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Drupa 2012 report back on the wide format sector

By Andy McCourt

Drupa is a contraction of the German words ‘Druck’ for ‘print’ and ‘Papier’ for ‘paper.’ Every four or so years since 1951, this trade fair has been the focal point for the world’s printing community; mostly the five mainstream processes of Offset, Letterpress, Flexo, Screen and Gravure. With the advent of digital processes, 1995 saw the first presentation of imaging methods outside of the ‘trade-craft’ quintopoly.

Wide format devices were at first viewed as useful proofing devices to support big presses, but as the wide format industry has evolved, so has drupa. The proud trade-craft foundation that traces its roots back to Gutenberg is increasingly process-agnostic. Drupa would not even acknowledge digital printing as a serious process until 1995 when Indigo first appeared. Xerox were not welcomed as an exhibitor until drupa 2000 and even then they were stuck way out in the boon docks, as far away from ‘real’ printing as possible.

Agfa MPres Leopard
Agfa's :M-Press Leopard
Caldera with newFX memjetmachine
The Fujixerox prototype was shown working on the Caldera stand
Canon Oce Velocity
Océ showing the Velocity

So wide format developed its own shows such as FESPA, Viscomm and our own Visual Impact Image Expo type of events. At drupa 2012, you could be forgiven for thinking these wide-format only shows were co-located with the huge print media event. Throughout the 18 halls of the Düsseldorf ‘Messe’ inkjet and wide format was in abundance as ‘mainstream’ printers invest in any technology that will put colour onto substrates. Wide format digital has arrived in the mainstream and some of the faster WF inkjet machines are even being touted as replacements for short-run offset.

At this drupa, one nascent trend I identified was for wide format finishing equipment to reach productivity speeds that attract packaging printers used to mega-investments of millions of dollars in plant. This is particularly so for the production of short-run boxes and cartons printed on flatbed UV presses. Zund showed a complete cutting-stacking-palletising line for corrugated boxes printed digitally. Like Usain Bolt, sometimes the short run can be the fastest way to success.

So, starting at the end with finishing, the Swiss Zund G3 board handling system caught my eye as an example of wide format reaching up into the lucrative offset board printing sector, for cartons and POS displays. The full line is around 12 metres long and can handle board up to 16mm thick and 3.2 x 2.09 metres in size for the XL model. Everything up to trucking off the pallets is automated for a single-person operation from a central workstation.

Aristo is another cutting solution manufacturer and this Hamburg, Germany based firm had a Paul Hogan ‘That’s not a knife!’ moment at drupa with the release of the Aristomat LFC which will handle up to a whopping 5 x 5 metres of material. Represented in Australia by Converta Machinery, the range of Aristo cutters now covers more sizes than any other and can now boast the largest flatbed cutter available.

EFI Vutek HS100
 EFI VUTEk HS100 Pro
 Fuji Acuity1600
 Fuji's Acuity 1600
 FX newMemjetmachine prototype
 Fuji Xerox new Memjet prototype

Agfa was an interesting stand to observe. Over on the prepress and CtP side – modest crowds of offset printers. On the wide format inkjet side, packed crowds around the :M-Press Leopard and new :Anapurna M 2540FB (on which some wag had tied a sign ‘Australia 16,776km, a bloody long way!’ (Come on:-own up whoever you are!). The M-Press Leopard was automation personified as it fed, printed, unloaded and transported sheets up to the new extended 3.3 x 1.6 metres using a shuttle mechanism designed by Thieme. Unlike the :M-Press Tiger which features hybrid Screen-Digital printing; the Leopard is pure digital but with all the media handling benefits of the Tiger when optioned up with Thieme media handling. At up to 295m2, this is one of the machines reaching up into offset production-territory but with the advantage of printing thicker materials up to 5cm. It also ‘perfects’ or prints both sides in WF language.

