Advancing on all fronts
Published: 27 August 2021 | No comments yet
Konica Minolta’s entry into the production segment was with the 140ppm AccurioPress C14000
The cornerstone of many a digital print site, the production toner press usually eschews flashy frills for solid, reliable performance, but some of that is changing, finds Michael Walker
The faster a press is, the more important it is that it’s both working as much of the time as possible and producing sellable print for as much of that time as it can. While that’s obviously true of offset machines and high-speed web inkjets, it applies to toner presses too, where day-to-day mixed short run and perhaps variable content work is produced.
The speeds here are a little less eye-watering, with ‘production’ class usually meaning around 90 to 100 A4 pages per minute or more, but the strength of mature toner technology comes into play, offering proven levels of quality on a wide range of substrates, including offset grades, without requiring any special treatment.
So what’s left to improve? Consistency and reliability can always be refined further, and there’s been a trend towards on-the-fly quality control, whether that’s tracking colour accuracy, holding front-to-back registration and correcting for paper skew or detecting faulty printed sheets automatically so they can be removed and reprinted quickly. Designed-in machine reliability with remote technical support and preventive maintenance directed by cloudbased monitoring increasingly contribute to keeping things running smoothly and allowing downtime to be managed with less interruption.
Strength in diversity
Expanding the range of applications is also an area of focus, through support for longer sheets, allowing six- and sometime eight-page folded products to be made without requiring a B2 or larger press. Support for heavier media
enables small scale carton production and a wider range of substrates, including textured types of paper as well as synthetics, allows for items as diverse as upmarket corporate brochures, menus, safety signage and swing tags to be printed. Multiple input bins allow for a range of media types to be held ready to meet mixed workloads.
Further application diversity via special colours is supported by some vendors in this sector. For more on these options and how they work, see the feature on page 41 of this issue.
With a press that’s optimised for throughput, overall productivity aspects then boil down to getting jobs onto the press faster, via prepress and production management workflow automation, and off, via inline or near-line finishing options. While inline finishing options aren’t new, we have seen more focus on overall workflow integration and end-to-end automation, and all the press vendors have something to offer in this area.
Automated set-up for jobs is something that Xerox’s Kevin O’Donnell is keen to emphasise as part of a broader automation/integration philosophy. He points out that all the Xerox colour toner presses that fall into this segment have built-in spectrophotometers, enabling on-press calibration and profiling. Paper set-up is automated too. ‘The most profitable UK printers are the most automated,’ he says, adding that the time saved through the predictability that automation brings allows more focus to be given to developing the business.
The iGen 5 line ranges from 90 to 1500ppm and supports a fifth colour as well as two long-sheet options to 889mm, for up to 1 million pages a month. Finishing options include booklet-making, cutting, slitting and folding and Xerox has demonstrated output to a CP Bourg booklet-maker that can both run inline and accept ‘side’ input for offset work. The Versant 4100 runs at 100ppm on stocks up to 300gsm and 80ppm from there up to 400gsm, for a recommended monthly volume of 250,000 sheets. The Iridesse runs at 120ppm right up to 400gsm and supports six colours, and is good for around 475,000 impressions per month.
Ricoh’s toner press line splits into the 85ppm Pro C7200 and the 135ppm C9200, though Ricoh stresses that both are built for high volumes and support customer replaceable units to minimise downtime. The former supports a fifth colour and long sheet to over 1300mm (simplex) while the latter has recently gained the Auto Colour Diagnosis (ACD) tool to check each sheet across its entire width and adjust for colour drift on the fly, as well as detect image blemishes or other page defects.
Sander Sondaal, director commercial print sales at Ricoh Europe, says that both machines support moving work from offset in mixed sites. ‘Due to the changing needs in the market, like short run production to prevent waste, short delivery times, and mass customisation, we find that our clients like to be able to run the same jobs in digital. Being able to print on a wide range of media at different weights gives them plenty of flexibility. Quality remains hugely important and an expectation from our clients and their clients alike. We do not accept any compromises here,’ he says.
Heidelberg rebadges the two Ricoh machines under its Versafire brand and drives them with its own DFEs and Prinect workflow, which provides integration with its offset presses and platesetters for sites that have both. The Prinect DFE offers spot colour conversion, automatic imposition and live preview of the job or sheet.
The faster Versafire EP handles materials up to 470gsm at resolutions up to 2400 x 4800dpi without slowing down and like its Ricoh counterpart, can be fitted with the ACD to maintain colour control on the fly and to identify defective pages so that the operator can intervene as necessary.
