Primefire 106, Heidelberg’s B1 Production Inkjet Press, Makes North American Debut at Warneke Paper Box
B1-format production inkjet printing has arrived in North America in the form of the Heidelberg Primefire 106 digital color inkjet press that has just entered service at Warneke Paper Box in Denver. The technology the press is built around is so new and advanced that at this point, not much can be reported about how Warneke will use it or what the experience of owning and operating the device will be like.
But one thing seems clear: as the details start to fill in, the story could prove to be one that the industry will eventually recognize as the start of an entirely new narrative about what printing is and how, from now on, printing companies must equip themselves in order to provide it.
It was hard not to think in watershed-moment terms at the event that Heidelberg and Warneke staged in Denver on Oct. 1 and 2, when invited guests and trade media got a first look at the first Primefire 106 installed outside Europe. Warneke’s Primefire 106 isn’t yet in commercial production, and executive management acknowledges that the company is feeling its way forward both in testing the press and in devising a marketing plan for it. But, there’s not a trace of hesitation in their enthusiasm for what they’re convinced the Primefire 106 is going do for them.
Stacy Warneke, president, calls its print quality “unlike anything I've ever seen before” and says the press is the only digital platform to meet all of her investment criteria after 10 years of investigating every such device out there. Steve Huppert, VP and COO, says nothing that Warneke currently produces on its all-Heidelberg offset equipment can’t be migrated to the Primefire 106, which he speculates could one day be the source of 25% of the company's volume.
Nearly everything concerning the press remains speculative since its installation history is limited and a knowledge base about its sustained performance doesn’t yet exist. "There’s really not a road map for us to follow," Huppert concedes. But, being a spear point in the vanguard of early adopters in no way deters Warneke Paper Box, a 111-year-old family firm specializing in folding cartons, set-up and rigid boxes, point-of-purchase displays, pocket folders and cannabis packaging.
The Primefire 106, says Huppert, “is very complementary to our business model.” Stacy Warneke says she’s eager to begin helping customers explore what the Primefire 106, with its variable printing capability, seven-color inkset, and 1,200 x 1,200 dpi print quality can do to enhance their packaging and reenergize their brands. (Click here for a detailed technical profile of the Heidelberg Primefire 106 at Warneke Paper Box.)
Besides packaging printing, applications also could include imprinting for security, track-and-trace, anti-counterfeiting, and package serialization. The latter is a technique that enables sequentially numbered or bar-coded packages to be linked to purchasing consumers and their buying habits. This AI-assisted motherlode of data mining is well known to Amazon and other online retailers, says Huppert, but not to brick-and-mortar merchants: an opportunity Warneke can leverage now that it has a platform capable of doing the kind of printing that serialization requires.
The Primefire 106 currently occupying a dedicated pressroom in Warneke’s 110,000-sq.ft. plant got there as the result of a search that began even before Heidelberg was ready to launch the big inkjet press as a commercial product. Stacy Warneke first saw it and was, she says, “blown away” by it at drupa 2016, where the device was one of the most sought-after exhibits on the fairgrounds. She notes that although she hadn’t gone to drupa intending to invest in a Primefire 106 or any other digital press, her plans changed the moment she saw the quality of the sheets entering the delivery of the Heidelberg device.
This was serendipitous, because as Huppert explains, the company had already begun preparing to receive a digital printing system two years earlier by making sure it had the physical and digital infrastructure that would be needed to support one. This is why the installation of the Primefire 106 starting in July signifies “more than just buying a printing press,” he says.
The press has been running for about four weeks as of this writing, mostly for late-stage testing and operator training to ensure that it will be ready for the live work to come. A welcoming event for Warneke Paper Box customers was planned to take place the day after the joint program with Heidelberg on Oct. 1 and 2, which was attended by management personnel from several dozen printing companies invited by the manufacturer.
During a ribbon-cutting on the press, Felix Müller, president of Heidelberg Americas, saluted Warneke Paper Box as a “strong partner” that had adopted its Primefire 106 without the beta testing often associated with installing systems this new to the market. “We think that this machine has great potential to add value that is needed by the whole industry,” he said.
Momentum for the Primefire 106 will build as Heidelberg focuses on Central Europe, the U.S., Japan, and China as the principal markets for the device, according to Montserrat Peidro Insa, the company’s senior VP and head of digital print business. She said Heidelberg is targeting two types of customers: brand- and marketing-savvy, value-building printers like Warneke Paper Box; and large-volume operations that can take advantage of the press’s high capacity (estimated to be up to 1.5 million 7/0 sheets per month in future productivity modes).
The Primefire 106 at Warneke Paper Box is the first in all of the Americas and the fourth to be installed to date. There are two in Germany: one at MPS-WestRock and another at Colordruck Baiersbronn. Rondo AG, a Swiss pharmaceutical packaging firm, installed one in April of this year. A fifth device is coming to Shenzhen Xianjunlong Colour Printing Co. Ltd. in Shenzhen, China, very soon, Peidro Insa said.
She added that more units are on the way to the U.S. and Germany and that projected delivery dates extend to the third quarter of 2019.
The Primefire 106 is the flagship product in Heidelberg’s Fire family of digital print solutions. Accompanying it are the Versafire CM, EV, and EP toner digital presses; the Omnifire direct-to-object printing system; the Gallus Labelfire 340 digital web press; and the just-introduced Smartfire, which Heidelberg describes as a fully-featured, value offering for digital narrow-web label printing that is focused on ultra-short runs.