Canon had its first drupa together with its newly-incorporated Océ subsidiary although it was quite evident that the huge display area was Canon first. The Océ logo was scarcely seen but there was Océ product to be seen including the new Memjet-powered Velocity high-speed inkjet plotter capable of 500 A0 prints per hour at 1600 x 800dpi. Commercialisation of Velocity, with its six roll media capacity, will be announced post-drupa and this may be influenced by Fujixerox’s announcement of a Memjet-powered plotter along the same lines. The battle lines appear to be the high volume CAD/GIS/AEM sector but commercial graphics, i.e. posters are also in the game plan. The Fujixerox prototype was shown working on the Caldera stand, who are providing the Rip controller. While nowhere near as cosmetically developed as the Canon/Océ iteration, FX engineers were still able to spit out A0 prints in around 8 seconds at 1600 x 1600 dpi.

HP FB7600
HP Scitex FB7600
The Jetrix 1212 UV flatbed
KIP soldmachines
The popular KIP C7800

Positioning Velocity as an alternative to short-run offset could have some credence but it should be remembered that 500 A0s per hour compares to up to 18,000 per hour with offset and if variable data is needed, 13,000 per hour on the Landa Nanographic S10 press shown at drupa – both with up to 8 colours. If it comes to market, I think Velocity should be sold for what it is – a very fast inkjet plotter with a CMYK inkset, applicable wherever quick short runs of plans, drawings, maps and basic posters are called for.

Chinese exhibitors were everywhere at drupa and many had inks, textiles, laminates and sublimation products for the wide format market. With over 250 exhibitors from PR China, many booths were small ‘shell’ areas organized by various associations and central export bodies. Some displays were little more than a couple of people sitting on a stand with posters on the wall, but there is no doubting China’s ability to manufacture inexpensive materials and equipment that, with a little western marketing, can gain market share around the world.

Another eye-catching product with great potential in wide format printing was the Dr. Wirth 3D Topogetter scanner. This clever device scans objects in true 3D, creating a file with all gradations which, when printed 2D gives an impression of depth and dimension almost like an optical illusion. Applications include wall and interior décor, theatrical scenery, advertising and POS.

EFI VUTEk released two new printers at drupa; the HS100 Pro, a 3.2 metre UV hybrid flatbed/roll press with 8 colours including white. Designed for rugged continuous operation, the HS 100 Pro will print up to 334 m2 per hour in roll mode, and up to 100 rigid boards per hour on the bed. Also new on EFI’s impressive display was the 2.0 metre VUTEk QS2 Pro aimed at Photo Labs, Display and high-end Sign makers who need optimum quality but at high production speeds. Greyscale printheads with six colours plus white and flexible UV inks deliver the goods for this new model which is sure to hit a nerve with the busier quality-minded shops.

Mimaki JV400 Latex
The Mimaki JV400-160LX
Ricoh new wideformat
Ricoh's new Pro L4000 wide format machine
Screen TPJ1632 BenEaton
Starleaton's Ben Eaton with the new Screen Truepress W1632UV

EPSON had its largest-even drupa stand with the Surecolor range attracting a lot of admiring looks. Although released in Australia prior to drupa, the SC-S30600 was new to most visitors. This 64” eco-solvent printer was delivering superb photo-quality colour at up to 1400 x 1400dpi and the white ink registration on clear substrates (see close-up) was pin-point accurate. With production speed at 29 m2 per hour and new GS2 inks that last up to three years outside without lamination, this could well be the widely-adopted all-rounder that EPSON has been striving for.

