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High-Speed Inkjet Presses: Next Round of Investments

February 2013 By Heidi Tolliver-Walker
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It's been another year with high-speed, full-color inkjet presses in the field. Bleeding-edge adopters have helped the press vendors work out many of the kinks in a live production environment. Paper vendors have continued to expand their offerings for the inkjet market. Now has come the next wave of investment from print shops with significant business cases for this technology, but that had waited until the path had cleared.

In the high-speed, high-resolution marketplace, the list of players with presses in production environments remains familiar—GSS, HP, Kodak, Océ, Ricoh (InfoPrint), Screen, TKS, Xeikon, Xerox and Fuji-film (sheetfed). And then there's RR Donnelley, which opted to develop its own technology.

What is striking about the round of installations this year over last, we are hearing about far fewer installation problems and challenges with substrates. We are hearing more about the costs and need to expand post-processing capabilities rather than installation or performance of the presses themselves. Business cases are still strong but, unlike the earliest adopters, those needs were not as acute, so they had the luxury of hanging back and biding their time until that time was right.

Sheridan Books: Critical Color Needs and ISO Compliance

One of the verticals in which we are seeing rapid investment in high-speed inkjet production is book publishing. This transition is exemplified by Sheridan Books (Chelsea, MI), which installed an HP T360 color inkjet web press in October 2012.

"We've seen about a 20 percent reduction in our average run length," says Tim Cotter, vice president of operations for the short-run book printer, which serves more than 2,000 publishers in the trade, professional, religious, scientific, medical and technical fields. "While our run lengths vary, the average has dropped from 2,200 to 1,800."

Cotter finds that publishers are aggressively going after inventory costs and have a better understanding that purchase decisions aren't just made on manufacturing unit cost but on the total cost. "We also expect to use the press to cut delivery time by 60 percent to 75 percent in many instances," he adds.

Cotter did his product research in conjunction with Ed Hartman, vice president of operations for Sheridan's sister company The Sheridan Press, which produces short-run books and short-run magazines and journals. Both are units of The Sheridan Group.

Top on the list of factors in the purchase decision was the ability to match offset output. Sheridan Books and Sheridan Press provided live job files to all vendors under consideration, and the 1,200x600 resolution HP T300 was the closest match. Sheridan is also an ISO-compliant company, and HP was the only vendor that could adhere to ISO standards, according to Cotter. Sheridan is currently working with HP and GRACoL to make the press G7 compliant.

The Sheridan team also liked that HP provided additional redundancy in terms of print nozzles, increasing its comfort level in its ability to manage the quality and run continuously.

Sheridan's HP T360 is driven by an HP SmartStream Elite print server and is capable of production speeds up to 600 fpm in full-color and 800 fpm in monochrome. On the front end, Sheridan uses Prinergy, as well as a customized, fully automated front end system. It is in the process of rolling out a front end Web commerce interface supported by a content management system as well, but the company is not yet ready to release details.

On the back end, Sheridan Books is the first company to integrate a Timsons T-fold device. "Instead of what you would expect to see coming off the press—cutsheet book blocks—we get folded, high-page-count signatures," reveals Cotter. "Having this capability was key for us. We can also run the press in discrete signature mode instead of book block mode. We can feed those signatures into our bindery with the same high-speed stream feeders we already have on our binding lines."

Investment in high-speed inkjet is also part of Sheridan Books' larger effort to use alliances to provide full distributed print capabilities in the United Kingdom and Asia.

Folder Express: Sheetfed Inkjet Press for Presentation Folders

Using high-speed inkjet in a completely different way is Folder Express in Omaha, NE. It purchased a 2,700 sph sheetfed inkjet press, a Fujifilm J Press 720, to produce presentation folders for the print distributor market. On the front end, Folder Express utilizes an EFI Radius workflow.

The choice of the J Press was primarily about format size. The press' 20.8x29.5˝ format allowed it to match up perfectly with Folder Express' existing offset back end. This enabled the company to offer short-run, full digital production, remain a 100 percent sheetfed shop, plus no postpress or other finishing investments were required.

"The beauty of the press is that whether the output is from offset or the J Press, it's recognized throughout the plant as just another job," says Doug Boysen, president of the company, which installed the press in September 2012. "Plus, we offer our customers about 150 stocks that they can choose from and, with the J Press, they can continue to use approximately 60 percent of them. They can still use the stocks that they are used to using."

