all, there were those who wrote them off before and during their bankruptcy proceedings, and this is a statement to those doubters that Kodak is here for the long term, and will continue to innovate. Additionally this ‘clean sheet’ design has apparently been in development for a while, so the chances are that they have other new developments in the pipeline as well.
The last time we looked at Kodak production inkjet offerings, I looked at its entire portfolio of Versamark and PROSPER presses. Since that time, like many other manufacturers, Kodak has tweaked its existing product offerings. Before the release, the PROSPER 5000XLi was its flagship color production inkjet platform. Its entire PROSPER line, which includes the 5000Xli color press, the monochrome PROSPER 1000, and the very successful PROSPER S print head offerings, have produced more than 40 billion pages to date. This new press platform takes PROSPER to a whole new level. As you can see from the image below, it even looks entirely different than previous PROSPER presses.
The real innovation in these new presses is the ‘clean sheet’ redesign of the transport that currently supports speeds of up to 1000 fpm on matte and uncoated papers. This is a significant increase over the 650 fpm limit of the PROSPER 5000Xli, and the transport is now finally poised to support the much higher speed potential of the Stream inkjet head technology.
The new PROSPER 6000 series comes in two base products, with both U and L space saving configuration options. The PROSPER 6000C is designed for commercial print applications with high ink coverage, and the PROSPER 6000P is designed for publishing applications like books and newspapers that typically use light weight papers and low to medium ink coverage. The new design looks more like a typical offset web press, with individual color units. This was done to take advantage of the many lessons learned in conventional web press development, and an easier transition from offset to inkjet for customers. In addition, the design has enabled Kodak to add enhanced drying into the platform, and provides easier service access. This new system includes air-cooled NIR (Near InfraRed) dryers and internal chillers for greater, and more energy efficient, drying. Kodak estimates that if you are printing at about 30% coverage, you are actually injecting up to 3 liters of water per minute onto the paper web. As we have previously outlined in past articles, if you are putting water on paper, you need to get it back out again as quickly as possible, and this system does just that.
The platform operates with a new tight web in and out design to support the increased speeds. The system includes Kodak IPS (Intelligent Print System), a camera-based system that scans, measures and compensates for shrinking, stretching, register, etc. It also detects imaging streaks and jet anomalies. Kodak has added a large diameter high grip, full width nip drive for better front to back registration, fixed position rollers, and air assisted turn bars for quicker changeovers. It supports paper widths from 8 in. to 25.5 in., and has an optional inline auto splicer to reduce downtime. While both PROSPER presses can print 4/4 or monochrome at speeds up to 1000 fpm on matte or uncoated paper, heavy weight glossy and silk stock should be printed at 650 fpm on the PROSPER 6000C to enable sufficient drying. In fact, the system was designed with multiple selectable paper paths to accommodate the needs of heavy coverage and ink drying as seen below:
As a result of this new transport design, as well as newly formulated nano pigment grind inks, the PROSPER 6000 now offers a greater color gamut, higher print contrast, and the ability to print on a much wider range of substrates. This includes uncoated, coated and glossy papers. Kodak has removed the pre-treat IOS (Image Optimizer Station) station from the base configuration since it couldn’t keep up with the new platform speeds. They still advise that pretreated inkjet papers will provide better quality imaging, although they feel that the combination of better imaging, faster drying, and the greater availability of pre-treated inkjet papers should address market needs. However, Kodak will offer an offline option if requirements demand it.
The Kodak Stream print technology has long been one of the shining stars in Kodak’s intellectual property portfolio. This new PROSPER 6000 series was redesigned to take advantage of the exceptionally fast Kodak CI (continuous inkjet) Stream inkjet technology. Kodak has not increased the printhead resolution beyond what was in the 5000Xli, but the newly formulated inks will create a higher print contrast and better looking image.
As a refresher, Kodak Stream uses MEMS technology to let the printheads deliver an accurate, predictable ink droplet. The benefit to using these heads over the Piezo heads used in some other DoD systems is much better control over the size and accurate placement of each of those drops. By applying a regular pulse to heaters surrounding each of the nozzles in the printhead, the ink is stimulated into breaking into fine droplets. The nozzles fire a continuous stream of ink very fast, at high pressure, allowing the heads to be placed further from the substrate, supporting a wider range of media thicknesses. Kodak also uses air deflection to direct the non-printing drops into troughs for recycling and reuse.
