The show must go on

Simon Eccles
Wednesday, September 23, 2020

With the world’s biggest print expo delayed, here’s what you could have seen...

Every Drupa tends to have a bit of a theme, picked up and amplified by the press and marketing bods. Around the turn of this year the 2020 show was optimistically being billed as the Print 4.0 Drupa, mainly by German manufacturers who’d coined the snappy if vague term, and as the Connectivity Drupa by everyone else. In the event, the event was the Covid non-Drupa, while the 2021 replacement is likely to be the Facemask Drupa or maybe the Distanced Drupa. Hopefully not the Cancelled Drupa.

In the following pages Printweek looks at what we actually know for sure (or can speculate) about what was going to be shown in June, and what may go on to be shown next April.

First we’ll look at some of the broad trends in the industry and its wider client base that mostly tie in with the known facts on the following pages.

First though is the question of whether a big trade show like Drupa can carry on at all in a world of social distancing – there’s little chance of mass availability of a Covid-19 vaccine or cure before April.

While the suspension of business worldwide has eased off a bit, the financial reckoning is still to come for a lot of printers and thus their chances of ordering from suppliers. It’s going to be a hard 2021.

The high-profile pull-outs from next April’s Drupa, citing economic or health worries, make it feel rather like the autumn of 2013 in the countdown to Ipex in March 2014. These essentially killed off Ipex, though it staggered on to a sadly diminished finale in 2017.

Maybe ‘virtual shows’ will prove their worth, though this summer’s crop of online events can best be summarised as earnest but dull. The ability to dip in and out or view recordings has its merits, but lacks the real-world show’s synergies of gathering tens of thousands of people in the same physical place at the same time. You can’t prod and sniff the print samples online either.

Environmental concerns

Health concerns might be the keynote of 2020, but environmental challenges haven’t gone away. The anti-plastics backlash is hitting flexible food packaging, ironically just as flexography for flexible packaging is going through a quality, efficiency and waste-reduction revolution. Paper and board carton converting are likely to benefit though, so maybe the ill-informed jibes about ‘dead trees’ will start to go away.

A new breed of medium web digital presses can handle flexible packaging. Retail food sectors could use these to implement just-in-time ordering, with lower warehousing costs and less waste, just as the book sector found in the 2000s and the corrugated sector has discovered in the 2010s. However, the same logic still seems lost on the folding carton sector, where digital struggles to make an impact beyond test runs and personalisation gimmicks.

Print 4.0

Let’s look at the Print 4.0 claims (or Finishing 4.0 in the case of Muller Martini). The short explanation is it’s a spin-off from Industry 4.0, which means “the fourth industrial revolution”. It’s a marketing term for the cumulative effect of a bunch of technologies that are all happening anyway, but they complement and amplify each other. Examples are the Internet of Things (IoT), meaning devices and machinery being connected to each other and to the Internet, with monitoring, upgrades and artificial intelligence analysis handled remotely in the cloud, ie off-site computers. Other components are the increasing adoption of automation, closed-loop quality control systems; and robotic operations and materials handling.

These are supposed to lead to ‘smart factories’, which are loosely defined but intended to reduce touch points in terms of boring repetitive work while hopefully retaining humans for the creative decision-making that computers can’t do. A couple of decades ago there were already predictions of the ‘lights-out print factory’ with humans (and their wages) barely needed at all. We’re nowhere near that development, fortunately.

Although not explicitly part of Industry 4.0, a related trend is for software as a service (SaaS), which means users rent access to centrally maintained programs, which may be accessed remotely in the cloud, or downloaded but kept updated. This trend may spread to major capital equipment – Heidelberg certainly hopes so – although the leasing arrangements already used by many companies is only a step away from this in effect.

Connectivity

It’s been 20 years since JDF was announced, but the multi-vendor connectivity standard has never hit its ultimate goal of plug-and-play connectivity for all. JDF support is widespread, but you still can’t just take a bunch of unrelated kit, plug it together and expect everything to start talking. It usually takes pairs of manufacturers to put in considerable effort first, and this takes time and money.

