Under the name dmax (digital maximum), Steinemann Technology AG, St. Gallen / Switzerland, Schmid Rhyner AG, Adliswil-Zurich / Switzerland, and Druckhaus Mainfranken GmbH, Marktheidenfeld / Germany, presented the world's first large-format digital varnishing machine in the framework of a press event held at Druckhaus Mainfranken at the beginning of June 2014. More than 40 years after inventing UV varnishing on printed sheets, Steinemann Technology is thus again setting standards in high-end print finishing, together with Schmid Rhyner and Druckhaus Mainfranken.
Working in a close, cooperative partnership over the past few years, the three companies developed the high-performance inkjet printing machine for spot varnishing with a maximum printing format of 1,080 x 780 mm. It combines tried-and-tested, sturdy machine engineering with an innovative inkjet process for varnish application. As a result, operating at a maximum throughput of up to 10,000 sheets per hour or 100 m/min and a resolution of 600 x 600 dpi, the dmax consistently delivers top varnishing quality without pinholes and orange peel effects. Among other things, this quality and the simultaneous high productivity are based on two technologies developed by Schmid Rhyner: diVar (Digital Varnishing Technology) and special post-treatment of the liquid varnish film (Postprint Enhancement). Both technologies are patented.
Haptic effects play a key role in the competition with digital media
"From our point of view, print finishing with haptic effects is a vitally important development. It's the only way that print products can clearly stand out from digital media," says Ulrich Stetter, Managing Director of Druckhaus Mainfranken GmbH, based in Marktheidenfeld, describing an important reason why his company entered into the technology partnership with Schmid Rhyner and Steinemann. He reports that the demand for print products with high-end finishing is growing in all quarters.
As the most important printing partner of flyeralarm GmbH, he says the products finished with haptic varnish effects by Druckhaus Mainfranken using the dmax include calendars, visiting cards and postcards, as well as a host of other print products. The same applies to orders from external customers, who gladly avail themselves of the production infrastructure and capacities of Druckhaus Mainfranken. In particular, the creativity of media designers and agencies when it comes to playing with haptic effects also opens up attractive, new possibilities for the varnishing machine.
For example, the 'overlapping' array of 20 inkjet print heads enables the dmax to flexibly realise varnish application rates of 4 g/m2 to 35 g/m2, meaning that a very wide range of jobs can be covered. "Since we produced the varnishes ourselves, we could flexibly adapt their formulation to the process when developing the machine, which enabled us to guarantee optimum results," adds Schmid Rhyner's CEO Jakob Rohner, pointing out an important aspect of the close cooperation between Steinemann Technology and his company.
"Druckhaus Mainfranken was an ideal technology partner for us. The company's experts confronted us with a really tough challenge with their very demanding and concrete specifications regarding the products to be finished and the surface requirements. On top of which, there were very high demands on productivity that are unparalleled in the industry, simply because of the Web-to-Print process for flyeralarm," says Christof Stürm, CEO of Steinemann Technology, welcoming the great commitment of Druckhaus Mainfranken to the development partnership for the innovative varnishing machine.
Packaging and commercial printing as target markets
Alongside commercial printing, another important target market for the new technology from Schmid Rhyner and Steinemann is packaging production – after all, the products of both companies have a very strong presence on the global folding-carton market. With its large format, the new dmax digital varnishing machine supports folding-carton production, in particular.
"We could see no alternative to the technology from Steinemann and Schmid Rhyner on the market, particularly because of the high production speed, in combination with the machine's large format," says Stetter, naming another reason why, as an industrial printer, Druckhaus Mainfranken had gladly contributed to the development partnership. Further important considerations had been the reliability of the machine technology from Steinemann, as proven countless times in practice – Druckhaus Mainfranken has been working with two conventional UV varnishing machines from the Swiss manufacturer for many years – and the high quality of the innovative digital varnish application method, in combination with the unique Postprint Enhancement technology ('Pinhole Killer') from Schmid Rhyner. All that had created the confidence to back the right horse.
The flexibility of digital technologies
Above and beyond the high productivity, the excellent varnished image and the outstanding edge definition, the winning features of the dmax also include the fundamental advantages of digital printing technologies. Says Stetter: "We can varnish the shortest of runs economically, even just a single copy." Finally, the digital process eliminates any and all copy preparation, since the dmax needs neither printing and varnishing plates, nor screens. The final digital data are received from the prepress department, RIPed and uploaded to the machine, which can then immediately apply the data to the sheets as they pass through. In screen printing, and also on conventional printing presses, it was almost impossible to produce short runs economically, simply because of the forme costs and the time required. The picture is now very different with the dmax: this machine will in future make it possible to individualise or personalise every single print product with varnish.
Moreover, digital technology has the decisive advantage that the overall process can be realised, from development to production. There is no need for repeated, time-consuming printing tests owing to changes to printing formes. The technology permits an enormous variety of creative options that are otherwise only possible using different types of varnish. So, lengthy development cycles are also eliminated in varnish formulation, permitting lean processes when designing new packagings. Even initial samples and mock-ups present no problem. All these are inestimable advantages, given that the life cycle of packagings, too, is becoming shorter and shorter.
On top of all this comes the particular flexibility of the dmax as regards varnish application: Since the novel inkjet technology is capable of simultaneously applying different film thicknesses/structures as the sheets pass through the machine, it can produce haptic effects directly alongside glossy surfaces in a single pass. Up to now, that was a very elaborate process in both screen and flexo printing. That is likewise a special feature that offers new, attractive options, not only in commercial printing, but especially also in packaging printing.
"From the very beginning, Druckhaus Mainfranken supplied us with sufficient data and practice-oriented input to be able to check the performance of the machine and its handling in practice. And the company gave us its full support in every other respect as well," says Dr. Dirk Schlatterbeck – Director Technical Department at Schmid Rhyner and ultimately the father of the digital varnishing technology – praising the cooperation with the print provider.
"The key challenge for us was to integrate the innovative varnish application technology with our sturdy, conventional machine construction to get a high-performance machine that was not only reliable, but also highly flexible at the same time," says Patrik Moser, dmax Project Manager at Steinemann Technology, looking back over the past months. Consequently, the dmax features numerous time-proven components that were specially adapted to the new process. Among other things, that applies to the single-sheet feeder with alignment (KBA feeder), the sheet-cleaning calender, the high-precision vacuum sheet transport system for reproducible varnishing results, and the sheet stacker. The sheets are laterally aligned upstream of the varnishing station, and their effective position is detected in the direction of feed. The inkjet head is controlled in accordance with the position of the printed image. The varnishes are cured by a UV drier.
The standard configuration of the machine can be enhanced by adding various options, such as a sheet prestacker, a redundant inkjet system, or a sheet deflector with inspection table. The electronic equipment was developed specifically for the special demands on this digital varnishing machine. Steinemann Technology manufactures the machine at its factory in St. Gallen in Switzerland.
A special event is scheduled to be held at Druckhaus Mainfranken in mid-September, on which occasion the companies involved in developing the dmax will present the capabilities of the innovative digital varnishing machine to print providers and brand owners.