For the event, the ash cleared in time, and as early as day four, with attendance levels and investment commitments beating expectations, one had reason to wonder if 2010 could become print's year of the phoenix. Some 50,000 visitors packed the halls of Birmingham's National Exhibition Centre, just 1,500 shy of the previous show, and it is all the more respectable given the level of consolidation that has occurred in the last four years.
Early estimates put the show spend at more than £100 million, with tens of millions of dollars' in deals closed at the event, both for digital and offset technologies. Heidelberg reported orders for 140 printing units in the UK alone and Xerox sold in excess of 100 digital systems. Canon reported 250 production and light production print engines sold, supported by strong system sales. HP surpassed its revenue and lead generation targets on the fifth day, while numerous other players claimed to have exceeded sales targets as well.
Attendance was swelled thanks to growing support from foreign visitors, which has risen from 40 to 48 percent, especially from Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Over a third of the 1,000 or so exhibitors were new.
The digital printing revolution has in turn made the narrow-web component of IPEX more than a mere side-show. Tellingly, the stand with the greatest floor space allocation was HP's stand, rather than that of the great German offset press maker, while 38 percent of the show was dedicated to digital technology.
So far, the market for digital label presses has been the preserve of HP Indigo and Xeikon, who between them have a share of about 85 percent. But at IPEX at least a dozen other players challenged this dominance with alternative digital systems.
The estimated global installation base lies somewhere between 1,300 and 1,700, with about 250 installations in 2009; but the market for digitally printed labels and packaging is on a steeper trajectory, expected to reach $4.05 billion by 2014, according to InfoTrends.
The ability to print on demand, with minimal setup needs, has enabled self-adhesive label printers to grow their business in the market for short run jobs of 10,000 labels or less. But with improved quality and the performance of the latest generation presses rising in leaps and bounds – thanks to higher speeds and wider web widths – some are able to achieve almost double the output compared with just a few years ago. The break-even point between digital and mechanical process printing is edging ever higher as a consequence, and it will be interesting to see to what extent to which the process competes against, rather than just complements, others.
HP Indigo highlighted new end-to-end systems to help label and packaging converters gain new business. These included additional features on its digital presses, new partner finishing systems and expanded media capabilities for packaging production.
Indigo founder Benny Landa addresses visitors to the HP stand.
HP exhibited the WS6000 printing on flexible packaging films as thin as 0.47 mils. When using common substrates, packaging converters can also use HP Indigo presses to print on the non-food-contact side of flexible packaging film for food and beverage products.
The company broadened its SmartStream Labels and Packaging workflow to include flexible packaging. This latest workflow includes laminating equipment from AB Graphic International, with compatible laminating films from acpo ltd. and D&K Group. Several HP Indigo-certified flexible packaging substrates are available, including films from ExxonMobil, Hanita Coatings, Nordenia and Walki, as well as newly certified substrates from Charter Films and Innovia Films.
Xeikon at IPEX
The 3500 runs on the company's new QA-I (Quadrupled Adapted-Industrial) toner, approved for indirect and direct contact with dry food. Specially designed for the packaging and labeling markets, QA-I claims increased light fastness properties. Dry toner is the only digital print technology that can offer a food-approved ink system. Owners of 3000 and 3300 versions have an opportunity to upgrade to the new press, which, like others in the range, includes the Xeikon X-800 digital front-end.
Epson unveiled a number of enhancements to its SurePress L-4033A digital label press. Its Micro Piezo inkjet technology allows variable dot sizes between 3 and 13 picoliters, enabling smooth color gradations and high definition bar codes, small text and line work. A dual drying system with platen heater offers better ink adhesion. A six-color, water-based, pigment ink, including orange and green, ensures reproduction of a wide gamut. The press prints on off-the-shelf paper and film between 80 mm and 330 mm wide, at speeds of up to 5 m/min. Top resolutions are 720 x 720 dpi on paper; 1440 x 720 dpi on film.
Designed for short runs and fast turnarounds, the new press is aimed at label converters taking their first steps into digital printing or expanding their existing digital printing capacity, and general commercial printers looking to add digital label printing to their portfolio of services. Epson has been working with a number of suppliers to ensure the new system fits in a seamless digital workflow.
The show saw Domino, a maker of in-line variable data printing equipment, move into the mainstream color digital printing market with its new K600 and N600 piezo inkjet systems.
Domino N600 inkjet press
Domino's new N-Series color inkjet range incorporates both standalone label printing presses and modules featuring scalable print-width for OEM integration. The N600 digital label printing press offers 1200 dpi nominal print resolution with a native resolution of 600 dpi and four grayscales operating at 50-75 m/min using durable UV inks. The N600 label press can also be configured to operate in-line with digital finishing units, such as those produced by AB Graphics and GM, via dancer roller web infeed.