For this reason it’s been increasingly common for manufacturers to create an API (application programming interface) that defines how to communicate with a specific system, and to give that to the would-be interfacer. This is quicker than fiddling with JDF. API offerings would have been much in evidence at Drupa 2020, particularly from the various MIS developers.

A related trend has been for manufacturers to create proprietary data networks that link their own products and those of some partners to form efficient ‘islands of automation’ that can then be linked to other island networks, usually via JDF.

Over the summer Crispy Mountain, a German software developer bought by Heidelberg last year, announced a cloud-based connectivity technology and app store called Zaikio, that it reckons will provide plug-and-play connectivity open to all, avoiding the complexities of JDF and the proprietary nature of APIs.

Litho/flexo

Litho press makers have mainly concentrated on faster makereadies and on-the-run quality control in recent years. Sheetfed press speeds are less important for short runs, so even the fastest machines usually top out at 18,000sph. However, Koenig & Bauer has introduced the 20,000sph B1 Rapida 106 X for cartons, which shows there’s still scope for impressive mechanical improvements in presses.

Other press makers, including Heidelberg, Manroland Sheetfed, Komori and RMGT have particularly stressed automation and connectivity in their announcements, although Heidelberg, Manroland Sheetfed and Komori have said they now won’t exhibit at the 2021 show.

Digital & hybrids

Digital continues to be the fastest growing sector of print technology, but the adventurous approach has also led to some dead ends.

Visitors to Drupa 2012 might have expected that by now the digital press market would be full of liquid toner models hitting high speeds with high quality on ordinary litho papers. However all the new developers pulled out except HP Indigo, the original and still the only purveyor of liquid toner presses. This year it’s revamped its whole range with faster models, plus a new narrow-format press for labels.

Dry toner developers are showing no signs of giving up in the face of inkjets. Drupa 2020 would have seen useful advances in sheetfed models, making them a bit faster, with longer sheets, but gaining productivity and print quality through automation for closed-loop monitoring, reliability and ease of use. While sheetfed inkjets are gaining ground on dry toner and Indigos, it’s a pretty long chase.

Inkjet has long been the dominant process for high-speed continuous feed digital print, with only Xeikon persevering with dry toner – the 50% speed increase of its SX30000 over earlier models is impressive, and though the resulting 30m/min is still way behind even entry-level web inkjets it has a lot more substrate flexibility. There are some new web inkjets models listed in the next pages, but nothing earth-shattering. Speeds are already high, but the real advances lie in keeping them fast while achieving ‘litho quality’, preferably on silk or glossy stocks without pricey inkjet-receptive coatings.

Narrow-web digital presses are well established for label work, mostly with UV-cured inkjet technology. Label work is also where you’ll find most digital-flexo hybrids so far. Some of the digital label tech is now being adapted for medium-width presses intended for flexible packaging work, but this needs food-safe inks.

Embellishment

An ongoing trend is for digital print to offer more and more ‘special effects’, partly as ordinary CMYK is following litho down the commoditisation route. These are sometimes special colours and metallics on the presses (though nothing new seems due for Drupa), or more and more sophisticated offline post-print processes that allow spot varnish, tactile raised effects and true metallic foils. Because no metals dies are needed, set-up is cheap enough for short runs and one-offs.

No shows and no-goes

While this has been an overview of what we would have seen at Drupa, here’s a short list of what previous Drupas suggested would have taken off by now, but have either proved dead ends or slower to happen than anticipated.

In no particular order: significant adoption of digital carton presses; new liquid toner digital presses (HP Indigo remains the only successful vendor); plug-and-play connectivity through JDF; inkjet heads on sheetfed litho presses; 3D printing becoming relevant (either for end-products or for use in-house to create parts, plates, whatever); lights-out printshops; digital imaging of litho plates (inkjet is still rare and low quality); widespread adoption of robot materials handling; direct-to-object digital printing.

In specific hardware terms, we’ve not heard anything more about some of the interesting prototypes shown at Drupa 2016, in particular the Canon Voyager B2 offset inkjet and the Konica Minolta AccurioJet KM-C B1 inkjet carton press.

