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Focus On

Digital Print Equipment

Digital print technology is ever-evolving with speed and quality of performance steadily growing. Carys Evans asks how the latest technologies can help businesses flourish

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Digital print technology is getting faster and faster

Full speed ahead

Since digital printing placed itself on the market as a competitor of traditional offset printing methods, the benefits of the medium have been enjoyed by both businesses and customers alike.

While digital printing has a higher cost per page than more traditional offset printing methods, the price is usually offset by avoiding the cost of all the steps needed to make printing plates, including the cost of employing extra operators.

One benefit of high-speed digital printing is the ability to print on-demand with short turnaround times. It is also versatile as digital files can be sent directly to the printing press to print on a range of materials from paper, to canvas, to fabric.

With digital production technology evolving at a rapid pace, along with the quality and speed achieved, there are a number of ways high-speed digital printing technology can benefit a business.

Only getting faster

Heidelberg UK describes itself as “committed to the digitisation of print”, which can be seen in its wide range of digital printing solutions. Chris Matthews, digital equipment business manager at Heidelberg UK explains that when the firm first started selling toner-based presses, using Ricoh technology under an original equipment manufacturer agreement, it could only offer 90 pages per minute. Now, the latest Versafire EP can produce up to 150 A4s a minute when running in A3 mode and the Versafire EV can operate at up to 95 pages per minute with an added fifth colour option.

The Versafire EP digital press can produce up to 150 A4s a minute

Matthews says: “Digital equipment has a key advantage for short and medium runs and in personalisation. It allows print buyers to call off printed collateral in volumes to suit their needs, minimising waste and enabling them to update or change the product according to new data or marketing requirements.

“The equipment used is becoming faster and more flexible. When digital printing was launched, the preoccupation was whether the quality was good enough. The latest Versafires offer awesome quality but also improved productivity. This is in part about an increase in speed but also about the processing efficiency.”

While it may seem as if digital has the potential to overshadow litho once and for all, Matthews emphasises the importance of both: “The great news is that the battle between the technologies has pushed each to take leaps forward and so the breakpoint between the two technologies in terms of cost effectiveness is constantly moving.

Heidelberg’s Versafire EV offers a fifth colour option and operates at up to 95 pages per minute

“We now see litho and digital technology experts working together to their mutual advantage. Heidelberg works closely with both Ricoh and Fujifilm. We have seen digital printing migrate to larger formats (such as the B1 Primefire which is not a high speed press, but which is very cost effective for short-run packaging) and for certain the speed of printing will continue to increase.”

Huge advances

Screen has been serving the graphic arts industry for over 75 years. The firm says that digital solutions are what allows it to continually streamline the printing process, as well as improve quality and performance.

Rob Kruithof Kremer, senior manager of the European Solutions  and Technology department at Screen, reflects on how far high speed digital print technology has come: “Since the first digital machines were launched, high-speed digital printing technologies have undergone huge advances.

As the equipment has evolved, device speeds have increased but more importantly, the output quality achievable has significantly improved

“As the equipment has evolved, device speeds have increased but more importantly, the output quality achievable has significantly improved. Output from our latest printer, the Truepress Jet 520HD+ is comparable with that from a traditional litho printer. Developments in ink technologies have also enabled us to overcome the limitations of having to use special ‘inkjet’ papers.”

The firm’s Truepress Jet 520HD+ can print directly onto standard offset papers with no pre- or post-processing. “Previously, digital printing was most suited to the transactional market although these developments have firmly established the technology as a viable solution for commercial printing,” Kremer continues.

Reflecting on the benefits of high speed digital printing and what to consider when making the decision to invest, Kremer says: “Nowadays, everyday print jobs are suited to the faster, more reliable and consistent equipment of digital. Preparation time is negligible when compared with a traditional litho press. The decision to go digital is made easier by the ability to add on-line or near-line finishing into the equation. The potential savings on the finishing side are often overlooked. For instance, digital collating can save on labour costs whilst improving lead times.