A relative newcomer is Impika, an industrial inkjet press manufacturer, founded in 2003. Highlighting the rising quality in digital printing the company launched the iPress 2400, promised to be the first in a series of "offset class" single-pass drop-on-demand inkjet printers. The press claims to set the benchmark for productivity, printing with a native resolution of 1200 x 1200 dpi at 76 m/min or 250 fpm, or 2400 dpi at 37 m/min or 122 fpm. Suited for both commercial as well as package/label printing applications, the machine works with roll-to-roll or roll-to-sheet stock up to a maximum width of 520 mm. The print heads were developed after close collaboration with Panasonic.
The latest web press development from Edelmann Graphics, the STAR-Print, offers open platform architecture with towers that accept inserts for offset, flexo, gravure and screen. The offset inserts, which utilize carbon fiber sleeves with bearers, are patented and different in both material and design, says Chris Davis, VP sales and operations for Matik, the North American distributor. "This second generation of offset sleeves has been extensively tested in production before being integrated with this new tower concept from Edelmann," he says. "The inserts can be interchanged in any position, so the sequence of the print processes is completely open. These offset sleeves are a different animal to what has been seen so far. The stability of the image carrier brings the high fidelity we know from the cylinder-based inserts, and marries it to the total versatility of sleeves.We have been busy introducing this new technology to high end packaging and carton printers, whose need is to blend extended gamut offset with the heavy hits of color from flexo to bring a real presence on the retailers shelf."
For flexo printers, Edale launched the Alpha Multi press, with nine colors but only a 5m² footprint. Its twin-stack arrangement allows the next job to be made ready while the previous job is in production. Also brand new was the company's infinitely adjustable servo-driven VLS-650 sheet cutter, which converts plain or pre-coated jumbo rolls, between 80 µm and 600 µm thickness, and 510 mm to 1,000 mm width, into shingle or deep pile sheet stacks. The machine can be run inline with almost any webfed machinery. Materials can be cut to constant or variable lengths, on the fly, without retooling.
EskoArtwork's stand, with DuPont and Impika nearby.
EskoArtwork had visitors flocking to see live demonstrations of its pre-production software for packaging, commercial printing, sign and display and professional publishing. The Connect More! theme of Esko's IPEX stand aimed to highlight the company's efforts to improve better industrialization and standardization, through software products that integrate well with third-party applications, removing cost and time out of the design to print process, and improving quality as a result.
On a number of demonstration pods, EskoArtwork showed Suite 10, a major release of its software solutions for commercial printing, packaging prepress, 3D structural design and quality assurance, collaboration and automation and color management. Visitors followed demonstrations of Suite 10, including the new Automation Engine 10 and new version 10 releases of its editor applications ArtPro 10, PackEdge 10, DeskPack 10, ArtiosCAD 10 and Studio 10.
Evidence of EskoArtwork's collaboration with other digital print vendors was found all over the show, with HP, Canon, Epson, Xerox and Xeikon, keenly promoting their partnership with the leader in pre-production software.
Even so, flexo advances from Esko and others ensured the digital process did not completely steal the show. A section of Esko's stand was dedicated to proving this point. On display was its DuPont Cyrel Digital Imager (now installed at 1,500 locations globally) and, introduced in 2009, its 4,000 dpi HD flexo technology, apparently capable of producing plates with near-offset quality with the help of advanced screening.
Kodak's digital flexo offerings came in the form of the Flexcel NX and FlexCel Direct systems. Time and again the various digital print vendors were eager to emphasize their cherished system's time saving advantages when compared to conventional processes. But in flexo, fully digital pre-production methods, in which printing formes are imaged by a simple engrave and rinse workflow without film, exposure or drying, are becoming faster and delivering higher quality as well.
Highlighting this, Kodak presented its Flexcel Direct System, a complete system for laser-engraved flexo printing plates and sleeves. This offers three possible workflow options: plate on sleeve; plate on drum or continuous, seamless sleeves. Printing formes, spun at high speed on a mandrel, are imaged in the round, by a 1.3 kW multi-channel laser diode. The high power means a 1.3 meter sleeve is imaged in under 40 minutes. Maximum resolutions on self-adhesive labels are reported to be 175 lpi, with 150 lpi on wide web flexible packaging. The system comes with proprietary tiff Front End Software, which both drives the laser unit and provides both layout and preview features for the workflows. It enables automatic converting of industry standard 2D tiff files to the 3D tiff file needed to enable laser engraving.
