DRUPA: Pragmatic Landa puts classic spin on a new digital ink technology

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DRUPA is awash with inkjet… and if you listen to digital printing pioneer Benny Landa, you might think ‘awash’ is about right (writes Peter Coleman).

Landa, who introduced upmarket Indigo digital print technology in 1993 and then sold it to HP for $650 million, is back in Düsseldorf this year with a new development. And it’s all about ink.

An alternative to water-based ink – seen as a sales advantage by some – has always been a differentiating point to Landa. His original ElectroInk for the Indigo included particles which melted into an image ‘pancake’ before being deposited onto paper or another substrate.

At DRUPA in 2012, Landa has a new company under his own name, and a new product he calls ‘nano’ ink. In advance of the show, Landa Corporation has supported the technology with partnerships with major sheetfed press makers including Heidelberg, Komori and manroland, and had systems up to B1 to talk about.

Ever the showman, he tells the story best himself, so here’s the start of Landa’s DRUPA presentation in a YouTube video posted by Australia’s Steven Kiernan.

There’s a valid point here: That there’s so much water in typical ink that removing it is an issue in itself. Not that newspaper printers aren’t used to that.

Other manufacturers have tackled the problem in different ways: HP’s own inkjet webs use a pretreatment system to control fluid absorption; Xerox uses ‘phase change’ technology related to that it acquired from printer maker Tektronix, to jet ink which changes from liquid to solid on contact with the substrate. In some market segments – including those Agfa left newspaper inkjet to pursue – ink is cured using UV or electron beam systems.

Elsewhere, the focus is on the way in which the ink is delivered.

Speed is of the essence in systems from French developer Impika, and US-based Memjet, which has just announced that is has settled its dispute with Australian printhead inventor Silverbrook Research.

Many of the other technologies are well established, but Kodak is pinning its hopes on a proprietary variation on the theme, Stream, which a bullish chief executive Antonio Perez has been saying “will change print forever”.

His argument centres around a combination of speed, quality and “overall print costs” he says are on a par with offset printing. 

It’s on that basis that he will tell you other inkjet systems at the show are not comparable: “All the inkjet-based solutions have some merit, one way and another, but when you look at what Stream does, there is a big difference,” he says.

Quoted by a DRUPA journalist, he said Kodak would look to develop more entry-level inkjet kit in the coming years.

And there’s the rub: Most of the new digital systems at the show are sheetfed, and the conventional wisdom is that web production – overcoming the paper-handling limitations of sheetfed – is needed for newspaper applications.

When most use a Hunkeler device which first sheets, and then collates newspaper products, you’d wonder why this is the case… but the show brings hopes of more productive systems.

When I spoke to manroland web systems’ Peter Kuisle at the PrintCity pre-DRUPA event in February about a timescale for the newspaper folder it would develop as part of its partnership with Océ, he suggested market demand would see a book folder given priority.

That may have changed with the equipment order announced by the German press maker on the eve of the show, underpinning an innovative digital newspaper business model.

French customer Rivet Presse Edition will use two Océ 4300 inkjet webs equipped with new ‘fully variable’ manroland VPF211 pin-type folders,

for its Sinapse project. Developed with regional daily ‘L’Echo’, this delivers editions with targeted editorial and advertising content to an audience within 90 minutes of its Limoges production plant.

Others including Müller Martini are already producing web folding systems for book applications, and will likely be able to meet newspaper needs.
What’s also important about the Limoges project is that hopefully it will deliver something new to the argument for digitally-printed newspapers. Otherwise the pragmatic fatalism of Benny Landa – acknowledging at DRUPA that print has a limited future – may prove to be self-fulfilling.

Here he is again, in a video posted by the exhibition organiser.

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