Drupa 2016: A New Age for Single-Pass Printing?

As digital short-run capabilities meet analog productivity, production across the imaging industry may be poised for a change.

Continued from "What's Next for Single-Pass Inkjets?"

At drupa, many exhibitors demonstrated advances such as cut-sheet production inkjet presses, higher-resolution capabilities, and new media that will make production inkjet systems (including single-pass lines) more versatile and accessible. Components for building next-generation presses and industrial inkjet systems were also debuted.

HP showcased three faster additions to its PageWide Web Press series: the 42-inch T490 HD color duplex press; the 42-inch T490M HD monochrome press; and the 22-inch T240 HD. HP PageWide Web Presses are suitable for an increasing range of high-volume, offset-quality print applications, including color trade books, journals, retail catalogs, brochures, and marketing collateral.

Durst demonstrated its Tau 330 single-pass inkjet label printing systems (introduced in 2015) with low-migration UV-curable inks, as well as the new Rho 130 SPC single-pass industrial inkjet system with Water Technology inks for corrugated cardboard packaging. The Rho 130 SPC can print corrugated stock up to 51.2 inches wide up to 800 dpi at speeds up to 100,642 square feet per hour.

Also taking aim at the corrugated market, EFI unveiled the Nozomi C18000 single-pass UV-LED printer with a maximum print size of 70.9 by 118.1 inches. The Nozomi prints up to seven colors (including white) at 360 x 720-dpi resolution, and can reach speeds up to 246 linear feet per minute. Using the Nozomi’s double-lane feeding system, the press can print up to 9000 corrugated boards sized 31.5 x 23.6 inches per hour.

Konica Minolta unveiled its long-awaited B2+ UV inkjet press. The AccurioJet KM-1 uses Konica Minolta printheads, UV inks, and LED curing to print up to 3000 oversized (23 x 29.5 inches) sheets an hour for applications such as three- and four-panel brochures, pocket folders, posters, P-O-P graphics, dust jackets, and wraparound book covers. The AccurioJet KM-1 can print on a wide range of offset coated and uncoated substrates, including textured papers, without the need for special treatments before or after printing. Small-lot, short-turnaround jobs can be sent immediately to the next production step because the UV inks are instantly dry. They are also lightfast and scratch-resistant.

For industrial inkjet applications, Konica Minolta and Industrial Inkjet Ltd showed the XYPrint 300 – a high-accuracy inkjet system for process development, print research, direct-product decoration, material deposition, and low-volume production. The system can be configured for either single- or multi-pass printing.

Fujifilm announced a new branding campaign to package its expertise in printheads, inks, and image-optimization technologies as “Fujifilm Inkjet Technology.” The company showed how the latest generation of Samba printheads can be used to build single-pass inkjet systems that provide stable jetting and ultra-sharp print quality on a wide range of printing papers. Fujifilm Inkjet Technology includes extended FM screening optimized for inkjet and an automatic, on-the-fly image compensation function that controls inconsistencies in ink deposition.

Heidelberg introduced the Primefire 106, a new industrial inkjet printer developed in partnership with Fujifilm for printing B1-sized (27.8 x 39.4 inch) packaging materials. The Primefire 106 uses Fujifilm’s new seven-color inks (CMYK, orange, green, and violet) with Heidelberg’s varnish to create high-definition images that meet regulations for food packaging safety.

Heidelberg also makes the Omnifire series of direct-to-shape printers. The Omnifire 250 has a four-axis robotic system to handle smaller objects with rounded surfaces, such as balls, drinking bottles, and smartphone cases. At InPrint 2016, Heidelberg plans to introduce the Omnifire 1000 direct-to-shape (“4D”) printer. It uses a six-axis robotic handling system to decorate irregularly shaped items of up to 35.3 cubic feet.

