One window to 25 years of digital printing

Hunkeler Innovationdays – digital print plus inline finishing

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Hunkeler innovationdays 2017
Hunkeler innovationdays 2017

The year 2018 is the 30th anniversary of Xeikon, which started off as an Agfa project in 1988. It’s also the 25 year  marker of the first two digital color production presses that were shown at Ipex in Birmingham in September 1993. The Belgium-based company led by Lucienne Descampiliere had earlier presented the Xeikon DCP-1 engine in June of that year. However, the Xeikon engine using Agfa dry toners and an Agfa digital front-end demonstrated at Ipex was called the Agfa Chromapress.

While the Xeikon digital color press was shown with relatively little hoopla at Birmingham, the unveiling of the liquid toner based Indigo E-Print 1000 by its inventor Benny Landa took place rather dramatically in the now familiar theatre format where tickets for Landa’s jam-packed performances had to be booked in advance. Every attendee was presented with a black Indigo bag, which became a souvenir or badge for those who had been there.

The Agfa Chromapress, as indeed the Indigo E-Print, had many ups and downs and it would be safe to say that digital printing did not become mainstream by 2003 – thereby leading some industry experts to comment that it was a disruptive technology that had failed. (It did not meet their 10-year criteria for a new print technology to succeed.)

Nevertheless, both technologies gained some traction and were restructured by new owners. The Agfa Chromapress came to be sold not only by Xeikon but also by other vendors such as AM Varytyper and IBM. The earliest Indian adopters were G Kasturi and K Balaji of The Hindu who set up an Agfa Chromapress in Chennai, which they directly imported and was in fact the first digital press installed in the country. It was a duplex 52 cm (20-inch) width web-fed digital drum and toner color press that printed up to 5 colors on both sides of the web and I believe there was a sheeter option on the delivery as well.

Xeikon was acquired in November 2015 by Flint and subsequently developed a liquid toner press called the Trillium (a project that it has abandoned) and a UV inkjet press for label printing. It is a regular at Hunkeler Innovationdays in Lucerne. While it has presses for commercial print, labels and packaging, in Lucerne it generally shows a dry toner press that can print both commercial work and cartons with some interesting security features. It also showed a label press at the recent Labelexpo India in Greater Noida.

Benny Landa’s Isreal-based Indigo E-Print 100 was always presented as a revolutionary invention – part science and part revelation. He dramatically talked about the new paradigms – variable printing, the run of one; and short run digital printing. New paradigms such as direct mail and transactional printing came and went. Nevertheless, the E-Print was promoted as a replacement for offset printing right from the start. And since it used very light weight toner particles delivered in an oil solution to an electrically charged imaging cylinder that transferred the image to a rubber blanket, it was described as a liquid toner offset press. Indigo was sold to HP for US$ 880 million in 2002, which has gone on to make a success of the technology for commercial and packaging print and has also developed a range of web-fed high speed inkjet presses that are generally shown at the Hunkeler Innovationdays in Lucerne.

In the early 1990s, the Indigo E-Print was championed in India by Pranav Parikh and TechNova. Parikh himself presented the visionary possibilities of the new technology but the Indigo digital presses did not really gain any traction till long afterward when HP had acquired the company and took its own time to enter this market well into this century. Of course HP Indigo has since become a success story in India, particularly in its booming photo book industry and has gained traction in label and packaging printing as well.

Benny Landa, who still sees himself as a reincarnation of Gutenberg, has of course has gone on to re-invent himself by using even finer ink particles called Landa Nanoink and a process described as Nanography. His new company Landa Digital uses water-based Landa Nanoink colorants and is part of a nano-technology group working in several areas such as health, environment and print. The Landa Nanographic digital presses, running B1-sized sheets at 6,500 sheets an hour, are aimed at overcoming the size, speed, quality and production cost per sheet limitations of earlier toner- and inkjet-based technologies. Although much delayed, a few of these presses have been installed at beta customers in the past year.

Innovationdays 2019

While the Landa Digital presses will not be at the Hunkeler Innovationdays in February 2019, the event is an opportunity to catch up with what is happening in mainly web-fed high volume digital printing with in-line paper processing, finishing and binding. The applications that are shown are mainly for commercial and book printing, direct mail, transactional printing and a bit of newspaper and carton printing as well.

All the major digital press manufacturers are generally present with their inkjet presses and in some cases with their drum and toner presses together with a great number of suppliers for personalization and automation. Since numerous print and finishing applications are demonstrated at the show in-line, the show becomes a concentrated and specialized insight to both the future of data-driven print and its production automation into personalized, secure and finished products.