Xaar continues to demonstrate its leadership in digital inkjet at Labelexpo Europe 2009

Xaar, as the leader in digital inkjet technology, had a huge impact at last year’s Labelexpo and this year, the impact looks to be even bigger.

Over ten OEM’s will be supporting Xaar’s ‘Think Digital, Think Inkjet, Think Xaar!’ theme by demonstrating Xaar-enabled printers that clearly show the power and flexibility of inkjet and its impact in digital print. These include Atlantic Zeiser, Delta Industrial Services, Durst, EFI and FFEI/Nilpeter:

•    Atlantic Zeiser (Hall 11 Q75) will be introducing the Gamma 70 full-colour inkjet printing module to the European label market. The printer opens up new possibilities for single-pass direct printing onto paper, film, metal and many other materials, producing photo-realistic production printing for labels, promotional items, ID cards and packaging

•    The Delta Industrial Services (Hall 7 Stand N20) MOD-TECH® EDGE™ Laser Converting Machine with digital printing capability gives converters a flexible manufacturing solution for complex geometries, precision products and quick-changeover, coupled with high-quality flexo, screen or digital printing – all in the same machine. The machine will be equipped for 4-color digital printing on an 11 inch web

•    The Durst (Hall 9 H75) TAU 150 UV inkjet printer reaches an industry leading throughput speed of close to 50m/minute, resulting in substantially improved return on investment for the label printer. The press prints on a variety of substrates and delivers repeatable image quality from the first to the last label and from run to run at the push of a button

•    EFI (Hall 9 H50), one of the leaders in digital printing solutions, will have its largest booth ever and will show three Jetrion 4000 Series UV Inkjet Systems, various finishing options and the EFI digital workflow. The Jetrion 4000 series is the perfect fit for secondary label, industrial label or flexible packaging markets and can be used for many primary label applications. EFI will have some exciting new announcements at the show

•    The FFEI/Nilpeter (Hall 7 L60 & L90) CASLON modular digital printer for labels and narrow web packaging printing, prints up to 50m/minute and combines high-quality digital printing with conventional printing and converting.

All the above machines use the industrial strength Xaar 1001 variable drop (greyscale) printhead. It is revolutionary in its design and ensures high reliability and productivity through its XaarDOT™ (Xaar Drop Optimisation Technology) capability and its TF Technology™ design. XaarDOT™ gives users the ability to select drop size or resolution depending on the application, image quality and substrate.

‘The increased number of Xaar-based inkjet printers showing at this years’ Labelexpo is a strong signal that inkjet can be both complementary and competitive to the existing technologies’, comments Phil Eaves, Sales and Marketing Director, Xaar. ‘The variety of applications running on different media demonstrates the flexibility of Xaar inkjet’.

Visit Xaar at the show in Hall 9, Stand F102. To find out more about Labelexpo Europe 2009 please visit http://www.labelexpo-europe.com

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About Xaar
Xaar is the world’s leading supplier of industrial inkjet printheads, inks and peripheral equipment to commercial printing and industrial manufacturing markets. Xaar’s innovative technology offers OEM customers and licensees commercial advantage through product differentiation, productivity, and faster time-to-market. Additional information about Xaar is available at http://www.xaar.com

Image: an image is available to download directly from http://www.grafixwire.info/plogger/?level=picture&id=184 (click on image and right click to save as high res jpeg) or on request from melindaw@splashpr.co.uk

Digital printing is now a strong presence in the label industry

Digital Printing

Digital printing is now a strong presence in the label industry. Its enthusiastic acceptance by converters of all sizes has helped the large player, the smaller suppliers and the hopefuls meet growing demand and introduce more powerful products.

By Jack Kenny


Xeikon’s booth at Labelexpo Americas 2008 in Chicago, featuring the new 3300 press.

Michael Ring is about to complete the most challenging year of his career. Ring was hired not long ago by Xeikon as vice president of sales and chief marketing officer, a job that requires him to take a moribund brand and b reathe life back into it. Everybody remembers Xeikon, the digital press that went away. Now it’s back, and with a new machine, and it’s Ring’s job to make sure that everyone understands that.

Despite the disastrous economy, Xeikon’s push comes at a good time for digital printing as a segment. The future of print is digital, and to an increasing extent the present also is digital. Flexo is still the dominant label printing technology, and will remain so for years to come, but it’s worth looking at the recent past and briefly chronicling the technology shifts.

