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Sun, Apr

Ready, steady…

The manufacturers are in the starting blocks as we go into a bumper trade show year. As they jostle for position Simon Creasy asks ‘what large-format R+D is going to create the biggest impact in 2020?’

Manufacturers and developers of large-format hardware and software have been anything but idle in 2019. That high level of commitment and innovation looks set to continue going into 2020.

One company gearing up to deliver a flurry of new products in the next 12 months is Epson. According to Phil McMullin, sales manager prographics, the company spends around 1.4m Euro per day on R&D to ensure it delivers a continuous road map of new products, and in the wide-format sector it currently has big growth plans for the photo, signage, decor and textile sectors.

“This year has already seen the launch of major new products in photo so 2020 will be mostly about the latter three sectors,” says McMullin. “Epson already has a well-established presence in these areas and we will be looking to expand our product portfolio to further gain significant market share. Currently we are the only major printer manufacturer to have our own ink chemistry covering aqueous, eco-solvent, UV, resin, DTG and DTF. So expect to see developments in all these areas.”

He adds that all of the new products planned for 2020 remain under an NDA, but the company will be sharing full details as the launch dates approach, so it’s a case of ‘watch this space’.

EFI is equally as shy about the specifics surrounding future equipment launches, although product manager Dani Alkalay stresses that it’s the company’s customers that are the main R&D driver.

“Any new R&D project at EFI has to have a direct link to one of the three key customer metrics we access,” explains Alkalay. “One, will this new printer or technology enable the customer to grow their business into new applications; two, will this new printer or technology reduce costs enabling the customer to be more competitive in the marketplace; and three, will this new printer or technology mitigate business risks to meet end customer commitments?”

She says that EFI is currently assessing new ink characteristics and software enhancements that it intends to apply to equipment in 2020 and all of that “will benefit our customers per the criteria above”.

The financial benefit of bringing new products to market for the manufacturing groups is underlined by the experience of Fujifilm Graphic Systems. According to Nils Gottfried, wide-format inkjet product manager, in 2018 Fujifilm invested 6.8% of its total global revenue back into research and development. 

“R&D is, by default, a key focus for Fujifilm and has been for years,” says Gottfried. “We invest significantly in bringing new and better products to market across all areas of the business, including wide-format inkjet.”

He highlights the company’s ever expanding armoury of presses as an example of this. “The latest additions are the Onset X HS, which features a revolutionary 30 second set-up and an impressive single cycle print mode, and the Acuity Ultra 5044 - a dual CMYK roll-roll printer with an exceptional print quality and a maximum print speed of 400m2/hr,” says Gottfried. “With two major shows in 2020 - Interpack and Drupa - customers can expect Fujifilm to continue to provide impressive products and updates.”

As for Hybrid Services, exclusive distributor for Mimaki devices in the UK and Ireland, it’s a case of ‘carry on as you were’ over the coming 12 months. “With 10 hardware and ink product launches alone in 2019, it’s fair to say that Mimaki has innovation and R&D at its heart and there’s no reason to suggest this drive will slow down in 2020,” says Brett Newman, chief operations manager at Hybrid Services. 

“It was the breadth of technology that Mimaki chose to release that was most noteworthy - recent additions such as core solvent printer and printer/cutter solutions in the form of the new JV300/CJV300Plus range, a highly competitively priced grand format solvent machine [the SWJ-320EA] and a state-of-the-art flatbed LED UV printer, the JFX200-2513EX all enjoyed debuts at September’s Print Show.” 

Newman claims that R&D for Mimaki carries on long after the product actually hits the market. He says a good example of this is Mimaki’s UCJV Series LED UV printer/cutters. “Launched in two 1.6m versions - the UCJV150 and its faster and higher spec’d sibling, the UCJV300 - additional sizes were then added to the UCJV300 Series, MCS development announced with ink and media manufacturers 3M and Avery, the launch of a unique clear ink and then revised firmware to maximise print output have all been added in during the course of the year,” says Newman.

In 2020, the company will be focusing a lot of its efforts on promoting the new SWJ-320EA, which Newman says will offer a “new level of pricing both for the hardware and the inks, offering print providers a low cost, yet high quality option for expanding their business into new and wider areas”.

Also waiting in the wings is a hybrid textile printer that was announced in principal at ITMA in 2019. It is “tabled to deliver flexibility and choice to businesses in the ink type and media available - key values to look out for from us over the coming months,” adds Newman.

