Canon Solutions America's New Production Inkjet Press—The Niagara: A Roadmap to Success
Alex Gergely is a cautious and calculated intellectual when it comes to the dynamics of inkjet printing. But the senior product marketing executive of Canon Solutions America, who spent six years as the product manager for the Océ VarioPrint 6000 series, is so completely blown away by Canon Solutions America’s latest inkjet innovation, currently dubbed Project Niagara, that he offers this assertion to the skeptical among the printing community.
“If you buy this product from us,” Gergely states, “we’re not going to let you fail to succeed.”
The Niagara saw its initial coming-out party at PRINT 13 in Chicago, and Canon Solutions America is seeking to be the first company to plant its flag in the midrange cutsheet, color inkjet space—heretofore virgin territory. A B3 format device (max. media size of 13.9x19.7”) that will share many of the the finishing capabilities of the Océ VarioPrint 6000 series, the Niagara will be able to churn out 294 letter images per minute and up to 3,800 duplexed B3 sheets per hour. The Niagara’s monthly volume output ranges from one to 10 million letter images. Its digital front end is driven by a new, scalable PRISMAsync controller, which is fully supported by the well-known PRISMAproduction suite, making for a truly integrated end-to-end digital workflow.
Watch the interview below of Bob Barbera of Canon USA as he discusses with Mark Michelson the new Niagara cutsheet color inkjet press:
The Niagara press will address the needs traditionally associated with the inkjet printing space—transactional materials, direct mail, books and manuals—and promises to have uses that speak to the needs of commercial and publishing applications, as well. That Canon Solutions America was able to survey the opinions of more than 150 customers during the conception and development of the product—augmented by its experience with and success of other continuous feed and cutsheet technologies—has added to the device’s conceptual appeal.
Backed by Océ ColorStream inkjet print head technology and Océ-developed aqueous inks, the Niagara’s ultimate point of differentiation is its ability to consolidate the toner products on the customer’s floor into a single weapon of mass production. The Niagara can take the place of three or four toner devices and help to reduce or eliminate the need for additional operators. Canon Solutions America estimates the device will operate at an average of 40 percent of the operating cost of electrophotographic printing. Gergely points out that only a small portion of the toner-based products currently on the market are doing in excess of one million impressions per month in the field, and that it would require a small fleet of toner, offset and rollfed inkjet machines to match Niagara’s media flexibility, productivity and output capability.
In a sense, the Niagara—with its patented four-color ink system—isn’t competing with toner. It is poised to be a companion sheetfed inkjet machine, providing a reprint solution for short-run work that lacks the waste output of its brethren, producing output that’s color matched and profiled. The same principles hold true for spelling labor-intensive offset machines, with the Niagara tending to short- and medium-run jobs.
Paper compatibility is another area where Gergely sees the Niagara as setting an unmatched standard. Initially, the device will have eight drawers, but will be expandable to have as many as 12 different media sizes and weights that can be used in the same job.
The value proposition of in-line finishing capabilities cannot be understated. Borrowing from the Océ VarioPrint series with multiple punching units and three different bookletmakers, the Niagara will also feature third-party capabilities with a standardized DFD interface that will provide access to other in-line possibilities.
As impressive as its credentials are, perhaps the most excitement can be found in what lies ahead for the Niagara. Through its Agile Development program, Canon will be conducting research and development in the field courtesy (on the U.S. side) of four customers who will be putting the Niagara through the paces, a period that will last between three and six months. The four printers comprise Canon Solution America’s Lead Customer Program, a group carefully culled during an 18-month vetting process that began with 75 companies, eventually whittled down to 20, 10, then five candidates.
“The LCPs are strategically selected accounts that are indicative of the markets where we’re going to focus these products,” Gergely notes. “We spent six months talking to people about their workflows, the types of jobs and media they run, analyzing file structure, analyzing how they do color profiling. We looked at the color knowledge within their organizations. We wanted to see what technologies we’re trying to migrate these impressions from—are we pulling print volume from offset or toner—and what is the sweet spot for these customers. All four customers have different scenarios, with some commonalities.”
Gergely calls it a microcosm of what the printers will see on their own shop floors when the machines are installed during the first quarter of 2015. To reduce service visits and minimize visit duration, the Océ R&D group will be monitoring the machines’ progress in real time via Océ Remote Services—a direct Internet connection with the participants’ Niagara engine. The LCP period will be arduous on the printers chosen to take the first leap, but they were selected because Canon Solutions America believes these firms can yield the feedback that is desired to maximize the potential of the Niagara concept.
While the LCPs are not being revealed during the R&D phase, the four firms are acknowledged market leaders. All participants have agreed to deploy the standard machine configuration, which is a Niagara engine, 2x PIM (eight trays) and one high capacity stacker during the testing phase. In mid-November, the LCPs were flown to Venlo, The Netherlands, to see their workflow, media and jobs run on the Niagara. Actually, the LCPs’ own personnel produced the jobs.
According to Gergely, all of the feedback learned during the LCP process will be processed and necessary changes/enhancements will be incorporated into the next version 1.2 product. For example, the 1.2 release will incorporate an in-line spray primer that will enable users to print on coated stocks.
“For us, it’s about getting product on the market ASAP,” he says. “Once we plant our flag, we’ll be the standard by which all other cutsheet inkjet products are compared.”
Gergely is bullish on the future of the Niagara platform, one he anticipates will enjoy a solid lifetime of 10 to 15-plus years. The value proposition offered by the device as currently constituted—the reduced running costs, consolidated monochrome and color pages, in-line finishing capabilities—almost pales in comparison to the roadmap that the R&D process will yield for future iterations of the product.
“We’re going to be taking notes and shuttling information back and forth. We’ll find out not only what the (LCP customers) like but also what they don’t like,” Gergely relates. “And we will strongly influence the R&D roadmap for the next releases. We’re doing some of the early pioneering that’s required to yield the harvest later.”
Gergely also understands that even with the versatility of the machine he calls a “Swiss army knife,” the Niagara will not be an easy sell until the printing community becomes fully educated on the merits of the Niagara’s inkjet technology, which makes the early device placements critical. Once the names of the LCP participants are revealed, Gergely expects their phones “to be ringing off the hook.”
But what of the safety net asserted by Gergely, that Canon Solutions America would not allow their Niagara customers to fail to succeed? Consider that customers who understand the nuances behind color management will be able to maximize their experiences with the Niagara, but the company spends a lot of time teaching optimization.
“We have introductory and advanced classes as part of our professional services offerings,” he says. “We’re going to ensure your success by teaching you and holding your hand by being there in a support role, well after the sale. This is one reason why Canon Solutions America is really close to their customer base at this level. There’s ongoing collaboration, ongoing consulting and secondary testing. We will be there for you.”
The official name unveiling (it will be Canon branded) will take place in late February of 2015. It will be introduced internally to the Canon Solutions America sales team in late January, with a target launch of and general availability of June 2015. Gergely anticipates the Niagara will be on display at GRAPH EXPO 15 and the Canon Expo next fall.
“After two years of going down the virtual road, we’re ready for the real deal,” he says.