Xaar showcased its Xaar Print Bar System and the new Xaar 1003 family of printheads. The Xaar Print Bar System can add single-pass inkjet capabilities to analog roll-to-roll or sheet-fed presses. “It can be easily integrated into a wide range of web or sheet-fed press configurations – and at any point on the press,” says the company's Gillian Ewers. The system can handle a wide range of inks and fluids, including spot colors, protective lacquers, high-build spot varnish, heavily pigmented under-surface whites, cold foil adhesives, metallics, and more. The Xaar Print Bar can be configured from 2.8 to 22 inches wide (at 2.8-inch increments) and operated at up to nearly 3000 linear feet per minute.

The Xaar 1003 printheads are designed for long, maintenance-free production runs on industrial inkjet systems and available in three versions: the 1003 GS12 for rich colors and higher speeds on ceramics; the 1003 GS6 for fine-detail printing; and the 1003 GS40 for special effects.

Kodak unveiled its new Ultrastream technology with smaller drop size and precise dot placement accuracy for higher resolution, clean lines, and additional detail definition. Based on the continuous inkjet stream technology that is already used in Kodak production inkjet presses, Ultrastream is a complete inkjet writing system that OEMs can use to develop application-specific printing systems for high-end advertising (magazines/catalogs), packaging, labels, and more. Ultrastream technology enables 600 x 1800-dpi printing at speeds of up to 500 feet per minute for a wide variety of paper and plastic substrates.

The writing system includes small, modular printheads that can be configured in widths from 8 to 97 inches. It will also be available in a scanning-head configuration to support wide-format printing with multiple heads on a moving carriage. According to Kodak, Ultrastream’s micro-milled nano-particulate CMYK pigment inks deliver a 30-percent wider color gamut and are also offered as spot colors. Ultrastream represents an advancement of the company’s Stream inkjet technology that is already used on the Kodak Prosper S single-pass printing system for the packaging and décor market.

Connections with 3D Printing
With the expansion of industrial inkjet printing, some early visions for the versatility of inkjet printing, including its connections to additive manufacturing (commonly known as 3D printing), are becoming realities. Industrial inkjet printing will be expanded into materials deposition, pharmaceutical dosing, and the production of biological materials.

HP has adapted PageWide technology for the Multi Jet Fusion 3D-printing systems it introduced at the Rapid 2016 conference for additive manufacturing. Memjet is partnering with XYZ printing to use Memjet’s printhead technology to increase the speed and affordability of its 3D-printing system, with a goal of creating a platform that can bring 3D printing into new markets. XYZ Printing has said systems will be available in early 2017 in the Asia-Pacific region.

And, imagine this: If 3D printing changes how and where products are manufactured, direct-to-shape inkjet printers could be used to add color, designs, and textures to 3D-printed parts and projects. (Maybe that’s why Heidelberg calls its Omnifire direct-to-shape press a “4D” printer.) In the not-too-distant future, it might be possible to manufacture entirely new types of products with the combination of 3D printers, printed electronics, and direct-to-shape inkjet printers.

Looking Ahead
Many industry observers who saw the latest single-pass inkjet systems at drupa remarked that for the first time, the technology showed promise of providing offset quality at speeds that approach conventional offset and flexo printing. Printhead and ink technology is expanding the range of materials that can be addressed in single-pass lines, bringing the technology closer to applications where screen printing remains the dominant mainstream print method. But at the same time, vendors are strategically combining the processes, with many announcing new digital printing modules at drupa that run in conjunction with analog processes for high-production lines that offer the best of both worlds.

Similarly, technology developers stress that single-pass inkjet printing will not replace screen or pad printing in industrial applications. Scott Einsig, Engineered Printing Solutions, observes that higher-speed single-pass inkjet printers using UV inks are primarily replacing multi-pass flatbed inkjet systems. He sees single-pass technology filling a void and enabling new applications where analog printing was not cost-effective, and also notes that pad printing remains very useful in applications that cannot be done digitally.

At drupa, it was clear that future developments for high-speed inkjet printing will focus on providing affordable speeds in packages that are simple for OEMs to implement into custom designs, which will further spur the development of innovative new single-pass systems for sectors from packaging to 3D to industrial decoration – and perhaps applications we haven’t even imagined yet. Memjet’s Bill Brunone believes “Print quality, longevity, and ink flexibility will continue to improve to meet specific application needs and open up access to new markets.”

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