By Katherine O'Brien
Benny Landa's visit to Graph Expo was decidedly more low key than his Broadway-worthy drupa show, but he still drew an attentive audience, first delivering the keynote address at InfoTrends' annual breakfast and later during one-on-one meetings with journalists and analysts. As always, Landa was both informative and entertaining.
Landa, a latter-day Leonardo da Vinci, studied engineering, physics, literature and psychology before ultimately graduating with a degree from the London Film School in 1969. I mention this as a prelude to "The Print Quality 'S' Curve" that Landa unveiled.
Generically speaking, the 'S' or Sigmoid curve is used in project management as a means of representing the various expenditures of resources over the projected time of the project. Landa's Print Quality 'S' Curve indicates a period of development, followed by rapid quality increases starting around the time of drupa 2012.
Landa asserts that as nanographic quality climbs on his S curve, it will reach quality levels achievable by offset lithography. He said that there would be significant improvements between now and China Print (May 14-18, 2013).
Now who else but Landa could get everyone (including English majors like me) to write about an 'S' curve? "[He] has a well-thought-out development plan with continuing benchmark quality improvements leading up to drupa 2016," Printcom's Bill Lamparter reported in "The Seybold Report." "Quality improvement milestones are keyed to major print shows... These benchmarks are evaluation points but not commitments to demonstrate equipment at any specific show."
Those who met with Landa were shown the latest print samples. The consensus was these were much better than what we saw at drupa. "[It's not] perfect, but it's clearly progress in the right direction," Lamparter said.
SETTING THE STAGE
Following Homeric tradition, Landa recited a page or two of history before resuming his epic tale. "An awful lot has happened," Landa told the InfoTrends' audience. "[It's been] 35 years since I founded Indigo... That was in 1977 [and then] in 1993 I really shook the industry to its foundation. No commercial printer had ever seen digital printing. When they saw sheets coming out of the machine and every sheet was different from its previous copy, they couldn't believe it."
Landa reminded his listeners of Indigo's status as a market leader and its quality achievements. In 2001, after 25 years in the industry, Landa sold his company to HP. "One of the main reasons I did that was that I truly love this industry," Landa said. "I felt I could do more to change the world."
MORE THAN HOT AIR
Landa spent the past decade working on a technology that converts heat in the air into electricity. "The power for your home would be literally extracted from thin air," Landa said. "Automobiles will be driven not by burning fossil fuels but by the energy extracted from the air by the radiator of the car and so on." This project led to the epiphany behind the new printing process. "To do this thermal energy conversion, we had to develop nanotechnology for making ultra-small structures," Landa said.
He explained that nanoparticles can be made either by engineering materials from atoms-which is currently impractical-or, just as one might smash a lump of coal with a hammer, crushing existing materials into ever smaller sizes. Landa's achievement rests on reaching the single nanometer mark-the previous threshold was a few hundred nanometers.
Having conquered the nanoparticle issue, Landa contemplated nanopigments, which he dubbed "The Holy Grail of Printing" because they support "superefficient absorption of light, pure color composites and all kinds of revolutionary things."
Next, Landa contrasted the ink and paper limitations of existing printing technologies vs. nanography. "Water and paper don't mix," he said of inkjet. On the offset side, he cited offset's limitations printing on uncoated paper stock. Landa's solution is to inject droplets of water-based ink onto a blanket-like conveyor and to dry the ink on the blanket. "What remains after all the water evaporates is really a thin film," he said. "It has great adhesion but it instantly freezes. You can immediately process it after transfer; very little energy is transferred to paper. It can run at very high speed and holds other promise of high-quality printing on any kind of substrate without treatments or coating. It works on plastic packaging films, cartons and recycled paper."
PEACEFUL COEXISTENCE Near the close of his remarks, Landa reiterated nanography isn't the "ultimate" technology. "Rocket engines are fantastic for putting satellites into space. They are not great for commercial airlines," he said. "Jet engines are wonderful with airplanes but they are not great for automobiles… Every technology has a sweet spot."
Landa observed that while thermal inkjet has given us $50 desktop printers for home use, it hasn't unseated dry toner xerography in the office. In the same vein, he said neither dry toner xerography nor liquid toner electrophotography will supplant the wide-format signage world, "because that's the realm of inkjet and no other technology is challenging that."
A CHANGE IS GONNA COME
"We really don't see ourselves as head-to-head competitors with other technology," Landa said. "We are targeting one area that we believe we have the privileged advantage in, and this is mainstream printing, large-format, high-speed, low-cost, offset quality printing... Notwithstanding the terrible difficulties that the industry is facing today, it's not in demise, it's in transformation," Landa concluded. "I believe that this industry will [endure for] many decades. After all, mankind has been communicating with paper for more than 5,000 years and printing paper for almost 600 years, and it's not going to go away tomorrow. The opportunities are going to be fantastic for those who have the vision and the courage to last."