Xerox takes the wraps off its inkjet offering

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Feb 14, 2011

At last, Xerox has entered the continuous feed colour inkjet fray.

At the Hunkeler InnovationDays event in Lucerne, Switzerland, it announced it will be commercialising the solid ink machine that was shown as a technology demonstration at Ipex in May 2010.

Little has changed in the specification of the machine since Ipex but the marketing message has moved on. Xerox has switched from referring to the technology used as solid ink to waterless inkjet, which does neatly sum up the biggest benefit of the process. The headline specs of the four-color continuous feed machine are a top speed of 152m (500 feet) per minute, web width of 520mm (20.5”) and a stock weight range of 50 to 160 gsm.

Key applications are transactional print and direct mail for the yet-to-be-named machine, which until the branding boffins have done their bit, will be known as the Xerox Production Inkjet System. Orders are now being taken for early installs by the end of 2011 with full commercial availability in 2012. Ever since Drupa 2008, where it showed a gel ink concept, Xerox has swum against the inkjet tide and steered clear of the water-based inks used by rivals. Its argument for this contrarian approach is what it has described as the inkjet paradox. The tiny nozzles in an inkjet head benefit from having very runny inks, which means they are mostly water. However, too much water on paper is a bad thing. For water-based inks the solutions are special ink receptive coatings and/or heat to drive off the excess moisture. Both approaches add cost.

Xerox’s waterless approach uses a phase-change ink, which is solid at room temperature but heat the ink and it melts enabling jetting, then as it hits the paper it solidifies. That means it sits on the surface of the paper without the need of a coating, as coating can add 15% to a paper’s price, and special inkjet coatings even more, it’s easy to see Xerox’s argument. It claims that engine cost and running costs (excluding paper) will be equal to rival technologies. Tolerance of cheaper mechanical grades, which have a higher opacity that translates into lower basis weights, is claimed to further reduce production costs relative to water-based rivals. A further benefit accrues further downstream in the form of reduced mailing costs.

The ink sitting on the surface also ensures good de-inkability, according to preliminary research from INGEDE.  Lastly it should translate into bright and punchy colour. Samples are on show at Hunkeler to enable assessment of the quality and suitability of the output.

The focus on down and dirty paper grades does have downsides. Solid ink struggles to stick to the smooth surface of coated stocks, limiting the applications possible. That isn’t a big deal in the markets initially targeted but the lack of MICR at launch will be an issue for some transactional work. This will be addressed later as the machine has the capability for extra ink channels.

On paper, and it is the argument about the paper it prints onto that is Xerox’ ace, the press with no name has the potential to make waves in some sectors of the continuous feed colour market.

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