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Business Opportunities

Hybrid Machines

Rather than having to pick between two different technologies, hybrid machines allow users to benefit from both. Print Monthly takes a closer look at some of the latest solutions available to the market

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Fujifilm’s Acuity Prime Hybrid can print on substrates up to 2m in width at production quality from 92sq m/hr

Best of Both Worlds

Each type of printing technology offers its own benefits and selling points, and this can often lead to something of a dilemma when it comes to selecting the type of kit that you want to work with.

Hybrid machines offer something of a solution to those in such a quandary; they allow the user to make use of more than one technology or methodology on a single device. This not only saves them having to invest in more than one machine but also expand the capabilities of the user and use far less floor space than two devices would.

With that in mind, Print Monthly caught up with several specialists within this market to find out more about their latest and most popular hybrid solutions, as well as the other benefits print service providers (PSPs) can expect from working with this type of kit.

A Cost-effective Approach

First up is Fujifilm, which has championed the benefits of hybrid machines for some time. Shaun Holdom, business development manager for wide-format at Fujifilm, says having a hybrid machine as part of a portfolio enables businesses to increase their productivity.

“Thanks to their high level of versatility, hybrid printers have enabled PSPs to branch into new markets, without investing in multiple printers that can handle a small number of applications,” Holdom says, adding: “This is particularly true since the pandemic, when some print markets significantly shrunk, while others, proving their resilience, dramatically grew.

“Running a single, multi-use hybrid printer is more cost effective and takes up less space on-site than operating multiple machines.”

If you are in the market for a new hybrid machine, Holdom says there are several features and attributes to look out for. These include the ability to deliver a high-quality output and operate at higher speeds to speed up turnover.

Holdom also says PSPs should consider advanced features, saying the best performing hybrid machines on the market include media transport systems such as intelligent vacuum systems with sensors and mesh conveyor belts with clips. On this, he highlights automation features that increase productivity as features that are becoming increasingly sought after.

Other machine highlights should include quality ink performance, ensuring that these inks can work across a range of rigid substrates and flexible media, while when using hybrid machines with LED UV curing technology, these enable fast drying times and quicker job turnarounds.

As to what Fujifilm offers, Holdom starts with the Acuity Prime Hybrid, which, modelled on the Acuity Prime flatbed press, can handle both rigid and flexible media.

“When used as a flatbed, it can print on substrates up to 2m in width at production quality from 92sq m/hr,” Holdom explains, adding: “It can also print on up to four pieces of rigid media simultaneously, and features registration pins for highly precise edge to edge printing. The roll-fed configuration can be loaded with two rolls each up to 0.9m wide.”

Fujifilm also has the Acuity Ultra Hybrid LED 3.3m high-end printer, which builds on the functionalities of the Acuity Ultra R2 to offer hybrid printers across rigid and flexible substrates.

“It prints at speeds of up to 218sq m/hr (RTR) and delivers a print resolution of up to 1200 x 1200dpi,” Holdom says, adding: “The printer combines ultra-high quality and a competitive return on investment for both rigid and flexible applications, all in one platform.”

Optimise Production

Next up is Domino Printing Sciences and Julie Cross, its technical director for digital printing, says hybrid print offers converters high-quality print with the ability to optimise production costs and minimise waste.

“Hybrid digital label press systems combine digital with analogue printing and finishing capability, such as flexo printing, die-cutting, foiling, varnishing, laminating – all within a single efficient process,” Cross says, adding: “Being able to switch between printing technologies enables converters to support a wider range of applications than traditional printing technologies alone, opening up new opportunities.

Hybrid digital label press systems combine digital with analogue printing and finishing capability all within a single efficient process

“Hybrid systems can meet a wide range of label design needs, with less time needed for changeovers compared to traditional printing, making them well suited for converters producing high-impact labels for multiple SKUs. Being able to digitally print variable design elements or data as part of a single-step hybrid process enables continuous label printing with multiple design variations.”

When it comes to new investment, Cross says companies should choose a partner that offers a range of different options that can be built around their business needs. Cross says while there is no one-size-fits-all solution, seamless integration should be a top consideration, as setting up the process with all modules working together, handling the substrate efficiently, can be the greatest challenge.

With this, Cross sets out how Domino can help. It has been supplying the N610i digital label press and an integration module using the N610i IM print engine for integration into OEM partners’ flexo lines for years, with more than 300 installations globally.