Indigo and Xeikon emerged in the mid 1990s with their large digital presses. UV flexo was in its ascendancy, which soon spelled an end to new letterpress sales in the label market. At the same time, rotary screen modules were growing in popularity. Attempts by Webtron and Mark Andy to create digital inkjet modules within flexographic presses were not successful, and for a while, it appeared that interest in digital machines was just floating along.

That began to change a few years ago. HP, which now owns the Indigo brand, is triumphing with its digital press, enjoying the reputation as having one of the best-selling presses on earth. At the opposite end of the size and cost scale is Degrava Systems, with its desktop four-color rollfed unit, also attracting significant attention. Somewhere between are the new digital inkjet contenders, whose ranks over the past four years have swelled from one to two to five or more.

Into this picture Xeikon re-emerges.

Over the past decade, Xeikon’s parent company, Punch Graphix, based in Belgium, underwent internal upheavals. “Management spent a lot of time trying to get back control of the company, and in the US there was a revolving door of management. It was a combination of errors,” says Ring. “They have incredible technology but failed on the tactical execution, the value proposition of customer care. They just were riding the annuity of the service and toner revenue. That’s a going-out-of-business strategy.

“I give a lot of credit to the company for realizing that if they infuse capital into R&D they could really come out and be positioned well. Through all this management change and poor marketing execution and not necessarily proper sales management, they were infusing R&D with dollars.”

When Ring came in he dismissed most of the sales force. “This is a tough sell,” he says. “You don’t need a digital press. A lot of the people have been in the industry for two or three generations and have been thinking about digital, and the handwriting on the wall says it’s going to go digital, but you don’t have to go digital today. It’s not a necessity. You can wait a little bit.

“So we have to position ourselves properly. What’s our base? What’s the churn of the base? What’s the defection of the base? That’s what we need to look at the most, and we are also looking at adjacent markets.”

“I think a bad economy is a good thing,” Ring suggests, “because it forces you to look at your business model, to look at every aspect of your business, and if you are going to make change, now is the time to do it.”

Xeikon recently made two unusual moves in North America. They established distribution partnerships with two companies – RBCOR in the west and JV Imaging Solutions in the east – to help market the Xeikon brand and technology. Both RBCOR and JV are distributors of flexographic printing plates, and so their move to work with a digital press maker indicates their awareness of change in the marketplace.

“We’re marketing Xeikon like an olympic athlete,” says Ring. “We are going to stay in our lane and run our hardest. I’m not going to try to trick the guy next to me. We are going to run on our own merits. We are going to align the value proposition of our technology to the requirements of the market, and if it fits for some people then it fits. If it doesn’t fit then it wasn’t the right alignment and we’ll move on.”

Xeikon presses use toner for printing, are available in five colors, have no repeat and no frames, and the new model 3300 can reach speeds of 63 fpm. Substrates require no coatings.

HP Indigo: A challenge to flexo

Meanwhile, the ws4500 by HP Indigo is proving to be a runaway bestseller. Alon Bar-Shany, vice president and general manager of the Indigo division, says that label industry growth overall is 4 percent, and that digital label growth is at a remarkable 45 percent. Packaging as a whole, he adds, is growing at 4 percent, and digital packaging products are at 59 percent. And the ws4500 press is out in front of the pack that is making those numbers.


The HP Indigo WS6000 at Labelexpo Americas

“In 2003 we had under 200 of our industrial presses operating, and in 2007 we had more than 600,” says Bar-Shany, adding that by the end of 2008 the company estimates that HP presses “will account for 73 percent of the 1,007 digital label presses installed worldwide.”

This year the company introduced a new digital press, a muscular sibling known as the WS6000. This press, which will be ready for delivery in early 2009, is faster and has a longer repeat length than the ws4500.

“The 4500 continues to be the work horse of our portfolio,” Bar-Shany says. “The 6000 is a high-end industrial press.”

Vince Pentella, national business manager for HP Indigo, says that the 6000 is aimed more at the longer-run market. “It can handle short run, but you wouldn’t buy it for that,” he says. Pentella estimates that sales of the 6000 press in the near future will be about half of the expected sales of the 4500.

