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The jet set

Mar 1, 2010 12:00 AM


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Faster than a speeding toner particle, more versatile than big iron, able to convert complex variable data in a scalable RIP — high-speed inkjet presses are generating a lot of buzz. Indeed, almost half of the respondents to our December 2009 “Web Offset Survey” believe high-speed inkjet presses are a threat to web offset volume. Inkjet webs can produce custom, variable publications including newspapers. Books present another significant opportunity. And with mailing volumes down, targeted marketing is gaining traction.

As Interquest's David Davis points out (see http://blog.americanprinter.com/in-focus), “Full color remains the most promising segment of transactional printing, particularly when used in transpromo applications. … What is new and is providing a catalyst for the application is the use of continuous-feed, full-color inkjet presses. These presses have made a big impact on the market over a relatively short period of time.”

Recent installations shed light on these and other innovative applications for high-speed inkjet presses.

Reaching millions on a personal level

Direct Group (www.directgroup.net) in Pennington, NJ, was the first in the United States to install the Océ (Trumbull, CT) JetStream 2200. The purchasing decision was a collaborative effort with one customer — a Fortune 100 financial services company — based on a specific need.

CMO Pat O'Brien explains, “They needed to target their prospective universe more effectively, and then carry [the targeted message] through the offer or communication. That was their challenge. It's a pretty big universe, and they want to take a select group of hot prospects or targeted leads and apply a more personalized message to them.”

For more than 10 years prior, Direct Group preprinted this client's offset shells and added variable text with black-and-white digital equipment. The investment in JetStream technology enabled them to enhance their mix of trigger-based mailings and multichannel campaigns.

“It streamlined the process and allowed us to provide mass personalization or customization,” says O'Brien. “That wasn't available, before, because the price point of cutsheet digital print was so high and the throughput was so low. Now we have a vehicle that allows us to do it at the right price point and in quantities that make sense for customers like this one.”

Direct Group worked closely with the client to set up a digital asset library. “We needed to build out our infrastructure, so we went from a traditional prepress environment to a desktop publishing environment,” says O'Brien. Getting Direct Group's equipment and staff up to speed was a 6-month, collaborative process. “This was not just, ‘Hey, we're going to test this.’ This was, ‘We're committing to doing 10 million pieces per month in this arena.’ Then it was a collaborative effort with their data group and their creative group to make sure we got to where we needed to be from a messaging perspective.”

The result was more relevant messages including one or two variables at a time, such as images related to a broad group by age, region, etc. Eventually, they added birthdays and other life stage events. “If I throw in 10 new variables, and it works, how do I know what worked?” cautions O'Brien. “We act as counsel in that regard. We also explain any limitations to the machines and the finishing equipment, and make suggestions such as, ‘If you were to think of this perhaps with an integrated buck slip as opposed to two individual pieces, we can save you money and increase your throughput.’”

Next Page: Rising to the challenge

The two-engine Océ JetStream 2200 prints full process color at speeds up to 500 fpm (600 × 600-dpi resolution), thanks to its integrated roll-to-roll configuration. With a print width of 20.3 inches (paper width 20.5 inches), it can produce up to 2,148 letter-size ipm in 2-up duplex format.

Océ DigiDot piezoelectric drop-on-demand inkjet technology produces small, variable drop sizes. This allows users to change the density of any application to best suit the job and media. The print heads are designed to minimize operator intervention for cleaning and maintenance.

The system supports a wide range of papers and weights, and no special media is required. Paper processing options include a cross-perforation device for folding and a punch unit for creating pin feed holes. Optional roll slitter and folding units increase finishing options. The JetStream engine handles more than 60 million impressions per month with a maximum monthly capacity of 18 million linear feet.

Although the economy has been rough since Direct Group signed on the dotted line in 2008, O'Brien says it was a calculated risk. “We're glad we did it when we did. Now we have the opportunity to take to our clients a value-added service or technology that allows them to get a better return on investment in their campaign. And that's really what everybody's looking for. We can say, ‘You're already spending more money than ever to find these people. Let's make sure we carry that out in the message we're sending to them.’ So it has given us an advantage.”

This particular client is cagey about response rates, but O'Brien says his best indicator of success is volume: “We mailed a million pieces month one, 3 million pieces month two, and 5 million pieces month three. We started to see them take more and more of their trigger-based mailings and traditional campaigns over to the digital platform. That tells us it's working to a significant extent.”

See www.oceusa.com.

Rising to the challenge

Following its exit from beta testing on HP's (Palo Alto, CA) T300 Color Inkjet Web Press, Los Angeles commercial printer O'Neil Data Systems (www.oneildata.com) has successfully completed an intensive production run and purchased the press.