Domino bills the N610i-R as a solution for OEMs and converters looking to add digital print technology into existing flexo lines

“Looking at the financial challenges converters are facing in the current economic climate, we took this a step further and introduced the N610i-R, a digital retrofit module based on the same proven technology, at Labelexpo Europe 2023,” Cross says.

Cross explains N610i-R digital retrofit module is a solution for OEMs and converters looking to add digital printing technology into existing flexographic lines.

O Factoid: Domino launched its new N610i-R digital retrofit module, based on the same technology as the N610i digital label press, at Labelexpo Europe 2023. O

“The technology transforms existing presses into fully functional hybrid printing machines for a significantly lower cost than a brand-new hybrid printing press,” Cross says, adding: “It also allows for additional cost savings from using existing stocks of tools, such as plates and cylinders, and allows converters with space constraints to add new capabilities without expanding their footprint.”

“The newest addition to our digital printing portfolio is designed to help converters looking to expand the capabilities of their existing assets without compromising on quality, giving a new lease of life to flexo presses that may have been underutilised. With the addition of digital, converters can tap into new market opportunities afforded by short-run print jobs while benefiting from reduced cost and waste, as multiple SKUs can be created with a single make-ready job to print all versions.”

Savvy Investment

Another expert in this field is Repro Sales & Repairs (RSR), which offers three models from the Gibson hybrid UV printer range: the GT-H1600R6, GT-H2000R6, and the GT-H3200R6. The entire range is fitted with Ricoh Gen6 heads and offers the option to start with as few as two printheads and later add additional heads as production increases or requirements change.

Repro Sales & Repairs offers the three models from the Gibson hybrid UV printer range

“The Gibson range is full-featured, and at the larger size can output up to 24sq m/hr, with four printheads, at maximum quality; they will print onto virtually any substrate up to 100mm thick,” RSR managing director Nick Field says.

Looking at the bigger picture when investing in this type of kit, Field says arguably the most important part of any hybrid machine is the heads. He advises PSPs to ensure the machine runs the latest heads from trusted manufacturers.

Field also says users should look for a machine that uses UV ink, which prints directly onto a variety of substrates. He explains these inks are long lasting and scratch-resistant on most materials so often do not require laminating, while they are suitable for indoor and outdoor applications, with a high degree of durability and scratch-resistance.
“Of course, printers should also be taking note of the engineering quality of their potential new machine and any features which improve operability, output, and quality of productivity,” he says, adding: “A linear motor is included in the larger Gibson models, for instance, which reduces friction and maintenance, while offering higher performance. A feature-rich easy-to-use control system is a must.

“While all manufacturers will talk about features, at RSR we believe that value for money is crucial when making investment decisions – it’s a very competitive market out there, and capital repayments can be a severe drain on a company’s profitability. It amazes us that some will pay a hefty premium for a ‘big brand’ machine that is – for all practical purposes – identical to a machine like the Gibson which has a much lower price tag.

“Savvy printers are cottoning on to this – that’s why our order book is full, and the number of UK Gibson installations is growing month on month.”

Built to Last

Of course, it is not just printers that can be hybrid, with the finishing part of production also benefitting from machines that can carry out more than one task. This year, Vivid Laminating Technologies is pushing its new Easymount Hybrid laminator, a multi-patented innovation with roll-to-roll HOVER technology, for long-run and roll-fed laminating.

“Designed to perform, built to last and developed in-house by Vivid, the Easymount Hybrid is the world’s first all-in-one roll-fed laminator and applicator,” says Vivid director Lewis Evans, adding: “Working with a hybrid machine like this makes investment in technology cheaper for PSPs. You also have the added benefit of the one machine taking up far less floorspace than two machines.”

Vivid’s Easymount Hybrid incorporates both a traditional roll-fed laminator and a flatbed applicator

The Easymount Hybrid features a modular design that can be configured according to users’ specific production needs and incorporates both a traditional roll-fed laminator and a flatbed applicator. It also has a digital control panel that the manufacturer says is very user-friendly, meaning even novice operators can achieve results with complete accuracy, quickly and easily.

Those interested in viewing the new machine can do so at all major industry events this year, with Vivid set to showcase the Easymount Hybrid at exhibitions including The Print Show. Vivid will once again have a major presence at the show, which this year will be taking place from 17th to 19th September at the NEC in Birmingham.
The benefits of hybrid machines are incredibly clear to see. Investment in a piece of kit that can perform more than one task will save PSPs having to splash out on two machines, while a single device takes up far less space in the print room than two separate machines. And with both print and finishing solutions on offer in this space, there are plenty of options and opportunities for PSPs to explore.

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