Toner specialist turns on to inkjet

By Jo Francis, Monday 10 April 2017

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It’s all change at Xeikon. As of next month the Belgian digital press manufacturer will have a new chief executive. And as of last month this long-time exponent of the merits of toner-based print technology has a shiny new inkjet label press. Yes, that’s right. Inkjet.

xeikonpx3000

PX3000: first inkjet move for Xeikon

The firm, which was acquired by Flint at the end of 2015 and became part of that group’s nascent Digital Printing Solutions division, made both of these surprise announcements at its recent Xeikon Café Packaging Innovations customer event where Xeikon unveiled its new Panther technology – a sister offering to the Cheetah toner-based technology used in its existing CX3 digital label press. Panther tech involves new PantherCure UV inks, and these are used in the new Xeikon PX3000 inkjet label press. 

“Cheetah now has a friend,” says Filip Weymans, vice-president of global marketing, while revealing that Xeikon’s installed base grew to 463 machines last year.

One of the things that has helped in this growth is being part of the €2.2bn (£1.9bn) turnover Flint Group, active in 160 countries. 

“Machine placement was up 25% in 2015/16. Flint Group has made it easy for us to make the step into these countries and has introduced us to customers,” notes outgoing Xeikon chief executive Wim Maes. 

Maes leaves this month, and will be replaced by seasoned Ricoh executive Benoit Chatelard, who takes up the role of Xeikon chief executive and president and chief executive of Flint Group Digital Printing Solutions, at the beginning of May. 

It is perhaps significant that the company has chosen someone with considerable inkjet experience for the role. Flint chief executive Antoine Fady, while noting that he did “everything he could” to retain Maes, says his decision to leave the business was also an opportunity to bring in some new blood. “What do we need to drive Xeikon, and who must be able to retain it as a strong independent focused entity? We needed someone from the digital printing industry.”

It’s too soon to say what Chatelard’s plans for the operation will be, but later this year he will have the perfect opportunity to see how Xeikon’s move into inkjet is being received by the market. At Labelexpo in Brussels in September, Flint will exhibit on one large booth showing products from all its divisions, including of course Xeikon and its new PX3000, targeted at industrial labelling and health and beauty applications.

So why, after so many years of being firmly in favour of toner, has the manufacturer made a move into the already crowded inkjet label press arena? “The market is ready, the technology is ready, and the growth is there,” states Maes. “Earlier it was not ready, and the market potential was not there.”

Xeikon believes that label printers looking to move into UV inkjet are “looking for a partner” and this is where Flint and Xeikon can bring their combined strengths to play. The firm also believes that its highly thought of X-800 digital front-end will be a crucial advantage, and the ability to offer one workflow to drive both toner and inkjet will be a USP. “The efficiency of our workflow will gain us 10m/min,” claims Weymans. 

The specification for the PX3000 is as follows: it’s a standalone roll-to-roll UV inkjet press, using Kyocera drop-on-demand 600dpi printheads, with four grey levels.

It uses the aforementioned mercury-cured PantherCure UV inks, which do not require intermediate pinning between print stations. The maximum media width is 350mm, with a 330mm print width. The initial configuration is CMYK plus white, but Xeikon is still working out the details of the white configuration, and whether it will involve one or two stations. Speed is 50m/min.  

Pricing is under wraps but will be in line with competing models. 

So what do existing customers think of the inkjet move? Simon Smith, managing director at CS Labels, says: “I am not surprised by their move into inkjet given that they are owned by an ink manufacturer. It will complement their existing platforms as it offers a better solution to certain parts of the market compared with electrophotography.

“If they are to make a commercial success of this project, it will depend very much on their ability to produce a good quality white ink; link the X-800 to the press and position the commercials to make it comparable with other ink jet manufacturers and yet sustain the competitiveness of dry toner in the marketplace. I am convinced that the first two items are a given, the last? Time will tell,” says Smith, who also cites Xeikon’s established service and dealership base as an advantage compared with some competitors. 

Somerset-headquartered Integrity Print proves the case that inkjet is not for everyone. It reports growing demand for short-run, high-quality labels and, while recognising that inkjet suits some parts of the market, its requirement for food-safe production means it will stick with toner. “We are constantly reviewing the technology available that allows us to produce labels that meet the demands of our clients in the most cost-effective manner. Our understanding is that the inkjet technology is not deemed food-safe and we operate in a BRC-accredited high-hygiene food environment, so the technology would not suit one of our key requirements,” says Martin Clissold, general manager of the group’s labels division.

Alan Brett, production manager at Lotus Labels, adds: “We will be listening to what Xeikon has to say about their inkjet solutions. We suppose it will be horses for courses for different applications.”

And what of the future for toner at Xeikon? “This is definitely not the end of our toner development. We still have a lot of development going on our toner platform,” the firm asserts. Watch this space.  

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