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DI Presses: the models that haven't made it to market

Feb 1, 2002 12:00 AM


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The past few years have seen a flood of sheetfed and web direct-imaging (DI) press introductions. And although some of the presses have become considerable successes since their launch--namely, Heidelberg’s Quickmaster DI, with 580 installations--a few have yet to hit the market. Some of the more conspicuous absences:

Akiyama. In September 1999, imaging-system and plate-media vendor Presstek, Inc. (Hudson, NH) and Akiyama Printing Machinery Manufacturing Corp. (Tokyo) announced a joint development program to create a DI version of Akiyama’s J-Print multicolor, one-pass perfecting press. The J-Print DI was to be the first DI press for the book-printing market, and was to use a Presstek digital aluminum plate.

The press was scheduled to debut after Drupa 2000. Nearly two years later, Akiyama has yet to introduce the press; the press vendor’s conspicuous absence on the Print 01 show floor fueled rumors that it was in grave financial trouble. american printer made repeated attempts but was unable to reach a representative at Akiyama for comment. Presstek hasn’t officially announced its abandonment of the project, but a representative has acknowledged that it is not actively working on the development program at this time.

Didde Web Press. Presstek and former narrow-web press manufacturer Didde Web Press (Overland Park, KS) announced a proposed strategic alliance in May 2000 to create "the first DI UV web press for the direct-mail printing market." The web-offset DI press was envisioned with multiple variable printing units in line with conventional offset units, and with inline finishing capability. Didde was planning on offering the DI unit as a field upgrade to its conventional presses.

In August 2001, however, Alcoa Packaging Machinery, Inc. (Englewood, CO), a manufacturer of metal forming and printing machines, acquired certain assets of Didde Web Press and its parent company, Didde Corp., including the Didde name and the companies’ patents. It is uncertain whether Alcoa will pursue the DI-web-press development effort.

Peter Wood, Alcoa product manager for printing technologies notes that Alcoa has had an established relationship with Presstek for the past couple years. Alcoa uses Presstek DI technology on its aluminum beverage-can printing presses. As for extending that relationship into Didde’s commercial-web-press offerings, Wood notes, "We’re beginning to evaluate strategically what directions we want to move, and [a DI web press] would certainly be one we would consider. I wouldn’t say that at this point we have engineering drawings to create a direct-imaging press. But we already have the relationship with Presstek, so that might be a natural extension."

Shinohara. At Graph Expo 2000, CreoScitex (now Creo Inc.) (Burnaby, BC) debuted its switchable polymer (SP) plateless, digital offset printing technology on a 10-year-old Shinohara 66 IIP press with one printing unit. The standard two-color, 19 x 25-inch 66 IIP perfecting press is manufactured by Shizuoka, Japan-based Shinohara, which competes with most of the current two- and four-up DI press vendors in the conventional market.

A partnership between Shinohara and an imaging-system vendor seems inevitable, but so far, the press manufacturer has made no moves into the DI arena. In response to inquiries about the Graph Expo installation, Creo posted the following on its website: "The Shinohara 66 IIP press was purchased as a test bed. There is no active program underway to implement SP technology on this press model."

Andy Czaplewski, national service manager at Shinohara USA Inc. (Elk Grove Village, IL), commented that Shinohara is interested in developing a DI press, but for now is still researching the possibility. He was unable to specify when--or if--the company would ultimately introduce one.

Goss Graphic Systems. At Print 97, Goss Graphic Systems Inc. (Westmont, IL) demonstrated its Advanced Digital Offset Printing Technologies/Concept press (ADOPT/CP), which integrated five newer technologies and was touted to "change the rules of web-offset printing." The press utilized DI, single-fluid-ink, variable-cutoff, gapless, seamless-printing, and shaftless technologies. It featured a cylinder with a nickel-oxide-plated reusable printing surface; a digitally powered laser created the image. Imaging time was reportedly about 15 minutes, and images were capable of creating hundreds of thousands of impressions.

Dick Sutis, president of Goss Graphic Systems, notes that ADOPT/CP was purely a "demonstration of several press technologies that would eventually come to market," rather than a specific press model that Goss planned to produce.

This past September, Goss Holdings, parent company of Goss Graphic Systems, announced its worldwide restructuring. This included transferring manufacturing operations to Goss Holdings’ UK, France, Japan and China affiliates. Goss’ American operations filed for Chapter 11 reorganization. Recently, Goss Graphic Systems announced it had reached an agreement in principle to sell its assets to its current lenders and a major note holder, which reportedly will contribute $50 million to create a new entity.

Sutis seemed optimistic about the future of the new company; he downplayed any DI developments in its future, however, commenting: "There are many factors that suggest that digital imaging will take some years before it can be cost-effectively applied to modern newspaper press systems."