What’s the Real Purpose of B2-format Digital?

Jim Hamilton
May 10, 2012

A recurring theme at drupa 2012 is that many of the planned digital devices are intended as B2-format offset press replacements. This is puzzling positioning. Is there really a need for digital stand-ins for very efficient offset presses? The digital market, need I remind you, is built on values well beyond mere quick turnaround and cost-effective short runs. Production digital print is best leveraged when it facilitates full process automation, electronic collation, variable data, and the use of the digital printer as a virtual document archive. Designs that lack duplexing or use traditional offset feed and delivery systems miss out on some of the most basic digital print advantages.

B2-format offset presses already provide great quality at very competitive cost on a wide range of substrates with in-line coating and perfecting units. Want to accelerate that process in B2 format? Heidelberg’s solution is Anicolor for faster B2 make-ready. Presstek puts platemaking on press with the 75 DI. These are available today, unlike the flood of B2-format digital tech demos across the show. In addition, if your application fits in A3+ format, there are many existing digital print devices to choose from. These have good four-color quality levels at price points for capital acquisition that are a fraction of what the new class of B2-format digital devices will cost.

The only announced B2-format digital device so far that, in my opinion, has the right design is the HP Indigo 10000 (see my earlier blog on this topic), which will be available before any of the tech demos gets to the market. It duplexes, draws from multiple paper sources, and is designed to support in-line finishing. Delphax is another that has announced that it is planning to add multi-feed capability. Below is a list of companies with B2 products and their ability to handle these key factors:

Product Duplex Multiple paper sources In-line finishing
HP Indigo 10000 Yes Yes Yes
Delphax Elan Yes In development No
Konica Minolta KM-1 Yes No No
Landa S7 Yes No No
Screen TruePress SX Yes No No
MGI Alphajet Planned No No
Fujifilm JetPress 720 No No No
Jadason Q-Press No No No
Miyakoshi / Ryobi tech demo No No No

Note: This table is compiled to the best of my ability as of early May 2012 and is likely subject to change as vendors continue their product development.

Packaging is another theme that runs in parallel to B2-format digital. Going to B2 format, as long as thick stocks are supported, opens up package printing opportunities, particularly for folding cartons. This may be the best application opportunity for digital B2-format products, yet even B2 is a little small for some packaging applications. B2 supports a much wider range of box sizes, but is constrained for multi-up impositions of larger designs. The advantage of digital for packaging is that a simplex-only product can succeed there (though it would be truly nice to have 4+/1).

The dual themes of digital B2 and packaging often overlap at drupa 2012, yet for production digital printing to move successfully into packaging the products need to be more than offset press replacements. We’re at a very early stage in the evolution of the B2 format for digital, so now is the time to experiment. There are two main theories I see on display. One theory positions the new digital products as best suited to do existing types of jobs. (This is the 98% of static jobs that Benny Landa refers to in his presentation.) Another theory is that the role of digital should allow you to do jobs that you could never do before effectively with traditional methods. Certainly you need to do some of both, but without duplexing, multiple paper sources, and in-line finishing, the larger benefits of digital are out of reach.

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