Printing and Design Tips: July 2016, Issue #180

Thoughts on the KBA/Xerox Digital Press

As I review the trade journal articles on the recent printing event in Germany, drupa 2016, I am not surprised to see a focus on digital printing. In fact, since drupa is "the largest printing equipment exhibition in the world, held every three years by Messe Düsseldorf in Düsseldorf, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany" (according to Wikipedia), I usually look to trade articles preceding this event as a sort of crystal ball to keep me abreast of trends in the field of printing.

Two articles came to my attention this past week concerning a joint creation of KBA and Xerox that will house both digital inkjet units and offset litho ink units within a single press structure. This I find intriguing.

Before I tell you why, these are the articles for those of you who want to look them up online: "KBA and Xerox Target Folding Carton Market with a 40 Inch Sheetfed Press—That's Digital" (a joint KBA and Xerox press release) and "Mark Michelson Provides Commentary on KBA/Xerox Digital Press Announcement" (by Mark Michelson). I encourage you to Google both of them.

The Technical and Financial Specs

Here are some specifics:

1. KBA is a leader in offset folding carton printing. Xerox is a leader in digital printing.

2. Here's a pithy quote from the KBA/Xerox press release: "Digitally printed packaging worldwide will grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of roughly 16 percent between 2015 and 2020. Within that, digitally printed folding cartons will see a CAGR of 40 percent."

3. The "industrial digital sheetfed press" (from the KBA/Xerox press release) is aimed squarely at the folding carton market, which includes "wide format cartons, for items like cosmetics, food, and pharmaceutical products."

4. The platform for the digital/offset mix will be the KBA Rapida 106 press, onto which Xerox will integrate Xerox Impika inkjet technology. The press will be called the VariJET 106.

5. The VariJET 106 can be set up as a seven-color inkjet-only press or a hybrid, incorporating both offset printing units and digital inkjet printing units on the same press frame.

6. Inline finishing capabilities such as coating, cold foil application (a digital version of the traditional hot foil stamping, without the need for a metal stamping and cutting die), diecutting, and perforating will also be available for use with the VariJET 106.

7. The KBA/Xerox digital press will print 4,500 B1 sheets per hour.

The Implications

1. I can't recall who first said, "Follow the money," but I think it's a wise move here. If KBA and Xerox are committing substantial capital to a digital package-printing press, this speaks volumes about the strength of this printing sector.

2. Some magazines and newspapers might migrate to a digital-only platform, but product packaging isn't going anywhere. There will always be a need to both promote and describe a product using physical carton-printing technology.

3. The production of the KBA/Xerox digital packaging press implies that package printing is a growth market, and that customers will want to either produce multiple, alternate versions of a folding carton or personalize each unit.

4. It also speaks to the integration of cross-media marketing, digital storefronts, and traditional offset printing, looking to each technology for its own particular strengths.

5. The B1 format of the VariJET 106 platform accepts up to a 29.5" x 41.7" press sheet. This allows for production of larger cartons or multiple cartons per press sheet. One of the key determinants of the mainstreaming of digital printing is the ability to match offset printing formats (sheet sizes) and speeds (which in the majority of cases will depend on the sheet size the press can handle).

6. The inkset has been configured so precoating press sheets will be unnecessary. This addresses another requirement for the mainstreaming of digital technology: the ability to digitally print on off-the-shelf paper stock.

7. Flexibility and cost are of prime importance, and in this case they are related. An owner of this new press could print both digital inkjet jobs and offset litho jobs on the same press, depending on its inking configuration. This could lower the print provider's cost of ownership in terms of operators' salaries, space requirements for the press, and the cost benefits of increased throughput. (Granted, the KBA/Xerox digital press does not run as fast as larger offset sheetfed presses--4,500 sheets per hour vs. 18,000 sheets per hour--but for some printers this may be acceptable, depending on what other presses they have.)

Decor Printing Via Digital Technology

In "Mark Michelson Provides Commentary on KBA/Xerox Digital Press Announcement," Michelson refers to the KBA RotaJet continuous feed inkjet press, noting that this press is "more geared to the décor and publishing markets."

Interestingly enough, along with packaging, another growth sector within the printing field is the production of interior design materials via inkjet technology. This can include everything from fabric used for drapes or bedsheets, to wallpaper, to ceramic tiles used for bathroom floors and walls, and even to wood flooring and paneling.

The inkjet technology can match fine wood grain or the patterns of existing wallpaper on engineered wood. If the clients prefer, they themselves can provide artwork that can be converted to the laminated films and sheets used to create the paneling. This process can even be used to adorn kitchen cabinet facing.

The Take-Away from These Articles

The implication is that new growth markets are arising for digital printing. This includes packaging and interior design in particular. I have not been hearing much about "the death of print" recently. Rather I've been hearing more about the blending of digital and offset technologies, or the integration of online and print technologies to provide a consistent brand experience across multiple media. Some form of printing, often with some form of personalization, seems to be the direction in which the printing field is moving, with an eye toward choosing the most appropriate technology for each situation

[Steven Waxman is a printing consultant. He teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.]