For Canon, the emphasis going forward is based around what Derek Joys, marketing excellence product business development, describes as “the evolving needs of both the demand and supply sides” of the market. 

“With the escalation of targeted marketing and mass personalisation, as well as the exponential growth of the interior decor market, customers are looking for increased media versatility, demanding original applications on new media,” says Joys. “On the supply side, print service providers want solutions that deliver cost-efficiency and increasingly professional production against a backdrop of shorter runs and tighter turnaround times, with 60% of jobs requiring 24-hour delivery. PSPs are calling for tech that is futureproof in terms of both media compatibility and environmental impact.”

In response to these market trends, Canon’s large-format R&D efforts are going to be focused on maximising the advantages of its proprietary UVgel ink technology.

“This rapid ink technology produces high-quality, odourless, indoor compliant prints without using heat, ensuring a wide and unique application range,” explains Joys. “UVgel separates the curing and inkjet processes, allowing all ink necessary for the print to be laid down and the complete image to be built up without having to cure intermediately. With ink in gel form enabling precise positioning and controlled dot gain, as well as best- in-class colour consistency, dimensional stability and continuity, UVgel combines speed of production with exceptional quality.”

He adds that the potential of printing with gel is still being explored and the company has a ten-year roadmap of new releases planned.

“Starting with the 2017 launch of the Colorado 1640, UVgel was always going to be the platform for an extended product family,” says Joys. “In 2020, Canon will delve deeper into the physical advantages of UVgel technology, while also expanding its product portfolio to handle true industrial capacities and reach a wider customer base.”

Much of the aforementioned hardware innovation is focused around allowing printers to do their jobs more quickly and efficiently, yet still maintain high print standards. This is also an area that software developer Tilia Labs is focusing on. It intends to leverage artificial intelligence (AI) to enable printers to produce jobs more cost effectively.

“In the past printers and converters were used to very long runs and because runs were so long they were able to deal with one job at a time,” says Tyler Thompson, solutions director at Tilia Labs. “In order to keep or grow revenue they now have to take on a lot of short run jobs and because of that we are finding that working in this old school way of dealing with one job at a time is not practical. Phoenix can look at not just one order at a time like a human - it can look at thousands of orders at the same time and in a couple of milliseconds it can run through all of the possible permutations and say this is the most cost effective way to do it.”

In Q1 2020, the company intends to release an ink costing module that looks at the price of printing and finishing a job and establishes the most efficient way of handing this work. To this end, Tilia is also working in partnership with equipment manufacturers like Zund to leverage the internet of things and digital finishing devices.

“With digital finishing the variable cost is always the cutting time,” says Thompson. “The same amount of material that gets printed on a digital press could drastically change price based on ink applied and the finishing time. We’re running through and generating different permutations and different ways of doing work in real time talking to the Zund digital cutting table to find out how long the job is going to take to cut. We can then use that information and tie it back to the costs to run the cutting machine.”

Going forward he thinks that leveraging the internet of things will become increasingly commonplace as getting that real time information and feedback from devices will allow printers to make smarter business decisions.

“For the printing industry this is a completely new way of manufacturing,” says Thompson. “You can’t use the old ways with digital printing anymore, so the companies that are going to adapt to software and technology and embrace it instead of resisting it are going to be the future suppliers for brands.”

The PrintFactory also thinks technology could have a huge role to play in the large-format textiles and décor market in the short to medium term.  

“There’s been a low uptake on automation there to date, which is not surprising considering the complexities of the workflows involved,” says Toby Burnett, director EMEA and Americas at PrintFactory. “But of all the large-format sectors seeking improvements in overall productivity, textiles has the most potential.”

He believes that profit margins can change due to a greater use of technology in the sector. “The financial gains from reducing fraud - via digital asset management - are tremendous, and the focus on environmental ‘fast fashion’ impact will inevitably shift back up the supply chain, to wasted fabric and ink used in the production process,” says Burnett. 

“More broadly speaking, we think the general economic landscape will focus people’s attention on simple gains: the appetite for Industry 4.0 will increase, but so too will the thirst for production benefits on an ‘everyday’ shopfloor.”

Although the economic outlook in the next 12 months may remain uncertain, the good news for all you that run large-format PSPs is that there is a slew of innovative new products and solutions poised to hit the market in 2020 that should make your lives much easier.  

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