Nanography inches towards launch

Jo Francis
Monday, January 26, 2015

"Benny has solved two of the fundamental problems of digital print, but he has created two more. Let’s see. It will take at least two years to solve.” These were the prescient words spoken at Drupa 2012 by a senior executive at one of the industry’s major equipment manufacturers.

He was right, although based on current projections it will have taken at least three years. After all the hype and hooplah surrounding the launch of Landa Digital Printing (LDP) and Nanography, when Landa stole the show in Dusseldorf, things haven’t gone entirely to plan. 

In fact, founder Benny Landa and his team had to come up with a more or less entirely new plan after the major ‘back to the drawing board’ decision in 2013 that has resulted in a complete redesign of the presses. 

That pushed the timescales back, and in November we learned that, while considerable progress has been made at LDP’s Israel base, including the construction of a beta press manufacturing facility, the proposed beta installs had been put back again.

The plan now is for beta models to ship in the second half of this year.

Landa famously described himself as “more energised and excited than ever” at his triumphal return to the industry in 2012. How is he managing to remain characteristically upbeat in the face of this longer, and more expensive, project? 

He puts the likely price tag on getting the Nanography presses to market at a whopping $250m (£165m), yet he shows no signs of losing enthusiasm for the venture. “It’s not easy, it’s not cheap, but you live only once,” he says. “If it was easy, someone else would have done it.”

Landa is of course a wealthy man, he sold Indigo to HP in a $1bn deal and has an income stream from the array of patents in his name. 

When it comes to his latest print interest, at least Landa has positive progress to report. The revamped S10 press is printing and the company is benefiting from the know-how of strategic partners and investors Komori and Altana Group. “It has been a huge managerial and technical challenge. But these are the kind of challenges that yield to hard work,” Landa adds. 

This customer activity is set to step up a gear from March onwards. Landa says those who recently saw the latest print results were “blown away by the overall quality”.

And most of these customers-in-waiting seem to be keeping the faith. “The great thing is, customers are very patient and are saying we are doing the right thing,” he adds. “Most customers are in it for the long run and have expressed support.”

Some of the customers who have travelled to Israel to see the latest progress, are indeed waxing lyrical about what they have seen. 

Paul Hartwig, production director at Huntingdon pharma and food packaging printer Firstan, remains convinced that Landa’s presses will be game-changing. 

Hartwig highlights markets such as cosmetics and high-end confectionery as potential targets. “Marketing departments... will think ‘wow’ and have a eureka moment when they realise they can do smaller runs at high quality.”

While we don’t know the identity of the beta sites just yet there will be at least four, in Israel, the UK, Germany and the US. Landa’s beta press assembly facility can handle six presses at a time. 

New architecture

Lots of things have changed in the new-look Landa presses. Although one thing that hasn’t is the image transfer aspect – the Nanography technology still involves ejecting ink onto a blanket before transferring it to the substrate.

Landa says that access to the paper path is now always open, which has involved raising the level of the upper units. The hydraulic jacks that used to lift the press housing to allow this have been ditched as an unnecessary complication. This change required a different path for the blanket which has also been made longer, and there’s also a longer drier to give the provision for higher speeds. 

At Drupa the presses were using 600dpi heads, believed to be from Kyocera. The firm is now using 1,200dpi heads understood to be the Fujifilm Dimatix head, although Landa will not confirm this as the firm has never publicly stated which printheads it is using. 

The EFI front-end that will cope with this data rate and drive the presses is also progressing. The joint development marries core EFI Fiery technology with Landa know-how. “The DFE will be the highest-performing DFE in existence. Pieces of it are running now,” Landa states. “It will be a masterpiece. It is custom-designed for Nanography and will be exclusively ours.”

The huge touchscreen that appeared on the original press design has been ditched in favour of a new operator ‘cockpit’ set at a 45° angle to the delivery. This still features touchscreen technology. Landa has just released a white paper extolling the virtues of its approach to user experience (UX), which it describes as “superior” to traditional consoles. 

With a backlog of some 400 press orders and the S10 B1 sheetfed press by far the most popular machine, the focus is on delivering that model first, in a simplex configuration primarily targeted at packaging applications along with POS and in-mould labels. Landa describes packaging as “the biggest frontier for digital”.

The B1 perfector targeted at commercial printers will be the second model to ship, followed by the W10 metre-wide web targeted at flexible packaging applications. 

Whether all seven of the Nanography presses originally envisaged will actually ship remains to be seen. Is there, for example, enough market demand for a B3 model? “Don’t hold your breath,” says Landa. “Maybe over time we will get back to small format machines. Right now we have our hands full.”

Landa isn’t operating in a vacuum, and its competitors in the digital print space have been making advances of their own in the 32 months since the last Drupa. 

Just look at how many B2 Indigo 10000s HP has shipped – seven in the UK alone. And HP has also begun shipping its Indigo 20000 and 30000 systems for the packaging market. 

But when it comes to B1 sheetfed digital there remains a very obvious gap in the market that nobody has filled yet. Although with Drupa 2016 a mere 16 months away, it’s a safe bet that Landa won’t be the only supplier with a B1 digital press at the show. 

However, Landa is resolute in his belief that despite the delays Nanography will still have substantial USPs over the competition. “We still expect by far to be the lowest cost per page in the industry, because of our core technology and ability to print onto any paper without pre-treatment – I don’t see a competing technology on the horizon.”

While he’s not blasé, he remains as confident as ever that he is set to change the industry all over again. “The last thing we do is underestimate our competitors. There are some fantastic companies out there investing a lot in digital. But we still haven’t seen signs of anything that worries us.” 

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