Fujifilm Sericol escalated its involvement in wide format further with a sizeable part of its display devoted to this sector. All of Fujifilm’s offerings are versions of OEM machines from other prime manufacturers with the Japanese imaging giant preferring to concentrate on the ink and media sales. Covering all the way up to 5 metre Grand Format with the new Israeli-made Matan Barak 8Q, Fujifilm Australia (under their branding Uvistar Pro 8) can cater for all sectors of the industry. Matan Marketing Director Erez Zimmerman, on Matan’s own booth, was very proud of the image quality from the Barak 8Q and the ability to run two or more rolls with differing jobs was clearly demonstrated on this 353 m2 per hour machine. New Uvijet inks including ‘light’ colours add to image tonal quality

Much of Fujifilm’s equipment carried ‘Sold’ signs including the all-new UK-made Inca S40i Onset complete with auto load and unload, presumably a tilt at the Agfa-Thieme M-Press market. Faster than the S20 at up to 470 m2 per hour, the S40 is positioned just below the flagship Onset S70 model. The S40i is an upgraded version of the S40 launched at FESPA 2011 and features reduced set-up times for the bed; improved printhead monitoring and cleaning, substrate height detection and a new ink formulation, appropriately called ‘Uvijet OZ’ for better adhesion and flexibility.

Roland DG was all about applications
Seiko fluorescent
Seiko's flourescent inks on the ColorPainter W-54S
SwissQprint with their new Nyala flatbed UV

The Acuity brand was evident in both flatbed UV and LED roll versions. It’s worth noting that Fujifilm has also entered the increasingly crowded high-volume inkjet web press sector with a model that is clearly made by Miyakoshi, who also manufacture for Xerox and Océ. Again it’s the ink that is the attraction in this narrow-format but high throughput market.

Gandy was back as Gandy Digital, with the sleek-looking Domin8tor 2 x 3 metre UV flatbed. Using Ricoh printheads, the picolitre droplet size is an exceptionally fine 6pl and the automated cleaning is said to eliminate wiping and blotting. Gandy has embraced the iPad for a control device and GUI.

What can be said about the Hewlett Packard stand except ‘massive?’ The Sign and Display area was very application-driven with a particularly good demonstration of how to produce and apply digitally-printed wall coverings. The Scitex FB7600 was a highlight of the show and, as has been reported, Melbourne’s Magnify Media ordered their third machine at drupa. There were no surprises on HP that FESPA had not already seen but the sheer scope and app-driven demos validated HP’s slogan “Technology catches up with Imagination.”

Korean-made Jetrix exhibited under its parent company name InkTec with its UV flatbed 2513 and 3015 (comically mis-spelled ‘Flat bad’ in drupa publicity) models. Like Korean cars, the build quality has advanced leaps and bounds and the Anitech-supplied Jetrix printers offer excellent value-for-money for reliable flatbed and roll-adapted machines.

CAD/GIS/AEC plotter manufacturer KIP looked to be having a great show with its C7800 toner machines all sporting ‘Sold’ signs. Another Anitech product, KIP holds that toner is cheaper and better than inkjet but I predict a face-off when the Fujixerox and Canon-Océ Memjet powered machines hit the market. Nevertheless, for now “KIP is hip” and they have a winning technology.

Mimaki had already announced its move into Latex with the JV-400 160LX – with sensational white ink capability - but drupa delivered a whole new audience to them. Additional to Latex were the solvent and sublimation printers and the new UJF-3042 HG for ‘High-Gap’ LED UV model for product decoration and marking. The High Gap between printheads and substrate enable up to 150mm thick materials to be permanently marked. Both hard and stretchable-flexible inksets are available. Mimaki importer DGS Mimaki’s Peter de Maagd was seen working the halls and I ran into him chatting with the Scodix spot UV coating people during a final yomp around the show.

In a major departure from its ‘build it ourselves’ philosophy; Ricoh announced its entry into the wide-format melee with a Mimaki-made Latex roll printer, the Pro L4000. The printheads are made by Ricoh but the metal is Mimaki and little attempt has been made to disguise this. A very helpful Ricoh UK staffer named after our late King of Comedy Graham Kennedy, told me: “ It’s the first time in 35 years we have gone outside of our own manufacturing to source a product and we see the L4000 Pro as a great addition to our offerings for existing Ricoh digital printing customers.” The L4000 also fits in with Ricoh’s environmental policies and, knowing the company’s renowned service commitment, will surely find its own niche in the wide format sector with the growing band of loyal Ricoh-brand aficionados.

