Thursday, March 25, 2010

Inkjet; the next generation of digital?

So now for many years we have been hearing about the evolution of inkjet technology. Not the inkjet that you have on the edge of your desktop, but the kind that could eventually take over the digital printing industry. As the need for larger formats and higher speeds increase so does the need for reliability. As every print center looks at the available technology to make their "go or no go" decisions they have to balance capacity, work load, cost, reliability and other risk factors in weighing their decision on what technology to invest in or which to use for a particular application. Technology is advancing at such a pace and the different factions of the production print market are converging at such a rate that these decisions which might have been easy at one point are not ever increasing difficult to parse.

Even during the 2008 Drupa many of the commentators called it "Inkjet Drupa" as many of the innovations that were on display were new Inkjet devices aimed at the trans-promotional space that would ultimately be aimed at another level of lithography. A couple years ago Frank Romano came to Dallas during a speaking engagement "Frankly Speaking" where he was talking about the "new kid on the block." He predicted that Inkjet technology would revolutionize the industry as he did some 20 years ago in his talks about "Desktop Publishing."

As the cost of the equipment gets under control and the quality gets better, high speed inkjet may upset electrophotography all together. There are gaps in traditional offset lithography and electrophotography's ability to fill every need do to the applications balance of speed, quality, print window, cost requirements that lend itself to the need of a new technology that seems to be filled by the new role of high speed inkjet systems.

In an article by Barney Cox, PrintWeek, 24 January 2008 titled "Inkjet technology to dominate Drupa with Kodak and Xerox launches" Barney talks about some predictions that Kodak made about high speed inkjet and its role in the industry by 2015. Now at this time digital printing comprises approximately 15% of all printing today, in Kodak's estimate they felt that their "Stream Technology" would comprise roughly a trillion pages or 1% of the global printing industry. This is a huge growth potential for such an emerging technology. In Frank Romano's model he showed digital printing "toner based" on a gradual slope to 2050 but showed digital printing "inkjet" on a sharp increase as the traditional methods of offset coming to about half of their current rates. The 3 largest and growing areas of print are: Advertising/Promotional 24%, Packaging 18%, and Direct Mail at 13% these areas all are having an increasing demand for a more increased level of personalization and relevancy. This can only be accomplished by digital print methods.

June 16th, 2009 Kodak came forward with this release in part, "The KODAK PROSPER S10 Imprinting System, which features flexible mounting options, integrates seamlessly with web offset presses and web finishing equipment to add variable data to offset printed materials. Operating at 1,000 fpm (305 mpm) with a resolution of 600 dpi, it allows users to print variable data inline, saving time and money over a traditional, two-step process that combines offset pre-printed forms and offline laser imprinting."

it went on to say, "Wilen Direct, which has installed four S10 Imprinting Systems, is outputting 80,000 pieces per hour, or 1.6 million pieces per day, on just one of its presses."

They said "This technology lets us create full variable data print through our offset presses, and it does it three to four times faster than a traditional high-speed roll-to-roll system. As a result, we can move faster than ever while increasing quality.”

Kodak is working hard to development and bring to market this new leader in digital printing, "Kodak is working with customers and prospects under two programs: PROSPER Press Market Pioneers and PROSPER Press Market Leaders. PROSPER Press Market Pioneers will be the first users of a PROSPER Press, with installation targeted between the first and third quarters of 2010."

And Kodak is just one example of a manufacturer working hard to develop this new technology. As the quality and substrate handling ability increases and the initial cost of the acquisition of such devices comes down we will see an increasing migration as we did to the digital cut sheet devices to roll fed, wide to super wide format inkjet. Reliability and cost effectiveness cannot be matched by other methods at this time. Inkjet has a lot of interesting characters in the playing field. Kodak, Xerox, IBM, Agfa, Oce, HP and others.

Interestingly enough Xerox has over 1,200 patents in this arena already. In an article that I recently wrote in April of 2009 "Amidst the slaughter rises Xerox Technology" I talked about Xerox's tenacity to continue their intense research and development plans. And again this month in "In Search of Innovation Xerox joins the gang; and builds a new research facility in India.” I quote a recent Xerox press release that stated this last year they increased their production of patents by 19%.

But in typical Xerox fashion they have been quite conservative in their inkjet direction "We believe inkjet has its place and is suitable for very high volumes," said Xerox production systems group vice president of marketing Valerie Blauvelt. – Barney's article stated. Valerie went on to say, "People have high-quality applications inkjet is not suitable for. These include direct mail and transactional."

At Drupa Xerox did showcase some of it's revolutionary inkjet innovations that they are working on but didn't give a release date. Xerox is advancing the technology with new modular print heads that are more reliable, low cost and scaleable. Xerox has also been developing next-generation ink in the form of "cured gel" ink, which offers more ways to print on many substrates - from coated paper to plastic to aluminum.

In an ever changing business environment the needs of business dictate where research and development money will go. As the needs of business migrate toward the increasing sophistication of variable data to meet the "relevancy" needs of marketing applications and the fact that these applications demand high quality and substrate diversity so too we will see products come to bear that meet these needs.

Just like Plato said 400 years before Christ, "necessity is the mother of invention." In a free market society that economic gain will bring to bear solutions that solve today's critical business needs. In a soft or declining economy the need for relent marketing is increasingly important. Roger Gimbel and Associates,"an international management consulting firm working to ignite business growth through digital technologies" conducted a cross media marketing campaign in 2006 called, "Digitally Cool" which was geared at raising awareness of XMPie and Xerox digital printing technologies. The results were that they:

  1. Produced and delivered more than 13,000 customized invitations in six languages, all on tight deadlines and fixed budgets.
  2. Motivated 5,300 people, or 41% of invitees, to visit a personalized Web landing page for valuable information exchange. An impressive 26% of all Web page visitors pre-registered for the seminars.
  3. Secured 40 - 200 attendees per seminar, adding 1,600 highly qualified prospects to the Xerox sales cycle.
  4. Brought a 1000% ROI to Xerox's pipeline.