With DoD systems, the drop generation and print drop frequency are the same. However, with continuous inkjet, there is a difference between the drop generation frequency and print drop frequency. Stream continuously generates drops up to 480,000 drops per second. Regular head cleaning should provide for hundreds to thousands of hours of print reliability. If the heads can’t be cleaned, they are refurbished by Kodak. Kodak currently has two adaptations of the Stream head: The S-series prints at up to 600 x 600 dpi at speeds up to 3000 fpm, and while Kodak doesn’t publish the resolution specs on the PROSPER press, they claim it prints at the equivalent of up to 200 lpi.
The new PROSPER 6000 series uses the scalable Kodak 700 Print Manager DFE to drive it. The 700 accepts all of the necessary file formats including AFP, IPDS, IJPDS, PDF, PS, PPML, VPS, and supports JDF and JMF control and communication. Currently it includes Adobe APPE 2.6, but will be upgraded to Adobe APPE 3.2 early next year, which will give it better and faster support for PDF/VT as well as much more efficient PDF processing.
The Kodak 700 Print Manager is one of the components of the Kodak Unified Workflow, which includes Kodak PRINERGY offering Rules Based Automation (RBA), previously covered in many of my workflow articles.
The PROSPER 6000C is projected to sell for approximately $3.6MM, while the 6000P will sell for approximately 3.2MM, but prices will vary based on configuration. Kodak has stated that there is no planned increase in either ink (currently the lowest cost in the market) or printhead refurbishment costs over its current pricing.
Kodak has now raised the bar in production inkjet presses. This new Kodak PROSPER 6000 series will continue to share the stage with the existing PROSPER and Versamark products, but we assume that there might be some thinning of the lines in the future. However, this new platform is an impressive design, and one that should help bring the company back into the game. There are currently two beta presses in the field, and the team has been learning a lot from these installations. Kodak anticipates disclosing the names of those sites before the end of June.
Now we are even more anxious to see what the other vendors will be announcing in this space. Stay tuned…
Thursday, October 30, 2014
As expected the next generation of production inkjet press releases are coming fast and furiously. Now we will look at the new Ricoh Pro VC60000.
The predecessor platform of this new press, the InfoPrint 5000, was originally marketed by the IBM Printing Systems Division prior to its staged acquisition by Ricoh starting in 2007 and will continue to be marketed by Ricoh for the foreseeable future. The InfoPrint platform was one of the earlier entrants into the production inkjet space, and has been very successful for IBM, Ricoh and Screen, who was a partner in the machine’s development. Screen marketed it as the Truepress Jet520, but essentially the two presses were cut from the same cloth. Even with the many enhancements Screen and Ricoh each incorporated over time, the platform was ready for a refresh. It’s not just that other production inkjet press manufacturers were entering the market, it’s that the underlying technology, in print heads, ink, and media, have moved production inkjet capabilities to new levels and users were interested in using the technology for higher coverage applications beyond the transactional applications for which it was originally designed. New developments across the vendor base have now extended the reach of production inkjet into higher quality applications, furthering the migration of volume from offset to digital.
While the InfoPrint platform, with its three different models, is strong in Transaction and Book applications, this new platform is designed to address Commercial Print, full color Books, Marketing Collateral and Direct Mail. While Ricoh expects this to coexist with the 5000 series for a while, make no mistake, the new Pro VC60000 is very much a Ricoh machine. As one of the largest print equipment manufacturers in the world, Ricoh has significant resources that the company has been able to take advantage of with the development of this new platform. It should also be noted that Ricoh has continued to partner with Screen in the development of this new line of inkjet presses.
I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention that Ricoh has an extensive line of color and monochrome toner based presses as well as a wide format portfolio.
Ricoh Production Inkjet technology
The older InfoPrint platform used Seiko Epson inkjet heads and Epson inks; however, this new platform uses Ricoh’s own print head technology. Many may not realize that Ricoh has been an inkjet print head manufacturer for about 30 years, with more than 20 years of developing and manufacturing piezo heads. However most of those heads have found their way into other manufacturers’ products in industrial and specialty printing applications, including wide format, textiles, 3D modeling and laminate printing applications.
