Though it has become the talk of the industry only fairly recently, single-pass inkjet printing goes back 20 years to a system that demonstrated the enormous potential of the technology.
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With the positive reception at drupa behind them, the team set out to refine the.factory in preparation for a formal product launch at IPEX 2002. The printer would be offered in four- and six-color versions in widths up to 24.8 inches and with a maximum print speed of 79 linear feet per minute, or about 10,000 square feet per hour – a speed unheard of at that time. It used 300-dpi, eight-level grayscale printheads from Toshiba. The transport system featured a web-tension roller designed to accommodate a range of substrate thicknesses; the nitrogen UV curing system enhanced adhesion to plastics to address a greater range of applications. Underscoring this versatility, the first beta placement was at the Belgian company Chiyoda, a manufacturer of laminated flooring and other décor products that planned to use the.factory for proofs, samples, and short-run customized work. In late 2001, Barco decided to spin off the digital printing division as a separate company called Dotrix, with Haak as the president and CEO.
Following IPEX, Haak remembers a steady stream of potential buyers coming to the Dotrix facility to test the machine for a wide range of applications – laminates, sports equipment, packaging, folding cartons, plastic tubes, and more. “Our demo unit was running day and night to accommodate the specific jobs, on all kind of materials,” he says. “We were really being evangelists for inkjet, as we had to prove the short-run printing advantages and break-even point with different conventional printing technologies (screen, flexo, gravure, and offset), over and over again. And imagine: We were talking about UV inks that were priced at 150 euros per liter!”
Two more field units were placed at display graphics facilities, including the first North American installation at RockTenn Merchandising Displays (now WestRock), which used the.factory to print P-O-P displays and cash wraps. Tom Cooper, R&D manager of digital printing for WestRock, faced similar obstacles as Barco in conveying the benefits of the new technology to customers. He remembers one cosmetics company in particular where the buyer felt that the high gloss of the UV ink cheapened the brand’s image. “The next thing you knew, all these other people around the table were nodding and saying, ‘Oh, yes, I agree – it does cheapen our image.’
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