Grand format printers—which Digital Output considers over 95 inches or 2.4 meters in width—continue to keep pace with the productivity enhancements of its smaller counterparts. According to Gary Floyd, owner, Floyd & Associates, LLC, computing a printer’s productivity in engineering terms is output divided by cost of investment. While that simple math is a defining factor for the print provider, a number of other intricacies influence productivity advancements, including printhead configuration, image quality, and media handling.
A grand format printer is only as good as its printhead. Logically, as new generations of printhead technology are released, these find their way into hardware devices.
Larry D’Amico, VP digital imaging, Agfa Graphics, says new printheads cannot always be retrofitted into existing grand format printers any longer. Many times it is necessary to engineer the whole device if the platform cannot support the requirements of the new printheads.
Manufacturers such as Epson, Fujifilm, Hewlett-Packard (HP), Konica Minolta, Ricoh, Seiko, and Xaar continue to find ways to offer smaller printheads, which affects speed.
“The printhead is not only a crucial part of the printer, it also determines printing speed. Combined with the latest printhead technology and well-designed printhead arrangement, maximum printing speed and quality is attractive for mass production runs,” explains Elaine Ng, marketing and sales assistant, Gunsjet by Digitex Printing Technologies Co., Ltd.
For example, Ng points to Ricoh’s latest printhead—Gen 5, which is enhanced to double the speed of the last iteration. As new grand format printers start adapting the Ricoh Gen 5, productivity significantly advances. This is especially true as many of these newer printers, according to Ng, are designed to support several printheads.
Marilu Sandoval, marketing manager, Paradigm Imaging Group, notes that new printheads—such as the Seiko 508—can print at a much smaller ink droplet size while running at industrial speeds. As previous printheads were limited to larger drop sizes, these newest models improve on higher resolution and quality prints.
With speed increases, it is important to note that quality has not gone by the wayside. D’Amico stresses that productivity should remain tightly associated with quality. Since equipment can vary considerably in terms of output quality it is important to determine a comparable quality setting on any output technology before you evaluate the speed.
“Customers need to pin down quality first, or set a benchmark for a level of quality, only then determine if productivity at that quality level is a fit. They should work together," continues D’Amico.
Gone are the days when a superwide device was only considered a tool to create large billboards or banners seen from faraway. Today, this hardware is used for much more, from wallcoverings used in décor to point of purchase signage run on two rolls side by side to increase efficiency.
“Speed is always achieved in two days, more nozzles or bigger ink drops. Last year, the industry shifted from bigger droplet printers of those in the 30 picoliter range or higher to 1.5 to five picoliter ink drops. This generates near photo quality resolution, but hurts productivity. Effort is being made to increase the number of nozzles to compensate for this loss of speed,” explains Wen Chen, director, Meijet, Inc.
“Most manufacturers now offer faster printing speeds at better dpi. This is a natural evolution in grand format printing. Some are offering full grayscale printing capabilities, which allow several picoliter size dots to be printed simultaneously, providing a wider color gamut and also faster printing speeds,” agrees Jim Cain, director of sales – digital, Polytype America Corporation.
Christopher Guyett, sales and marketing coordinator, Durst Image Technology US LLC, explains the result is a printer that can address everything from fine 12 picoliter drop printing for fine art applications, to a five-meter platform that produces high-quality medium distance billboard applications at the highest production rates.
Advancements in media handling—from vacuum tables to new pinch roller systems—affect the productivity of many a print shop.
“As the industry evolves, it is not how fast you print a single copy, but rather what you get out of your production line in a shift and how many operators. If, for example, you need to lay down multiple panels on a flatbed and it takes two minutes to set it up on the bed, these are two minutes your equipment is idle,” says Itay Shalit, sales director, U.S. and Europe, MTL Print.
Shalit compares this delay to an airplane stuck at the gate. In response to minimizing idle time, automatic or semi-automatic handling devices get the job done.
“By taking out the productivity busters, like make ready, taping, masking, and other functions typically required when changing substrates, our customers see a significant productivity increase within shifts,” explains Ken VanHorn, category manager, Scitex, Americas, HP.
VanHorn provides the example of the HP Scitex FB7600 and FB10000 Industrial Presses, which include zoned vacuum systems and iron rollers to efficiently handle media. “This enables customers to quickly move from rigid and flexible on paper or plastic, without the need to mask beds or spend upwards of 45 minutes in makeready,” he continues.
How that media is finished in the ink drying phase also affects productivity. For example, Kees van der Looij, CEO, Hollanders Printing Systems, explains that on-board air conditioners and humidifiers all play a part in ramping up productivity.
Productivity is measured by a number of ways. When it comes to detailing the productivity advancements in a superwide printer, three main categories come to mind—printheads, image quality, and media handling. Without these influences, the grand format printers entering the market today would not output to the variety of media at the speeds and photographic quality so commonly required.
The second part in this series focuses on the hardware, providing a roundup of the newest introductions in the superwide space in addition to popular legacy models.