I had forgotten just how physical a truly large print show is, rushing from one hall to the next, navigating through crowds to keep appointments, whilst collecting samples and brochures and trying not to drink too much coffee. Yet at the recent Fespa show in Berlin there was a tremendous sense of relief that the show was fairly crowded and it still seems like a new thing to be able to meet old friends face to face, despite my having been to several events already this year.
The general vibe from the press office was that there wasn’t much that was really new but journalists take pride in being professionally cynical and I found quite a few things to interest me. Besides, the real value of taking the time to travel lies in the conversations, the things that we can say to each other in person that we wouldn’t bother with over Zoom.
Michael Ryan, Fespa’s head of global development, estimated that this year’s show was “approximately 75% of what we had in Munich 2019.” He added that there were nearly 400 exhibitors, “The majority of the major players are here at the event. We are still seeing the restrictions from Asia. We expect usually 200 exhibitors from China but only a small number of those were able to attend because of the restrictions.”
Ryan went onto say that, “Sustainability was the main message from the show.” I have to say that wasn’t the main takeaway I picked up though I admire Fespa’s efforts to promote this. Instead, I think the main trend that I noticed was for better productivity as everyone looks to get better value and better return on their equipment investments. In the past, many vendors mainly concentrated on keeping prices low but that’s no longer enough and leading to some urgency in developing faster printers.
SwissQprint sprung the biggest surprise of the show, introducing a brand new and completely unexpected printer in the shape of its latest flatbed, the Kudu, named after a type of Antelope. It’s a 3.2 x 2m flatbed with UV LED curing inks designed to offer a higher level of productivity than the company’s existing flatbeds. It comes with three rows of printheads as standard and uses Konica Minolta Q1280i, the same as used in the generation 4 machines announced last year.
The Kudu can produce up to 300sqm/hr, using a single pass with 1015 x 450 dpi resolution. Most customers may be better off with a 1350 x 450 dpi mode, using two passes, which can produce around 120 sqm/hr and there’s a higher quality mode that produces 100 sqm/hr at 1015 x 900 dpi, also with two passes. Carmen Eicher, chief sales and marketing officer for SwissQprint, says, “A very low number of passes is a signature of ours. We place the dots as precisely as possible to achieve the best output with the smallest number of passes.”
The Kudu can be configured with up to ten colours. Eicher says that most customers do specify extra ink channels, noting, “We hardly sell any machines with just four or five colors.” The ink itself is the same as that introduced with the fourth generation machines last year and comes from the South African ink company Nutec.
The company has had to redesign the chassis and beam to cope with the speed and extra weight of the printheads. It’s still made of stainless steel and includes standard SwissQ features such as the Tip switch vacuum system. It’s also fitted with a linear magnetic drive system, the first time SwissQ has used this system on a flatbed printer.
Fujifilm used the Fespa show to demonstrate two new models, including its first hybrid and a new larger flatbed. Thus the Acuity Ultra Hybrid LED is a 3.3 meter-wide model built on a roll-fed chassis but with a wide platen and tables for handling rigid media. It can be configured with up to 16 Kyocera KJ4A printheads and resolution is said to be up to 1200 x 1200 dpi. It runs CMYK plus light cyan and light magenta, with two further optional channels for white ink. It can produce up to 218 sqm/hr roll to roll, which drops to 100 sqm/hr in High Quality print mode, and 69 sqm/hr for backlits.
The company also showed off its Acuity Ultra R2, which is available in 3.2 meter and 5 meter widths. It can be configured with up to eight colors. Interestingly, there’s a choice of conventional curing with UviJet GS inks or LED curing with a new UviJet AU inkset, though the LED can only be used with six color plus white. Fujifilm says that the conventional curing is faster if configured with two sets of CMYK but that the LED offers lower operating costs.
Fujifilm’s latest flatbed is the Acuity Prime L, which has a 3.2 x 2 meter bed with six vacuum zones and 16 media location pins. The bed can be split into two zones to print two different jobs side by side. It can take substrates up to 51mm high and 45kg/sqm. However, there is no roll media option.
As with the other flatbeds in the Acuity Prime range, it uses Ricoh Gen5 printheads with variable drop sizes between 7 and 21 picoliter (pl). It’s capable of producing 54.9 sqm/hr in its Production Mode. It can be configured with up to seven channels, for CMYK, plus white, clear and primer. Curing is via LED. It will be available later this year.
