Continuous-feed inkjet sector finds success with automation

A variety of technology advances moved the conversation forward at Swiss manufacturer Hunkeler’s specialist trade show in Lucerne.

Held every two years in Lucerne, a quaint city in central Switzerland, in late February Hunkeler Innovationdays once again brought together the biggest names in continuous-feed inkjet printing, high-speed finishing and many others whose products contribute to an automated workflow.

While 2019 marked the 13th running of the show, this was not an unlucky omen for host Hunkeler. Stefan Hunkeler, managing director of the Swiss post-press manufacturer, said it was “an extraordinary event for the Hunkeler group”.

“We had around 6,500 visitors during the four days at the show, 80% of them were international visitors from over 100 different countries, compared to 50 in 2017. The quality was very high; most of the decision-makers, experts and top managers of our industry were on site. It was a great show and networking event, and I believe it was also successful for every one of the 100 exhibitors.”

Visitors to Messe Luzern were keen to learn the latest ways they could achieve “success with automation”, as per the theme for the event.

“Customers are interested in more automated solutions, for more efficiency, less set-up time and a higher flexibility in their production. Also to produce product by product, for example book-of-one solutions with different content and variable in all three dimensions – height, width and page count – from book to book,” said Hunkeler.

Canon Europe vice-president of PPP EMEA commercial printing Peter Wolff added: “Our equipment is developed to have minimum operating and maintenance because every stop of the machine costs money, therefore the reliability and the productivity of our equipment is traditionally very high.”

Xerox head of marketing Kevin O’Donnell said Xerox’s vision is “touchless printing”.

“Hands off and let the technology do what it does very well. If you integrate and connect through workflows, then that offers you up efficiencies which can drive higher profit and give you time. And if you have time, you can either do more or be more relevant.”

While many attendees were seasoned inkjet users, countless other visitors were looking to make their first investment in the continually growing market, partly because of improved kit speeds and higher quality, but also because the conversation has evolved in terms of the application possibilities available.

Where the show’s original focus was on monochrome transactional print and low-level direct mail, it now wholeheartedly encompasses commercial applications such as books, newspapers and magazines.

“Commercial printers are really interested in the versatility message of being able to use a single press for a variety of different applications, with different media types, formats and quality levels,” said HP PageWide Industrial Division worldwide director of marketing and business development David Murphy.

Hunkeler itself showcased numerous new and upcoming products and enhancements to facilitate an automated production workflow and its tech was shown running inline with printers from exhibitors including Ricoh, HP and Screen to show various new automated workflow configurations. Indeed, vendor collaboration was a clear trend across this year’s event, with press and finishing manufacturers continuing to work ever closer together.

“Collaboration is critical. When press vendors have an enhancement that involves either a new kind of media, faster productivity or whatever it may be, the finishing partner has to have a solution that matches it,” said Murphy.

Moving forward
Mark Bristow, managing director of Hunkeler’s UK distributor Friedheim International, which flew around 100 UK customers over to the event, said it had been “fantastic”. “It really focuses everyone’s attention – they can see the developments and clarify where they are. Cumulatively, it builds up the serious prospects into a more realistic pipeline and moves things much further forward.”

The show was not all about inkjet, however. Xeikon showcased high-quality coffee table book cover and dust jacket production on its CX500 dry toner press, and reaffirmed its commitment to the technology.

Xeikon chief executive and Flint Group Digital Solutions president Benoit Chatelard said: “We think there is still potential to continue to grow with dry toner.

“Inkjet is higher speed and better for some applications, but it also has constraints – UV inkjet is not food safe, which is a big barrier. And you also have substrate independence with dry toner – you can truly print on an offset substrate, but when you go inkjet you have a lot of challenge.”

This appears to be changing rapidly, however, with evolutions in papers, inks and drying systems for inkjet presses all hot topics on the show floor. Using offset-coated papers on an inkjet press has now become viable.

“Inkjet treated media is 50% to 100% more expensive than offset-coated, meaning that going into full production with inkjet-coated media is not efficient,” said Canon’s Wolff.

Screen Europe sales and marketing manager Martijn van den Broek added: “In the past two years, we have been investing a lot in testing all of the different papers. We can get offset quality on standard offset-coated stocks and we don’t need primer.”

Ricoh director of global marketing for production inkjet solutions Mike Herold said that being able to run “very good quality, reliably” on offset-coated papers has for a long time been “the holy grail approach” for production inkjet systems like its own because of their availability, cost and existing use in commercial environments.

“That was the design goal for us and the motivation behind our Pro VC70000,” he said.

“There’s new technology that allows us to go directly to traditional commodity offset-coated papers. We can obviously still run inkjet and uncoated papers, but adding commodity offset-coated papers lowers the cost and opens up the gamut for customers.”