Before purchasing the J Press, Folder Express was producing short runs of folders on its 28˝ Mitsubishi press. In a four-color environment, its threshold was 250 pieces. With the J Press, it has dropped that to 50 and is very cost-effective at 100. "In fact, we are looking at about 40 percent reduction in price at 250 pieces doing it digitally," notes Boysen.

Although toner-based machines offer similar formats, according to Boysen, the Sutherland Rub test on samples produced on the J Press were significantly better. "That was critical for us," he says. "Our customers need to be able to open the box with their order and know they're receiving the same level of quality that they are used to getting from us."

Jobs that require spot colors, spot or flood coating, and UV varnishing need to be run offset or run through a secondary off-line process. Two-sided printing (required on 15 to 20 percent of Folder Express' offset jobs) also requires a separate aeration step in an off-line unit.

Folder Express continues to use both its 28˝ and 40˝ Mitsubishis for the longer runs. The shop is still testing the break-even point between offset and inkjet, but it feels that it will come out around 2,000 pieces.

During the installation, there were also a few surprises along the way due to the types of substrates used in the presentation folder vertical. But those challenges were quickly overcome and, starting in January, Folder Express began a 60,000 mailing of its digitally produced folders to "virtually every printer in the United States."

ANRO Inc.: Expanding Its Commitment to Direct Mail

If direct mail is declining in volume, someone forgot to tell West Chester, PA-based ANRO Inc. This full-service marketing services provider installed an HP T300 press in December 2011 (going into full production in May 2012) to enable 100 percent, full-color digital production for high-volume jobs.

"Most of our competitors are still printing hybrid documents with black inkjet heads at the end of the web press," says Jim Spinelli, ANRO's COO. "But we said, 'Okay, if we want to attack this market—really attack it—we need to go with full-color variable.' "

Although ANRO tested machines from all of the high-speed inkjet press vendors, press selection took only six months. ANRO already operated three HP 7000s and three Xerox Nuveras, so it was well acquainted with digital technology and knew what questions to ask. In the end, the productivity and job flexibility possible with the 30˝ web width of the HP T300 was the deciding factor. ANRO liked the daily capacity of up to 1.5 million letter-size pieces, as well.

Along with the press, Spinelli made a significant investment in additional staffing to handle the programming of 1:1 jobs (which it designs in both XMPie and GMC). He also replaced the company's fleet of old-style, swing-arm inserters with PB MatchMail inserters running at 3,000 sph. The company's eight-color, 40˝ Heidelberg sheetfed perfector has been sold. (ANRO still operates a nine-color, 40˝ Heidelberg perfector and a bank of two- through six-color conventional presses.)

While ANRO could have managed with a 20˝ press, the appeal of market expansion was compelling. For example, the company recently used its T300 to run a job of full-color transit schedules. "Even though these are static items, they are versioned," explains Spinelli. "It was much more efficient to print them on the T300. It worked out incredibly well."

The biggest adjustment in buying this machine, according to Spinelli, was the finishing. "We were a sheetfed environment from day one," he says. "Going to web was a whole mindset change. There isn't a part of the operation that hasn't been impacted by inkjet."

But the benefits have been worth it. Not only can ANRO offer high-volume, 100 percent text and image personalization, it can offer additional postal savings, as well. "We have a half-million-piece rate adjustment mailing in-house right now that is 28 base letters and, within those versions, there are 102 variables," says Spinelli. "By combining all of the versions into one mailing, we saved our client $15,000 in postage costs alone."

For ANRO, the addition of high-speed inkjet is a game changer. "I couldn't imagine starting 2013 without it," Spinelli concludes. "I know that's a bold statement, but it's true."

RevSpring: All About Volume and Heavy Personalization

At RevSpring (as in "Revenue Spring"), formerly Dantom Systems, high-speed inkjet is all about volume. After a string of acquisitions, including Data Image (Newark, OH), PSC InfoSystems (Oaks, PA) and Best Bill (Phoenix)—all of which are in the health care and bill collections verticals—it produces between 65 million to 70 million letters per month.

As color has become a larger part of the statement market, RevSpring began to look seriously at the transition to inkjet. In the health care vertical in particular, it uses a high level of personalization to add info such as specific procedures, doctors and payment options. It is not unusual for a letter to have 150 variable fields.