Roland DG had a very colourful display and launched the new VersaArt RE 640 64” machine with double CMYK mirrored configuration for a total of eight channels. Capable of up to 23 m2 per hour and at under $20,000, a visiting Ben Eaton, General Manager, of Starleaton Digital Solutions, predicted this machine would be a big hit in Australia.  Roland was another company focusing very much on applications and featured examples of value-added printing on every imaginable material. A neatly produced video is available here:

Screen attracted a lot of attention with its new Truepress Jet 1632 UV and I ran into at least two Australian visitors taking a long hard look at the amazing image quality at all production speeds up to 94 m2 per hour. This is a major step up from Screen’s previous flatbed UVs and places it directly in the Acuity-Arizona battlefield for productivity and image quality. Starleaton’s Ben Eaton – already a Screen reseller - was impressed: “It’s hard to tell any meaningful difference between 18, 35 and 94 m2 an hour when you consider viewing distances,” he noted. With Screen’s reputation for build quality and customer care earned in the CtP and prepress area, the 1632UV could well be the sleeper success of flatbed UV from drupa.

Postive Camtec is handling the swissQprint Nyala flatbed UV in Australia and this was another very busy product launch at drupa. A hybrid flatbed/roll machine, the Nyala prints rigid boards up to 3.2 x 1.6 metres and roll up to 3.2 metres wide. With a four-heads-per-colour CMYK inkset print speed are up to an impressive 215 m2 per hour in draft mode. As a fast all-rounder the Nyala looks hard to beat in this sector and being Swiss-made indicates a quality of manufacturing that can be relied upon. Price could be a barrier with the Eurozone crisis causing the Swiss Franc to strengthen but a call to Positive Camtec will clarify that issue.

Seiko’s stunning fluorescent inks have already been reported here but looking at the results close-up is further affirmation of the vibrant and visually-appealing effect achieved by this clever innovation.

Another Memjet OEM, this time from Xanté with its 42” Excelgraphix 4200 machine was pumping out the A0 sheets, but manually-fed by the Xante ladies. Like the other Memjet wide format machines, the speed is astounding and people were taking 2013 calendars straight of the printer, crisp and dry, seconds after feeding.

For wide format, drupa proved that the printing industry is increasingly process-agnostic. Inkjet speeds continue to climb and there is no doubt that the impact of Memjet technology will have much further to go. US-Canadian company Delphax showed a Memjet-powered cut-sheet printer capable of up to 500 A4s per minute – almost double the fastest toner machines.

In wide format, there appears to be a polarization developing between fast CMYK-only aqueous output and the higher image quality, multi-colour plus whites and metallics eco-solvent and UV sectors. It remains to be seen if Memjet can go beyond 42” and CMYK.

Finally, a mention of the technology that blitzed drupa for sheer numbers of people cramming its stand. Landa Nanography. No dedicated wide-format printer was shown but if you consider Landa’s S10 102cm B1 press as a wide format machine, you would be able to produce 13,000 B1 single-sided posters per hour! All digitally, all in short print runs or with variable data and all on inexpensive regular offset media including synthetics. Costs would tumble.

Landa Nanography does employ inkjet to form the images but from there on the similarity ends. A moving heated belt carries the image onto the substrate where a thermal jolt disengages it from the belt and onto the media. It becomes a laminated, ‘planographic’ layer bonded to the media. There is no wet ink penetration of the paper fibres and therefore no cockling or need for inkjet receptive coatings.

There is serious potential for Landa Nanography to become the dominant printing industry process in the future and we can expect further announcements going forward.

Overall, when it comes to conventional offset, flexo and gravure printing – versus wide format: at drupa you just could not see the separation. Wide format has blended in with the rest of the industry and its uptake by ‘conventional’ printers will continue apace.