Mimaki showed off its latest 330-series of eco-solvent printers. They are available in both 1.3 meter and 1.6 meter widths, and as print only models and as integrated printer and cutter versions. They use Mimaki’s existing SS21 solvent ink and can take up to eight colors, which can be configured as CMYK plus light cyan and light magenta and either two white channels or light black and orange for a wider color gamut. The inks come in recyclable 2 liter bags that should help to reduce their cost. Print resolution is from 600dpi to 1200 dpi. Print speed, assuming eight colors on PVC, is 7 sqm/hr in high quality mode though most people will probably use the High speed mode at 21 sqm/hr.
The range also includes a 1.6 meter-wide dye sublimation textile printer, the TS330, which can print to transfer paper. It shares the same fundamental chassis as the other 330-series models, but with water-based dye sub inks.
Mimaki also demonstrated its JFX600 flatbed, which is fitted with 16 printheads with a maximum resolution of 1200 dpi. There’s a choice of inksets, depending on whether you are working with more rigid or flexible materials. The colors include CMYK plus light cyan and light magenta with either one white and a clear ink or two white channels. It can produce up to 90 sqm/hr at 600 x 600dpi with four passes in four colors. It will take media up to 2.5 x 1.3m media and up to 60mm thick and 50kg/sqm in weight.
In my opinion, Mimaki is one of the most interesting companies in the wide format space. It’s a relatively small company but consistently punches above its weight. Mimaki was one of the first wide format companies to get into textile printing, was the first to introduce small format industrial flatbed printers and is one of the few to have found any degree of success in 3D printing.
I had quite an interesting conversation with Kazuaki Ikeda, the president of Mimaki, who covered a number of topics such as the strain that the current supply chain issues have on a relatively small company like Mimaki, with, for example, the price of PCBs having gone up from US$ 20 to US$ 500. He also pointed out that Mimaki had nearly 50% market share in Russia but has had to pull out of this market.
Ikeda says that Mimaki has to work hard to keep up with bigger competitors like Epson and to pick markets where it can make a difference. Thus he rules out the packaging market, noting, “You can’t get back the R&D costs if you fight against the bigger companies.”
Nonetheless, Ikeda did identify two areas that Mimaki is working on. The first of these is the core business of sign and display graphics, where Mimaki is planning to develop bigger and faster printers. Indeed, other vendors have already picked up on this with several pointing out to me that Mimaki’s JFX600 flatbed is quite a bit faster than its previous offerings.
The second area is to step further into the 3D printing market. Mimaki launched its first 3D printer five years ago but found that the market needed a more economical model, leading to the 3DUJ-2207 in 2020. He says, “This past year the 3D market has been a very good result for us.”
Interestingly, Mimaki is now looking at the edible 3D market, which is a fascinating subset of the 3D printing space and one I will return to later this year. At the same time, Mimaki is also developing a range of 3D printers that use plastic filament, which would allow the company to compete for more functional additive manufacturing applications. Naturally he is also thinking about printing large display objects, which is an obvious complement to Mimaki’s sign and display printers.
Durst introduced a new edition to its P5 range of hybrid wide format printers with a new P5 500, which has a print width of 5.25 meters. It uses Ricoh printheads and has eight channels in total, leaving customers free to choose light colors, white or varnish in addition to the standard CMYK. It can handle dual or even triple rolls side by side, and there are options for both horizontal and vertical knives for cutting.
Durst has also added a new option for existing P5 owners to add a second row of printheads for the process colors, which the company has christened Double 4. This should double the productivity for those printers. It’s available for the P5 350/HS and P5 210/HS.
Interestingly, Durst also brought a Tau RSC label printer to Fespa. Martin Leitner, product manager for Durst labels and packaging, explained, “We see quite a strong growth direction for the large format customers. I see a big advantage for these companies in that they are coming from a full digital world. They have their systems set up and they have a digital mindset so they have an advantage over traditional label converters.”
Canon showed off the Mark II version of its Arizona 6100 large flatbed printer. This is available in two versions. This has a 2.5 x 3m bed with six colour channels for CMYK plus light cyan and light magenta. It can produce around 220 sqm or 41 boards per hour in its fastest mode, though this drops to 100 sqm or 24 boards per hour in a production mode and 72 sqm or 18 boards per hour in a Quality mode.
