Digital printing is evolving fast and the latest technical options could signal a greater involvement among converters. It is also creating some unlikely partnerships among suppliers. One of the latest brings together Mark Andy and Barco Graphics’ Industrial Printing division.
The St. Louis press giant plans to offer the Belgian-built dot.factory (pronounced dot factory), as a retrofittable print engine on one of its presses.
It represents a further boost for piezo inkjet printing, a drop-on-demand technology that is making waves in several industrial and graphic sectors. The addition of proven UV-curable ink jet inks is critical because it allows printing on paper or film label stocks and packaging materials.
To put things in context, the Mark Andy OEM deal follows a couple of years development work on similar UV-cured ink jet technology. This resulted in the Argio 75SC module, sold by Chromas Technologies and operational in six US sites. It also offers fully-variable printing. In this case at up to 100 feet/minute with “non-photographic” 600dpi resolution quality. Its nine base colors are mixable to give consistent color matches.
But while the Argio module works inline with most narrow-web presses, the Barco module will fit only Mark Andy’s Model 2200 flexo press. It also prints more slowly at up to 80 feet/minute. The big difference, however, is that it delivers high-quality halftone process color printing, with two extra Hexachrome colors across the full 12" web width.
Technically, quality halftone printing has been something of a Holy Grail for ink jet vendors. Xaar’s development of piezo-electric print heads with eight levels of greyscale have helped make it possible. In fact, Barco has formed an alliance with Toshiba TEC, a Xaar licensee, to supply the ink jet cartridges for its Single Pass Inkjet Color Engine (SPICE). Each cartridge provides 360dpi resolution across an imaging area of 70mm (2.75"). Users can stitch cartridges together as color bars in variable widths up to nearly 25". Ancillaries include a chill roll for printing films and and a sealed twin lamp BLK-U UV curing unit using nitrogen-based (oxygen free) technology.
A prototype SPICE module is currently located at Barco’s headquarters in Ghent, Belgium, with beta testing to follow at a Stralfors label plant in Gothenburg, Sweden.
Notwithstanding all the complex technical and marketing issues surrounding digital colour printing, the presence of two challengers in the inline inkjet sector cannot be ignored. [More information about this subject is in the digital printing feature article in this issue.]