The WS6000 will print in four colors at 100 fpm, and in two colors at 200 fpm. The repeat length is up to 39″, and the ink cannisters are larger than on the 4500. The physical footprint is the same for both machines.

“This is a challenge to flexo,” says Pentella. “The 4000 series took on the Webtrons and some Mark Andys. I think that now we will make a further impact on the flexo market with the 6000. We definitely see this as taking on flexo.”

The inkjet bid

Inkjet has been around for quite some time, but only in the first decade of the 21st Century have inkjet label presses emerged as serious contenders for market share. First on the scene was Jetrion, which came out of Flint and now is owned by EFI. That was followed soon by Sun Chemical’s SolarJet, also a stand-alone UV inkjet label press.

This year at Drupa, and again at Labelexpo, inkjet seemed to be everywhere. Epson brought its press to Chicago, as did Delta Industrial, Stork Prints and Nilpeter.

EFI Jetrion’s press has several new features, including workflow software and RIP, along with a new ink set. “We can print on any synthetic substrate,” says VP Ken Stack, “with generally no corona treating. We have drastically increased the number of matte papers we can print on as well.” The Jetrion press can print on pre-diecut blank labels and register them on the fly.

Sun Chemical’s SolarJet is equipped with Xaar 760 printheads, which provide a visual resolution of 900×900 dpi. The company has capitalized on its ink expertise to develop SunJet UV inks for use in the SolarJet. The four-color press can print at a speed of up to 80 fpm, and offers print widths from 2.1″ to 6.3″.


The new DSI inkjet module from Stork Prints

Stork Prints introduced its DSI inkjet module this year, marking the company’s entry into the field. The DSI – which stands for Digital System Integration – has what the company describes as an “open platform,” meaning that “it is easy to integrate into presses from many label printing press manufacturers,” says Danny Sheikh, vice president and general manager of Stork Prints America.

The unit has a top speed of 115 fpm, and can handle all major paper and film label substrates, Sheikh says. “It gives label printers the chance to complement their existing press with inkjet technology, effectively topping up productivity, with short high value full color production runs, or configure it as a  dedicated press, alongside – for example – inline converting processes.”

Epson, a major player in the global inkjet business, showed up quietly at Labelexpo Europe last year with a prototype machine that turned some heads. This year Epson made noise about its new machine.

While many of the inkjet label presses available today utilize Xaar printheads, Epson employs its own MicroPiezo technology, which prints at 720 dpi in seven colors. It prints on substrates from all major suppliers without special coatings, and can handle rolls up to 13″ wide. The Epson machine has a 36″ repeat.


The Caslon inkjet press, from Nilpeter

Yet another inkjet project that made its debut in Belgium last year and showed itself in Chicago for the first time this year is Caslon, a high-end inkjet system from Nilpeter. The company describes Caslon as “a true industrial print concept, based on industrialized platforms and designed for heavy duty production.” The press is named for William Caslon, the 18th Century English designer of typefaces.

A four-color printer, Caslon features hybrid side-shooter heads that deposit UV curable inks. Print resolution can reach 720×360 dpi at eight gray levels. The maximum image size, depending on the configuration and integration with other Nilpeter presses, is 13″ or 16″ wide with a length of about 40″. Print speed at the highest resolution is 41 fpm; at the lowest resolution (180×360 dpi) it is 166 fpm.

Nilpeter envisions two settings for the Caslon: a stand-alone inkjet press for printers who need special digital print applications without any inline processes or converting, or a high-end combination platform for the converter who wants to combine digital print with all standard print processes.


Degrava Systems’ 9500 prototype digital label printer

Really small runs

One company has sought to capitalize on the niche of label converters who require runs that are truly small. “Our business is in that 0-10,000 label run,” says Tim Sykes, VP of sales and marketing for Degrava Systems. “Our press is a stepping stone to the larger digital machines.”

Degrava made its debut several years ago with its four-color toner based printer, built around the Oki print engine. Its model DP8500 includes a fully licensed Pantone color library and support for SWOP, Japan Color, Euroscale and custom ink simulations.

The 8500 prints at a width of 81⁄4″, at a speed of about 10 fpm, and its unwind can handle about 1,200 feet of pressure sensitive labelstock. It can print on most label substrates, with the exception of polypropylene. It can print from PC or Macintosh graphics programs, manage sequential or variable data, make color corrections on the fly, and archive jobs for future printing.

