Mar 23, 2016
Highcon, the digital finishing system supplier, recently held a three day event at its headquarters in Israel to show technology developments that it will soon unveil at drupa 2016 in Germany. The short version of our report on this “pre-drupa” gathering:
- Since its debut at drupa 2012, Highcon has placed 25 of its “Euclid” and “Euclid II” devices globally
- In 2016 it will add a new portfolio of digital cutting and creasing systems and related tools, the Highcon Beam, Highcon Euclid III and the Highcon Pulse.
- These products will give carton converters and other printers new access to Highcon’s unique finishing, and also to two applications new at Highcon, 3D printing and variable data cutting.
Why Highcon Matters
Before describing the new products, we should first say why Highcon merits attention. Most importantly, Highcon’s core technology is special in the printing world, because it eliminates analog dies for cutting paperboard and other paper media, allowing short and ultra-short print runs of folding cartons and other applications with no die costs, and designs that are impossible to match in analog.
To explain the basic concept, Highcon works from a 2D digital design for a folding carton and jets a polymeric resin to form “rules” on a PET foil, thick lines that harden after UV curing and that the Highcon machines then press into printed paperboard media to form creases where needed. Next, laser stations cut the flaps, margins and decorative cuts—with no cost in money or time for analog dies. What’s left is printed, cut, and creased paperboard, ready for erection in a folder-gluer.
Since its first placement in 2013, Highcon has proven ideally suited to the current era, in which color digital printing is on the rise in packaging, short runs and timeliness are mantras, and brands want packaging that’s unique and hard to emulate; Highcon Euclid helps in all these areas. Meanwhile, the technology has had some clear successes, having placed systems in all regions, and also won as co-marketers top digital press vendors, namely HP Indigo, Komori, Screen, Xeikon, and Xerox. Highcon’s success even has started to flow beyond folding cartons, into commercial printing. One customer, card manufacturer American Greetings, installed a Euclid in 2014 and now runs it for three shifts to produce cards with designs that only Highcon technology can create.
While Highcon is best known for the Euclid system that it first showed in 2012, what the company has now is an enhanced portfolio, ranging from an entry-level model to one big and fast enough to finish the output of a full size offset press. All this is ready for display at drupa 2016, which will be covered in detail by InfoTrends’ packaging related consulting service. For now, some notes:
Highcon Pulse is smaller in size, power, and price than the other Highcon systems, to appeal to digital PSPs and smaller commercial printers. Pulse has a maximum sheet size of B2 (530 x 750mm/21 x 30”) and just one laser, compared to three for the other models, but is capable of 2,000 sheet per hour productivity. Meanwhile, base unit costs $395K, before options such as digital waste removal, about half the price of the original Euclid/Euclid II. Variable data cutting is an option. Pulse availability will be Q1 2017
Highcon Euclid III handles B1 and B2 sized sheets, with the same three lasers as the original Euclid, which ups the media it can cut to include microflute corrugated (N, F, G, 47 points). Euclid III includes as standard variable data cutting, advanced registration, and Highcon CAD Light editor. 3D modelling will be an option for Euclid III, which will be available in June 2016.
Highcon Beam is the most powerful system in the portfolio, with digital cutting and creasing up to 5,000 B1 sheets per hour, speed it owes mainly to its higher powered lasers, which also increase its media range to include E-flute corrugate (up to 78 points). Based on assessment of different carton designs, Highcon Beam will commonly be about 3X faster than Highcon Euclid, fast enough to finish big jobs printed in offset. Variable data cutting will be standard, 3D modelling an option. Beam will be available in Q4 2016.
The new line-up has multiple features, three of which are described here:
Variable data cutting supports personalization and variable data cutting by enabling batch production. Initially, VDC relies on creation of multiple DXF files in the pre-press phase (long term, VDC will be fully supported by the DFE). The VDC feature can be used to create personalized cards or packaging, or to etch serialized codes. Those two applications are obviously different, but each is highly valued in the current era, where mass customization and product security are key concerns.
For 3D printing, Highcon systems use variable data cutting to cut layers of a desired form that, when aligned and stacked, create a solid object or a mold for one. Highcon’s “Rapid Layer Manufacturing” differs from most other “additive manufacturing” in two ways: (1) the material used is paper; (2) the process is well suited to create even fairly large objects, such a 48” tall wine stand. As to the media, even waste paper will do. Regarding size, Highcon showed the mold it created for a complex, 1 meter high concrete form, built from 2,000 sheets of 20 point paperboard; Highcon says the sheets were cut in just 45 minutes on a Euclid, and at 90% less cost than a conventionally produced version.
Finally, Highcon Axis is a cloud-based “web-to-pack” software solution. With help from partners XM Pie and Esko, Highcon Axis gives a Highcon user an on-line storefront for his converting services. This in turn allows his customers, whether businesses or consumers, to choose a carton design, personalize it, decorate it, and place an order.
Other Uses Coming
The overall lesson from Highcon’s “pre-drupa” event is that this still-small Israeli company is growing in terms of products, placements, and applications. The expanded list of Highcon systems is a sign of that growth, and so is the surprisingly simple, economic approach to 3D modelling, a possible use for each of its systems. Meanwhile Highcon is actively seeking new uses; one not available now but that Highcon demonstrated at the event is embossing. Looking ahead, Highcon looks likely to succeed in the packaging uses that are its first target, but also in other applications, including ones unknown to us now.
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