Maybe some of these will eventually turn up next April, but don’t hold your breath!


NON-STAND HIGHLIGHTS

Agfa focuses on automation

Automation was to have been a big feature of Agfa’s Drupa presence, with unveilings to include a new version of the Apogee commercial workflow, robotic plate loading and a newspaper pre-production workflow, Arkitex.

The company ran a virtual event instead, showing a plate-loading robot for the Avalon VLF platesetters. Custom-made by an Agfa partner, it offers a 30% smaller footprint than conventional combo systems, features two sets of suction cups for interleaves and plates and can feed up to two plate lines.

Spiral, a new screening technology was also unveiled. According to Agfa, it offers higher image quality and improved shadow details and skintone reproduction. The firm also launched three new plates: Eclipse, a process-free plate; a chemistry-free plate, Adamas; and Energy Verve, which can support heatset web run lengths of up to 1 million.

BlueCrest expands inserter range

Mailing kit manufacturer BlueCrest was to show a highly automated entry- to mid-level inserting line. The modular Evolution can handle cutsheet, continuous form, single, or dual document formats dependent on requirement.

According to BlueCrest, the Evolution “is a modern, innovative system, designed and developed with input from our clients”.

It can process up 12,000 cycles per hour trifold, 10,000 half-fold or 8,000cph for flats.

Dependent on configuration, pricing for the Evolution starts at around £150,000 rising to £400,000 for the highest possible spec.

Bobst adds new cutter and laminators

Bobst was planning to unveil a raft of new products, but now will not be exhibiting at Drupa 2021 due to a crowded event calendar.

Debuts would have included the Mastercut 106 PER die-cutter, incorporating new automation features reducing setup times and the need for operator intervention.

Also new is the MasterStar sheet-to-sheet laminator that runs at 10,000sph. Two other sheet-to-sheet laminators, the ExpertStar and NovaStar were announced.

Bobst also announced its new AccuCheck inline quality control system, billed as enabling “zero-fault packaging”.

In flexible packaging the new Master CI press incorporates a number of automation features, including the firm’s OneECG extended-gamut printing system that originated in its label business.

The Master M6 flexo press also features OneECG and is targeted at labels, flexibles and folding carton applications.

Other new products included the Nova D800 fully automated laminator for flexibles, and a new Digital Inspection Table.

Canon launches high-speed inkjet line

Canon revealed the ProStream 1800, a high-speed inkjet capable of producing 11,300 four-back-four B2 sheets per hour.

The 1800 is based on the ProStream 1000 platform, but offers a 66% speed boost over its sibling. It features the same core 1,200dpi head technology, which was jointly developed with Kyocera, that is used in the recently launched VarioPrint iX series of B2 inkjets.

Current ProStream 1000 users can field upgrade their machines to the 1800 spec.

Domino sets out new corrugated model

Domino had been planning to launch its new X630i inkjet press for corrugated with an AQ95 aqueous inkset as part of what it described as the “new business model for corrugated box production”.

This new machine marks Domino’s first step into the digital corrugated printing space. The X630i is a single-pass inkjet press designed for everyday corrugated production.

It runs at up to 75m/min at 600x600dpi and has a maximum print area of 3x1.345m. The press is supplied with Domino’s “revolutionary” AQ95 CMYK aqueous inkset, designed to print on both uncoated and coated corrugated substrates without a primer or bonding agent.

Duplo to unveil latest launches

Duplo was set to unveil the DuSense Digifoil and the PFI Blade B3 to the European packaging market.

Both new machines are brand-new propositions for Duplo, with the Digifoil adding embellishment capabilities to the company’s tech portfolio while the PFI Blade B3 is set to be aimed at short-run packaging operations.

Product specialist Andy Cuff said: “Both machines represent brand-new concepts and directions for Duplo. Since establishing the Duplo DuSense Sensory Coater, it’s become very apparent how robust the embellishment market has become.

“Jobs are getting much shorter, but the quality is being paid more attention to.”

