by Melissa Donovan
Published in January 2021, Research and Markets’ Inkjet Printing Market – Growth, Trends, COVID-19 Impact, and Forecasts (2021 – 2026) report states that the inkjet printing market was valued at $40.79B USD in 2020 and is expected to reach $49.20B USD at a compound annual growth rate of 3.11 percent over the forecast period 2021 to 2026. Driving this growth are advancements in high-speed inkjet devices, which lead to greater adoption rates among commercial printers—especially those predominately working with offset technologies.
Continuous, roll-fed production presses handle monthly volumes of 10M-plus impressions, which allow them to compete with offset. We refer to this segment as ultra-high-volume (UHV) printing. While inkjet is dominate in this space, other technologies like liquid electrophotography are present and do reach similar high speeds and volumes.
Research and Markets believes the interest in UHV inkjet printing is growing due to the accelerated rate of new product introductions over the last few years. These introductions occurred, according to Inkjet Printing Market – Growth, Trends, COVID-19 Impact, and Forecasts (2021 – 2026), for many reasons.
The first is heightened competition for market share between inkjet producers. Secondly, the research firm believes inkjet printing is quickly growing due to its importance as a production tool in a variety of applications—from book printing to transactional and packaging. This relates to a third point—as new presses come to market they are generally designed to produce print for a wide swath of industry verticals from packaging converters to décor.
Finally, the report states that smart production, speed, flexibility, and cost control drive the adoption of inkjet printing. This is because the technology allows a business to become more flexible and responsive to customer requirements.
As mentioned, there is heightened competition for market share between inkjet press producers. “Many innovative concepts and technological inventions have happened that are explicitly shown in today’s color inkjet products,” states Inkjet Printing Market – Growth, Trends, COVID-19 Impact, and Forecasts (2021 – 2026).
Healthy competition is good for everyone. The latest advancements found on hardware in the UHV space include proactive maintenance, modular drying, and streamlined user interfaces.
Some of the newest devices launched in the last year boast these features and more.
BlueCrest IntelliJet HD print systems are capable of printing in full color at up to 1,000 feet per minute. Features like auto-loading of the rolls on and off the press drive efficiency. In terms of print quality, the press achieves up to 2,400 nozzles per inch print resolution.
The software driving the press, DirectView, provides tools that allow print providers to better leverage data. “Process analytics are taking a leading role. With DirectView, businesses can drill down on inefficiencies and look for net productivity gains against such variables as manpower, variations in print coverage, material readiness before and after the print engine, operator efficiency, and causes for machine stoppages,” explains Kevin Marks, VP global production print, BlueCrest.
Canon recently launched the ColorStream 8000 inkjet web press. According to Lisa Weese, director of product marketing, Canon Solutions America, Production Print Solutions, the ColorStream 8000 features several attributes that contribute to productivity and efficiency. The first of these is printing on the ramp. At start up, once the press begins printing it will print on the first page while the press ramps up to its full rated speed.
“This helps to minimize paper waste which, over time, can equate to thousands of feet of paper waste eliminated. For some customers, that can mean anywhere from $3K to $5K of savings per year,” says Weese.
In addition, a waste-free print pause feature allows operators to conduct a visual inspection of print quality in 60 seconds without having to incur paper waste. The press automatically resumes after 60 seconds or can be restarted by the operator and it begins printing exactly where it left off, without introducing any blank pages. “This is also an important capability when you consider your downstream post-processing needs,” shares Weese.
The Canon ColorStream 8000 series is equipped with a modular drying system made up of three contact dryers for its wide paper range. A sustainable drying technology, it offers low power consumption in addition to low maintenance. The drying system is automatically steered by paper type and is designed so that above the dryer is minimal friction allowing sensitive paper surfaces to be handled. “Drying is important for immediate finishing of printed output and to enable shorter turnaround times,” explains Weese.
Koenig & Bauer’s RotaJET is a modular, web-fed digital printing machine—available from a web width of 777 to 2,250 millimeters. It achieves inkjet print quality of up to 1,200 dpi and prints at a maximum speed of up to 270 meters per minute.
“With a productivity rate of 30,000 square meters per hour, the RotaJET sets a benchmark in industrial digital printing. The system fulfills the high demands posed by difficult substrates and enables a diverse range of printing materials to be processed. The XLO workflow, based on Adobe APPE architecture, offers sufficient RIP performance so that the RotaJET can be run at top speed,” shares Jurgen Gruber, sales manager sheetfed and post-press technology/product manager for digital and corrugated printing technology, Koenig & Bauer (US).
A notable feature on the RotaJET are its dryers and cooling system. “Intelligent, low-energy dryers and an integrated cooling system facilitate the dynamic changeover from high to low levels of ink coverage. Drying at very low temperatures provides an exemplary energy balance. The integrated cooling system reduces the temperature of the substrate efficiently and provides for more reliable and easier online finishing,” explains Gruber.
Mike Herold, director, global marketing, Ricoh USA, Inc., notes additional advancements worth discussing center on automation and continuous production. “Advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) have played a huge role in the industry and are growing by leaps and bounds. The pandemic has accelerated timelines for AI advancement, as well, and necessitated its adoption even faster.”
At the end of 2020, Ricoh announced the RICOH Pro Scanner Option for the RICOH Pro VC70000, which leverages advancements in both AI and ML to close feedback loops so production printers are continually improving. Its capabilities also help automate a variety of labor and time-consuming tasks, such as printhead cleaning.
