Dec 16, 2014
Without much fanfare a new continuous feed inkjet printing line has appeared on the market. The new system is called PageMaster, and it was introduced at an open house in the middle of November at Bielomatik’s facility in Neuffen in Southern Germany. PageMaster is an integrated inkjet printing and converting line for booklets or notepads that is being marketed by a new organization called Bielomatti, as part of a joint venture between Bielomatik and Matti. Bielomatik has a 60% stake in the joint venture and therefore will have a larger role in marketing and driving the product. So far the joint venture has no permanent staff and draws resources from both companies as needed. Once the demand takes off, the company will add staff accordingly.
Matti has a lot of experience designing paper transport and print towers for a range of vendors including Kodak, Xerox, and Xerox Impika. The company also markets printing solutions directly to end customers. These are typically custom solutions integrating paper transport and inkjet heads.
Bielomatik is the by far larger partner with 900 employees worldwide (Matti has about 25 employees). Bielomatik focusses on paper processing and plastic welding equipment. In the paper processing the company manufactures complete lines for a somewhat diverse range of applications: the production of copybooks/notepads (the types used in schools), lines for converting bank notes, attaching RFID tags, and wrapping of cut-sheet papers. Apart from basic flexo units that print lines or grids into the copybooks no printing equipment is offered. Accordingly the company’s expertise is in folding, sheeting, collating, and binding in high volume 24/7 environments. Not surprisingly a decline in the established copybook markets is driving the company to seek other opportunities.
PageMaster is built around flexibility and the concept of an integrated production line. The printing towers can take in a combination of inkjet heads in width and from different vendors. In the version shown a web-wide monochrome Kodak Prosper head array has been used, complemented by two 4 inch wide spot-colour Prosper S10 heads. The two color modules can be positioned flexibly across the web to add a swath of highlight color. Additional print modules up to page-wide full colour printing are possible as well, however the target markets of this system are likely to be monochrome and spot color applications. PageMaster would run into steep competition with entrenched color system vendors. By limiting the color options Bielomatti expects to be able to keep the price of the system lower.
PageMaster at the Bielomatik Facility (viewed from the in-feed side)
A unique aspect of PrintMaster is the strong focus on the finishing line. Unlike other printers with in-line finishing, the printing units are controlled by the finishing line. That means inkjet towers print according to the status of the finishing line, e.g. the sheeter tells heads where to place the pages on the web. Web widths can be up to 690 mm (27.1”), but printing has to be done two up, as required by the finishing system.
At the core of the production line are a sheeter, a collating unit, and a sword folder. The collator has a buffer for producing documents from 16 to about 200 pages. A feeder adds externally printed covers to the pile, which is folded in the middle to form the complete book block. Bielomatti offers a range of binding options including perfect binding, spiral binding, and stitching (which was shown in the demonstration). To achieve a higher quality binding a set of rollers flattens the booklet spine, with a result similar to a square fold. In a final step, the top, bottom, and front of the bound product are trimmed while a middle cut separates the 2-up products. Content for both streams can differ, but obviously both booklet streams have to have the same page count and format.
The line can currently reach speeds of 200 meters per minute. Bielomatti plans to extend this to 300 meters per minute. Depending on the page count up to 6,600 booklets per hour can be produced.
Another View of PageMaster (from the delivery side)
The open house served as test-bed to create demand and get feedback from the market. The device is not cheap with the print towers in the range of € 1 million and the finishing portion according to the set-up retails even higher. The PageMaster is designed for 24/7 production, yet likely to be limited to spot colour or monochrome booklet manufacturing. Different binding methods are available, but production needs to be 2-up and fall into the 16 to 200 page range. The systems produces complete booklets and the content can be fully variable and can contain colors within the limitations of the inkjet heads used. The covers are pre-produced and hence can be full cover and printed on a different stock. Applications could be notepads, copybooks, text books or other small booklets, which should require some color and graphical content or some personalization or customization to make an inkjet line worthwhile.
This is certainly not a mainstream market, but the customization options of the line will help to address also small niches. There will be some refinement needed when the product hits the market. Bielomatti says that the print-line control and head stitching are still being fine-tuned. Bielomatti aims to ship the first product in the summer of 2015.
InfoTrends research indicates that the production inkjet document printing market is just at the brink to move into wider range of applications, outside the transaction printing space. While the PageMaster is not a mainstream product, it can address some niches not targeted by the mainstream vendors. The On Demand Printing and Publishing service is tracking production printing technologies and the success of inkjet printing in document printing application. More details can be found at here.
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