“Don’t just look at whether high-speed digital printing is suitable for your current work. Think about the opportunities that investing in this technology could mean for the company. Think carefully about trying to ‘future-proof’ your business by investing in the latest technology which will enable you to succeed in even the most competitive print markets. Run lengths are getting even shorter and there is greater demand for highly targeted and ‘on demand’ print.”

The future of print

Friedheim International’s Digital Solutions division covers digital print for continuous web processing as well as cut-sheet processes from Hunkeler and MBO Digital. Robin Brown, sales manager – Digital Solutions at Friedheim explains that for online digitally processed print, whilst the quality is moving closer to that of traditional litho, the ability to print short runs through digital print is where printers will be able to make their profit.

The MBO Digital range is described as “suitable for a 24/7 work environment”

Brown continues: “In this field Hunkeler has engineered the Gen8 to exceed any current offerings on the market – future proofing the finishing processes for years to come. The things to look for in digital print and finishing is the quality of the finished product, the number of different jobs will make a huge impact on profitability, thus make-ready and job set-up times are crucial.”

The Gen8 series is Hunkeler’s latest development for continuous web finishing. The series features new modules for unwinding and rewind stations, longitudinal and cross cutting, merging, perforating, punching, separators and stackers, online web inspection, and workflow management.

The Gen8 series is Hunkeler’s latest development for continuous web finishing

The line runs off Hunkeler’s Work Flow Manager which is described as a “new and intelligent” system designed to ensure production runs at optimal efficiency.

Similarly, the MBO Digital range is described as “suitable for a 24/7 work environment”. With the idea behind the range of digital machines to bring automation to the forefront of the finishing process. Brown explains: “With the latest M1 control units now coming as standard, and the data manager 4.0 to integrate all the workflow into a company’s management information system, MBO has shown that start stop production, automation and industry 4.0 technology has not only arrived, but is a viable and cost effective solution to companies looking to improve their workflow and increase efficiencies.”

Brown highlights the importance of communication between the print engine and smart finishing equipment and says this has to be a priority. “The higher the number of jobs online, the more chances of discrepancies and errors – accurate web inspection is vitally important, just as much as communicating the errors back to the printer in order to reprint.

“As digital print is the future, the equipment needs to be future proof, ready and able to stack up to the demands of a very changing marketplace.”

Make the most of it

Since it was founded in 1989 by Robert C. Ross Jr, Xanté has developed and supplied advanced digital print solutions and workflow technology for its customers. Ross describes how the firm was founded with a clear vision in mind – to put more advanced tools into the hands of graphics and printing professionals. “Our standards have always been high because we understand the need for cutting edge technology, products, and services that allow you to be more productive and profitable in your business,” Ross adds.

Mark Priede, vice president of sales and marketing at Xanté agrees that whilst digital print allows users to print on new media, opening them up to new revenue streams, the workflow that runs the devices is just as important as high speed digital printing in itself.

Priede refers to the Iqueue 14 as something that allows customers to have complete control of imposition, colour management, variable data printing, sequential numbering and job costing. “This can all be done at the printer, which allows for the jobs to be completed more efficiently, reducing overhead and increasing profit margin,” he explains.

With the development of high speed digital print equipment having evolved rapidly over the years, Priede believes there is only so much further the technology can go. “High speed digital printing is at its peak, there is not much room for growth when it comes to technology.”

Factoid: In 1993, the world’s first digital colour printing press was launched called Indigo, triggering a transformation in the printing world. O

Priede adds: “The growth will come from expanding into new markets to increase the offerings a print shop can offer. Customers are looking for one stop shops and the more versatile your equipment is, the better chance you have of retaining and growing your current customer base. Digital printing is a large part of increasing your offerings.”

When reflecting on the evolution of high speed digital print technology since its inception almost 30 years ago, it is clear that this technology now plays a crucial role in the production of high quality, fast print. As those in the industry have described, this method of printing has a considerable number of benefits such as reliable and consistent output, and therefore it can be argued that investing in this ever-evolving technology, described by its users as the face of the future, provides print firms with a great opportunity to grow business further.

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