In the end Roger was quoted as saying, "In the future, we will not be measured by the quality of the output; we will be measured by the quality of the outcome."

Something that equipment reps forget when directing their commercial print clients. Many times all we talk about is speeds and feeds. Well my widget is 600x600 dpi well my widget is 1200x1200 dpi, well my color gamut is wider. In a world where most manufacturers are creating color equipment that produces very good quality color and is "good enough" for most purposes. We need to differentiate ourselves by the services that we provide and not just the hardware we push!

With competition becoming increasingly fierce it is more important that ever that we direct our commercial printing clients to becoming more of a "marketing service provider" and not just a provider of the deliverable. This "solution selling" allows them to hold better margins, buy more equipment and pay their bills. They become more of an asset to their clients thereby creating a barrier to exit for themselves.

By delivering a highly customizable and relevant message to our audience we create a bond that delivers action. This end result is what companies are looking for. This ability to deliver an actionable message also creates a "barrier to exit" as print providers try to deliver real value in retaining and developing their customer base. To that ends as high speed inkjet becomes more accessible I can see this technology giving print centers the ability to economically deliver complex and sophisticated messages that create a "call to action" for their customers. It may also change the way that we sell equipment as well and the pricing models that we use.

As the technology develops we will see presses much like the full sheet 6 color Heidelbergs and Kamoris that we are familar with today but producing fully variable digital printing at speeds we have yet to imagine. Right now most of the technology is aimed at web presses and wide format but surely we will ultimately see more cut sheet inkjet presses as well, like the Riso ComColor press that was unvieled at PRINT09.

The great thing for digital printing consultants is this new technology will give us one more tool in our bag to help our customers deliver their message and drive profitability. This ensures our lifecycle as well. Be watching for new comers to this arena as the economic gain becomes more of a reality to those that hold the keys to this new innovation.

You can read more about this case study at: American Printer's Website in an article self titled, "Digitally Cool."

Pirate Mike


  1. Blauvelt hasn't worked for Xerox in over 15 months. You quote gimble from 2006. Jeez, if you cant be current what are you doing????

  2. For several years there has been talk of inkjet rising to take on the toner market. From Scitex back in the early 90's, to the MemJet and the HP EdgeLine. Much like the copier market the ink jet market has long struggled to improve. The toner based engine has become the standard in the market, but did that branch of the printing tree prosper because of the fact that it was ready at the time Apple was opening the window to desktop publishing and ink jet was not technologically ready to compete. All the excitment and money went into toner based systems, while ink jets were the poor step sister for home use.

    Then you have to factor in the fact that toner product devices migrated to a "supplies included" contract which fixed the cost per page at a level that ink jet systems could never match because they had as an industry fixed on the "razor blade" pricing model.

    Can ink jet overcome? Well it has its advantages.

    When you talk to photographers and designers about what they use for press proofs, they may have a toner device for non-critical proofs, but if they are running a final proof for customer approval before going to press, if its not coming from the press itself they are overwhelmingly using ink jet over toner. Want to match press ink quality and its response to the substrate? Which will be more accurate matching ink to ink or toner to ink?

    When you have a customer looking to do high quality wide format are they looking at ink jet or toner??

    So there is no denying that ink jet can and does beat toner for the quality check box. The problem is that ink jet "at speed" has never been at the quality and reliability of the laser systems. Does this mean that ink jet systems cannot perform at speed for a production device that replaces a press? Of course not. In fact now that print heads are no longer limited to a half inch swath swiping back and forth across the sheet but span the whole page width and sit stationary as the paper whisks past at ever increasing speeds (and dare I say web fed ink jet presses) accurately placing ink drops at far finer resolutions than toner because the resolution is not limited by the size of your toner particle, and without regard to the substrate. You want to print on cardboard box stock, 16 point kromekote, newsprint? Fine, just adjust the print head the correct distance for the stock and fire up the presses. You want a 6 color ink jet press? No problem I'll drop on two more print heads using a premixed Pantone 185 and a reflex blue (or whatever colors you want). My press gets 4 " longer, oh the pain! Two sided printing? Add another couple of feet to fit in a second set of print heads and off we go.

    How long before we see a 22" 6 color ink jet web presses replacing a Heidelberg? The only reason that I can think of that ink jet will not eventually overtake the laser in production print environments is that the R&D drops off and the technology does not get developed.

  3. the costs are WAAAY too high still . . . FIXED costs of over 80K month for over 60 months. Profit models require in the range of 40 million prints/month. Todays printers don't know where they are getting their volume next month . . . let along for the next sixty. You guys are buying the hype of A Tribute who is on HPs payroll. Sure IJ will be a player but it will be a while longer yet. If it becomes a BIG player watch the print industry consolidate down to a handful of printers. Death of the copier??? No, your models indicate the death of the print industry.

  4. Edgeline has been a complete FAILURE for HP. AFTER YEARS OF HYPE MEMJET HAS YET TO sell a single product OR license its technology in to an available product. (Maybe soon though after YEARS of hype) Your views on ij are very "optimistic" at best.

  5. Are you and "Valerie" and "Roger" friends?

  6. re: In the end Roger was quoted as saying, "In the future, we will not be measured by the quality of the output; we will be measured by the quality of the outcome."

    Gimble is a smart guy but no one ever thought print quality was more important than the outcome of a campaign. Advertising has had awards for "quality" ads forever but NOBODY ever thought those awards were more important than the results of the ad campaign.

    . . . and if you understand why blouveldt isn't working at Xerox why don't you tell us?