Epson to show new inkjets

Epson had a few new machines to show at Drupa, including its first 12-colour large-format photo printers, the SureColor SC-P9500, two new professional technical plotters and the SureColor SC-F6300, a new dye-sub printer developed for textiles.

The SurePress digital label printers were expected to be on show, although there was no confirmation of this. There have also been rumours of Epson developing a flatbed.

Esko aims to speed a digital change

Esko had planned to showcase how the ‘digital transformation’ could be harnessed by packaging businesses. It has unveiled an assessment tool, dubbed the Digital Maturity Model (DMM), that is designed to help businesses identify where they would most benefit from improvement.

Fujifilm puts Jet Press centre stage

Fujifilm has just announced that it will be hosting a virtual event on 24 September to show what would have been a central part of its Drupa stand. The Real Production Show is an ambitious multi-country event that will feature the production of a bespoke folding carton job using a Jet Press 750S and two other manufacturers. The focus of the event will be on the added-value of digital printing and finishing.

Global Graphics rolls out new platform

Global Graphics brought forward the release of all products scheduled for launch at the show. The Cambridge-based developer’s new platform Direct was released through a global virtual rollout in April.

It is Global’s first fully integrated product line, taking in the company’s Harlequin RIP technology, Mako file optimiser, inkjet programs ScreenPro and PrintFlat, workflow from its partner Hybrid Software and a global reseller network it took on with the acquisition of US-based pre-press specialist Xitron.

Global Graphics said it would resume “normal trade show activity” in the autumn with appearances at LabelExpo Americas and Printing United, although both shows have now been postponed until next year.

Heidelberg unfolds your potential

The decision by Heidelberg to pull out of the show will have been a heavy blow for Messe Düsseldorf. Under the banner of ‘Unfold Your Potential’, the Big H was to show its next-generation Speedmaster, along with a new fully automatic plate logistics system that delivers plates directly to the printing unit.

Developments were also expected in its new digital eco-system, Zaikio, a new open print connectivity technology would also have been shown, taking over the role of what was previously called HEI.OS and with the intention of creating an open, centralised platform with a single sign-on for all systems.

There was no word on the Omnifire direct-to-shape printer, and hasn’t been since 2018. It’s possible it is being dropped from the product line-up along with the Primefire 106 and the VLF presses as the company focuses on higher-earning kit.

HP revamps Indigo portfolio

HP was to be the expo’s biggest exhibitor, with more than 30 machines running live. In what it described as the “most exciting launches in the history of HP Indigo” the company was to show its revamped range of B2, SRA3 and web-fed production presses, which benefit from across the board productivity boosts. The flagship launch was to be the HP Indigo 100K, a B2 liquid toner press targeted at high-volume applications that is capable of 6,000sph and a monthly duty roster of 1 million duplex sheets.

The company also planned to show eight other Series 5 siblings of the 100K and revealed that it had developed the first machine based on the upcoming Series 6 platform, the HP Indigo V12 Digital Press, which is a 12-colour narrow-web label press capable of 1,600dpi and running a 340mm-wide web.

IFS unveils Foliant and Horizon kit

IFS was planning to unveil new machines from both Foliant and Horizon.

The company has expanded its range of Foliant laminators with the addition of two circa £30,000 mid-range production machines designed for short runs and fast makereadies.

The B3 Foliant Vega 400SF and B2-format Foliant Vega 530SF bridge the gap between the belt-fed, entry-level Vegas and the higher-end Mercury, Pollux and Taurus industrial machines.

The Horizon launches included the HT-300 three-sided trimmer, which replaces the HT-30C and offers a top speed of 300 cycles/hr compared with the 200c/hr of its predecessor.

The 1,100 books/hr Horizon HT-300 offers flap cover, corner and variable trimming and the offline unit can also be configured to run inline with Horizon binding lines.

Kodak reveals plate and digi press

Kodak’s product announcements included a new version of its Sonora process-free plate, Sonora Xtra, two new platesetters and a high-speed inkjet press the Prosper Ultra 520. The manufacturer confirmed that it was working on sheetfed inkjet with “more to come” in that area. Kodak has also built upon its existing joint venture partnership with Uteco for the Sapphire Evo W 1.25m-wide flexible packaging press, which Kodak said could take on gravure and flexo for runs up to 20,000sqm.

