Printing Impressions

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High-Speed Inkjet Presses : Real-World Experiences

March 2012 By Heidi Tolliver-Walker
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The last several years have seen the North American introduction of the first generation of commercially viable, high-speed, full-color, rollfed and sheetfed inkjet presses. Now that some of these early adopters have had a chance to shake out the jitters, where do things stand? What drove these companies to jump in early and what has their experience been?

High-speed inkjet presses are available from GSS, HP, Kodak, Océ, Ricoh (InfoPrint), Screen, Xerox and Fuji (sheetfed). Even Agfa, which is known for its Dotrix inkjet for packaging, has jumped into the commercial market with its sheetfed Transcolor.

Priced in the $1 million to $2 million range, these presses can be a huge capital investment. But, the early adopters can be characterized a bit like cheetahs in the savannah. Most have specific applications or vertical markets that have prompted them to eye the presses for some time, waiting for the right time to leap. The need is so acute, in fact, that most have been prepared to work alongside their vendors to help them work out the bugs once the presses were live in the field.

Mercury: Maxing Out the Press

Mercury Print Productions, a diversified commercial printer in Rochester, NY, is among them. It has three facilities, 228 employees and a fleet of nearly two dozen toner presses, including Xerox iGen3s and iGen4s, HP 7200s and 3250s, and a Nuvera. It installed a 26˝ Kodak Prosper 5000XL in May/June 2011.

Volumes, price pressures and fierce competition in the educational marketplace made Mercury’s rapid investment in inkjet an absolute necessity. “We didn’t have any choice,” explains John Place, president and CEO of Mercury, which rolls out 50 million impressions per month during the peak season. “It wasn’t a matter of whether our competitors were getting into inkjet. It was a matter of when. Making the early investment was a game changer for us.”

Place describes an education market driven by the desire to move to zero inventory, and textbooks customized down to the district and classroom level. Currently, its average run length on the Prosper is 50 to 100 copies (although it regularly goes up to 1,500). Its facility is also producing one-offs for the photo book market.

Initially, Mercury Print Productions is using the press to focus on higher education because of the market’s lower ink coverage requirements, “but, as inkjet develops, we believe that inkjet will be going into the [more graphics-heavy] K-12 marketplace, as well,” Place says.
 
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