RevSpring is also looking to streamline and standardize production workflow across all of its acquisitions, which will ultimately mean the purchase of additional presses.

Prior to the installation of the Océ ColorStream 3700s, RevSpring had been running nine monochrome print engines: three sets of twin-engine Océ VarioStream 7000s and one simplex, plus an Océ VarioPrint Ultra 6160 and a VarioPrint 6250 Ultra. So it's no surprise that, when it came to high-speed inkjet, it stayed with its long-term relationship with Océ. RevSpring did research other press options but, for the money, Mike McCombs, senior vice president of operations, felt that the Océ ColorStream 3700s were the best value. He also liked the fact that Océ machines hold their resolution regardless of the press speed.

The first ColorStream 3700 arrived in April 2012. The second arrived in May. By the end of last July, RevSpring was in full-out production on both.

According to McCombs, installation of the presses was seamless. Because the company does not run seven days a week, the operators had to learn shut-down procedures and how to get the press back up to color and refresh the print heads. "But, roughly within six weeks, most of our operators had it down," he says.

The bigger challenge was adjusting to the high-speed post processing. "We put cameras in place to validate the color and that the IMBs are printing cleanly. We set up the cutting devices (LaserMax) to auto change between 8½x11˝ and 11½˝ or 17˝ depending on what its reading as it comes down to the line," McCombs continues. "It took more getting used to the operations outside of the presses than the machines themselves."

The cost savings have been part of RevSpring's justification, as well. Although it costs more to run and operate the new machines, the ability to run plain paper directly from the mill means huge paper savings for RevSpring's customers. "The more volume I put through, the more cost savings all the way around," he notes.

Ultimately, the company's goal is to have full distributed print capabilities from the East Coast to the West Coast, and inkjet is a big part of that. "We have to counteract the USPS continuing to slow down," concludes McCombs. "This means producing jobs closer and closer to the end user as we continue to move forward."

SouthData: Inkjet for Color Statements and Billing

SouthData, Mount Airy, NC, also sees high-speed inkjet as a non-negotiable for today's production environment. It produces high volumes of bills and statements for utilities, local municipalities, and state and country governments, as well as statements, mailings and coupon books for the homeowners association or property management markets.

"We've been a growing business for the past 27 years," says Alan Connolly, executive vice president of the company, which installed a Screen Truepress in October 2012. "We've been very fortunate to have seen growth every year and, over the past several years, we've seen significant growth. We are continually looking for new methods that will enhance our productivity and help control the cost and speed of production."

SouthData installed the Truepress 520EX dual-engine duplex, which reportedly is the first installation of this particular model in the United States. The dual print engines in-line with the Standard Hunkeler finishing equipment extend 75 feet on the production floor.

Although SouthData doesn't print a lot of photographic images, it was seeing a growing demand for color in text and graphics. Thus, the next step in its technology growth needed to come from moving from monochrome to full-color and from overprint to 100 percent digital production.

SouthData selected a Truepress based heavily on the recommendations it got from other Truepress owners. "We received tremendous comments on the dependability of this machine and how it was a real workhorse," says Connolly. "Plus, we prefer to perform the majority of the maintenance on the press ourselves, and Screen was more willing to allow us to do that."

Prior to investment in the Truepress, SouthData was doing its variable data printing on Xerox 700s, a Xerox iGen4, and Konica Minolta monochrome bizhubs (all of which SouthData continues to operate). Preprinted color forms were being produced on two-color Heidelberg presses, as well as on a Kodak DI press.

The Truepress uses EQUIOUS, Screen's front end software. SouthData uses GMC to create the majority of its statements. It has 16 programmers on staff and develops many of its own end-use applications specific to its clients. On the back end, SouthData has continued to use its existing combination of Pitney Bowes inserters, as well as a recently purchased PB MPS high-speed (26,000 sph) inserter to match up with the press.

The Truepress is living up to its expectations as a production workhorse. During November and December 2012, it had already run more than five million 8½x11˝ duplex or simplex pages. This investment will also enable SouthData to enter additional, highly competitive markets that it previously wasn't involved in.

"We are very pleased with the whole installation. From starting from zero to producing five million items on it, the biggest surprise is how few surprises there have been," says Connolly.

RR Donnelley: In-House Inkjet Product Development

Not everyone has to purchase a press off the rack to get into high-speed inkjet. If you're Chicago-based RR Donnelley (RRD), you can simply design your own. RRD calls them ProteusJet presses. First installations went in early 2011 and the mega-printer now has them installed throughout the country.

