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Australia's first locally developed roll to roll and flatbed wide format inket machines
By Colleen Bate

If you've been paying attention to our latest industry news, you would have noticed the recent announcement of Product Distribution Australia (PDA)'s involvement in the launch and support of a new range of locally developed Vivex high resolution solvent and UV cured inkjet printers.

Wide Format Online spoke to owner Keith Scott about these products, how they came about and plans for the future.

 Front view of the RtR model
 Back view
 3 litre ink tanks
 Colour LCD panel

Prior to the Vivex project, PDA had been heavily involved with Gerber design and sign cutting equipment, Sign Wizard and Flexi Sign design, vinyl cutting and printing software. The company sold digital printers from Roland, HP, Epson, DGI, Agfa, Mutoh and Gandi innovations.

"We were fortunate to lead the sign industry in new directions with the first computerised vinyl cutting, image vectorising, RIP software and digital printing, during the 80s, 90s and the early part of the new century. Working with the larger manufacturers was in the main  exciting and rewarding – helping these companies succeed in establishing their products in the market was a challenge. To see our support ideas, maintenance procedures and even new designs for equipment sometimes adopted internationally provided a pleasant positive balance against the frustration we experienced when our ideas were not acknowledged.

These frustrations came to a head for PDA after some particularly bad experiences with a number of large manufacturers. At that time Keith's business was urgently in need of a new direction.

"I felt at that time software had become a commodity and hardware was the future - 'control the hardware and you own the market'.

"Could we consider manufacturing a digital printer in Australia? After serious investigation and lacking millions of dollars to throw at the project, the prospect seemed bleak. But we could develop a concept and come up with design ideas.
"Around this time, a new dynamic US based R&D company expressed interest in sharing new ideas and developing hardware and software for all types of digital printing. Unlike existing players they could start with a clean slate using all the very latest products. This was a brilliant opportunity – they could quickly implement design ideas in hardware and software that could accommodate a wide range of new digital components. They immediately started building a range of basic OEM electronic control boards and matching software products for various digital printer manufacturers.

"At this point it was not ground breaking stuff. Building digital printers is not easy. Building good digital printers is very, very difficult. Work continued and now the key part of this R&D development was to explore the concept of a flexible hardware and software design that could work with any of the different peripheral components like multiple brands of print heads, machine controls, and motion systems for scanning printers and inline printers.

"This is the core concept behind the Vivex printer family. The result – virtually unlimited flexibility in the specification of your printer."
Keith says his primary interest at that time was the manufacture of a pure flatbed printing system using ideas and concepts from the company. He was also keen to manufacture these products in Australia.

"It really only seemed like a dream at the time but in 2007 the R&D company liked the idea and agreed to support the project. A year later an Australian machine table manufacturer provided us with a very solid prototype table structure and subsequently, during 2009 a 4 metre by 2 metre fully fitted out production vacuum table. The first Vivex printer was in production!"

"In parallel with my flatbed project we were taking the same concept into what now amounted to a third generation of roll to roll inkjet printers. Hardware and software design that provided flexibility and performance which was unheard of at the time. So in 2009 we had Flatbed and Roll to Roll prototypes, both able to use UV cured inks or solvent inks, arc lamps or LEDs and the ability to easily adjust specifications to suit a customers unique needs."

Keith believes that the Vivex line of products' printing performance and reliability combined with excellent cost of ownership can easily match similar European, Japanese and American printers.

The Vivex family is not one or two products it's almost any product you want. If you are a large screen printer and in your opinion a digital press should be a particular size and have these capabilities and you want four of them or eight of them, we can do it with proven performance.

"If you have an outdoor poster operation and want high production in paper or vinyl we can help, providing up to 100 square metres per hour in a very affordable, reliable and sturdy package. If you require superb art prints on canvas or paper, UV cured inks make it easy. If you need super high resolution A2 size backlits for point of sale or car wraps and all forms of signage, rigid or flexible, it's no problem for us.  If you specialize, so can we."

"The Vivex Printer Family is the most flexible printer range available.

You can choose to have 4, 8 or 12  printheads (16 and 24 also available), four or more brands of popular industrial strength stainless steel or silicon print heads are available as well as various printhead resolutions, droplet sizes, nozzle spacing and firing speeds," confirms Keith.

In short:

- The printer's motion system can provide positioning resolution to greater than 1200 x 1200 dpi.
- Production rates can range from 30 to 100 square metres per hour.
- The Roll to Roll models are currently available in three widths, 1900, 2600 and 3300mm.
- The Roll to Roll models can be UV cured OR Solvent ink printers.
- Flatbed models currently use only UV cured ink and table sizes 1200 x 1600 or 1600 x 2600mm
- Users can choose to use the latest compact UV arc lamps or Vivex's new water cooled LED curing technology.
- The available Ink systems can be 1x 2x 3x CMYK(LcLm) with white and clear options for UV cured.

