Anticipating 2012, in particular Drupa

It’s that time of year when we reflect on the past year and wonder what the new year will bring. In the area of inkjet, 2011 has brought some interesting product launches, in particular the commercialisation of the Memjet technology by Lenovo, LG, Lomond, Xante, OWN-X and others. At the recent IMI Europe Inkjet Conference in Lisbon, we heard that inkjet textiles are a fast-growing application, and ceramic tile printing is also rapidly gaining market share.

So what will 2012 bring? Well most eyes are focussed on Drupa, the printing industries trade show held every 4 years in Dusseldorf, Germany. Although many of us in the industry associate Drupa with expensive hotel rooms miles from the city and the terrible Drupa song, it really is the pinnacle of the printing industry calendar.

Inkjet is increasingly demonstrating great potential for use within the commercial print industry. The main applications for the inkjet web presses launched so far has been books, coupons, transpromo, newspapers on demand and the like. But inkjet ink technology is evolving and the capabilities of inkjet are being extended. So far Fujifilm and Screen with their sheet-fed presses, and Kodak with their web press have claimed the ability to print on to paper types used for general printing in the industry. It’s quite a challenge, as we have been seeing at Pivotal Resources from the patent applications being filed.

We can also see from patent applications that other vendors are likely to join the market for high-speed printing. For instance Ricoh has many patents on page arrays of their own printhead technology. At present, Ricoh subsidiary Infoprint uses engines from Screen that in turn incorporate Epson printhead technology. Canon is another potential player in this market. It now owns Océ who make high-speed web-feed ink jet presses using Kyocera printhead technology. But we can see from the patent literature that Canon is developing page arrays using thermal inkjet, similar to the technology used in HP’s web presses.

But lets go back to the beginning and to Memjet. Back in April 2011 it was announced that Delphax plans to launch a Memjet-powered inkjet press at Drupa. The technology certainly has the potential print speed and cost structure to make a breakthrough product. But let’s hope they haven’t forgotten all the other industry needs, in particular the ability to print onto a variety of paper types. So far we have only seen Memjet-based products working on absorbent or coated substrates. Is there a new ink technology coming up for Memjet? That would make it a very interesting breakthrough for this market, but it would also really improve the capabilities of the Memjet technology in desktop and wide format markets as well.

Mike Willis, Pivotal Resources