Kodak's new Flexcel NX flexo plate and imaging system is a result of developments in high-resolution imaging, polymer plates and pre-production software. The end result is a flexo solution that achieves an effective 10,000 dpi resolution with minimum dot size of 10µm, allowing subtle highlight detail, perfectly smooth grayscale gradations and vignettes that fade to zero. As a stunning array of samples showed at the stand, lenticular printing is now within flexo's capability, as a result of the Flexcel NX system. The high quality levels are made possible because of the plate's extra stability. The plate has a flat top dot structure, making individual dots more resistant to both wear and tear, especially in the highlight areas, as well as dot gain when transferring ink to the substrate. This means greater quality consistency throughout the printing run.
Meanwhile, Lüscher expanded its CTX (computer-to-exposure) program with the Flex and Multi DX laser imaging lines, for multi-process printers. The Multi DX line is a single source imaging system for flexo, letterpress, offset and rotary screen printing formes up to 800 mm x 600 mm, and steel and aluminium plates up to 50 mm thick. Maximum resolution is 2400 dpi.
There are three devices in the Multi DX product line. The Multi DX-UV, with 405 nm blue UV laser diodes handles conventional UV offset, Gallus Screeny plates and flatbed screens. Multi DX-IR, featuring 940 nm infrared thermal laser diodes is designed for digital letterpress, flexo and varnish plates that use ablation layers. Ablation films can also be imaged using the system. The Multi DX Hybrid combines both laser systems. The manufacturer claims it to be suitable for photo-sensitive industrial applications like solar panels, electronics and flat screen displays. The units can be equipped with between eight and 64 laser diodes. The unit can be upgraded with extra diodes as required. Lüscher reckons that large-scale screen users, of over 40 units a day, receive a return on investment in just 11 months.
Inspection and color control
Enhanced inspection programs are necessary to give printers the confidence to meet brand owners' exacting standards at ever higher production speeds. This becomes increasingly important as brand-owners and retailers allow no room for error, not merely out of concern for brand consistency. Food, tobacco and pharmaceutical products carry increased health and safety information. Accurate, clear description dosages and ingredients can be a matter of life and death.
The system enables the rewinder to operate at full speed while detecting any fault. It stops the rewinder and automatically drives the defect to the inspection table at the precise point.
With ProMIS, the Helios II has bi-directional communication with MIS systems in the print production environment, receiving relevant job information from production, sending quality information to MIS. This sharing of information reduces set-up times, increases the level of automation, and eliminates the need to re-enter information, preventing data entry errors.
QuadTech expanded the support to label and packaging printers with the acquisition of Vigitek in 2008. Since then, the products have been integrated into the QuadTech stable with enhancements in functionality, reliability and servicing infrastructure.
Today, the product offerings span the full range of requirements from different segments including flexible packaging, corrugated, folding carton and tag and label.
Inspection System with SpectralCam is QuadTech's option which can measure up to 12 targets within the work using a 31-channel spectral sensor. There is also a second video camera within the unit that is used to locate and track color targets.
The 12 targets are chosen by the operator using the "golden template" from the inspection system. This is a printed copy considered by the press minder to be as close to perfect as possible. The SpectralCam then pinpoints, captures and analyzes the color data for all targets, displaying the deviation from a perfect match in a highly graphical form. The combined data containing information on defects and incorrect color matches is then available for waste rejection, further analysis, pricing variations or legislative regulation adherence.
Also, a new Web Viewing System, suitable for all packaging applications, provides a freeze-frame view of a section of the web in high resolution. When used in conjunction with 100 percent inspection, it provides a mechanical zoom to show a repeating defect in a much higher resolution while the inspection system continues scanning the web.
Pulse Roll Label Products launched a range of high performance metallic inks: UV flexo gold and silver, UV screen silver and UV flexo VMP (very bright foil replacement) silver. The range has been developed to give bold, stand out qualities to packaging. This provides a cost effective alternative to printers who would usually need to use a fully metalized substrate, especially in situations when only a spot varnish is needed. The new range can also be color-tinted for extra shelf-appeal.
The company also launched Digitech, a new range of gloss and matte UV curable varnishes for digital printing, optimized for high chemical resistance, adhesion and low shrinkage.
Van Son exhibited its new set of Quickson Perfect process colors, for 4+4 perfecting at high speeds. This ink prints according to the ISO 2647-2 standard, is duct-fresh, has a low VOC content, and is formulated to meet the requirements of high speed multi-color presses, because of their press stability, fast setting, work and turn properties and post-printing processing. Quickson Perfect is compatible with the Quickson Series Pantone Colors and is suitable for many finishing applications, including UV varnish.