Sykes says that about half of the company’s unit sales are outside North America. He adds that a new generation of printer is on its way to the market, and that it will print on a 12″ wide web at faster speeds, and will accept more substrates because the internal temperature will be significantly lower.

Digital Print Update

Digital Print Update

Now a strong force in the label converting industry, digital printing is accomplished using several competing processes.

By Jack Kenny

A couple of months ago a narrow web converter made this declaration: “I want a digital press. We can afford it and I really and truly want to own one. But because of the markets we serve, we won’t have enough work for it.” That’s an honest assessment, but you could feel the enthusiasm for the technology in the converter’s voice and delivery. That speaks volumes about digital printing today.


An artistic view of the inner works of an HP Indigo ws4500 digital press

The year 2007 is a mere dozen years past the introduction of the Indigo and Xeikon digital presses into this industry, though it seems like decades. Digital printing and prepress is so thoroughly entrenched in the imaging culture today that one rarely hears the question: “Will I ever have a digital press?” It’s simply a matter of when that acquisition will take place.

One sign of the growth trend will be visible next year at Labelexpo Americas in Chicago. One section of a hall will be devoted to digital products, including both presses and prepress equipment. In Brussels at Labelexpo Europe 2009, an entire hall will be set aside for exhibitors of digital print equipment and systems.

Growth of color digital printing in the narrow web packaging sector started small, which was to be expected. Indigo, an independent Israeli company now owned by Hewlett-Packard, was first on the block with its digital offset machine that employs electrostatic inks (still proprietary and available only from HP). Xeikon soon followed with its toner based tower, which attracted the attention of Nilpeter, the Danish press manufacturer. Nilpeter put its logo on the Xeikon engine for several years.


The Xeikon 330 digital label press

Penetration of these systems was slow and steady, though it seemed to retard a bit in the early part of this decade during the recession. Meanwhile, inkjet printers began bulking up, and development of this process was undertaken both by Mark Andy and by the former Webtron-Aquaflex group in conjunction with 17 converters who called themselves the Digital Label Alliance. Both efforts, now apparently moribund, involved the installation of a digital inkjet machine into a flexographic press, so that the benefits of variable printing in color could be incorporated into the flexo process. The Mark Andy version, developed in conjunction with Xaar in Belgium, featured a four- to six-color unit that was shown at Labelexpo Europe.

Digital means that several aspects of the conventional printing process are replaced by computerization. Designs produced in the prepress department are sent directly to the printing machine, which translates the digital image into instructions for the ink or toner application equipment. Digital means no printing plates, which removes a great many challenges that flexo operators encounter daily. Moreover, because the images come directly from the computer and are not restricted to images on a plate, each can be different. This presents broad opportunities for personalization and other variable information.

Inkjet growth

Inkjet has resurfaced in the arena, not strictly as a facet of a larger press, but rather as a stand-alone printing machine that can produce process color. EFI Jetrion was first out of the gate with its 4000 press, a machine described by Vice President Ken Stack as “cost effective for short to medium runs”. The 4000, introduced at Labelexpo in Chicago last year, comes in a 4″ (102mm) wide version, with an 8″ (203mm) model to come next year. It prints using up to six colors at speeds ranging from 50 to 100 feet per minute.

Sun Chemical has its own digital four-color inkjet press, similar in structure to the EFI Jetrion machine, which was seen for the first time in public at Labelexpo in Brussels this year. Called SolarJet, it offers a variety of print widths to meet the application requirements of converters and utilize their existing inventory of dies and converting equipment. Chris Faust, director of North American sales for SolarJet, says the press has “virtually no press setup time, and combined with print speeds of up to 80 linear feet per minute, it makes short work of most digital job requirements.”


Nilpeter’s new Caslon digital inkjet press unit

A rather quiet appearance at the rear of one of the halls of Labelexpo this year was made by Epson, which presented a prototype of its digital four-color inkjet press. The machine prints on a 13″ wide web using high density pigments in an aqueous solution. Its 17 print heads can produce a printed area 13″ x 36″ in dimension. According to Marc Tinkler, senior business development manager, the press prints on normal gloss stock that does not require pre-treating, as other digital presses do. Speed is about 33 feet per minute. Tinkler adds that the Epson press is still about a year away from commercial launch.

