Digital printing line with conventional printing and converting modules
With hybrid presses consisting of digital and conventional processes labels can be printed and converted on a single platform. Such systems have been available on the market for several years. However, recently, new concepts for hybrid presses have been introduced.
This article was first published in the print issue 2-2015 of NarrowWebTech and is now published online because it might be a still relevant topic for our readers.
Digital printing is already an established process for label printing. This is due to the steady increase of small run jobs and the demand for 2D barcodes and numberings. Technology companies already recognized this trend years ago resulting in about 60 different models of digital printing presses currently available. The majority of these presses use the inkjet process as it requires significantly less developing time compared with electrophotographic print engines.
Some manufacturers of conventional label printing presses joined the trend towards digital label printing and began developing their own digital print engines. Whereas most of the inkjet solutions are mainly focused on pure digital printing, such machines offer the platform-based opportunity of integration into conventional presses with inline converting. Therefore, they are hybrid presses combining digital and conventional printing processes.
Inline or offline?
The concepts of pure digital printing and hybrid printing respectively, are based on different approaches. With pure digital printing, many of jobs have to be printed in the shortest possible time. All obstacles like the make-ready of rotary die-cutting units or cutting knives has to be carried out off-press. This offers the opportunity, to pool jobs to be printed on the same substrate. The subsequent separation of the single jobs will be done on the converting machine. In case an inline solution is needed, there is the opportunity to integrate a converting unit into the digital print engine.
With hybrid presses the whole label job can be executed with a single machine. Apart from digital printing this concept includes conventional processes like flexo, screen and letterpress printing, and converting units for lamination, die-cutting and cutting. The finished reels are than ready for final quality control and shipment. This offers the opportunity for single-pass operation. It is of course possible, to use digital printing exclusively and do the converting steps in an offline mode.
High print resolution
Currently, different hybrid label printing presses are available on the market, combining digital with conventional printing processes on a single platform. This includes the Caslon by Nilpeter, the Graphium by FFEI, the DFlex by Focus Label Machinery; the Digital Series by Mark Andy, Mlabel by Mprint, Puma by Graficon, and JetPlus by Omet. In addition, Gallus introduced the DCS 340 in the second half of 2014, with the official market introduction scheduled to be at Labelexpo Europe in September 2015 in Brussels.
All these machines are based on the same working principle. A platform technology combining modules for digital and conventional printing processes and certain converting units.
Apart from the individual design, the machines distinguish themselves also by print resolution. In this respect the DCS 340 holds the top position of 1200 x 1200 dpi by using new Fuji print heads. This is the first inkjet label printing press incorporating such print heads which facilitate a production speed of 50 m/min (164 fpm). However, as the introduction of this press is scheduled for September 2015, there is a certain time frame for competitors to catch up.
The press models Digital Series, Mlabel, Puma and JetPlus offer a resolution of 600 x 600 dpi. The Digital Series and the JetPlus offer maximum production speeds of about 75 m/min (246.2 fpm), whereas Mlabel runs at 50 m/min (164 fpm) and Puma at 25 m/min (82 fpm). Apart from the Digital Series by Mark Andy, which use print heads by Hewlett Packard, the other presses mentioned above incorporate Kyocera print heads. The DFlex digital print engine is supplied with print heads by Konica Minolta and offers a maximum resolution of 720 x 360 dpi and a production speed of 40 m/min (131 fpm). The Caslon and Graphium print engines are provided with Xaar print heads and offer a maximum resolution of 360 x 36o dpi and production speeds of 50 m/min (164 fpm).
A difficult start
So far, the concept of digital print engines combined with modules for conventional printing and converting seem not to be very promising. Currently, there is just one known installation of the Graphium system. In September 2014, the Kentucky, USA, based print shop Distinct Packabilities put into operation a model with print heads for the printing of CMYK and White combined with inline flexo printing and converting modules. However, there is not much knowledge about installations of other hybrid systems, although they have been market available for several years.
The hybrid solution provided by Mark Andy and Omet have only recently become available. Therefore, it is difficult to foresee if these machines will establish themselves in the label printing market. In addition, it has to be taken into consideration that there is severe competition in the field of digital printing and that most of the suppliers incorporate the same print head technology into their products. Hence, the only way to stand out from the competition is by means of print quality and productivity.
Cost factors may also have a deterrent effect on potential users, as a digital print engine with additional modules for conventional printing and converting is more expensive than pure digital print solutions. Hence apart from the achievable resolution, also the efficiency of such machines is of significant importance. This means, every user has to decide for himself, if the most effective way is to combine printing and converting or to do them separately. Furthermore, this decision also depends on the type of labels the customers’ order in general. If there is a sufficient number of orders for labels with high value-adding processes and variable design, the investment in hybrid printing systems may be a reasonable decision.
According to Stefan Heiniger, Chief Operation Officer for Gallus, many label print shops are holding back their investment decisions for digital print systems. He state, that the main reasons for this situation are unsatisfactory results with inkjet systems and the absence of inline converting solutions. Should this be the case, the new hybrid systems may meet the needs of many label print shops if they succeed to provide the demanded print quality results. Moreover, the compact designed digital print engines offer the opportunity to integrate them into conventional printing presses already in operation.
Hybrid label printing presses combining digital and conventional printing processes with downstream converting units on one single platform offer numerous opportunities to produce many different types of labels in a single-pass process. However, if and when the investment in such hybrid system is worthwhile heavily depends on the general workflow and the job structure of the respective print shops.
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