Lucerne at the end of February is generally cold with the remnants of the winter’s snow still on the ground. This year, however, the Hunkeler Innovationdays (HID) were staged under clear blue skies and double figure temperatures, at least by day.

Inside the two halls of the exhibition the heat was turned on traditional litho printing as webfed inkjet demonstrated that it is capable of more than matching litho quality on standard offset papers, at production speeds to match a B2 sheetfed press, with all the personalisation benefits of digital printing. Even the costs have come down, though not yet to match an offset press and its ink.

And the visitors came, around 6,500 of them from more than 60 countries into the Swiss lakeside city which was preparing for its annual carnival. This is a week long celebration marked by fancy dress, marching bands and much drinking.

HID was also a joyous celebration, but of automation, print and its future possibilities.

There were first appearances for a number of presses, including for the Ricoh Pro VC70000, its flagship inkjet web. It offers 1200dpi printing, throughput of 150 metres/minute and the ability to print on standard papers thanks to a new set of inks which means there is no need for a priming nor protective sealing coat. The inks also deliver a wider colour gamut than a standard offset ink thanks to a formulation that increases the level of pigment and decreases the relative amount of water. Ricoh’s latest piezo printheads are able to handle a more viscous ink than others.

It also includes a new drying system, comprising a heated drum surrounded by a series of heated rollers which minimises contact with the surface of the print and avoids damage to the paper caused by overly harsh drying. The first of this generation machine is in operation at Dutch printer Zalsmann which had installed a Pro VC60000 in 2015 alongside long perfecting Komori presses. It is proving a success and now the new machine is ready to ship to customers. Thanks to the increased throughput there are claims that the new machine is three times as productive as its predecessor.

Ricoh will also introduce an entry level inkjet press on the Pro V20000 platform. This will print on uncoated and inkjet optimised papers the company explains.

Inevitably the Ricoh Pro VC70000 will be compared to the Screen Truepress Jet 520HD+ which is built around the same chassis and paper transport. It too uses a new ink and can print on standard offset papers without coating before or after the inkjet heads. This configuration has been installed around the world, mainly in direct mail and book printers.

In Lucerne Screen introduced the 520HD+ version which has a newly developed drying system. This combines the standard heated drum and hot air knives with an Adphos near infra red dryer. This piece of technology uses infra red energy at a wavelength that causes the water in the ink or on the paper to evaporate with almost no heating impact on the paper beneath. At a stroke it allows the press to print faster, increasing its productivity at high levels of coverage and extending the appeal of the press.

The company says this means standard offset papers can be printed without problem. At one site in France it is even printing on thermal papers where the high temperatures of standard drying would activate the pigment in the paper turning it completely black. For book printers this means that having persuaded publishers to switch from grades like GPrint that they have always used to more expensive inkjet optimised papers, says those from CVG, they can tell those publishers that yes they can print on the traditional papers.

Canon introduced its flagship inkjet press the Prostream at the 2017 show and now has seven installations under a controlled placement programme. That period has now ended with Canon accepting orders. Again a new ink is used to give the higher impact and to adhere to standard coated offset papers without the application of a primer, and again a different method of drying is needed.

Canon’s dryer is modelled on heatset web offset technology with a lengthy unsupported path through a tunnel with different temperature zones. It results in the longest press of those at this year’s event.

The company put the machine through its paces on an example book launch where the book of photos from the 1960s onwards was printed along with smaller products picking themes from those pictures, a magazine product explaining the story of the images and the book and posters and other marketing collateral for the launch. This was a crowded affair at a bookshop in Munich where the store owner was keen to sell the samples as much as the book itself. Canon has worked hard to build recognition in the publishing world after it lost an order a few years ago. The printer had wanted to buy the Canon machine, then mono only, but the publisher had never heard of Canon so pushed its supplier to a second choice.

This prompted Canon to start the Future Book Forum, an event that draws publishers and printers together to discuss the issues affecting book publishing. Last year it created a similar event for marketing print, backed by a research report outlining the ability of print to achieve cut through amid the noise of digital messaging. It plans to pitch similar events at magazine publishers and catalogue printers.

One example of the impact of inkjet on marketing is fashion retailer Bonne Prix. It has long moved from a large gravure catalogue twice a year to smaller web offset printed version produced more frequently. This now carries a personalised profile matching the purchase history of the customer. As a result, response rates have risen and the average order value per customer has increased.

HP displayed the PageWide T240 with a new priming station with the ability to print on an increased range of papers as a result. It can print on a “thousand papers” the company states.

Most striking however was a flying splice reel stand at one end of the press and a turret rewind at the other, both developed by Hunkeler. This means that the press can continue running while a paper reel is changed. It cuts waste to a minimum and eliminates the time sapping effort of stopping the press and manually loading a new reel. That was fine in a transactional world, but not in the ultra competitive commercial print world. This is possible on the HP design because the heads can be triggered to lift out of the way of the splice.

That the future is going to be increasingly about commercial printing is clear. For one thing the transition to inkjet among transactional printers has been completed and while there is some growth in that market, transactional has become a replacement market. Printers of mono books have also made the switch to inkjet printing and are a prime target for colour print using the same print on demand and logic of reducing supply chain costs. Again though the market is finite.

This means that suppliers need to go after commercial printers. And Hunkeler is very aware of this. It introduced a first cut sheet finishing line, operating inline to Canon’s impressive i300 inkjet press. It is very close to the DocuTrim product developed by Swiss company Muller which Hunkeler acquired last year, offering creasing, slitting, perforating in the line of sheet travel. A right angle in the unit changes the direction to complete the process.

There were also examples of Hunkeler’s high speed Bookline, a web finishing system capable of delivering variable cut off four, six and eight page signatures, and its Flyfolder which first cuts the web and can change between four and six page signatures instantly. Completed book blocks were shown feeding either a Horizon Smart book line or a Muller Martini Vareo and Infinitrim combination for book of one production. Muller Martini introduced an end papering option for the Vareo to enable it to produce blocks for case bound books.

An equally impressive introduction from Hunkeler was a Gen8 automated finishing unit clearly designed with the commercial printer in mind. The web is fed into a slitting bar with either one, two or three slitters.

These change automatically in just 15 seconds according to information read from a 2D bar code. The web is then cut to remove all the gutters and trims dictated by the job data, leaving stacks of finished, ready to go, products.

The Gen8 series is the coming generation of Hunkeler finishing solutions conforming to Industry 4.0 thinking, and so are in constant communication with the production controller, collecting and sending job related data.

This points to an increasingly automated, even lights out, printer of the future.

And to underline that hands off printing is the future, throughout the four days a self driving pallet robot moved boxes of work in progress across the aisles, never once colliding with any of the visitors who will surely be back in two years’ time for the next Hunkeler Innovation Days.

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