OK, I'm gonna put this out there right up front. The new Océ ColorStream 3500 inkjet web press announced on Nov. 10 may well go down as a landmark machine for the company and the industry. My colleague Andy Tribute pointed out while we were there that it’s the most important machine the company has introduced in the past 10 years. I’ve been following Océ closely for over a decade, and Andy is right.
Océ—long something of a holdout in the industry with its legacy of robust, high performance continuous feed monochrome printers—has moved into color in fits and starts. While its competitors shifted relentlessly to color in toner and then inkjet technologies, Océ always seemed more committed to monochrome print on the production side of the house (wide-format printing is another story). This was no surprise, given that it has the leading market share in monochrome continuous feed printers worldwide, both in placements and print volumes. There’s something to be said for sticking to what you know really well.
Then a couple of years ago, Océ rolled out its first JetStream. I first saw this big, heavy inkjet press several months before it was introduced and was impressed with the system and the print quality. The company followed up with an entire line of smaller, larger, slower, faster and wider JetStreams using the same (Kyocera) print head technology, the results of its alliance with Miyakoshi, a Japanese offset press manufacturer that needed a global partner to co-develop, distribute and support its inkjet presses.Size Matters
Still, while Océ has been able to place over 100 JetStream presses around the world, many prospective customers said the machines were too big and heavy for their print shops. Most vocal were service bureaus and data centers where raised flooring is commonplace and not up to the weight of the JetStreams. Those guys stuck with their old mono boxes, or bought color inkjet from another vendor. According to I.T. Strategies, there are still about 4,000 or so Océ monochrome continuous feed print engines on the planet, providing an excellent base for replacement with color inkjet.
So Océ combined what it knows about moving continuous feed paper through a machine with what it had learned about inkjet, and in just 24 months put it together with the same heads and ink delivery systems used on the JetStream 1000. The result is the ColorStream 3500, a machine that targets the data-center and service bureau markets in size, weight, productivity and scalability, and is also a good fit for a variety of publishing applications.
The new simplex engine weighs in at about 5,500 lbs., complete with unwinder, and a duplex system at under 12,000 lbs.—about half the weight of a JetStream 1000. Simplex or duplex, the new system is about the same size as continuous-feed machines from the company’s own VarioStream 7000 and 8000 families, plus those from Xerox and Infoprint, including the Infoprint 5000 color inkjet system. This means the new machine can fit into the same footprint with little or no changes in floor plans or physical plant.
Printing on 21.5˝ wide rolls, the system is designed to run 4–24 million A4 impressions per month, a number that’s based on Océ’s traditional assumption of 70 percent uptime. This is a lot of pages at the high end, but not unreasonable at the lower end for many medium-sized service bureaus and data centers.
I’ve been in numerous shops over the years that had three or four duplex systems. Two or three of these devices could be replaced by one full-color duplex inkjet press, leaving the remaining toner system for mono-only and back-up use.
Adding further appeal, the CS3500 can be initially configured as a monochrome system and field upgraded to full color based on demand. And of course a four-color system can always run mono-only as needed. Real world, there will likely be numerous installs in which one engine on a duplex system is full color and the other black only.
Further, Océ expects some European installations, such as in Switzerland, to be simplex because of federal regulations that require transactional documents to be single-sided. Additional features such as MICR unit and an additional color—making it a six-color press—should be available by mid-2011. Newspapers being printed on the ColorStream 3500.
Print quality, at 600x600-dpi, with a 2-bit multi-level option, is the same as the JetStream 1000, which is to say perfectly acceptable for nearly any transactional and many publishing applications. The ColorStream 3500 can run both water-based dye and pigmented inks, although a key differentiator is that the up-charge for the pigmented inks is just 30 percent more than dye inks.
With ink being the big consumable (and revenue driver) in the inkjet game, this may give Océ a pricing advantage in the market because this up-charge is much greater with other vendors. Given the range of entries from HP, Kodak and Screen/Infoprint, things are likely to get more than a little competitive, so factor this into the deal if you're negotiating for an inkjet system.
Another potential advantage is that Océ will be building the CS3500 at its plant in Poing, Germany, just outside of Munich. Despite the cost of labor in Germany, this may afford more control over manufacturing costs which may trickle down to more aggressive pricing. List price, by the way, is expected to be about $2.5 million for a four-color duplex system, including the unwinder. Street pricing will of course be lower, and you get what you negotiate.Any-speed printing
Perhaps the most interesting feature of this machine is that you can continue printing while the press is speeding up and while it is slowing down. These are normally times when an inkjet press is not printing because the heads are only coordinated to operate when the press is running at full speed. This is a capability you don't think about until someone mentions it, because it’s “normal” to print only at full operating speed. Yet being able to print during speed-up and slow-down periods simultaneously adds productivity and decreases waste, especially for shops where multiple shorter runs are the order of the day.
Finally, being entirely Océ designed and developed, the new press runs the full suite of Océ PRISMA workflow software, so it can handle all the common data streams and integrate into both transactional and publishing workflows. This also should facilitate the transition to inkjet (and color) for Océ VarioStream customers who make the jump to color as workflows can remain essentially unchanged.My Take
I've generally liked Océ products over the years, but they didn’t always get me excited about their potential in the marketplace. The ColorStream 3500 changes that. It shows Océ is seriously committed to inkjet color printing for a broad market.
While the JetStream line works well for ultra-high volume full color, the new system fills a big hole in the company’s product line-up and addresses the needs of customers looking for a reliable migration path to color, all with a system that doesn't require dramatic changes in workflows or physical plants. As such, it is not only a important machine for Océ, it is an important machine for the industry.
While not a landmark device in the way of the IBM 3700 or Xerox DocuTech, it is one that could change the landscape of the inkjet market for transactional and other types of production printing. It is reaching the market at the right time, as economies and business conditions begin to stabilize. It will certainly seize the attention of owners of existing Océ continuous feed systems, and of other print providers looking to make the jump to inkjet. The potential is huge.
Lastly, this system got its start before the Canon acquisition of Océ, and one has to wonder what will come next given what Canon brings to the party. And I have to say that it’s nice to see some manufacturing going back to Poing. Océ has been building printers there since it was a Siemens factory some 30 years ago—hence its address Siemensallee. You have to like a place where you can see the Alps from the parking lot.