The implementation of the Ricoh print heads on the Pro VC60000 is very interesting. While all production inkjet manufacturers have had to balance resolution and speed with cost, Ricoh has approached this implementation in a fairly unique way. The aqueous-based pigment heads are rated at native 1200 dpi, which is more than sufficient to address the quality needs of commercial print applications. However, the way they achieve this is by creating a print head module comprised of an array of 600 dpi heads, placed in scanning direction to make print head adjustment easy. This achieves the currently rated 50 meters/minute 1200 x 1200 dpi resolution on the Pro VC60000, while maintaining the ability to increase the speed in the future and keep costs down. It has the requisite print head cleaning and capping system to ensure quick startup and imaging consistency. The press can also be operated at 70m/m at 1200 x 600dpi, or 120m/m at 600/600 dpi. Additionally, now that Ricoh is no longer compelled to use Epson inks, the cost of ink should be more competitive as well.
The Press Transport
The newly designed transport of the Pro VC60000 is modular, making it flexible for many applications and installation requirements. It is designed to produce ~40 million duplex impressions/ month.
While the Pro VC60000, like most of the new generation of production inkjet\ presses, can run a wide variety of conventional offset and inkjet treated papers, Ricoh has chosen to include an Under-Coat unit that currently supports a flood coat on 1 or 2 sides of the media. Additionally, there is an optional Protector-Coat unit, which can be activated on the available 5th cartridge station to improve ‘smear resistance.’ It is currently applied to the whole page at a lower coverage, but I believe that it may allow spot coating at some point in the future. This combination of pre- and post-print units allows the press to support wide range of media from uncoated to offset glossy, at paper weights from 40-250 gsm at widths of 165-520 mm.
Ricoh’s ink cartridge system consists of two 10-liter disposable containers per color and sits independently from the engine. Inks can be changed on the fly, without stopping the press, and the machine automatically switches to the new cartridge when the other one is empty
Ricoh Front End
Ricoh designed a completely new digital front end (DFE) for the Pro VC60000. The open standards architecture supports multiple print streams, including PS, PDF, PDF/VT, AFP/IPDS and JDF/JMF. It uses the Adobe PDF Print Engine (APPE) in addition to some of its own core technology to support legacy AFP/IPDS formats.
The Pro VC60000 has a new, user friendly, browser based interface to control the press. which can even be accessed remotely. In addition to all of the press control and status information, it also includes an enhanced job preview that shows the RIP’d file and its individual color separations. It supports new color management functions that can address differences in media side and file object type as well as spot color dictionaries. It also h imposition capabilities, including saddle stitch, cut & stack, and trim marks.
Of course, in addition to the new DFE, Ricoh has an extensive line of TotalFlow workflow solutions in its portfolio which integrates nicely. We will be covering the new TotalFlow announcements, including enhancements to Process Director and Process Director Express, as well as the new TotalFlow Batch Builder and TotalFlow Path solutions in a future article.
While this is the first of the new Ricoh-designed production inkjet machines, I would expect to see more models from the company in the future that will take advantage of the many technologies it has at its disposal.
There are many more production inkjet presses being released at Graph Expo, and I will be covering each of them over the next few months. Stay tuned…
Thursday, October 30, 2014
In this articles, and more to come in future, we'll the processes and products that can lead to the transformation of your current workflows
Digital print technology and processes have been revolutionizing various fields of print production for years, and while significant digital print growth is projected to continue for many years to come, one area in which the market has been slower to adopt digital print production is labels and packaging. Some of this delay can be attributed to the limited availability of the requisite digital print technology. Many of these hardware requirements are rapidly being addressed through the introduction of new digital presses using varying imaging technologies, including dry and liquid toner, inkjet, latex, etc. However, much of the delay can also be attributed to the special requirements of the packaging market. These included special color handling; support for multiple versions, languages and roles; and specifications for an extensive range of finishing requirements.
The GWG (Ghent Workgroup) has been working on solutions to address the special needs of digital print production workflows since 2001, primarily, though not exclusively, through the development of best practice workflows based on the use of the PDF file format. Some of this work has been brought to the market in the form of the PDF/X-Plus specifications and setup files that are tailored to PDF creation and preflight for different applications. Since the goal was to create a standard exchangeable format, the first obstacle was the state of the PDF format itself at that time. PDF/X had initially been developed in 1999 to address standardized print production workflows; however, its initial focus was on publication work, and at that time packaging production wasn’t even on the radar. As the development of the PDF format and the respective PDF/X print focused versions have evolved over the years, support for many other print production requirements have been added.