The Nexfinity is Kodak’s successor to its line of toner-based Nexpresses. Launched in 2018, the Nexfinity now comes in two models, the 120ppm High Performance with a 600dpi writing engine and the 140ppm Ultra, which hits 152ppm on long sheets (up to 1300mm) when printing six-up jobs, and images at 1200dpi. These apparently low resolutions are coupled with a 256-level per pixel imaging system that Kodak likens in principle to gravure, and which Kodak’s digital print specialist Diego Diaz says outperforms ‘most of the market’ that uses binary (simple on or off) or 16 levels per pixel at higher resolutions.
The imaging system is further supported by various software algorithms that analyse image content and optimise reproduction accordingly, avoiding various defects or artefacts that can arise in standard screening processes. A default Light Black toner in the fifth imaging station also helps with monochrome photo reproduction and Mr Diaz says that the machine ‘remains a favourite with high quality markets such as photobooks and high-end commercial.’
Konica Minolta entered the production arena in late 2019 with the launch of the AccurioPress C14000, a 140ppm machine able to handle stocks between 52 and 450gsm and good for 2.5 million sheets per month, with 1300mm (simplex) banner support. There’s also a 120ppm version, the C12000. Like Kodak, both use ‘greyscale’ imaging but their smaller number of levels (eight) is teamed with a higher resolution, described as 3600 x 2400dpi-equivalent. An inline booklet-maker and cutting/creasing options are available.
In June of this year, the AccurioPress C7100/C7090 models were added, offering 100 and 90ppm respectively, and borrowing some paper handling and durability features from the C14000, with a new toner called Simitri V that brings a more matt appearance and better performance on textured stocks. All the recent AccurioPress line can be coupled with the IQ501 unit which handles on-the-fly inspection for colour correction and back-to-front registration. Uptake of this option is said by KM to be very high on the C14000 and three-quarters of C7100 users are expected to take it too.
HP’s Indigo line of liquid toner presses also fits into this category, as all of the current generation of both SRA3 and B2 models meet the productivity criterion and handle a similarly wide media range to dry toner alternatives. The current fleet of ‘Series 5’ Indigos includes the 7K and an entry-level 7eco model, both of which offer 120ppm or more in Enhanced Productivity (CMY-only) Mode.
The newer B2 models, the 15K and 100K, also run at up to 6000sph (in EPM; less in four – or more – colours), though obviously you’ll need finishing equipment suitable for the sheet size. The 15K is also offered as an upgrade to the existing 12000 and adds higher quality, especially in sixcolour configurations, as well as wider media compatibility. HP also stresses the longevity of the Indigo chassis in high production environments.
Xeikon is the odd one out here as although it’s a strong proponent of dry toner technology, it sells web machines rather than sheet-fed, but the productivity specifications match the ‘production press’ criteria, though of course different finishing equipment will be required to produce finished sheets. The Belgian company’s SX range, introduced in March 2020, prints across a 520mm web to achieve the equivalent of 404ppm on stock at up to around 250gsm, though it slows down beyond that.
A ‘little brother’, the SX20000, was added a year later, running at two-thirds the speed on similar media. Both use new toner and media conditioning, can be configured with a fifth colour channel and are driven by Xeikon’s X-800 workflow for automation. Xeikon claims ‘offset-like’ quality for both but seems to be aiming the SX20000 at books and DM applications, while comparing the greater media versatility of the SX30000 with inkjets.
The heavy hitter in Canon’s toner armoury is the ImagePress CV10010VP, a 100ppm machine that can handle banner sheets up to 1300mm and stocks up to 400gsm. A long sheet input module allows auto-duplexing of sheets up to 762mm. Like other presses mentioned here, the press has an active front-to-back registration system and inline colour measurement and on-the-fly adjustment.
Canon also has cut-sheet inkjets: the colour one is the VarioPrint iX series introduced in April 2020, which can manage 320 A4 ‘images’ per minute and is said to suit the ‘full spectrum’ of commercial applications on a range of media.
‘Inkjet now offers a high-quality output, which is comparable to longer-established technologies such as offset. In fact, both Canon’s VarioPrint iX-series and the ImagePress C10010VP recently gained Fogra certifications,’ comments Chris Aked, business development manager, Canon Production Printing Products.
Xerox also has a cut-sheet inkjet, the Baltoro, and there are some B2 models in addition to HP’s B2 Indigos.