There’s an XTS model that’s designed to handle a broad range of media with different vacuum zones for different jobs. But there’s also a XTHF model specifically aimed at packaging that’s able to handle difficult materials such as porous corrugated cardboard or severely warped substrates like plywood. This gas a single vacuum area but with 15 times more suction.
Canon also added FLXfinish+ as standard to its Colorado 1650 roll to roll printers, and an option on the Colorado 1630s. This allows users to print a mixed matte and gloss finish in one print. This is down to having better control of the curing of the UVGel imaging technology that’s used in these printers.
In addition, Canon showed its Prisma XL Suite workflow software for the large format market, and which works with both the Arizona and Colorado range. It includes a remote app for monitoring jobs and a cloud-based servicing platform.
Mutoh has used the time during the covid lockdowns to continue to update its printer range and has now mostly moved away from the old ValueJet brand to its newer XpertJet models. For the show, Mutoh introduced two new models, starting with the XpertJet 1682SR Pro. Mutoh now has several ‘Pro’ versions in its range, which generally mean that it has updated an existing model – in this case, the XPJ-1682SR – by adding the latest Epson I-series PrecisionCore printheads. This suggests that Mutoh too has got the memo that productivity is becoming more important as the new version is said to be up to 180% faster than the standard version, which is mainly due to the faster printheads. The printer itself is a 1.6 meter-wide eco-solvent printer aimed at the sign and display market. It uses two of Epson’s I-3200 heads, which are arranged in a staggered configuration. Since these heads have four color channels each, this allows a choice of configurations with either two sets of CMYK or an eight color inkset of CMYK plus light cyan, light magenta, light black and orange.
The second new printer, the XPJ-1341WR Pro is a 127cm wide dye sublimation printer. It features a single AccuFine 1600 print head, which is really an Epson I-1600 head. In essence it appears to be a smaller, cheaper alternative to the existing XpertJet 1642WR Pro model, which is 162cm wide and uses two of those heads. Mutoh is quoting sellable production speeds up to 29.2 sqm/h.
Azon Printer, which is based on Croatia, showed off a number of inkjet printers including a new model, the Creed, which was shown for the first time in public. This is designed to print onto large objects, up to 1.6 meter high and 1.2 meter wide. Essentially it’s a print carriage on a gantry that can be positioned around the objects such as furniture, or as demonstrated, a washing machine. It uses a single Epson DX5 printhead and prints CMYK plus white and a clear gloss ink. The inks are UV with LED curing and come from Avery Dennison.
‘Material is Key’ – Kongsberg
Kongsberg teamed up with OneVision to demonstrate how a workflow can integrate with a cutting table. Koen Van Reybroeck, Product manager at Kongsberg PCS, explained that users could include additional metadata with the cut file for Kongsberg’s iCut Production Console, adding, “For example, the name of a substrate that will be used for producing the job. By focusing on the material, we can then standardize and optimize, automatically applying tools and settings that give the best cutting result. We refer to this as our ‘Material is Key’ way of working, ensuring a consistent file input quality, correct material and tooling presets and full unattended machine production.”
It’s worth noting that Kongsberg showed off a similar arrangement at the last Fespa outing with PrintFactory, with the company clearly attempting to prove that it can still offer workflow integration even though it is no longer part of the Esko software offering.
Elitron showed off a number of new tools, including a DL 45 tool. This is a twin 45º cutting module that can create a clean 90º v-cut in a single pass. There’s also a new Digital Multi Degree module which lets users digitally set the angle of the cutting tools from 0-90º. It can be used with either the 200mm diameter motorised circular blade or the V-Cut blade. Elitron also demonstrated a new automatic Milling Tool Changer on its 3kW Milling Module with an external cooling chiller. This is mounted to the side of the cutting system and saves having to manually change tools.
In addition, Elitron demonstrated a new Automatic Feeding System together with a new Seeker System, called SDS. This adds a third camera underneath the tabletop to scan the materials directly from the underside. The advantage is that the printed materials can be cut and creased with the print side facing downwards without any further operator intervention.
Ironically, from a city that trumpets its unification, it was clear from the show in Berlin that Fespa is increasingly diverging into two distinct areas. So far I’ve only covered the sign and display side and so I’ll deal with the textile side in a separate story to come in a few days.
Nessan Cleary is a leading technical writer for print based in the UK. Reprinted by permission of www.nessancleary.co.uk