The company's clients in the health insurance industry require large volumes of personalized printing during their open-enrollment season. O'Neil began planning for this challenge ahead of demand for what, in the end, would amount to approximately 3.2 million fully personalized, variable-length insurance welcome kit booklets. The company uses HP Exstream software to manage its variable-data document creation.

Next Page: Building better books

The firm kept the 2,600-ppm (400-fpm) inkjet press in operation six days a week, 24 hours a day, from October 2009 through early January 2010. During that time, single-day print volumes reached as high as 1.8 million 4-color, one-sided pages, with the total volume exceeding 80 million pages. O'Neil executives reported 80% uptime.

“The HP T300's significant uptime and throughput advantage is a game changer in terms of the [benefits] we can offer our customers,” says president Jim Lucanish. “The press has been so reliable and productive, we even put off a planned field upgrade from HP for three months to keep running the high volumes that this press is capable of delivering.”

The press employs HP's Thermal Inkjet print heads based on HP Scalable Printing Technology, producing 1,200 × 600-dpi resolution. HP cites thermal inkjet's nozzle redundancy as one of the critical factors for high-quality web printing. Cycling through the available nozzles to print any given pixel suppresses nozzle errors.

On the front-end, HP's scalable RIP architecture matches the number of RIPs to the complexity of the print job: The fewest RIPs are needed for monochrome text printing; more RIPs are required to print pages in full color and with 100% variable content. The Digital Front End provides the user interface to the press, processes job ticketing, and controls the RIPs.

The press applies a unique bonding agent consumable that enables it to print on most standard uncoated media.

For O'Neil, the press offers higher print quality and throughput rates vs. the monochrome electrophotographic presses it used in the past for this project. The printer improved the quality of its welcome kit booklets with the T300 while adding process-color covers and switching the pages to a lighter uncoated paper, saving its customers approximately 20% in postage costs.

Now, O'Neil is introducing new, more colorful welcome kit page designs and samples to help its customers envision further improvements for their 2010 open enrollment season.

See www.hp.com/go/graphicarts.

Building better books

Total Printing Systems (www.tps1.com) in Newton, IL, has carved out a niche in short- to medium-run books. The small, family-run company has enjoyed rapid growth since installing the Truepress Jet520 from Screen USA (Rolling Meadows, IL) one year ago.

Founded in 1973 by Richard and Wendy Lindemann, the family spent a year and a half researching color inkjet technology before taking the plunge to pioneer the use of web-fed inkjet for book manufacturing. “Most toner-based systems become too expensive above 200 copies, and offset printing becomes too expensive at less than 3,000 copies,” says son Rick Lindemann, vice president of operations. “The Truepress Jet520 is ideal for quantities in the range of 100 to 3,000 copies. Being able to print 3-up books increases job processing speed and reduces associated running costs. The ability to print more jobs in less time helps us be more competitive on as few as 25 copies.”

Next Page: Canon update

TPS specializes in bound educational books and materials, auto parts catalogs, trade publications, directories and religious books. Clients range from major publishers to small publishing companies and self-published authors. Its 32,000-sq.-ft., 47-employee plant houses three 2-unit non-heatset web presses, four 1-color sheetfed presses, and various toner-based and inkjet devices that operate around the clock, five days a week.

The Truepress Jet520 at TPS combines two print engines to print full web, duplex. It boasts a maximum image resolution of 720 dpi × 720 dpi. The continuous-inkjet press can produce full-process color at up to 420 fpm, the equivalent of 100,000 8.5 × 11-inch iph. Its duty cycle is >10 million impressions per month. With a print width of 20 inches (20.4-inch paper width), it produces letter-size pages 2-up and 6 × 9-inch book images 3-up. The unwinder, sheeter and stacker from EMT Intl., Inc. deliver collated book blocks ready for binding.

Designed to be a production workhorse, the press offers self-cleaning capability and does not require click, per-impression or ongoing usage charges. The four-level grayscale piezo drop-on-demand inkjet heads maintain quality ad high speed, and Screen's single-pass, multiple-head array enables high precision. The press handles inkjet paper, standard paper, recycled paper, newsprint and card stock.

Lindemann has transitioned some monochrome work to the Truepress Jet520, which outputs better quality than his legacy equipment. The new inkjet press also enables the firm to cost-effectively include variable content anywhere in their books, which generally range from 50 to 5,000 copies. “Demand for color from book publishers is growing substantially,” he says.

See www.screenusa.com.


Denise Kapel is managing editor for AMERICAN PRINTER. Contact her at dkapel@americanprinter.com.

