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Océ enters the fray as the battle of the liquid toner presses heats up

Monday, 14 May 2012
By Patrick Howard
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HP Indigo has a long established lead in the use of liquid toner, but at drupa three new contenders emerged to challenge; Océ, Xeikon and Landa Printing. They all use different forms of the same technology; nano-sized pigment particles suspended in liquid. Of the three the Océ InfiniStream looks set to come to market first.

Behind closed doors in a photograph-free zone at the Océ Production Printing Summit in Poing, the latest contestant in the high-quality digital toner market was showcased to invited audiences, in which I was pleased to be invited. To the strains of Richard Strauss’ Thus Spake Zarathustra with the obligatory swirling spotlights, the Canon Group company unveiled the Océ InfiniStream, a prototype folding carton press using liquid toner.

The emergence of the InfiniStream so soon after the completion of Canon’s takeover of Océ adds a new dimension of capability and resources to the product’s R&D. Although still some time away from coming to market, it promises to be serious contender in the high quality digital market in terms of speed, quality and the variety of substrates it can print.

It reinforces the quality superiority of liquid toner that has so far put the HP Indigo into a class of its own. However, at 120 meters per minute in full colour it will be much faster than the Indigo’s 30 – 40 mpm. It lays down the image in a single pass unlike the Indigo, which requires four separate passes.

The prototype is aimed at the flexible packaging market, as with so many other digital presses, inkjet and otherwise, at this drupa. Shown with a static display of finishing and converting equipment, the demonstration went reel-to-reel using 300gsm carton stock, with spectators kept well away from any examination of the end product. It’s a big press in all senses with an imaging width of 71.12 cm (28 inches), and a massive drying unit to remove the carrier oil, which doubles as a heat recovery unit.

According to Crit Driessen, vice president, (pictured right with Patrick Howard, publishing editor Print21) the press will make its market debut in the middle of 2013, with a pioneer site not too far from the factory already agreed. He revealed one of the key technologies is the composition of the nano toner particles, small enough to move rapidly within the oil carrier, whose composition is top secret. He also confirmed Océ has been working on the project for a long time.

The superiority of liquid toner over inkjet in terms of image quality has long given HP Indigo an edge in the market. It is still way out in front with the release of the next generation of B2-size presses; the 10000 to be released within the first quarter next year for commercial printing to be followed by the 13000 for labels the year after and the 1400 for flexible cartons in 2015.

However, it will now no longer have the field to itself as the new entrants jostle for position. Although Xeikon had a limited demonstration version of its liquid toner technology, Trillium, on display at drupa, it intends to match Océ in bring a press to market next year. I did not get to see the demonstration but from reports the processes and the speed and width are similar to the ones produced by Océ. The two presses are web-fed as opposed to the HP Indigo 10000 sheetfed.

Both processes differ from Benny Landa’s Nanographic Printing Process in that they use an oil-based carrier that needs to be burnt off during the printing process. Nanography on the other hand, uses a water-based carrier that evaporates from a heated offset belt leaving the nano-sized pigment particles to spread and bond. Nanography also uses inkjet-style delivery while the other two use electrophotographic processes where the pigment itself is charged.

The advent of the new entrants is set to have major implications for the seemingly unstoppable – so far – rise of inkjet. At these speeds it will mount a serious productivity challenge, while racing away in the quality stakes.


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