A High-Speed Inkjet Press (Reality) Check —MichelsonAugust 2010
Despite all the buzz about the marketplace upheaval that will eventually ensue as high-volume, continuous-feed, color inkjet presses gain greater traction, don't assume that your existing offset presses and cutsheet digital output devices will become obsolete any time soon. Nor should that deter any plans to upgrade your offset gear or acquire an electrophotographic (EP) digital machine. With the fastest color inkjet systems currently limited to maximum speeds of 750 fpm and up to 30˝ print widths, offset presses—for the foreseeable future, anyway—will continue to churn out the lion's share of longer-run commercial jobs. Even so, keeping abreast of inkjet technology advancements should surely remain on the to-do list for most printers. To help, two articles in this issue address the status and types of high-speed inkjet systems currently available, and try to forecast what the adoption rates will be within the commercial printing industry.
In a commentary on page 32, analyst Noel Ward doesn't view today's commercially available continuous-feed inkjet presses as being industry game-changers. "It will be a machine generation or two, when cutsheet models come to market that compete directly with EP systems and offer inkjet economics at lower print volumes (i.e., under 2 million impressions/month), before the shape of the market will truly change," Ward contends. Market acceptance, he adds, will also depend on how customers adapt to the new business models that the presses enable. "If direct marketers and publishers, for example, see high-speed inkjet presses as new ways to stretch their dollars and get a better ROI, then inkjet will begin to take share from offset systems."
The authors of a recent InfoTrends study, "Inkjet in Commercial Print: A Map for the Coming Decade," took a longer-term view in their report, and appear more bullish about inkjet's prospects for commercial printing in an executive summary (appearing on page 54) prepared for Printing Impressions. Inkjet is encroaching on the mid-volume (100 to 999k duty cycle) market currently dominated by toner-based systems, according to the authors of the study, and has also made strong headway in the past few years for high-volume transactional and transpromo applications. High-speed inkjet replacement in the commercial offset arena, they predict, still remains at least eight or more years out.
The authors are also quick to point out that too much money has been invested by too many digital press manufacturers, paper suppliers, in-line finishing system vendors—and even end customers—for the technology to fail. As such, InfoTrends estimates that high-volume inkjet placements will increase at more than 35 percent per year over the next five years, outpacing electrophotographic device installations by a factor of three. Color print volume, they predict, will nearly quadruple by 2013. Thus, with so much skin in the game, continuous-feed inkjet printing is an emerging technology that has several industry suppliers in overdrive to make sure they capture a piece of the action.