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

(June/July 2016) posted on Wed Jul 13, 2016

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

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By Eileen Fritsch

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.”

Read more from our June/July 2016 issue.


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