In pre-press, Kodak billed the new ‘T-Speed’ Magnus Q800 as “the world’s fastest 8pp CTP for process-free plates”. It is 15% faster than the existing model and can handle up to 80pph. Automation options include a Multi Pallet Loader with a 3,200-plate capacity. The Q800 goes into beta testing this month and is slated to ship in September.

The Ultra 520 is to go into beta test later this year, with shipping planned for early next year.

New K&B Rapida 106 ‘X’ unveiled

Koenig & Bauer said it was setting “a new benchmark” for the industry with the launch of its new top-of-the-range B1 press, the Rapida 106 X, which has a radical new look.

The press has a seven-colour double coater plus one-colour configuration targeted at packaging customers. It can run at up to 20,000sph, with K&B billing it as “the fastest packaging sheetfed press on the market”.

K&B claimed that by optimising production according to job lists and job specifications, the 106 X could deliver time savings of 25 minutes.

K&B UK sales director Chris Scully said the key benefits for customers were automated, autonomous production, and said the new press “had the look and feel of a machine for the future – it looks high-tech”. A revamped 18,000sph B2 Rapida 76 with the new look has also just been launched.

Also planned for the show was further development on the VariJet 106 hybrid sheetfed/inkjet press developed jointly with Durst and first shown as a concept at Drupa 2016.

Kolbus launches BoxPrint BP500 printer

UK-based manufacturer of box-making equipment Kolbus Autobox was to unveil its full-colour, offline, flatbed digital printer for corrugated packaging, the BoxPrint BP500. Kolbus is targeting the device at packaging distributors and sheet plants to enable them to add value and diversify their short-run box offering as the use of packaging as a marketing tool grows.

Komori shows press advances

Komori was to launch the Impremia NS40, a B1-format press that uses Landa’s Nanographic printing technology. An early iteration of the press was demonstrated at Drupa 2016. Komori is another manufacturer that has pulled out of the 2021 event.

Konica Minolta unveils new B2 inkjet

Konica Minolta was to show a new version of its AccurioJet KM-1 UV inkjet, the KM-1e, which has been fine-tuned to take on HP Indigo in the commercial and high-end B2 digital market with a wider range of usable media, and increased uptime being the key enhancements. According to the manufacturer, the KM-1e is targeted at general commercial printers looking to offer litho quality but who want to embrace increasingly shorter run lengths and faster turnarounds, as well as high-end users looking to offer high-quality images on a wide range of media. Existing KM-1s will be field upgradable to KM-1e specifications.

Landa shows nano presses

Landa Digital Printing was planning to demonstrate its S10 digital press running at its originally planned speed of 13,000sph, and also to show the W10 web-fed version.

Manroland shows off Evolution

Manroland Sheetfed was to have launched the new large-format Roland 900 Evolution and showcased the Roland 700 Evolution Elite presses, but has decided not to exhibit at the 2021 show.

The 900 Evolution is intended for packaging and commercial printing applications and comes with a wealth of cutting-edge automation technologies to help deliver cost and energy savings for printers.

MBO: rise of robotics

MBO was to showcase new finishing technology centred around automation and robotics, with the new CoBo-Stack robot palletiser taking centre stage. It was to be demonstrated in-line on the K8RS and K8 folders and the company’s web finishing line.

Also new is the T50 buckle folder, which brings MBO technology into the B2 arena for the first time.

Mimaki breaks into 3D printing

Mimaki has launched a large-scale 3D printer for sign and display applications, the 3DGD-1800, an OEM version of the Massivit 1800.

The machine can produce objects up to 1.8m tall in seven hours. The manufacturer said potential applications could include life-sized displays, event decorations, movie props and large product mock-ups, as well as being able to produce industrial production parts such as moulds for vacuum forming.

Morgana unveils AutoCreaser Pro XL

Morgana expanded its AutoCreaser range with a new highly automated flagship model as the creasing family celebrates its 20th anniversary following its launch at Drupa 2000. For more information see Star Product on page 52.

