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Apr 1, 2010 12:00 AM
On March 11-12, in Brussels, four digital printing and packaging vendors gave the press a preview of their Ipex offerings. Here's the latest from Kodak, Atlantic Zeiser, Xeikon and Esko.
At Print 09, Kodak (www.graphics.kodak.com) created a mild sensation with a booth almost completely devoid of printing devices. It did contain theater spaces and the usual pods showcasing Prinergy and other software. Dominating the booth, however, was Kodak's “Pipeline of Innovation,” a flashing touch-screen table allowing visitors to move and “interact with” various components of a graphic arts process. Reactions to the press-less booth were, understandably, mixed.
At Ipex, the touch-screen table display and software pods will be retained, bolstered by the latest incarnation of the NexPress line, the SE3000, and several other Kodak devices. For obvious reasons, the company's new flagship press, the Prosper 1000 and 5000XL inkjet presses, will not be on the stand. (For more details on Kodak Prosper, see our March 2010 issue.)
Other Kodak announcements include its “Unified Workflow,” featuring enhancements to Prinergy and InSite, and a new plate line: Trillian SP. According to Kodak, the thermal plate features significantly less chemistry use and the elimination of preheating and postbaking, with purportedly high performance on long press runs.
On the packaging side, Kodak will unveil its Flexcel Direct system, which will allow direct laser engraving (and the former Creo SquareSpot imaging technology) for flexographic plates. During Flexcel demos, Kodak maintained that the process will bring greater image quality and color consistency to the flexographic world.
Atlantic Zeiser (www.atlanticzeiser.com), manufacturer of technologies for printing directly on nonporous substrates such as plastics and metal surfaces, described its product portfolio as “Industrial Digital Printing 2.0.” The company spokespeople outlined their efforts in developing print engine hardware, ink chemistry, curing technology and high-speed raster image processing.
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At Ipex, Atlantic Zeiser will introduce its high productivity Delta printing heads for manufacturing lines, as well as a new Omega 70P head using high-pigment white ink and a wider (140mm) version of the Gamma head. All three lines are sold directly to manufacturers and integrated into product assembly lines — a process that brings greater labeling efficiency to manufacturers, but necessarily cuts label printing providers out of the equation.
Print service providers are not completely left out of the Atlantic Zeiser picture, however. At Ipex, the company will show its new DigiLine family of devices for printing on difficult surfaces and substrates. These include systems for web-to-web and sheetfed printing, as well as direct printing on the products themselves.
At the preview event, a company spokesman acknowledged the awkwardness of selling directly to product manufacturers, reducing the need for outside label printing However, he also indicated that the company might consider future products that could be integrated into narrow web flexographic lines used by label printers.
The company behind Xeikon and BasysPrint had a lot to say about its role in the future of digital print. Admitting that Punch (www.punchgraphix.com) was often “a well kept secret” in the industry, company spokesmen took pains to demonstrate its role in industrial (e.g., labels), document and book printing, particularly in the education and point-of-sale display markets.
The Xeikon side of the business had the majority of announcements, including a new line of environmentally beneficial toners. The Quadrupal Adapted Industrial (QA-I) toner line was designed for food label production on Xeikon presses, providing — it was claimed — exceptional color quality without food contamination risks. The QA-P (Productivity) version is for document and book production with the lowest possible environmental impact throughout the printed products' lifecycle.
A significant new product at Ipex will be the Xeikon 3500 press. Citing breakthroughs in toner fusing, color consistency and substrate handling, the new press uses a 150% wider web (about 500mm or 1.67 ft.) than its predecessor, the Xeikon 3000, and will accommodate more labels with less waste and overall higher productivity, at a top speed of 19.2m (63 ft.) per minute.. The demonstrated color quality was impressive — as was the device resolution. The press was shown a complete Bible printed on a single sheet of paper in 1pt type that was clearly readable, using a loupe.
Other announcements included speed improvements to existing Xeikons, 5th color use in the IPDS workflow and numerous enhancements to the modular X-800 digital front end — which works only with the Xeikon line. The BasysPrint side will be demonstrating its most automated 8-up UV platesetter, the model 857, but will not have anything new at the show.
The Gent-based developer is continuing its consolidation of packaging-related and prepress systems. EskoArtwork (www.esko.com) is focusing on the various “ecosystems” related to brand management, design, prepress and finishing. Although it does have hardware offerings (the Kongsberg cutting table line), the company is clearly staking its future as a software developer for packaging customers and OEMs.
At Ipex, the company's Suite 10 will be promoted as a “unified release” of editing applications ArtPro, ArtiosCAD, PackEdge and DeskPack, along with tighter integration of its various “engines” for process automation, content management, imaging (RIP) and color management. JDF and other XML-based integration will figure prominently in the company's strategy to develop packaging-specific technologies for hardware vendors like HP.
Suite 10 boasts a number of promising new features, including an interactive design process for creating shrink sleeves in Adobe Illustrator. Utilizing that program's underlying gradient mesh capabilities, Esko's Studio Toolkit for Shrinksleeves starts with the 3D characteristics of a group of object shapes. It then simulates the heat shrinking process and automatically applies compensation to flat artwork — preserving critical brand elements such as logos.
The company's Enfocus division also announced plans to expand into the creative market. One such effort will be PitStop Connect, a tool for creating free “Connector” applets that reside on the designer's desktop to preflight PDF files according to printer-specific profiles. Enfocus is also expanding its network of automation consultants, although a spokesperson declined to identify the entities involved in creating ad hoc workflows with its popular Switch system. (In subsequent news, Enfocus announced Switch “configurators” for five additional applications, including Microsoft Word.)
John Parsons is an independent consultant, analyst and writer. Contact him at email@example.com.