"We always look at product development through the lens of our customers' needs and perform a build-versus-buy analysis before deciding to develop our own equipment," explains Ronnie Sarkar, senior vice president at RRD. "We believed that by having our imaging scientists and engineering team focus on our customers' specific requirements, we could build presses that would offer unique capabilities. We also formulate some of our own inkjet inks, which also helps us bring out unique paper choices."

The ProteusJets are being used for direct response marketing, transactional, transpromotional and publishing applications.

By designing and deploying its press through its own R&D process, any adjustments could be factored into the initial engineering. This made installation much easier. "We envisioned the press [operating] in our platform. So, the actual deployment was seamless," says Sarkar.

The ProteusJet utilizes four-color, piezoelectric inkjet technology, custom software that RRD calls ProteusJet MultiWeb (which incorporates two- and three-web in-line assembly configurations and allows for a hybrid in-line print solution that enables offset to be integrated into the MultiWeb imaging line), and is tightly integrated with commercial software for direct mail. It has integrated ProteusJet with Muller Martini's SigmaLine for fully automated book finishing and binding.

With the ProteusJet, RRD is able to offer application flexibility not previously possible at the speeds its customers were starting to require. "For instance, a client had been using a generic, magazine-style mailer as a direct response piece," Sarkar says. "They had the data but, until now, they just didn't have the toolset to enable the kind of fully realized personalization they were looking for.

"Now, the client is able to execute fully variable color in ways they couldn't before. Similarly, we are using Proteus to produce short-run trade and educational four-color books, and catalogs. Plus, we are printing highly customized digital labels."

Tribune Direct: E
nhancing Full-color Direct Mail Operation

Tribune Direct is a full-service, direct mail marketing company located in Chicago with facilities around the country. The company primarily serves the retail industry, offering a wide variety of direct mail, from postcards to letter envelopes to self-mailers. Approximately two years ago, Tribune Direct became the first company to install a Kodak Prosper 5000XL press for its full-color direct mail operation.

The company selected the Prosper Press because of several features that make it ideally suited for direct marketers looking to increase efficiency and effectiveness—features that include outstanding speed, productivity and substrate flexibility.

Tribune Direct first invested in the Prosper press because its leaders were looking to get into variable, one-to-one color. “We saw the market was moving in that direction and people wanted the personalized mail piece and wanted to communicate their message in four-color,” said Lou Tazioli, president and general manager. “So Prosper was a logical next step for us in order to be able to service that need.”

The Prosper 5000XL press is capable of producing millions of pieces on a daily basis for Tribune Direct. Tazioli notes that the company’s volumes are up more than 100 percent year over year and they are hitting the numbers they had projected to hit. As a result, the company finds that the press is paying for itself.

The Prosper press gives Tribune Direct the ability to produce longer print runs in a short time. Also, Tribune Direct recently added an inline UV coater that allows them to lock the color into the page, enhancing the appearance and helping to protect the final piece.

The press offers speeds up to 650 feet per minute, while providing offset printing image quality on a broad range of paper. In addition, the press boasts an advanced ink formulation to further enhance print quality, durability and the unique ability to print on glossy coated substrates.

Tribune Direct also uses several Kodak NexPress presses for color production, and finds that the new press is an ideal complement. “Kodak has been an excellent partner all along, and the Prosper 5000XL press has been an excellent investment,” notes Tazioli.

Technology Now Off the Bleeding Edge

Last year, Printing Impressions looked at a number of installations of high-speed inkjet in which the pain points were so great that bleeding-edge adopters were willing to be first to make the investment, even though it meant being the test cases so press manufacturers could see and learn from their live production environments. Today's adopters are the recipients of all that those vendors and their customers have learned.

In this round of adoptions, we are still watching early adopters, although they are facing fewer installation and substrate challenges than their predecessors did. Even so, these are expensive pieces of equipment often requiring costly pre- and post-press retooling necessary to accommodate the high-speed rollfed environment. Particularly for shops coming from a previously 100 percent sheetfed environment, this can be a major change.

For the foreseeable future, we will continue to see investment in high-speed inkjet coming from printers with strong business cases that compel them to be on the leading edge. Fortunately, though, they will increasingly do so with the benefits of watching and learning from those who have gone before them. PI



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