Landa steals the biggest print show on earth

For the past couple of months we’ve heard snippets of information about Benny Landa’s new digital printing technology nanography. Yesterday at Drupa, the biggest printing industry show in the world, while everyone else was desperately trying to finish building their stands and get their machines working ready for today’s opening, Landa revealed his technology to the world’s press.

Standing between two large digital presses with huge touch screen interfaces for their front covers, the charismatic Benny Landa claimed “its great to be back”. “It was all meant to be a big secret and surprise” said Benny, but in March an Israeli finance company had let slip that Landa Labs was preparing to launch digital presses. Since then we’ve been told that Nanography uses aqueous ink containing nano particle pigments. Ink ejectors are used to print at high resolution.

Yesterday we learnt much more. The ink is capable of being jetted by any type of ink jet printhead, piezo or thermal, but for the moment piezo heads are used. Benny says the heads are modified to suit the ink, which we believe may mean tuning for the optimum drop volume and drop break-off and perhaps ensuring materials compatibility. The printheads print vertically downwards depositing the drops on to a moving heated transfer belt. This is kept at a surface temperature of around 120C and most of the carrier liquid water is driven off. The aim is to work towards a target life of 500,000 impressions life for the belt, which will be operator changeable.

There is provision for up to 8 printheads and hence colours. The belt is brought into contact with the paper sheets or web during its reverse pass and the image, said at this stage to be like a thermoplastic film just 500 nm thick, is totally transferred to the paper. No further fixing of the image is required, nor any post treatment or coating. Duplex printing is achieved in the sheet-fed machines by printing the front and back images successively along the belt, transferring the front image to the sheet, reversing the sheet and then making a second transfer onto the reverse side. With the web press the front and back of the web is printed side by side on the belt, and the web makes two contacts with the transfer belt with a turning bar in between.

The process is claimed to work well on any type of paper – coated or uncoated – as well as a range of common plastic films and foils making it suitable for packaging printing. Benny explained that at this stage many image defects are visible as the machines are still in development. Having learnt from previous mistakes these machines will not be shipped until everything is working and the technology reliable, which realistically means 18 months time at the earliest.

Landa Corporation will be selling presses themselves, but has also announced three partners – there are more on the way – who will use the technology within their own machines. Komori, Manroland Sheetfed and Heidelberg have been announced so far. In all cases Landa will manufacture and supply the ink and other consumables, such as the transfer belt.

Landa’s strategy is as follows. Businesses aren’t buying conventional presses like they used to – sales have dropped by 50% in the past 5 years. Although growth in pages printed digitally is huge and there’s a choice of digital presses on the market, at present only 2% of pages are printed digitally. Although digital media will take over from print in commercial markets over the next few decades, other areas like packaging will remain. So overall there is still a huge potential market for digital presses. The tough economic times, the poor outlook for print against social media and the rapid obsolescence of digital technology hold the market back. By offering the same technology from multiple vendors the fear of buying the “wrong” technology disappears, just as VCR sales took off once there was a clear winning format.

The economics of the Nanographic process will also help. There is a clear aim to match the cost of ownership and cost per page of offset presses, so there will be no need for printing companies to chase personalisation-type jobs, they can use these machines for any run length. The cost of the presses is forecast to be similar to high-end offset presses of similar throughput. Full details of the initial range of Nanographic presses can be found on the Landa web site at www.landanano.com .

Although the current presses will be aimed at commercial printing and packaging markets, Benny also expects the process will move eventually to office markets too.

So, where did the funding come from for 10 years of development? Well, it’s effectively self-funded by Benny Landa himself from the proceeds he made with his previous generation technology. Landa Corporation has four units – the Landa Fund helping economically disadvantaged youth, Landa Ventures investing in technologies of the future, Landa Labs working on energy harvesting, drug delivery and personal care, and Landa Digital Printing.

There is still plenty of work to do behind the glossy exterior of the machines. The banding visible in the image indicates there is more optimisation of the ink for the printhead and perhaps transfer belt. Over the past two decades we have seen many times in the patent literature proposals to print aqueous-based inks onto a transfer surface, drive off the water, then transfer the image to paper, but none has been commercialised. But heated belts and transfer were at the heart of Landa’s Indigo technology too, so if anyone can succeed Landa can.

Far from relaxing, Benny Landa is obviously enjoying the development of this new technology. Asked when he might consider retiring Benny immediately responded “never!” “One day someone will find me lying by the side of a machine!” Let’s hope that doesn’t come anytime soon.