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Business Opportunities

Wide-format Hybrid

When hybrid printers were introduced they were the ‘new big thing’—a ‘have your cake and eat it too’ option. Brenda Hodgson asks can one be the best of both worlds?

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The Anapurna H1650i LED prints on rigid and flexible media

Myth or reality?

When discussing hybrid printers recently, an analogy was drawn with an item of domestic white goods—the washer/dryer. Now, I could relate to this. From experience, I can vouch for the fact that while it seems a great idea to have the two functions in one machine, when it comes to the practicalities (combined with the vagaries of our British weather) it is far from ideal. Only one operation can be performed at any one time, which means you end up with a backlog of either wet washing waiting to be dried or dirty items waiting to be washed.

So, it is with a hybrid printer—you can only programme it to operate in either flatbed or roll-to-roll mode at any one time.

However, new models and technical advances continue to be developed, so there is clearly a market for these machines and I was curious to find out more about the pros and cons from some of the leading manufacturers and suppliers of this technology.

Agfa revealed, for the first time in the UK and Ireland, its new Anapurna H1650i LED at Sign and Digital UK. Agfa’s distribution partners, I-Sub Digital and Josero showcased the features and benefits of this exciting new 1.65m hybrid wide-format press. The Anapurna H1650i LED was designed as an accessible and cost-effective production tool that combines the latest LED technology with Agfa’s signature high-quality output. Agfa will also have on display a creative application wall on Antalis’ stand (L10) showcasing creative ideas from Agfa’s range of Anapurna and Jeti wide-format inkjet systems.

This is the latest addition to the Anapurna LED series, and is a smaller version of the popular and robust Anapurna H2050i LED press, with which it shares several features and benefits. Like its bigger brother, the new Anapurna H1650i LED prints on both rigid and flexible media and cures with air-cooled UV LED lamps, resulting in a lower total cost of ownership. It combines this with Agfa’s award-winning imaging quality, ink-saving Thin Ink Layer Technology, and reliable white ink printing, yet requires a smaller financial investment than other systems in this segment.

“The hybrid Anapurna H1650i LED system was designed as a robust, qualitative, and versatile entry-level option for wide-format print-service-providers,” explains Steve Collins, marketing and channel manager at Agfa Graphics UK and Ireland. He adds: “Although smaller, it is equipped with features normally reserved for higher-end systems, ticking all the boxes for printing a wide range of rigid and flexible materials.”

The technology provides industry-leading levels of accuracy thanks to a reinforced belt drive and shuttle beam, a gradient and multi-layer print functionality, and up to eight 12 picolitre KM1024i print heads.

To be…?

Now, putting the case firmly for hybrids, Phil Oakley, UKI large-format business manager at HP, comments: “Recent developments in the wide-format hybrid industry have streamlined user experience and allowed customers to keep up with growing demands from clients. With one device, print-service-providers (PSPs) can now offer faster turnarounds on projects, whilst never slipping on quality.”

Phil Oakley, UKI large-format business manager at HP, says that the new HP Latex R Series, with its new hybrid HP Latex printing technology, will enable PSPs to expand their offering into new, high-value applications

HP has a long-standing heritage in the wide-format hybrid market and in March 2018 the company launched the new HP Latex R Series, which it claims to be the first true hybrid HP Latex printing technology—offering both flexible and rigid printing with HP Latex inks.

“This industry breakthrough will be the first solution to produce totally odourless, flexible, and rigid prints with eco-friendly, original HP Latex water-based inks,” asserts Oakley, adding: “The new series is a huge development for HP, and one that we hope will disrupt the current market.

“This trailblazing technology will enable PSPs to expand their offering into new, high-value applications, whilst also creating the opportunity for fresh creative ideas and concepts for print customers.”

Pointing out the benefits of hybrid, Oakley continues: “Wide-format hybrid devices provide a unique advantage for PSPs with less space, allowing smaller businesses to compete with larger firms for projects and avoid the need to sub-contract services out to their competitors, thus reducing profitability. Hybrid devices are ideal for smaller PSPs that want the flexibility and the agility to move between rigid and roll-to-roll printing and can help them grow their businesses with new applications.

