“Is this heaven?” asks John Kinsella.
“No. This is Iowa,” says his son.
And it was Iowa, like a scene from the “Field of Dreams” movie, that rolled beneath our wheels as we hurtled across the plains. Xerox had rounded up a collection of high-volume customers and a couple dozen industry analysts and press to see the first installation of its CiPress 500, the new waterless inkjet press installed at dmh Marketing Partners, an enormous direct mail operation based in Mt. Pleasant, IA.
High-speed inkjet printing may be poised to change the game in printing, but no one is taking it for granted. Some of the leading equipment vendors are taking the bold (and remarkably smart) step of not merely placing first-generation machines on customers’ shop floors, but actually partnering—in every sense of the word—with key customers to develop the technology in real-world production printing environments.
HP has been doing this with its T-series inkjet systems at O’Neil Data Services in Los Angeles, and a similar relationship between dmh and Xerox is clearly a partnership in bringing the CiPress machine to market. With dmh cranking out some 8.5 million mail pieces a day, the company has both the cred and the volume to test the new machine thoroughly. The Waterless Advantage
Announced at Graph Expo, the CiPress 500 production inkjet system uses polymerized resin pellets—about a millimeter in diameter—that come in cyan, magenta, yellow and black flavors. These are melted and fired onto paper where they harden on contact. Like with toner, there’s minimal penetration into the paper, which eliminates the dot gain issues of aqueous inkjet systems.
A key advantage is that the machine can print on some very inexpensive papers. I snagged a sample book that had the same images printed on papers ranging from a seriously cheap 45 gsm newsprint to a 148 gsm opaque smooth stock. The colors are reasonably consistent across the brightness levels and image quality is more than acceptable for the applications the CiPress is likely to be used for. We’re not talking photobooks or car brochures here—just full-color transactional documents, third-class opportunities, and maybe newspaper inserts. There is some show-through—it’s not unlike what one would see using toner on the same substrates, and less than some aqueous inkjet devices—but this is always dependent on the paper and amount of ink used.
CiPress ink and print head
The CiPress runs at 500 feet per minute, although operator-selectable slower speeds offer improvements in print quality. At dmh, the machine is running a 20.5˝ web in a twin-engine duplex configuration, the same one that will be generally available in 2012. At Graph Expo, though, Xerox showed a single engine version that won’t be formally named or rolled out until drupa next May. According to Xerox, that device will be available as a single-engine duplex or as two narrow web simplex machines. Co-development works
I first saw the CiPress about three years ago when it was just a few print heads on a frame with a paper transport to keep the web tight. I’ve since seen it a couple times a year in a Xerox development lab and each time it has gotten better. Even the machine I saw two months before Graph Expo wasn’t as good as the real system in place at dmh. This is due in part to the development process, where the ideas for how to make the CiPress work better are based on real-world experience at dmh instead of a lab at the Xerox campus in Webster, NY. This is as it should be, and the big new machine is the better for it.
Randy Seberg, vice president of technology a dmh, has been fully engaged in the development process from the moment Xerox approached the company. He knew the press would ultimately be able to replace many of the company’s toner, and even offset, presses and saw that being part of the development process would give him an edge in the marketplace.
“A waterless inkjet press lets me think outside the box,” he says. “Take paper, for example. I want to be able to use any kind of paper on any of my presses. We go through 250–275 trailer truck loads of paper a year. Having that all be the same kind of paper is a huge advantage.”
As dmh and Xerox began running real-world documents, Seberg never told customers what he was doing. He just substituted CiPress output into a offset printed direct mail job. The customer never knew, or cared when they found out.
“You have to look beyond what you can see to what you can do,” asserts Seberg. And you have to ask, What will delight my customers? For example, CiPress can print very close to the edge of the page—very close—which our customers like, and which we can’t do with our other technologies.”
He sees the CiPress as helping dmh continue to delight its customers, even as it helps the company grow. He expects to increase staff from 550 to 800 by the end of this year and is on a path to replace many toner-based machines with CiPress. With the kind of volume dmh runs, one assumes another big Xerox press will soon be headed to Mt. Pleasant.Spindling, Folding and Mutilating
One of the first things anyone familiar with digital printing and direct mail asks is how the output of a given press holds up in the mailstream. Several makes of toner, after all, are known to rub off when subjected to the abuse of the USPS and a waterless ink that sits on top of the page would seem to have some of the same properties. I turned again to the sample book.
So, OK, if you deliberately scratch the ink with something sharp, you can scrape ink off the page, and it seems to adhere better to some papers than others. But, you can do the same with many types of toner. According to tests done by Randy Seberg’s team, the ink does not come off in the normal USPS mail cycle and pages won’t stick together even after being in a hot car interior. It also holds up well to water.
My own tests indicate the ink doesn’t crack much when folded, and there can be some transference if you vigorously rub a couple of printed pages together. Still, the abuse I gave the pages is well above what a typical direct mail piece would get enroute from dmh to your mailbox.
Interestingly, the cheap newsprint in the sample book held up remarkably well to my torture. More scientific tests by places like Spencer Labs are no doubt being planned or conducted, but at least based on the samples I have and dmh’s experience, the ink seems ready for prime time. And, you can write on it. One of the keys to success, notes Seberg, is using as thin a layer of ink as possible (which also helps keep costs down).Other potential
A service bureau owner I’ve known for over a decade was at the event and is planning to have a CiPress installed as soon as possible. I’ve watched as she acquired various other print engines, and this is the first one she is truly excited about getting. “It will let us do several things we simply cannot do easily right now. That’s going to give us productivity and cost advantages in the market,” she said.
Randy Seberg agrees. “We wanted to make a big leap and make it quickly. Over the next three years, our offset work and toner continuous-feed (volume) will decline and overall digital will expand. Xerox calls it the CiPress, but before they came up with that name we just called it SuperPress.”