According to Ring, “Digital is not going to replace traditional flexo. It’s a complement. It’s just another tool for the fit of the job like a golfer using a different club for a different distance and lie.”
Ring explored why Gallus, traditionally a flexo supplier, chose to enter the digital inkjet market. A survey of Gallus’ install base revealed a need for faster job changeovers, shorter run lengths and SKU proliferation. For example, the market features many choices–flavors, sizes, variants. Ring added that a million-item run can shrink to 1,000 given a variety of factors.
“The markets are changing because the buyers are changing,” said Ring. “And the buyers want to be spoken to as individuals.”
Nike is allowing consumers to completely customize a shoe, while Adidas is using 3D to print components of a shoe. Studies show that 44.7 gallons of soda are consumer per person per year in the US. Despite these large numbers, beverage suppliers like Coca Cola, Heineken, Budweiser are customizing traditional longer length work.
“When we look at the work that’s being done on flexo presses today, 80% of converters are able to move flexo work over to digital in the first year of owning a digital press,” said Ring. “Clearly for Gallus, it was time to move into digital. We looked at market research and listened to our customers.”
The Labelfire 340 is a full rotary press that leverages Gallus’ knowledge of label converting by using digital technology. The press includes upstream capabilities to add flexo technologies, as well. The press runs at 50 linear m/m regardless of the number of colors, and it features eight digital printing modules. The Labelfire can varnish, embellish and process labels inline in a single operation.
Ring explained that in North America, the current install base involves more than 70% EP machines. With all toner essentially being the same, inkjet offers Gallus several benefits like better uptime and the ability to scale faster with more colors.
However, Gallus did not like the state of the inkjet market when it decided to go digital. The early iterations featured a large ink drop size that was not smooth. Through R&D and partnerships, Gallus has developed its recipe for success. The Fujifilm “Samba” printhead produces results in 1200 dpi x 1200 dpi, and Gallus uses half the material to get same image.
“Our image scientists had to come up with a way to control variables while printing at different speeds,” said Ring. “We can control image quality across the web. To be successful in this space, you can’t be an integrator. Gallus/Heidelberg is an ink company as well as a press manufacturer.”
Gallus has also studied the relationship between nozzles and print results to produce the best possible image. This “detection and correction” philosophy includes AI software that compensates where inkjet heads misbehave. According to Ring, Gallus went into ink development to handle nozzle compensation. “We have the best in class image quality at the lowest cost in the marketplace,” he said. “We have the lowest operating cost for producing a label. We have been told by our customers we have the lowest operating costs in the marketplace.”
Gallus has taken strides to produce excellent digital products because of the over saturation of the technology in today’s marketplace. Ring likened the digital market to copy shops of the late 20th century. Color copy shops used to be prevalent, but as machines got easier to use and lower in price, work shifted back to the owner. “The market bifurcated and split,” said Ring.
The same could be true of the digital printing market. “This is occurring now,” said Ring. “In the last 18 months, the market has gotten flooded with digital technology. Digital only doesn’t create enough value, though.”
For Gallus, the product must be profitable and improve margins for customers. At the same time, the digital platform needs to provide security, high print quality and “unparalleled versatility.”