Digital Packaging Printing Moving into Focus for Heidelberg and Canon

Ralf Schlozer
Oct 1, 2014

Heidelberg and Canon/Ocè both reemphasized their push into the digital packaging printing market at their customer events last week. Each company gave a detailed update on the progress it has made.

As promised back in April at a digital sneak peek event, Heidelberg showed their first digital label printer at the Gallus “Innovation Days” from the 23rd to 25 of September in St Gallen, Switzerland. The event, which is not to be confused with the Hunkeler innovationdays) served well as a platform to reemphasize the changes in the ownership structure; this summer Gallus became part of the Heidelberger group, the upshot of a share swap that increased Heidelberg’s ownership of Gallus from 30% to 100% and with the former owner of Gallus becoming the biggest individual shareholder in Heidelberg.

Center stage, however, was the digital label press with the somewhat less catchy name of Gallus DCS 340. The press, which comes with in-line finishing, is the result of development cooperation between Gallus, Heidelberg and Fujifilm. The press base is supplied by Gallus and is derived from the well-established ECS 340 label press, hence the web width is set at 340 mm (13.4”) and a range of flexo, screen and offset modules can be added. The press has a solid granite base and is equipped with an unwind and a die cutting/stripping module. Only the speed of the DCS had be limited to 50 m/min (150 ft/min) compared to 165 m/min (492 ft/min) of the conventional press. The integrated finishing is somewhat misleadingly named “ digital converting system”, since the ECS C finishing part contains no digital components at all. Its core is a semi-rotary die cutter, which is at least format variable, but still requires a conventional die.

The digital printing module has been designed by Heidelberg. It is based on Fujifilm’s 1,200 dpi Samba inkjet print-bar. Heidelberg took care of the integration and the DFE. The print module has eight channels, which allows printing of orange, violet, green and white in addition to CMYK. UV inks are used with LED-UV pinning and conventional UV final curing.

The Fujifilm contribution is far more low key and seems to be limited mostly to supplying the print bars. The press will be exclusively sold by Gallus/Heidelberg and serviced by their existing service structure. Although Fujifilm might supply inks for some uses, Heidelberger is evaluating several sources for the ink and might offer different inks for different uses.

The DCS 340 is entering an already quite crowded market. HP Indigo with its liquid toner models is the market leader, but there is also a wide choice of inkjet systems available already. With a linear speed of 50 m/min the DCS 340 is certainly in the upper productivity range, but there are models like the FFEI Graphium (interestingly sold by Fujifilm) that nearly equal the DCS 340, and rare ones that exceed it, such as the Domino N610i and Mark Andy Digital Series, each of which has a maximum speed of 75 m/min. The DCS 340 certainly has an edge in imaging resolution over its current inkjet competitors with 1,200 dpi and the print samples handed out looked very good. However once the DCS 340 reaches the market late in 2015 the competition might have caught up already. Equipment pricing is set at around €1.4 to 1.5 million for a complete system (including unwind, some flexo units for priming/varnish, die cut and stripping). Field testing is planned for early 2015.

Gallus is a market leader in conventional label presses but it has only limited digital press experience. The company has marketed a roll-to-roll UV inkjet label press, the (Linoprint L, $400,000) for a few years, but has had limited success with it. The much costlier and faster DCS 340 with integrated finishing is a much higher level product in every way. As relative newcomers to this end of the digital label market Gallus/Heidelberg will have a steep learning curve in terms of marketing and overall execution So far the press is targeted for labels on non-absorbent substrates in non-food applications. Inks for a wider range of substrates and food contact are in development and expanding applications into flexible packing is planned as well. Impressive is that the press has been developed in less than 12 months and we are likely to see more digital products from Heidelberg before long.

Heidelberg-Gallus Digital Label Printing System DCS 340 at Gallus Innovationdays

A few days after the Gallus event, Canon-Océ gave an update on their packaging activities and showed the latest developments on the InfiniStream folding carton printer.

The InfiniStream was presented publicly during drupa 2012 and a proof of concept press was installed at packaging printer Joh. Leupold GmbH in Germany about a year ago. In the meantime Canon continued improving the press. Notably the number of printing stations increased to seven, to include orange, green and violet for an extended color gamut. According to Canon, Leupold, the German customer, is now at the stage of producing sellable prints. Canon also quite frankly acknowledged three areas for further improvement: increase stability of the system, increase the usability (make it easier to operate by standard operating personnel) and to extend the paper range the device can print on. There is now considerable amount of work done to fine tune the press in a production environment and to test substrates. Samples shown looked very good, although none were handed out to keep.

Canon expects to ship two or three more presses to beta sites in 2015 and plans general availability for 2016. The interest from prospects remains very high and Canon is expecting substantial numbers (>50 units) per year afterwards. The break-even target remains unchanged at 3,000 to 5,000 sheets, which would allow Canon to catch a decent share of the folding carton market. Although pricing and running cost of the press still needs to be confirmed.

InfiniStream at Canon-Océ Demo Center in Poing

Apart from InfiniStream Canon-Océ presented updates on other continuous feed products as well. The ImageStream 3500 shown in May now features 1,200 by 1,200 dpi resolution at full speed. The results looked very good on many kinds of non-inkjet optimized papers. The ColorStream 3000Z — a shortened version of the ColorStream 3000 Series for the East Asian market was shown live. Additionally the VarioStream 4000 Series was launched, an updated monochrome toner printer, based on the VarioStream 7000 series. Accordingly the 4000 Series features a range of speeds, MICR and Océ custom tone capability, but with the latest generation controller and improvements in the engine. Sales of the 4000 series start now with shipments commencing in 2015.

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