New color inkjet press from Xerox: Could it be used in Packaging Applications?

Bob Leahey
Feb 16, 2011

On February 14, at the Hunkeler “Innovationdays” tradeshow in Switzerland, Xerox announced a high speed process color printing system based on phase change inkjet. While there is no indication that the new press will target packaging applications–stated targets are transactional printing, direct mail, books, manuals, catalogs and newsprint–the news highlights Xerox’s potential as an inkjet press supplier. We focus on that here, because of the high potential for inkjet presses in packaging generally, and because Xerox has already made packaging part of its overall strategy. In that regard, since 2009, Xerox has offered its Xerox Automated Packaging Solution (APS) the folding carton printing and converting system based on the Xerox iGen, and electrophotographic device.

With the above as a caution–Xerox has a color inkjet press, but it’s not for packaging–we recommend the news story from Xerox for study by alert clients. Xerox has a lot under the hood in terms of inkjet technology and the company could someday bring that technology to bear in the packaging world. In the long term, we think that an inkjet press from Xerox could be used in packaging converting. For now, the new printing system, which is unnamed and not yet commercially available, has the following features:

  • 4-color CMYK system with speeds up to 500 feet per minute (152 m/min). It will be available in both single engine (simplex) and twin engine (duplex) systems.
  • Web width is 20.5” (520 mm), based on seven piezo print heads stitched together. A wider press is possible by stitching more heads.
  • Inks are resin-based “solid” inks, from the same family of phase change inks used in the Xerox Cube office printers.
  • In contrast to high speed CIJ from Kodak and the drop-on-demand inkjet systems available from other vendors, the press is “waterless”.
  • Prints on light weight, untreated stock, which will result in savings on paper costs and postal charges.
  • Coated media are not the main target, but the press can likely print on some coated media. Xerox is testing various options now. Coated media range is probably limited by coating type and by abrasion resistance.
  • Redundancy and self-monitoring cause the press to adjust automatically if an ink nozzle isn’t firing properly.
  • The server can be scaled for job complexity whether printing static images or variable data.
  • Output has received a good de-inkability rating from a standards organization dedicated to that topic, INGEDE.

Xerox has reportedly placed one system with a customer for beta testing, and the company is taking orders for the press for delivery in the second half of 2011. Regarding the potential of this technology for use, someday, in the packaging world, we make the following notes:

Phase change inks are both a positive and negative feature. They are positive because in the formulation used in the inkjet web printer they are de-inkable, a key requirement for recycling fibers into graphic arts paper. In contrast, almost all of the color inkjet used in label and packaging printing relies on UV curing inks, and their output is not normally de-inkable, when printed on paper substrates. (Interestingly, the INGEDE organization stated in 2008 that solid inkjet prints were not de-inkable. We don’t know if desktop and workgroup printers based on solid inkjet have since then achieved certification from INGEDE but for now we know that the new inkjet press from Xerox has done so.)

Another positive for phase change inks is opacity. Because of the nature of the inks, prints are more likely to have a good appearance, with no show-through compared to prints made with water-based CIJ or TIJ inks.

Phase change inks are a negative because they have less abrasion resistance and because film and most coated media are not natural receptors for these inks. In contrast, for both abrasion resistance and media flexibility UV inks are stars: their output is highly durable, and they stick to essentially all media. We note that at drupa 2008 Xerox previewed a curable inkjet prototype, which could overcome these problems. The curing would help bonding the ink to very smooth or non-absorbent surfaces and harden the surface of the ink against abrasion. Xerox states that a curable option is still on their development roadmap, but at the recent Hunkeler event would not give details on availability.

A final note is that inkjet offers some flexibility to all potential packaging press developers in terms of web width and media thickness. Xerox has noted that future versions of its press could be wider than the 20.5” of the 2011 press if the market requires it.  Building electrophotographic presses wider than they are now, though, is much more complex. In any event, web width is a key constraint for digital solutions in folding carton and flexible packaging, which normally are printed on conventional presses from 30″ to 60″ wide.

In terms of media thickness, toner-based presses such as Xerox iGen and HP Indigo are limited to about 18 point board stock, while 25 points is often preferred by manufacturers of consumer goods. Piezo inkjet presses such as Agfa easily print such media today. The same could be true for a future Xerox inkjet press for packaging.

Resolve: (1) Xerox is on the radar screen now as a supplier of high speed color inkjet presses, but is not targeting packaging applications with its new inkjet press; (2) the overall suitability of Xerox’s phase change inkjet technology for packaging is uncertain, at least for now.

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