The company has also had two new digital die-cutters to show, an entry-level flatbed device for digital printers, the Optima V50, and a dual-head, high-end, automated model for unattended operation, the Omnia.

Muller Martini gets connected

Muller Martini was planning to show how printers could implement the principles of ‘Finishing 4.0’, which it defined as automation, connectivity, variability and touchless workflow. The company was to show how its Connex workflow system could provide a path for digital transformation.

Polar-Mohr focused on 4.0

Polar-Mohr has a new release of its Compucut software package ready to release. The system automatically identifies where to make cuts on a sheet of labels. It also promised a to unveil a new 4.0 product although it would not reveal details. It remains tight-lipped going toward the 2021 show.

Ricoh looks for the way ahead

Ricoh had intended to present its biggest ever portfolio of systems in order to encourage printers to ‘Love the Way Ahead’ and enjoy a successful transformative print journey.

Among the machines it planned to show were the Pro VC70000 high-speed inkjet press with extended gamut inkset; enhanced Pro C7200 and Pro C9200 sheetfed colour presses with new paper handling capabilities; the Pro L5160 dual-CMYK large-format production printer and the Ri 1000 DTG printer. The company also hinted at other new launches.

RMGT unveils new press

Ryobi MHI Graphic Technology (RMGT) intended to present a vision of the printing company of the future where automated guided vehicles, post-press processes, and other operations are all connected via the RMGT Press Information Cloud (PIC). The technology was to be demonstrated on the B1-size RMGT 10 and A1-size RMGT 9 offset presses and their advanced automated functions.

The manufacturer has subsequently launched the RMGT 970, an A1-plus format offset press, which is largely based on the 920/940 presses, but also incorporates technology from the flagship 10-series machines.

Screen in label press launch

Screen was due to launch a new label press, the PacJet FL830. This is a water-based inkjet system for flexible packaging with a throughput of 4,500m/hr. The company says it “delivers exceptional time to market production for mixed and small quantity flexible packaging”. Screen will not exhibit at the 2021 event.

Solimar adds PM capabilities

Solimar Systems was to have unveiled a number of new products and product updates. Top of the agenda is SPDE Essentials 9.1, a new edition of SPDE that is targeted at users who need the key functionality and job management of SPDE without the specialised capabilities of the full product.

SwissQprint sees signs of potential

SwissQprint would have shown off its first roll-to-roll printer, the Karibu, a UV inkjet system with a maximum print width of 3.4m.

The Swiss manufacturer said Karibu, which can print onto materials including textiles, banners, foils, vinyls and mesh up to 3mm thick, incorporates a raft of features aimed at high efficiency, reliability and versatility.

Tech-ni-Fold: great integration

Had Drupa 2020 gone ahead as planned, showcased on the Tech-ni-Fold stand would be the “world’s best rotary creasing technology” compatible with popular folding and creasing machines, according to the company.

Tech-ni-Fold’s Tri-Creaser was to have been shown running live with a Herzog & Heymann Folding Machine at high speeds to demonstrate the productivity benefits of integrating creasing and folding processes into one, seamless process, when compared with offline creasing and folding.

Vivid vision for finishing

Among the machine on the Vivid Laminating Technologies stand would have been the new VeloBlade system, a digital flatbed die-cutter for automated cutting, creasing and perforating in a single pass. It is targeted at businesses looking to offer cost-effective custom dieless finishing services.

The machine is suitable for a wide range of applications and job types and is intended to give printers a platform to extend the services they offer, create unique and intricate products as well as remove the need for and cost of outsourcing. Vivid says new users cite packaging, POS, labels as well as unique business cards and invites as just a few of the projects they’re now able to take on.

Xerox expands CMYK+

Xerox’s expanded CMYK+ technology would no doubt have featured on the company’s Drupa stand. This technology brings metallics, white, clear and fluorescents on its light- to mid-production Versant 180 digital press.Sadly, Xerox is another company that has said it will not participate in the 2021 event.

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