"In a nutshell, we adapt the product for our customers __'tell us what you want' and we will explain the options.”

When it comes to training, service and support, Keith confirms that since PDA's reputation was built during the computerisation of the Australian Aerospace, Vehicle, Sign and Graphics markets, it established the service and support organisation for all Gerber and DGI products installed in Australia.

"We have provided user training, service and support to over 2000 Australian companies in all states and territories during the last 20 years. Training, installation and ongoing service is part and parcel of our business and although we may be a little blunt at times, our objective is always to get the best result for our clients."

Having a long involvement with the Australian Sign and Graphics market has served the company well – PDA was the first to establish Roland Digital and DGI in the Australian inkjet market.

"Now our Australian Vivex customers, some of the most dynamic business's around, have provided us with fantastic support and a little patience.  The first four printers were bought sight unseen based on samples and specifications. So far we have seven machines in Australia, six solvent and one custom UV cured flatbed. They have been selected primarily with the view to providing a higher production and higher resolution solution that makes use of dramatically faster production, brighter, more durable AND economical inks than the alternatives on offer.

"The solvent printers are all using a 20 khz 30pl 70mm wide print head in 2x or 3x CMYK, The Flatbed printer is using 20khz 15pl 70mm wide printheads in a 3x CMYK configuration."

On the subject of future trends, Keith believes that the Vivex family of printers is so wide ranging and flexible, that he does not anticipate a need for any 'new' products in the next couple of years.

"We anticipate that in the future, each part of the family will develop organically and some currently marginal technologies like LED curing will be refined and take their place in the main stream of inkjet printing.  We expect Ink systems and print heads will continue to develop and improve.

"Our technology is designed to allow many of these changes to occur without redesigning the core structure, electronics or software." 

  • Vivex uses full solvent inks –  they are more durable, more vibrant, provide solid, brighter colours demanded by the sign industry.
  • Most competitors use a cartridge ink system with ink which costs from 200 to 500% higher.  If they offer a bulk in system it costs many thousands of dollars and reduces their high ink cost by only 25 percent, costing from $250 to $600 plus per litre!.The Vivex Bulk ink system in turn is standard and holds 3 litres per colour and the ink cost is only  $112.50 per litre.
  • Comparisons on the cost of ink for UV ink printers comparisons is similar.
  • Although a major supplier's 2.5 metre printer price (it now sells for $65,000), it is still more expensive and prints slower at the same quality than our Vivex 3.3 metre ($60,000ex)  and Vivex 2.6 metre or 1.9 metre ($50,000ex) printers.
  • Many of the competitors printers use small ‘desktop’ printheads. These have less production life than our industrial strength stainless steel 70mm wide printheads.

We are very confident of Vivex print head life between one and three years.  Additionally Vivex printers offer a very wide range of print head options which can be tailored to suit the customers needs. In our view a 30pl high speed 12 head setup is the optimum choice for sign and graphics clients. This combination gives an excellent balance between colour density, print quality and production speeds. Pricing above reflects this standard setup. Utilising our print head options can facilitate print quality at any level the client requires.

Tony Michel of Michel Signs in Victoria, a Vivex user  volunteered these answers to questions posed by Wide Format Online magazine:

WFOL: What Model are you using?
TM: We are using the VIVEX 3.3MTR RICOH12 HEAD printer.

WFOL:How do you rate the machine against the more established Japanese machines?
TM: This is our 3rd Large format Solvent printer and like our previous machines this is a very industrial built robust machine designed for continuous output with excellent reliability on large and small runs.

WFOL: What applications are you using your Vivex machines for. Are the machines used for a specific application or are they used for a wide variety of work? 
TM: Our machine is used for everything from real estate, internal display work, billboard skins, banners, mesh banners and vehicle wraps.

WFOL: Do you consider that the purchase saved you money on
a) the acquisition 
(TM) Most definately, the machine is up there on quality and build structure with machines four and five times it's price.
b)the running costs
(TM) No more expensive than our previous machine, being True Solvent costs are quarter the price of Eco-Solvent.  Durabity and colour density are far superior.

(WFOL) Are you happy with the support that PDA is giving you?
(TM) PDA are fantastic, Keith's support throughout this printer and our previous two models has been exceptional, we have never had a problem with back-up or service.

(WFOL) Any other comment you would like to add? 
(TM) If you are after a machine with strength, reliability, output, quality and low running costs then this is the machine.

Product Distribution Australia