Canon update

Océ's shareholders approved Canon's (www.usa.canon.com) November 2009 bid to acquire all the shares of Océ on February 12, 2010. However, some of the shareholders are reportedly seeking an investigation into the negotiations and contend that the offer undervalues Océ (see http://blog.infotrends.com/wordpress/?p=1908).

The deal has not yet closed as we go to press. Following the completion of the merger, Océ is to remain a separate legal entity and become a division within Canon with headquarters in Venlo (The Netherlands). Canon plans to integrate the two businesses through 2012.

According to Canon's Richard Berger, “Current plans call for Océ products to continue under the Océ brand, and Canon products will continue to be sold under the Canon brand. Because of the complementary nature of Canon and Océ's products and sales channels, for the time being, both companies will continue to sell their own products through their own channels. By making use of our mutual channels and product lineups, we will work together to achieve expanded sales and improve our service offerings.”

Next Page: Fujifilm scales up with inkjet press

Fujifilm scales up with inkjet press

At Ipex, Fujifilm (Valhalla, NY) will showcase its sheetfed, digital inkjet press called the Jet Press 720. In the United States, it is branded as the Fujifilm Inkjet Digital Press (the launch date has not been set as we go to press). The B2-size press, shown as a prototype at Drupa 2008, handles sheets up to 28.35 × 20.47 inches. Beyond its water-based ink, it requires only two consumables: a wash for the inkjet print heads and a solution used for precoating the paper prior to printing. Precoating eliminates the need for special papers. IR technology delivers dry output that is ready for immediate handling.

Fujifilm estimates that its inkjet press will be particularly competitive for print runs under 2,000 sheets. The vendor is targeting traditional commercial printers doing short-run work as well as digital printers that want to expand their offerings.

Unlike an offset press, the Fujifilm Inkjet Digital Press essentially requires no makeready. Using Fujifilm Dimatix SAMBA piezo drop-on-demand print head technology, the press achieves resolutions of 1,200 × 1,200 dpi with four levels of grayscale.

The press, said to combine the best attributes of offset and digital printing, will follow the offset operational model — no click charges. “We'll sell it in terms of how the customer wants it,” says Keith Dalton, managing director, Fujifilm Graphic Systems UK. “The plan at the moment isn't on a click charge but the traditional printing way of charging as you use [it].”

Speaking at a pre-Ipex media event for international journalists, Dalton acknowleged that although the vendor must “walk before it can run,” inkjet technology is readily adaptable to other configurations. “It's a scalable head — it's not limited in width as toner technology is today. We can duplex. There's room to fit more colors, potentially more than four.”

The Fujifilm Inkjet Digital Press uses the same paper handling system found on offset presses. A CCD sensor scans every sheet and makes any necessary alterations in real time. Dalton says the press' high resolution delivers the quality offset printers demand. “[That] gets you here. The stability of the inkjet system coupled with closed-loop control gives you [print] consistency.”

Dalton says the sheetfed platform makes the Fujifilm Inkjet Digital Press an attractive choice for veteran offset printers. “It fits into the geometry of the pressroom. … Printers know how to finish the output. They are excited to slot it into their shops.”

See www.fujifilm.com.

Inkjet at Ipex 2010

Inkjet technology took center stage at the pre-Ipex 2010 “Media Summit” in London. Read AP editor Katherine O'Brien's summary.

Find it online

  • We first visited O'Neil Data Systems during a May 2009 open house featuring the HP T300 Color Inkjet Web Press and finishing partners including MBO, Muller Martini, Hunkeler, Timsons, Pitney Bowes and Ultimate Technographics. O'Neil president Jim Lucanish, one of the first customers whose input HP sought while developing the product, quipped that he can take credit for HP's “no click charge” business model for the press. See “Inkjet web innovations” (July 2009) at www.americanprinter.com.

  • Agfa's (Ridgefield Park, NJ) :Dotrix Modular, which made its North American debut at Print 09, is an industrial full-color UV inkjet press built for folding carton, flexible, POP and industrial labeling applications. See www.agfa.com.

  • Screen USA now sells Xeikon (www.xeikon.com) digital color solutions in the United States for book publishing and transactional/transpromo applications, and Xeikon offers the Truepress Jet520.

  • Print 09 marked the U.S. introduction of several inkjet press developments. Read all about it at www.americanprinter.com/print09.

Kodak confab

Turn the page for AP contributor John Parsons' summary of Kodak's December 2009 Digital Printing Solutions (DPS) trade journalist briefing at the company's Dayton, OH, Inkjet Solutions Center.