Production Inkjet: Closing the Gap



We’ve all been hearing about production inkjet devices for several years now, especially since drupa 2012. But is it just a passing fad? Will inkjet technology really be able to meet the challenges in commercial print? Does it have the staying power this industry needs?

Simply: yes.

According to InfoTrends Group Directors, Barb Pellow and Jim Hamilton in a recent Xerox Business Development Series webinar, “Inkjet: Closing the Gap,” by 2018, US production color inkjet page volume will exceed that of digital color toner. “High-speed, color inkjet is closing the gap between offset and digital print,” Pellow said. “What we’re seeing is high productivity and lower consumable cost that’s causing today’s run-length cross-over points to make digital printing very competitive with offset.”

But what makes inkjet so attractive. According to Pellow and Hamilton, it’s because inkjet offers all the advantages of digital printing—personalization, electronic collation, just-in-time manufacturing, workflow automation, high-speeds, and productivity—to higher volume applications. And we can see that’s been the case. Most of the growth can be found in high-volume markets such as books and manuals, direct mail, transaction documents (see page XX of this issue for more details on how inkjet is impacting this market), and even brochures and catalogs.

And vendors have responded with an influx of devices to enable print service providers (PSPs) to dive into these high volume applications. You can see highlights of production inkjet devices that have been introduced to the market in the past 12 months within the following pages—and stay tuned for more later this year as we move toward drupa 2016.

Tech Talks, Market Listens

But what technological developments are driving this market segment forward? Experts point to several factors.

“Paper, ink developments and advancements, and advances in color and ink management tools are some of the key factors that will drive the high-speed production inkjet market forward, especially with respect to enabling color applications traditionally associated with offset,” said Mike Herold, director, Continuous Feed Inkjet Technologies, Ricoh. “From Ricoh’s perspective, our technology innovations will continue to be developed around creating more value for our end-users and directly addressing their needs.  We will drive technological innovation that includes flexibility, print quality, reliability, and ways for our customers to achieve their own business objectives.  As we develop new technological advancements, we’ll make them available as field upgrades.”

“Without question,” commented Michael Poulin, senior manager, Production Print Solutions, Canon Solutions America, “the ability to print on offset stocks without the use of a bonding agent is game changing in the market place.  The ability to print 1200 x 1200 DPI is also a distinguishing factor and allows book and magazine publishers the opportunity to use digital technology capable of the appropriate speed and quality.”

According to David Murphy, worldwide director of marketing and business development, IHPS division, HP, inkjet technology is advancing rapidly and users should expect to see greater innovation in quality, productivity, and versatility across all platforms. “As new developments in printheads, inks, media, software, firmware, electronics and transport systems are introduced, HP production inkjet customers should feel confident that their investments are protected against technology obsolescence,” said Murphy.

The ability to scale a product, also plays into its strengths. According to Dustin Graupman, vice president, Ink Jet Business, Xerox, scaling the technology to the higher end of the market will help expansion into traditional offset markets for applications such as catalogs, newsprint and general commercial print.

“Bringing inkjet down market will enable migration of preprinted offset shells, overprinted with cut sheet monochrome digital devices to full color digital printing at a more cost effective price point,” said Graupman. “Lower price points will make redundancy much more cost effective for our customers.”

Bumps in the Road?

But with any new technology, forward momentum does not always come at a steady or straight path. As vendors continue to develop new equipment, they are also endeavoring to overcome various challenges and obstacles along the way.

“Interestingly, these development challenges are closely linked to the issue above regarding rapid technology advancements and customer upgradability,” said Murphy. “In the last five years, the market has seen more than one inkjet press manufacturer introduce a new product series or technology that is not available as an upgrade to currently installed presses. This can be frustrating for a PSP who may have invested, say, $2 million in a press two years prior and then learn that its manufacturer has introduced a new technology enhancement that is only available on a different platform.”

HP, however, offers an upgrade path for its customers. For example, a customer who purchased a T300 Inkjet Web Press six years ago, could upgrade that press to a faster T350, and again to a more versatile and productive T360—all without removing the original press from the production floor. “That upgradability path provides tremendous peace of mind to the customer,” said Murphy.

Ricoh’s Herold points to consumables as the source of some pain points. “One of the biggest challenges the industry continues to face is determining the best paper for customers to achieve a high-quality output appearance at a reasonable cost,” said Herold. “As the RICOH Pro VC60000 and its enhanced paper handling capabilities demonstrate, Ricoh is committed to investing in new inks and other features—like coating techniques—that help our customers maximize their print quality, while staying on budget.”

A Look Ahead

Inkjet’s Age also asked these experts to detail some of the new products that were on the horizon—especially as we look ahead to this year’s commercial print trade shows and start the countdown to drupa 2016.

“We are proud to install our first cut sheet inkjet devices utilizing Niagara technology by April,” said Poulin.  “That will be closely followed by commercial rollout beginning in July.  We consider this game changing technology and are positioned well to enter new markets through this emerging technology.”

At the end of February, Xerox unveiled the new Xerox Rialto 900 which, according to Graupman, “changes the playing field with lower print volume thresholds allowing more providers to acquire inkjet technology and reap individual and industry-wide benefits.”

According to Herold, “Ricoh has demonstrated its commitment to the marketplace through continuous innovation and investment protection for customers.  This will continue going into the future as well.  Ricoh will continue to provide excellent inkjet solutions that are accessible to a wide variety of customers, and are supported and implemented by the best professionals in the industry.”

“Kodak will continue to unleash the speed of the Kodak Stream inkjet technology, the core of the Prosper writing system. You can expect to see a new B&W inkjet press that will leap-frog the competition in speed. And in our ongoing effort to lower the total cost of print and expand the applications printed on Prosper presses, you can also expect to see an offline paper coating system, based on Kodak’s proven IOS technology,” said Will Mansfield, Worldwide Director of Sales and Marketing for Inkjet Presses for Eastman Kodak Company.

“The market should expect new innovations from HP that accelerate the transfer of analog pages to inkjet,” said Murphy. “New advancements will enable greater productivity, media breadth and application diversity that will drive inkjet adoption from niche to the mainstream. Upgradability, customer success and technology leadership will continue as foundational pillars of these advancements.”

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