Hybrid devices are ideal for smaller sign-makers and PSPs that want the flexibility and the agility to move between rigid and roll-to-roll printing and can help them grow their businesses with new applications

“For many years, we’ve seen a great response from customers to our wide-format hybrid offering, and, as a result, we have watched this area of our business steadily grow. What we’re aiming to do with our new HP Latex R Series is shake up the market and forge new opportunities for PSPs.”

…or not to be?

John de la Roche, national sales manager at Hybrid Services, highlights the benefits of separate machines.
“There are times when a hybrid printer is the more suitable option,” says de la Roche, adding: “Space in your premises may dictate, or budget in fact. However, there remains a very strong argument for investing in separate roll-to-roll and flatbed hardware.”

However, he stresses that the most obvious benefit in operating with separate machines is that of productivity: “If you have a hybrid machine you can only process one print job at a time, using only one printing technique. If you have separate machines you can carry out different jobs simultaneously.

O Factoid: The word ‘hybrid’ was first recorded in 1595 to 1605 from the Latin word hybrida, hibrida a crossbred animal (Dictionary.com). O

“Combining popular Mimaki products such as the JFX200 8 x 4’ LED UV flatbed printer with a roll-to-roll option such as the high-speed JV300 solvent printer or the versatile new UCJV LED UV roll-fed printer/cutter is a productive and profitable solution.”

John de la Roche of Hybrid Services says combining Mimaki products such as the JFX200 printer with a roll-to-roll option such as the JV300 solvent printer is a “productive and profitable solution”

The JFX200 delivers a highly desirable combination of quality, speed, and value. Its flatbed format means that it is ideally suited to the production of rigid display boards, packaging, and exhibition panels, while Mimaki roll-to-roll printers are ideal for producing complementary flexible graphics such as banners, posters, and vehicle liveries in high volumes and using a choice of ink types.

“With two different types of wide-format print technology in their arsenal, professional sign and graphics producers now have the opportunity to expand their business horizons by meeting customer demands ever more effectively, with better productivity and profitability as the ultimate prize,” asserts de la Roche.

He adds: “Add to the mix the creative opportunities available with the JFX200, such as glass splashbacks or printed tiles, along with the many textile printing options of the UCJV, including in-demand backlit printing for lightboxes, and it’s easy to see how keeping things separate will benefit their print business.”

On balance

Bringing an element of balance into the equation, Peter Bray, managing director of Durst UK and Ireland, observes: “One obvious big advantage of hybrid systems is the ability to print efficiently on roll-to-roll and flatbed. But then there’s also the versatility and smaller footprint benefits. There are no mask requirements for the printing bed, meaning continuous production is achieved and you don’t have to place individual sheets onto a flatbed.”

Peter Bray, managing director of Durst UK and Ireland, says that the company works extremely closely with customers to ensure they have the best machine suited to their individual needs

Conversely, Bray notes that there can be a perception among some customers that hybrid machines tend to have lower productivity compared to individual roll-to-roll and flatbed systems.

“Another potential concern can be registration, with some applications such as double-sided printing sometimes proving difficult on a hybrid,” continues Bray, adding: “However, with our hybrid machines, we have a very large bed size up to 2.5 x 1.5m with multiple channel vacuum zones allowing our customers to gain pin-point registration.

“In our experience, customers who have volume production for roll-to-roll applications will have individual roll-to-roll machines such as the Durst Rho 312 and Durst Rho 512, both of which allow unattended printing. They can then complement this with a hybrid machine, such as the highly regarded Durst P10 range and now the new Durst P5, which was formally launched in February.”

Durst has found that customers who have volume production for roll-to-roll applications will have individual roll-to-roll machines, such as the Rho 512R Plus, which allow for unattended printing

Bray emphasises: “Printers are an important target audience for Durst. Our customers tell us they are looking for versatility, outstanding productivity, and good adhesive qualities by whether it’s roll-to-roll or flatbed; and they increasingly see the benefits of a hybrid system.

“We’re proud to have a portfolio of products that are robustly designed to accommodate the requirements of every PSP. We work extremely closely with our customers in the sales and evaluation process to ensure they have the best machine suited to their individual needs, whether that’s roll-to-roll, flatbed or a hybrid.”

In summary, there are benefits to be gained from both hybrid and separate roll-to-roll and flatbed machine options or, indeed, a combination of both. The ‘tipping’ factors in the decision as to which route to take are the matters of floor space and production volume.

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