Adventures in Ipexland
Last week in Birmingham was one of those weeks when most things didn't go quite as planned. First, my flight from Philly to Manchester was cancelled thanks to the volcano in Iceland. I managed to get myself and a colleague re-booked onto a flight to Munich, then London, followed by a train to Birmingham. Then the train was cancelled, but we caught a later one, finally reaching Birmingham some 12 hours later than planned. Not bad, all things considered...except that my luggage never made it to London. Nor did it catch up to me, for that matter, until I returned home a week later. (Sure do wish I could get the miles for the extra trips it made credited to my frequent flyer account!). Then my cell phone wouldn't work. And if the National Exhibition Center (where Ipex is held) ever figures out how to make WiFi work correctly, it will be a minor miracle. On the other hand, the fish and chips were pretty good, and the steak tip sandwiches outside of Hall 12 were delightful. And British beer, while not quite as good as Belgian or German brews, was welcome at the end of the day.
Anyway, between borrowed clothes (Thank you, Steve Reynolds and Pete Basilere!) and a conveniently located Gap Store in a well-stocked mall, I did some basic re-supplying and managed to get through the week. And I learned that everyone you meet is so nice when they hear you lost your luggage!
The Inkjet Ipex?
Some people said this was going to be the "Inkjet Ipex," and I noted back on May 13 that I'd be looking for these systems at the show. But much like drupa 2008, the reality remained more promise than product. Looks like this inkjet thing may be a bit harder to do than many folks expected. I'll go into more detail in a later piece, but here's the thumbnail.
Kodak did a more formal unveiling of the Prosper press, the machine the company hopes will tilt the playing field away from offset toward inkjet. The print quality off this press, in all honesty, really is a step above most of the others, assuming the available print samples are anything to go by. One printer I talked with went so far as to claim it really didn't compete with any of the inkjet systems from the major players. Nevertheless, it won't really be available until 2011. Kodak claims to be racking up orders for the device, about half of which are for black-only versions destined for book manufacturing duties.
Another machine we'll have to wait until next year for is the new HP T200, the little brother of the humongous T300. The new machine—still under development with beta versions heading out to customers in the late fall—is duplex in a box for a 20.5" paper roll. Spanning roughly 30 feet roll-to-roll, it’s said to run four-color duplex prints at 200-ppm, black-only at 400-ppm, and can be directly connected to a variety of existing finishing devices. I suspected this new machine would be a narrower version of the T-300 but was pleased to see it is not just a downsized model, but a totally different device. In some ways, it is the machine I hoped HP would come out with and I'm looking forward to seeing more as it is developed.
The most interesting machine though, is one we can't get at all (sort of like some of the nicer European cars). You want offset quality inkjet? Look no further than the iPress 2400 from French company Impika—at least if you're in Europe. The company lacks any type of distribution or service in the U.S. Too bad, too, because if the samples I saw on the floor in Birmingham are anything to go by, and assuming the machine runs reliably and at a reasonable cost, there is nothing else like it on the market. I'll be learning more about this one, even though we can't get it here.
Then tucked into the back corner of its stand, Xerox was running a technology demo of a device that is likely to be its entry into the inkjet market. The yet-to-be-named system uses an amped-up version of the CMYK solid-ink technology used in the ColorQube office printers, but in a high-speed (up to 500 fpm) continuous-feed configuration. According to Xerox, solid ink has the advantage of being able to work effectively on even inexpensive, low-grade papers, ranging from 45-160 gsm. The device looks to target transactional and transpromo apps and some types of direct mail. And like HP's T200 and Kodak's Prosper, the new Xerox device won't be available until sometime in 2011.
I'll come back with more detail on this and other items from Ipex, and hopefully be able to give you a look under the hood of these machines before too long.