Cast your mind back to Drupa 2016, and the plethora of inkjet systems for printing onto corrugated board that were either on show, or being talked about as future products.
One such device was the EFI Nozomi C18000, which made a surprise debut – in static display form – with the 37m-long line taking up the entire length of one side of EFI’s booth at the show.
The Nozomi, which is a single-pass inkjet printer, pulled together know-how from a number of EFI business units, including Cretaprint, Jetrion, Vutek and Fiery.
While the obvious target market was corrugated sheets for packaging, at least one print boss immediately spotted a potential application in his area of expertise – the large-format display market.
That print boss was Mal McGowan, founder and chief executive of the eponymous McGowans business which has its main production site near Dublin, and a second site in Belfast.
“We launched it for the corrugated market and Mal said ‘hang on, there are other applications here’,” says Frank Janssen, EFI EMEA sales director for Nozomi. “Mal has showed us new insights we never expected for the machine.”
McGowan duly took the plunge, and went public with his Nozomi order at Fespa Hamburg in 2017. It was installed in a new unit at the Dublin site last summer, becoming the first Nozomi anywhere to be used to produce display print, and has now been running for six months.
The Nozomi is certainly a beast of a machine. As well as being nearly 40m long, it is 10m wide and 5m high. It’s been designed to be modular, with a 1.8x3m print bed and the capability to print in up to seven colours using EFI’s cool-cure LED technology. White ink is in the pipeline. An all-over water-based coating is applied prior to printing, which is critical to its performance.
It handles board from 0.4mm up to the full range of corrugated flutes, including triple wall.
McGowans began running with a four-colour configuration, and an additional two colours have just been added so the firm can match more Pantone colours.
The installation represents a vast increase in capacity for the firm, even if it’s not running it flat out. “We’ve gone from producing 100 sheets per hour to 1,000, so it’s a ten-fold increase,” McGowan notes. “We’ve been holding out for single-pass inkjet and EFI have got there with the Nozomi. To be able to produce between 3,000-6,000 flatbed sheets per hour is manna from heaven.”
McGowan believes that the Nozomi’s combination of quality and throughput means it could ultimately do away with the need for litho-lamination and the requirement for VLF litho presses in the display market.
And it’s fair to say that McGowan and his team know their stuff. From the firm’s inception 30 years ago, the array of print kit deployed by the business reads like a Who’s Who of digital printing: from early Canon colour laser copiers and Bubblejet printers, to Durst Lambdas, Indigos, the first Inca Eagle flatbed, and even an Agfa M-Press that is still running, although McGowan describes it as being “in the departure lounge”.
“With the M-Press we went from 14 beds per hour to 120 or 240 beds per hour. It was the Nozomi of its day and changed the market. Agfa made a big mistake giving up on it,” he says.
The Nozomi has a top speed of 75 linear metres per minute, equating to a “realistic output” of 30 million square metres per annum, says Janssen, so it certainly has the potential to eat work.
McGowan’s ambition is to add a further €5m-€6m (£4.4m-£5.3m) of sales to the firm’s current €20m turnover on the back of its productivity. “We’re doing jobs in a couple of hours that would have taken a 24-hour shift on our old kit,” says head of operations Brian Fay.
That’s not to say that the business plans to abandon its other large-format equipment. “We will always need mid-range flatbed technology – people want short runs of 10, 20 or 30,” McGowan explains.
The Nozomi is currently running at between 20-35 metres per minute, which works for the firm in terms of the workflow around the press, and subsequent finishing. McGowans is organising its work mix so that it can run the machine using the maximum sheet size, and has produced runs as low as 100, while the average run length is 500 and the longest run so far was between 7,000-8,000 sheets.
McGowan reports that customers love the print quality and the vibrancy of colour, to the extent that the new printer has attained the status of being used as a noun in the same way that Cromalin and Lambda output did in the past. “They say can we have a Nozomi print – they really want that wow factor,” he says. “The Nozomi has a lovely feel to it, it doesn’t feel like traditional UV.”
While the initial focus is on display work, he is also targeting specific areas of the corrugated box market with the new offering.
EFI, meanwhile, believes the Nozomi can cater for the megatrends impacting all areas of corrugated production, because of its ability to produce large volumes with short delivery times, as well as multiple small orders. And while McGowans was the first display printer to install the machine, it is unlikely to be the last. With around nine installations worldwide already, Janssen says EFI is seeing “good traction in work that is today taken out of sign and display, litho lamination and flexo high quality work”.
McGowan has set his business a high bar and his expansion plans include targeting the UK and other European markets. And he thinks the firm’s presence in the EU and the UK will be an advantage, post-Brexit. “The Nozomi future-proofs my company. It’s a machine for today, for next year, and for the year after that.
“Our intention is to be running around the clock by this time next year. This is a completely new era for printing onto cardboard.”