Hunkeler Innovationdays exhibitors universally sang the event’s praises. With all of the major vendors claiming that offset to digital migration is speeding up as the quality of the two technologies becomes increasingly comparable, Drupa next year will likely be the next major opportunity to learn where the inkjet market is heading. But for many visitors, the time to invest is now.

“What we now need to concentrate on is helping customers understand the value proposition of where the applications fit,” said Herold. “Inkjet isn’t a fix for everything. You have to have the right application, run lengths and variable data you want to leverage in terms of versioning of the product so you can really take advantage of the technology.”

Continuous-feed inkjet has reached new maturity level


Ralf Schlözer director InfoTrends

Hunkeler Innovationdays started out as a humble open-house event of a Swiss finishing manufacturing company. It morphed over the years into the most important global event for continuous-feed production document printing.

Originally, the event was focused on monochrome transaction print and variable data overprint for direct mail. In the previous two shows, there was a shift to new applications like books, newspapers, high-end direct mail, magazines and more. In 2019, the traditional transaction applications were barely existent, the show was driven by the latest inkjet launches, which almost all focus on high-quality print.

Hunkeler Innovationdays still serves as an important springboard for inkjet press vendors as well to launch new products or improvements on existing ones. 2019 had fewer surprises however than previous shows, probably due to Drupa 2020 looming large over the event with vendors holding back their most advanced technology demos.

There is no doubt that automation is getting increasingly important as a means to reduce labour cost, counter the shortage of skilled staff, avoid production mistakes and speed up device setup.

The most important take-away of the event was the maturity level that production continuous-feed inkjet printing has reached. Every supplier handed out print samples in commercial print quality, even up to photobook level. Whether the quality levels can be reached on all paper grades and with sufficient economics needs to be seen, but general quality level should not be a limiting factor anymore to consider inkjet investments.

It’s time to evaluate business models and, most crucially, to line up customers and prospects for the devices. The progress in inkjet has been impressive, but there will be more opportunity to improve in future shows by increasing the range of papers, drive automation across the whole production process, and improve the economics of running the devices.

On the stands at Hunkeler Innovationdays 2019
Xerox unveiled the Rialto 900 MP inkjet press, a more productive version of its 2015-launched Rialto 900 that has been designed to help printers optimise their inkjet production. The roll-to-cut sheet printer increases output by 33% to a maximum production speed of 64m/min.

HP introduced a raft of new options for its PageWide Web Press platforms, including the Smart Mode Suite, Service Edge, PrintOS Insight, the D2200 duplex primer and additional support for heavier media weights of up to 250gsm for the T240 HD press.

Screen Europe debuted its new Truepress Jet520HD+, a high-definition inkjet web press that can achieve a resolution of 1,200dpi and precise droplet size control at speeds of up to 150m/min. The machine uses Screen’s SC inks and integrates new Screen NIR Dryer technology.

Ricoh hosted the worldwide public debut of its Pro VC70000 continuous-feed inkjet press, highlighting the 12,000sph machine’s patent pending dryer technology, which is designed for greater ink coverage and to eliminate cockling.

Canon released various enhancements for its Océ ProStream continuous-feed inkjet press including a new optional Inline Quality Control system enabled by a high-speed camera, and the ability to handle a broader range of papers up to 300gsm due to an enhanced paper transport and drying station.

Hunkeler used its own event to unveil a raft of new products and configurations, including the DocuTrim universal sheet processing system, the Pile Stacker PST-52 – a mobile additional device for stacking long sheets – and a new Generation 8 laser module for processing either from the roll or from the sheet stack.

Muller Martini presented its new endsheet feeder in public for the first time and demonstrated how its Vareo perfect binder and InfiniTrim Duo three-knife trimmer can industrially produce hardcover book blocks in runs of one copy.

Nipson Technology launched its latest continuous-feed monochrome digital press, the MagySpeed 300, which can print resolutions of 600dpi at speeds of up to 300m/min. The 520mm-wide tension-fed web printer – targeted at the secure labels and packaging markets – can run standalone or installed into an offset/flexo line and can print on paper of all types from 40-300gsm.

Böwe Systec unveiled a new high-speed inserter, Fusion Speed, which it said will be capable of filling up to 30,000 envelopes per hour. Revealed via a video on the company’s booth, the machine will be able to handle a range of formats from B6+ and 7¾ to B5 and 6x9.

Ironsides Technology premiered Nor’Star, a business intelligence system intended to provide users with insights into their business and print production costs. The platform combines real-time data collection with automated production monitoring, reporting and cost analytics in one central command and control dashboard.

Global Graphics debuted an online service for users of its PrintFlat screening software. The new website uses PrintFlat technology to generate a customised calibration that will mitigate the banding that occurs when a print-bar is first built and also as inkjet heads begin to wear or are replaced.


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