Impact of Inkjet Continues to Impress

Last year was a “turning point” for inkjet production, according to Jim Hamilton, group director at  print industry market research firm InfoTrends. “Inkjet print applications now can be found encroaching nearly everywhere across the graphic arts—from document printing to labels and packaging to decorative to functional and 3D printing,” he blogged in December 2013. “The range of jetted materials and substrates is staggering.”

As of a year earlier, at the end of 2012, the global production continuous-feed color inkjet installed base was some 1,600 print engines (800 or so systems), reported the company’s “2012-2017 Global Print On Demand” forecast. The U.S. had approximately 500 of those engines, or approximately 250 systems. By this time next year, color production inkjet could account for 40 percent of all digital color pages printed, a separate InfoTrends study asserted, going on to call this market segment the fastest growing sector in the printing industry.

“Inkjet is exploding,” agreed Mike Poulin, senior marketing manager for continuous-feed products at Canon Solutions America (CSA), the company formed a year ago after Canon USA finally acquired Océ North America for some $1 billion. “There has been a huge adoption of inkjet print technologies.” Poulin’s colleague Francis McMahon, vice president of marketing for Production Print Systems, added, “Virtually every customer has inquired about how to put inkjet into their operations. CSA’s customers alone printed nearly 70 billion pages in 2013, “representing nearly one quarter of all production pages in the U.S.,” he reported. “Most of those pages were done on inkjet,” added McMahon. By Canon Solutions America’s industry-wide count, 176 roll-to-roll inkjet units were sold in the United States in 2013; the firm expects nearly 200 more to be sold this year.

From Zero to 30%

Putting these numbers in perspective, McMahon’s boss, executive vice president Mal Baboyian, added that inkjet print now represents 30 percent of CSA Production Printing Solutions' total revenue—up from zero percent only six years ago. However, double-digit roll-fed growth pales by comparison to cut-sheet, which McMahon said is expected to grow by triple digits at an astonishing 144 percent rate. At the quadrennial PRINT 13 tradeshow last September, CSA entered the color inkjet cut-sheet market by showing a technology demonstration of its “Niagara:” code name for the manufacturer’s new, high-volume sheetfed press targeting the B3 (14 by 20 inch) print market. Expect an official product name and launch in May, McMahon noted, with “a first installation in the third or fourth quarter” at transactional printer RevSpring’s facility in Phoenix, AZ.

In addition, McMahon said CSA has beefed up its inkjet presence in the past year, adding staff in marketing and even hiring a paper scientist. He proudly announced that more than 800 types of media now are certified to print on Canon digital printers, and that number may double by year-end 2014. “We’ve partnered with every single paper mill in the U.S.,” he proclaimed. On March 1, CSA opened a Solutions and Media Lab in Boca Raton, FL, designed for live testing across its inkjet- and toner-based products. The new lab provides CSA the capacity to work with paper mills to test even more sheets with more inks, much more quickly, McMahon noted.

The newest paper addition is a 45-lb. coated sheet for the educational book publishing market. A Crown Van Gelder (CVG) product called LetsGo Silk was formerly only available in Europe. Through its media lab in Poing, Germany, CSA worked closely with CVG to optimize the product for Océ inkjet platforms. The sheet is now available to North American customers through Gould Paper.

As more media becomes compatible with the inkjet process, CSA’s Poulin predicts large growth in direct mail as well as commercial print, citing the specialized market of school date books as one example. “A major book printer in the U.S. has several cut-sheet devices,” he added. Direct mail printer SG360, Arlington Heights and Wheeling, IL, near Chicago, installed an Océ ColorStream 3700 digital color printing system in mid-2013. Bob Radzis, chief customer officer of the firm (formerly known as Segerdahl Graphics), found that he can produce a 15,000 run for $200 less than offset, plus provide metrics that prove return on investment (ROI) for his customers.

“They are tracking fully integrating campaigns,” CSA’s McMahon noted. Not only is SG360 executing one-to-one, fully variable digital color at the same (or lower) cost than offset printing, but Radzis has transferred much of the work to inkjet from HP Indigo digital presses. “The quality is there,” asserted McMahon, who is entering his fourth year at Canon Solutions America (Océ) following an eight-year stint with HP.