Nilpeter, which no longer markets the Xeikon machine under its brand, made a major introduction in September of the Caslon unit, a module that prints four-color inkjet that can operate as a stand-alone press or run inline with the FA-Line UV flexo presses or the Nilpeter MO offset machines. Depending on the choice of grayscale levels, the Caslon (named for the 18th Century English type designer) prints from 25 to 50 mpm (82 to 164 fpm). “That makes it one of the industry’s fastest inkjet printers of its type,” says Jakob Landberg, Nilpeter’s vice president of sales.

Xeikon

Xeikon, owned by Punch Graphix of Belgium, says the pace of sales of its large digital presses is on the rise. The company reports “impressive sales results during the four days of Labelexpo Europe. This includes the sale to customers buying an additional machine to their existing Xeikon label presses: S. Lerner from Israel, JoDi Etiketter from Sweden and X-label from Germany, to name a few,” says Siegfried Trinker, chief sales officer.


Sun Chemical’s SolarJet inkjet press

“The market for digital label printing is growing rapidly and customers appreciate the variety of pre- and postpress solutions we can offer,” he says. “When customers choose an additional Xeikon, it confirms that they appreciate the quality and outstanding performance of our solutions and the first class service we offer to them.”

Overall, 2007 shows a highly increased sales activity of the Xeikon 330, says Trinker. “Due to our increased focus on the label industry, installations of the Xeikon 330 in 2007 so far already doubled the installations in 2006. The Xeikon 330 is a top product and we are committed to play a leading role in the label industry by continuous innovation and first class customer care.”

HP Indigo

By far the HP Indigo press is the leader in the digital print field in the narrow web label industry. Since the acquisition several years ago by HP, the Indigo press has become ubiquitous, and is one of the best selling machines world wide in this segment of the printing and packaging business. The company says that sales throughout 2007 escalated, and growth from August 2006 to August of this year was 44 percent.


Epson’s prototype digital color inkjet press,
shown at Labelexpo Europe 2007 in Brussels

The company has begun to stress its relationship with industry partners, publicly announcing alliances with other suppliers, such as AB Graphic International and EskoArtwork.

“The end-to-end offerings from HP and its partners make digital label production both cost-effective and highly efficient,” says Alon Bar-Shany, vice president and general manager of the Indigo Division. “We have more than 500 HP Indigo presses for the label market installed worldwide, and by the end of this year more than 20 percent of our total install base will be for our most recent press, the HP Indigo press ws4500, launched just a year ago. The number of customers installing multiple presses is testament to the market trend toward shorter runs, variable data, security, and on-demand printing.”

Many companies throughout the world own and operate more than one HP Indigo label press. Stralfors of Sweden has four. Rako, based in Germany, has six of them. Lightning Labels, in the US, has two new ws4500 machines, and no other types of presses.


A rendering of the inside
of a Xeikon digital press

HP has worked with many companies on finishing solutions that can be used offline or inline with the press. By and large the post-press work is handled offline. This year the company made the announcement that AB Graphic was its sole strategic partner and preferred supplier of finishing equipment.

AB Graphic launched its new Omega Digicon series 2 label converting line in September, offering an expanded range of processing technologies for digitally printed webs. The fully modular Digicon series 2 features automated pre-positioning, resulting in minimum waste and quick make-ready.  The servo driven web tension control is capable of handling a wide range of substrates; both paper and non-paper. The semi-rotary web motion with dial-in repeat lengths and only one cylinder size means that there are no gears or shafts to change. The basics of the machine include unwind/rewind units, electronic web guide, infeed roller, semi rotary flexographic printing station, air cooled UV curing, mid press dance roller to allow for combinations of rotary flexo and semi rotary die cutting, servo driven out-feed nip roller, waste matrix and HMI touch screen control.

Black only

Nipson makes high speed digital presses that print only in black ink. The VaryPress 200, the latest generation, is built for continuous production and can operate at speeds up to 295 fpm (90 mpm) on a printable width of 18.45″ (web width of 20.5″). The range of materials the machine can use includes coated and uncoated paper, pressure sensitive stocks, foils, and plastic affixed cards.

The Nipson machines utilize a magnetographic printing process, which incorporates toner and allows for reproduction of images at 600 dots per inch.