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It’s the hybrid drupa as crowds roll in

Thursday, 02 June 2016
By Andy McCourt

As drupa’s second day draws to a close, the halls are filling up and that old drupa ‘buzz’ is in abundance.  Even the sausage kiosks and beer gardens started to fill up.  Inside the halls a trend is becoming more and more apparent. Offset press manufacturers are integrating digital print engines into print and converting lines to gain the best of both worlds – the immediacy and economy of plateless digital imaging that brings the data directly to the press and the reliability and versatility of proven sheet and web handling.

“If there’s one thing we know well it’s how to move sheets,” commented KBA’s CEO Claus Bolza Schünemann who is also the President of drupa2016. He said this as the KBA VariJET 106 was announced – a hybrid press line that can include digital, offset, flexo and coating in a modular B1 solution aimed at the folding carton market. The digital part is by Xerox but actually out of the former Impika French inkjet technology it acquired 2 years ago.

(l-r) KBA’s Claus Bolza Schünemann and Ralf Sammeck

The Varijet 106 (pictured below) can print in up to seven colours at a resolution of 1440 dpi and at up to 4,500 B1 sheets per hour. It takes thick media from 0.2 to 0.6mm thick, which is pre-coated after pile feeding. Post-printing modules can include coating, double-coating, cold foil, white ink with offset and screen units possible. “Previous discussions about the strengths and weaknesses of analogue and digital technologies are now in the past. In the end the deciding factors in terms of the most suitable process are the business model, job structure, quality and finishing requirements, and economy in particular,” said Ralf Sammeck, CEO of KBA’s sheetfed division.

Examples of KBA’s existing hybrid strategies can be found in the HP T1100

Corrugated liner web press which uses HP digital imaging and KBA web handling engineering. The new KBA RotaJet VL series also offers hybrid converting and web handling up to 2.25 metres in width at speeds of up to 300 metres/min.

Boxing matches

SCREEN, through its Inca Digital subsidiary, also announced a surprise hybrid solution for the corrugated market. Leading German corrugated machine manufacturer BHS Corrugated has teamed up with Screen to produce a high volume inline digital solution for the corrugated board industry. When ready in 2018 it will be the world’s only roll-to-stacked-and printed sheet solution for corrugated boxes. It is planned to offer print widths up to 3 metres and speed of 300 metres/minute although when inline with a corrugated system, 200 or 220 metres/min will be plenty.

BHS claims 50% of the world’s corrugated production machine market, which is growing at around 5% CAGR, more is some Asian markets.  The majority of installed BHS corrugators can be retro-fitted with the digital print module. The prospect of a complete roll in/printed sheet out solution excites BHS’s CEO Christian Engel who said: “I am convinced that the integration of Digital Print inline during the corrugating process is the superior option which will bring a revolution in the way box plants work.”

The corrugated and folding carton markets have received a lot of digital attention since the last drupa. Commercial print too of course, but the increasing square metres of material needing printing for boxes and cartons means that these are the areas where the vital ink business can be garnered.

EFI entered the corrugated market with its purchase of Nozomi and the C1800 digital corrugated liner machine. It prints at up to 75 metres per minute at 1.8 metre web width.

Fujifilm is big on hybrid solutions too, which is understandable for a company that has offerings for offset, flexo, screen, digital and also is one of the world’s leading producers of piezo printheads and inks in both UV and aqueous types. At drupa2016, it has announced what it called ‘5D Printing Solution’ which is a partnership with Fujifilm and EPAC Technologies. Using Fujifilm roll-feed inkjet printing at 1200dpi on the new Jet Press 540W, 5D promises a complete hands-off print to delivery system using EPAC’s expertise in industrial robots and print finishing, particularly for books.

Packaging focus

By the way, for its flexible packaging digital solution, Fujifilm has developed some amazing aqueous ink technology called RAPAC – rapid pigment coagulation. This means water-based ink can be used on non-porous substrates as the pigments coagulate rapidly and cling to the PET, PP or whatever. In the hybrid world, even water and oil can mix!

Even Landa is hybridising with the introduction of Landa Metallography, a non-film foil foiling system that used metalised inks to achieve foil-like effects. The digital metalizing unit is mounted into existing label press installations, whether they are analogue or digital, creating a hybridised line.

Konica Minolta has teamed with part-owned subsidiary MGI to create a hybrid folding carton line incorporating the new KM-C B1 digital press inline with a JetVarnish UV coater and foiling station.

Perhaps the hybrid concept was borrowed from the narrow-web label market where multi-processes have been the norm for some years. Some presses incorporate offset, screen and flexo units, cold foiling and die-cutting – with a digital station in there also. HP Indigo tend to take hybridisation from a digital-first perspective and then add foiling, coating, embossing and so on at the end. It could just be called inline finishing but really, it is conventional established processes being utilised for best results in a digital imaging situation.

Perhaps, so long as the data reached the press and is managed in the workflow, it does not matter what it is called but overall, drupa is no longer about; digital over in that direction; offset at the other end.”

To re-quote KBA’s Ralf Sammick “Previous discussions about the strengths and weaknesses of analogue and digital technologies are now in the past.” What he means is that the process no longer matters. Digital can match or surpass conventional processes in quality and now speed. The end product, whether it is a folding carton, box or book is process-agnostic so long as it fits the customer’s wants and needs.

At this drupa, yes there are plenty of stand-alone offset presses and also digital presses but the smart money is on hybrid lines that take the best of many worlds to provide a versatile, customer-friendly hybrid production solution.

The new hybridised KBA VariJET 106 featuring Xerox-Impike digital inkjet



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