Kodak Resurrected

At the reborn Eastman Kodak, where bankruptcy is over and the firm’s common stock has been relisted on the NYSE, opportunities are measured in terms of four “vectors,” according to Will Mansfield, marketing director of Inkjet Printing Solutions:

  1. New applications, such as “magalogs” and other commercial printing.
  2. Hybrid imprinting replacement, from multiple processes to “white paper in.”
  3. Laser replacement for high page counts, such as medical insurance enrollment documents for the U.S. Affordable Care Act, which Mansfield said is proving to be a healthy boon for many print firms. (“Personalized benefits enrollment documents are an ideal fit for our inkjet customers,” he added. “Book production environments have the physical infrastructure for this type of work, while transactional printers understand the data and workflow.”)
  4. Offset replacement for short-run books and more versioned content, perhaps even newspapers (see sidebar).

It is no secret that Kodak has invested big in inkjet—from its speedy Stream writing system and a new Prosper 5000XLi “intelligent print” press model (see online exclusive LINK) to nano-particulate, pigment-based inksets introduced last year to increase durability on a wider range of paper stocks.

Mansfield said that inkjet encroachment now can be seen on package imprinting applications in the food and pharmaceutical vertical markets—“from promotional messages to health and safety information and even tracking. A customer in France is versioning baguette bags using inkjet, and Kodak Stream technology is soon to be implemented by a popular restaurant chain that he said is a “household name” in America.

Former Kodak and now HP executive Pat McGrew contended, “High-speed production inkjet is now the default production technology for many segments. The current generation of production inkjet engines meets high standards for print resolution, image and text sharpness, and uptime,” she pointed out. “Ongoing improvement programs promise to deliver even greater image quality in the future, and the combination of productivity and affordability make it the perfect technology for a variety of applications,” noted the self-proclaimed production mail evangelist within Hewlett-Packard’s Inkjet High-speed Production Solutions (IHPS) division. HP has reported that it now has more than 110 production inkjet web presses installed worldwide.

Who’s Printing What?

The publishing and transaction sectors have been rapid adopters of production inkjet technology, of course, but the commercial printing sector is catching up in large part due to increased media compatibility, according to HP’s McGrew. “From textbooks and short-run trade books to newspapers and billing statements as well as the many forms of commercial print, there is no question that inkjet is gaining ground,” she said. “As the desire to produce customized content increases, digital printing becomes the technology of choice. No other printing technology delivers quick turnaround at any run length for these applications like production inkjet. While long runs of static print are still common, savvy publishers and marketers are finding that production inkjet lets them create more relevant, high-value products.”

HP customers are producing custom textbooks, high-color transaction bills, targeted magazine out-serts, individualized direct marketing pieces, personalized welcome kit magazines, and local edition newspapers. The technology also is helping to create new market opportunities for some customers, who “have pushed their HP Inkjet Web Presses into magazine production, catalog production, and even poster production …,” McGrew reported.

But there still are hurdles that need jumping. Hamilton at InfoTrends added, “Inkjet has made huge inroads in indoor and outdoor wide format graphics, label printing, and color document printing (for applications like books, direct mail, and transactional documents),” he continued, “but it still has a lot yet to prove in package, publication, catalog, newspaper, and general commercial printing. In high-coverage document printing, the economic feasibility of inkjet printing is still an issue because of the consumable and substrate costs. In package printing, the requirement to print on glossy, non-porous, or clear substrates raises some potential cost and workflow obstacles,” Hamilton cautioned.

Cost is not the only factor when considering inkjet technology, he is quick to add. “The true value of high-volume production digital printing is its ability to leverage factors such as process automation, just-in-time manufacturing, and personalization,” Hamilton concluded. “There may also be environmental benefits such as less waste and greener processes. For document printing, this translates to applications such as on-demand production of books, marketing materials, and photo merchandise. These are all examples of the movement from mass production to mass customization, and these same benefits can be applied in other areas. The potential for this type of business transformation is what separates digital printing from other print technologies. It’s also a good reason to keep an eye on the growth path of inkjet through 2014 and beyond.”