Ink Jet IPEX?

Held half way between Drupa trade shows, IPEX is a big printing industry event that you cannot ignore.  Coming up in just 2 months time 18-25 May 2010 at the NEC, Birmingham, UK the advance of digital printing is going to be very apparent.

I’ve been attending IPEX shows since the early 1980’s when there was almost no digital printing.  Xerox was selling high-speed production copiers and had a printer version.  Delphax was promoting ionography, and Bull magnetography.  In those politically incorrect days I was aghast to see strippers peforming on the Polychrome plate stand – the challenge of attracting an audience to a commodity product hasn’t gone, but the method has changed!

But the most exciting IPEX for me was 1993 when Indigo and Xeikon first showed their products.  Industry pundits were predicting the demise of offset printing by the year 2000.  The buzz about the place was enormous.  As usual the initial growth of new technology was grossly overestimated and it would be around a decade before a significant market penetration for digital colour had been achieved.

So what about ink jet?  Well, the Drupa show in 2008 was tagged ‘Ink Jet Drupa’ and certainly the new technology demonstrated was impressive.  Ink jet had finally shaken off the image of desk-top products – good quality but unreliable.  But with a few exception, the really impressive stuff was there as prototypes.  The expectation for IPEX 2010 is that we will see commercialised products and they will be working.

Kodak will be showing their Stream continuous ink jet technology, now incorporated into the Prosper range of machines.  Printing 200 metres/min. it has a duty cycle of 120 M A4 pages/month!  HP’s web press prints at 122 m/min. but has a wider web width and so similar productivity.

But perhaps the most interesting machines will be ink jet sheet-fed presses.  Fujifilm and Screen showed non-working prototypes at Drupa 2008 and we have been closely monitoring the patents published by both companies to understand better how they work.  At the moment the Fujifilm 720 press looks more interesting from a process point of view.  To enable printing on to a wide range of paper stocks, both machines use a colourless fixer or print improver liquid with is printed before the image.  This reacts with the ink to considerably improve the waterfastness, and the precipitate the colorants on the substrate surface giving brighter images.  The Fujifilm patents describe a further twist.  The ink contains not just coloured pigments but transparent polymer beads.  After printing these are fused on to the substrate in a process similar to the hot roll fusing of toner technology.  The result is likely to be good adhesion and gloss even on smooth coated substrates.

We will be commenting further on technology at IPEX, and of course reviewing it after the event.  And the IMI Europe Ink Jet Conference, to be held this year in Lisbon 27-29 October, will be featuring both the technology and markets for ink jet digital presses.