DIGITAL digest 9-01
Setting the Toner
ROCHESTER, NY—This town might seem an unlikely place to be ground zero in the next big battle for dominance of the color digital printing market. That is, until one takes into account the city is the corporate hometown of NexPress Solutions LLC and Xerox Corp.
PRINT 01 brought a temporary shift in the battlefield to Chicago, setting up a head-to-head bid for attention between the NexPress 2100 and FutureColor digital presses. (For its part, Xerox contends that its DocuColor 2000 Series is the true competitor to the NexPress.) In preparation, both companies decided to launch advance campaigns by inviting members of the trade press to Rochester for first-hand product inspections, status updates and visits with customers.
The NexPress 2100 prints 4,200 8.5x11˝ four-color, one-sided pages per hour, or 2,100 four-over-four-color pages. It can print stocks from 80 to 300 gsm, with the "DryInk" transferred by an intermediate blanket (NexBlanket) that is said to conform to the substrate surface for better image transfer.
The manufacturer promised to release more detailed product information at PRINT 01, but its initial projections put the cost of output (in cents per page) in the single digits. Configurations of the printing system will start at around $350,000.
NexPress Solutions is saying that it intends to "selectively place machines for the next two years" and already has the first 48 customers lined up. This includes sites in North America and Europe.
Venkat Purushotham, president and CEO, explains that the company is more focused on seeing the total number of pages produced grow dramatically, rather than the installed base of presses.
"I'm more interested in seeing the first billion pages printed rather than 500 units sold," Purushotham asserts. He adds that the manufacturer considers customer satisfaction to be its number one priority.
A key element of NexPress' plan to improve reliability and keep costs down is the adoption of an engineering concept it calls ORCs—operator replaceable components, Purushotham says. More than 40 press components reportedly can be replaced by the operator in a matter of seconds to minutes.
To help ensure that the press meets customer expectations, a developmental version of the NexPress 2100 was put into operation at Spire (an evolution of Graphics Express) in Boston for almost a year. For most of that time, the company reports it sold work produced on the press, even though it was restricted from revealing what device it was using. In late summer, Spire was scheduled to have its original press swapped out for a "commercial unit."
The single-source marketing communications firm offers a mix of traditional offset and digital printing, with a heavy emphasis on variable-data work in the latter case. It also offers design/creative services, which President Rick Dyer sees really driving the $22 million business going forward.
Rochester, NY-based Cohber, a printing and communications company, holds the distinction of receiving the first commercial unit to come off the NexPress 2100 assembly line. According to President Erik Webber, the company dropped the word "Press" from its name to reflect the broader range of services it has expanded into, including database-driven, one-to-one marketing. Nevertheless, the $28 million printer's two plants still house a mix of six-, eight- and even 10-color sheetfed offset presses.
"With the NexPress 2100, we will enhance our ability to help companies communicate their messages more effectively using printing that is more dynamic and cost-effective," says Howard "Buzz" Webber Jr., chairman and CEO. Webber adds that reliability was his real hot button in evaluating this new digital press, but he also liked the fact that there were no click charges.
Color on the Horizon
At the time of the press tour, Xerox characterized FutureColor's product design and development as ongoing, with beta testing and the formal product launch expected later this year. The company has been very guarded in talking about specific performance capabilities of the press. Instead, the development team talks about "third-generation" digital color systems that at 100 pages/minute mark a "breakthrough" in productivity.
FutureColor employs an imaging process that has a single transfer point for all four toners, which are accumulated on a belt before being applied to the paper. This design, combined with a proprietary fusing process, is said to decrease the amount of toner used, thereby reducing costs and improving quality. The device's cost per page is expected to be in the 5¢ range. As for the press itself, Xerox says it should sell for $500,000 or less.
The base press configuration of the modular FutureColor system will include two feeders and two stackers, but those numbers can be increased to six and nine, respectively. Each feeder has two drawers that can hold coated or uncoated stocks in weights from 60 to 270 gsm.
Two front ends will be offered to drive the press. One option will be the CSX RIP (CreoScitex Spire), which is currently offered with the DocuColor 2000 Series. As an alternative, the DocuSP (Document Services Platform) controller that was developed to drive Xerox's monochrome systems is being upgraded to handle process color. The enhancements to DocuSP reflect the company's broader emphasis on integrating the capabilities of its black-and-white and color product lines.
Since FutureColor has yet to enter beta testing, Xerox instead showcased its production concept and current equipment in action through a visit to Mercury Print Productions in Rochester.
Along with its success and mix of services, the company is notable for having been founded by a woman, Valerie Mannix, in the late 1960s. Today, Mannix is CEO of a company with $23 million in sales.
Mercury operates a full array of Xerox equipment, including two DocuColor 2060s, two DocuTech 135s, and one each of the DocuColor 100 and 12. It also has a variety of six-, five- and two-color sheetfed offset presses. President John Place says he anticipates trading in one of the DocuColor 2060s for a FutureColor press in the near future.
The printer has 14 salespeople selling its full range of services, but Place says he plans to bring in someone with more of a marketing background to really spearhead variable-data printing sales. The bulk of the variable work the company has done so far has been in black-and-white, he adds, often on color shells.
It's highly unlikely a clear victor—NexPress or Xerox—will come out of PRINT 01. Even if one press should win this battle, the war will be far from over.
Proofing, Training Solutions from Agfa
RIDGEFIELD PARK, NJ—Agfa held a press conference at its headquarters here recently to highlight its digital proofing offerings and to showcase its new Graphic Systems Technical Learning Center.
Robert Stabler, president of Agfa Graphic Systems, discussed the industry's current "appetite for all things digital," referring to digital proofing as the missing link in an all-digital workflow. He noted that press proofing is declining at 5 to 8 percent annually and analog proofing at 10 to 15 percent. Conversely, digital ink-jet proofing is growing at a pace of 25 percent per year and halftone proofing at 20 percent.
According to Stabler, printers want affordable digital proofing systems, versatility in size configurations, a choice of running proofs with/without a dot structure, remote proofing capabilities, media flexibility, low maintenance, as well as the ability to work with advanced color management software.
Deborah Hutcheson, senior product marketing manager for proofing systems, gave an update on AgfaJet Sherpa two-sided piezo ink-jet digital proofing systems. She says more than 3,500 systems have been shipped worldwide.
At PRINT 01, Agfa will demonstrate its new Sherpa Hi Res, a 1,440x1,440 dpi proofer available in three widths: 50˝, 64˝ and 87˝.
Capable of eight colors, it features 16 print heads, variable dot size and 3x faster speeds. Commercial sales are planned for Q4 of this year, Hutcheson says.
QMS (Quality Management Software) has now been integrated into six-color Sherpa proofing systems. Developed for contract proofing, QMS assures identical results from different Sherpas—a must for remote proofing applications.
In addition, Agfa has released its ColorTune Pro 4.0 color management software, which automatically compensates for differences in color ranges among input devices, a monitor, proofer and a printing press.
Because the system can remap the color space of a monitor and proofer to match the color gamut of a specific press, the software reportedly delivers end-to-end color management and accurate proofs.
An open house was also held to show the new Technical Learning Center, which has been moved into Agfa's Ridgefield Park headquarters. It features, among other products, a Galileo platesetter, Apogee workflow solutions, Avantra and Phoenix imagesetters, as well as various Sherpa proofing systems.
The imaging cylinder on the NexPress 2100 is just one of more than 40 operator replaceable components (OCRs), which can be replaced in a matter of seconds or minutes.