While production processes for packaging, even through the use of PDF files, started to show some early promise, they were and currently still are all workflows that are proprietary to each vendor. In 2003, the GWG started working on the use of PDF and surrounding best practices for packaging production. The ambitious goal of this work was focused on creating a single ‘exchangeable standard’ PDF file that could be used for the communication of design, regulatory, and production information in one file for all types of packaging print production, including gravure, flexographic, offset and digital print. In 2006, the GWG released its first Packaging Specification, which was updated in 2012. This supports a standardized PDF file design and delivery exchange format, but only covers only a very limited set of the envisioned functionality.
It has taken the GWG until today to fully identify and develop these requirements and push most of those requirements through the various ISO (International Standards Organization) working groups to get the base PDF and PDF/X file format ready for the future of packaging production. While the ISO still has some work ahead of it to fully deliver on the requirements set out by the GWG, it is getting very close to that point. And the exciting news is that the various packaging workflow software vendors will be introducing the results of this work in their products shortly.
The work done to date to advance the PDF format in support of the GWG vision falls into three basic areas. Special Color handling with Spectral values; support for multiple versions, languages and roles; and extensive non-content and finishing standards.
One of the first requirements in packaging and brand management is centered around color. Whether it is Coca Cola vs. Pepsi red or IBM vs. Intel blue, color is critical for packaging production. When Adobe initially developed PDF, the color needs had not been anticipated beyond the support of CMYK, RGB, LAB and ‘named colors’ (e.g., Pantone colors). CMYK process equivalents don’t really supply a solution to the needs, and while named colors are one way of describing special color information, it really isn’t a standardized way for the needs of blind exchange in packaging production. In packaging production, the box, label, bag, etc., can be printed on various types of media across a brand or product family, including paper, poly, metallic substrates, etc., and it can be printed using offset, gravure, flexographic, digital and in many cases all of the above. Even the types of inks being used affect the color outcome. Taking all of this into consideration, there can be no argument that in packaging, color definition is critical.
When the GWG
started looking at color in packaging production, it ran into one of the first limitations of the PDF format. How do you communicate these special colors in a way that meets the exchangeable standard designation and supports all of these variables? It was determined that the best way to define color was with spectral values. This would allow for the differentiation and adaptation across substrate and process exchange needs. First the GWG looked to Adobe to supply a spectral solution within PDF. The PDF format is fairly ubiquitous in digital life these days, and supports a wide range of document exchange types, but rewriting the core color handling within PDF to satisfy the needs of the packaging community was not something Adobe was willing to undertake.
As a result, in 2009 the GWG started looking at CxF (Color Exchange Format), an XML-based technology framework initially developed by X-Rite in 2002 to exchange color information. Investigation revealed that there was a way for CxF data to be embedded and referenced in a PDF file. In CxF, the spectral color information, in addition to other information about color matching, viewing conditions, etc., could be accurately communicated. This was a significant development, and the timing was fortuitous, since X-Rite was introducing CxF to the ISO for consideration as a standard. The GWG enlisted the support of the ICC (International Color Consortium) and the appropriate ISO TC130 working groups to help push this concept into a set of eventual standards. As a result, ISO 17972- Parts 1-4, was developed to support the use of CxF in production color data exchange from capture/definition through exchange.
Of course, this work will not only benefit packaging production workflows; it has a much broader application as well.
For more information on the new CxF standards, register for the FTA webinar; The New Color Exchange Format: Everything You Need to Know about ISO 17972-4.
For a deeper understanding of the GWG Packaging Workflow efforts in general, register for the Printing Industries of America Color Conference – December
In the next article, Part 2, we will continue to look at what the future of these new exchangeable and standardized packaging workflows will look like, and take a closer look at the support for multiple versions, languages, roles and the extensive finishing needs of the growing digital packaging production market.
For more detail on some ways to automate and transform your workflows, download an informative whitepaper, "Automating and Optimizing a Book Production Workflow
You can contact David via email at email@example.com.