At Screen Americas, several advancements were made to the Truepress Jet520HD series over the last few years. Near Infrared Drying eliminates cockling and keeps the paper intact by reducing heat. Advanced Drying uses air-knife coaters and heated drums to dry coated paper at faster print speeds. The JetInspection process inspects every drop of ink and compares it to the RIPped file for quality as well as digitally capturing the image for verification and auditing purposes.
Discussion of Applications
Transactional/document printing, direct mail, publishing, packaging, and labels—all of these applications are produced on continuous/roll-fed UHV printers. Transactional documents have always had a bit of a strong hold on this segment, however there is also recent interest and growth among other applications.
“Transactional printing still remains a strong application for many of our print providers. But we are seeing promotional direct mail, book printing, and packaging inserts increase as applications our customers are using web fed inkjet for. We are excited to see more direct mailers, book printers, and even some commercial printers dive into web-fed inkjet,” comments Weese.
Herold agrees that transactional print remains strong, but he also sees growth in direct mail, general commercial printing, packaging, and books. “Converged applications that use sophisticated datasets to enhance more traditional printing like catalogs, marketing content, and healthcare also look to be strong in the future,” he adds.
Within transactional, Marks notes the importance of being able to print not only on the statement but the envelope as well. A Leflein Associates Mail Openability Study shows that 69 percent of mail recipients are more likely to open a mailpiece with color text and graphics on the envelope before opening pieces with no such messages or graphics.
Print+ Messenger from BlueCrest increases mail piece effectiveness by printing high-quality, variable, full-color text and images on envelopes, including business reply envelopes, inline within the mail inserter. “The ability to showcase dynamic, high-quality print both inside and outside the envelope is changing the game for many businesses in the transactional space,” says Marks.
Beyond transactional, Gruber points to places where the RotaJET is used like digital printing, industrial printing, and converting for various applications such as folding cartons, litho lamination for corrugated, liquid packaging, flexible packaging, décor, and books.
When it comes to continuous/roll-fed UHV presses print providers are demanding a few key things, namely they want a way to compete by meeting quicker turn times with shorter runs and high variability. Print providers working on tight margins look for devices that can help them avoid turning down a job.
“Just look at the changes of the value-added chain, individualization of smaller lot sizes, test production before market launch, or longer repeat lengths in the decorative sector. This means there are a lot of new business areas in front of our customers,” explains Gruber.
He says to imagine a supermarket shelf. In the past, “differentiation was that the fat content was printed on it. Today, there are countless different variations of one product category. And they all compete for attention. The market is changing.”
To meet these changes, print providers are “seeking the fastest, most efficient ways to produce high-volume color production print. At the same time, clients report that average print run lengths are decreasing,” shares Marks.
“Customers are often looking for workflow support for more sophisticated applications, improved productivity, lowered costs, the ability to use multiple substrates, and access to continued improvements over time. They are asking for these capabilities because it’s a reflection of what their customers are asking them. There has not previously been a time like this in our industry. The operating environment for print and marketing service providers is changing at a breakneck pace. These service providers need innovative solutions that they can depend on for today, next week, and five years down the line,” admits Herold.
Features and functions found on the newest continuous/roll-fed UHV printers are created in response to certain trends in the market. None of which are particularly revolutionary, however, they do support the need for faster printers that offer quality prints at cost-effective production.
According to Mark Schlimme, VP of marketing, Screen Americas, the most recent trends continue to be about speed, quality, and cost. He believes this is because print providers “are always willing to re-evaluate their existing technology to determine where they can improve on speed, quality, and cost. They are not concerned about leaving a long-time supplier if they come across more sophisticated technology that suits their needs.”
Broken down further, trends include—but are not limited to—improved production, security printing enhancements, updated controllers and other workflow enhancements, white paper solutions and omni-channel support, and quality improvements.
“Inkjet technologies have made major strides in recent years, including higher speeds, broader color gamut, improved resolution, and more diverse media options. The ability to use more color, include messaging personalized to individuals, order in smaller quantities, and reduce turnaround time, enhances the value and effectiveness of print,” notes Herold.
Speed, resolution, and media compatibility are linked. It is important “that the press can print at top rated speeds on all substrates with the highest resolutions,” says Weese. Image quality and resolution improvements to 1,200 dpi are standard for leading web presses.
Some of the newest production inkjet devices support a range of substrates. “This includes standard coated commercial paper grades and thicker paper, as well as higher resolution output comparable to the image quality of toner and offset,” adds Herold.
Print providers’ inability to secure skilled laborers influences another popular trend—automation. “There is a need to build in automation and reduce manual input. This is happening through techniques such as auto loading of unwinders and rewinders. Another example is continuous auto monitoring of print quality within a job and across multiple printing systems,” explains Marks.
Related to this is security and compliance—particularly considering ransomware attacks. “This is addressed through automation within and across print and mail workflows—verifying the integrity of production in print and insertion phases and overseeing print quality and defect-free output,” says Marks.
More than Speed
Continuous, roll-fed UHV presses may be known for their speeds, but the newest models offer much more. UHV inkjet printing—in addition to other technology—offers print shops a way to keep up with customer demand while branching out and utilizing the same press for multiple applications. Hardware improvements allow for continued high-quality images on an array of media. The latest advancements open up new application opportunities, improve efficiency, and offer improved security. dps
Sep2021, DPS Magazine