Heidelberg on Fire – a digital force reawakens

Ralf Schlozer
Mar 2, 2016

In the early 2000 years Heidelberg was a force in digital print to be reckoned with. The company led the market in direct imaging offset and was a major player in digital colour and BW production printing. However Heidelberg lost the appetite in digital and sold off the activities in toner printing to Kodak in 2004, while the DI business dwindled away.

From 2011 Heidelberg stepped up again and became active in several fields of digital printing. Not all were a resounding success – for example activities in label printing bought from CSAT in 2011 were sold off again in 2014. The Heidelberg-branded Ricoh reseller business fared better and according to Heidelberg about 1,000 units of the cut-sheet colour toner printers were sold so far. With the Gallus Labelfire 340 (former Gallus DCS 340 covered in an earlier blog) and the Omnifire 250 (former Jetmaster Dimension), both launched last year, the digital portfolio expanded rapidly. The latest addition is a B1 digital colour press for the industrial production of digital applications, the Primefire 106.

With so many digital activities under one roof Heidelberg decided to rebrand the portfolio of digital printing solutions under the “fire” moniker – which is a catchy name and surely going to be the source of many puns. The products in detail are:

  • Heidelberg Versafire CV/CP – The Ricoh reseller products, formerly sold as Linoprint CV/CP
  • Gallus Labelfire – Launched as Gallus DCS 340, as a sole product in that application area so far
  • Heidelberg Omnifire – Originally Jetmaster Dimension, now to become part of a range of solutions
  • Heidelberg Primefire 106 – Latest introduction, tops the portfolio as the first industrial cut-sheet inkjet product develop in cooperation with Fujifilm

   Heidelberg’s digital print portfolio

In most cases the new name is simply a rebranding, although Heidelberg hinted some new features for the Versafire devices at drupa. The Jetmaster launched in 2015 has several installations and under its new name Omnifire 250 and is set to become the entry level product of the Omnifire range. An Omnifire 1000 has been announced as well, for larger and more complex products to be printed on. While the Omnifire 250 has a 4 axis robot system to handle smaller, round products, the Omnifire 1000 has a 6 axis robot handling system to move more irregular items of up to 1 metre length. While the Omnifire 250 will be shown printing at drupa 2016, the Omnifire 1000 will only be present with some items printed on the device. The official launch will be InPrint 2016 in November. Finally Heidelberg is going to offer bespoke printing solutions as part of complete packaging lines on a later stage. As theses system will be highly customised we expect to hear more once the first installations are approaching.

The most impatiently awaited announcement was Heidelberg’s first presentation of the Primefire 106, a B1 sheetfed inkjet colour press. Back in 2014 Heidelberg announced together with its partner Fujifilm that it was working on an industrial B1 digital inkjet press. Taking the wraps off unveils a seven colour non-perfecting press targeted mainly at folding carton applications as a first step .

Not surprisingly Heidelberg is contributing its well-known feeder, delivery and paper handling expertise and can draw from offset presses in the same size class as the Speedmaster XL 106. Borrowed from existing offset presses is also the design of the coating unit. The spot coating offered is static as flexo plates would need to be used. A combination IR / hot air drier has been added before the coater. It will be interesting to see how far the analogue offset technology has been adapted to take into account the requirements of short run – or even personalised – fast turnaround digital work. Additionally the press is driven by Heidelberg’s Prinect Digital Front End launched in 2015. The Prinect Digital Front End is already available for the Versafire, Labelfire and Omnifire products.

   Schematic drawing of the Primefire 106

Primefire 106

Fujifilm’s portions of the joint development sit essentially in the imaging units and the ink. The press uses almost the same Dimatix (a Fujifilm subsidy) Samba inkjet heads as are used in the Gallus Labelfire 340 and Fujifilm’s own Jet Press 720S. Inks are similar to the ones used in the Jet Press 720 and accordingly the Primefire is using a flood primer in the conditioning unit to allow for a rapid coagulation of the ink as well. Together with a 1,200 dpi imaging resolution this should result in a very high image quality – something Fujifilm’s Jet Press 720S is already capable off. Seven colour imaging with gamut expanding green, orange and violet should help in matching critical spot colours in packaging.

Primefire 106 inherits the somewhat low printing speed of the Jet Press 720S. The press will be demonstrated with a speed of 2,000 B1 sheets per hour (about 267 A4/min) at full imaging quality at drupa. The Primefire 106 is by about 33% more productive than the Jet Press 720S – by surface area printed per hour. This is essentially owed to the wider inkjet bar, which is necessary to cover the 70 x 100 cm format (27.5” x 40”). This speed of 2,000 B1 sheets per hour will hardly stress the paper transport to its limits. Heidelberg hinted a possibility to go faster, possibly at a lower resolution, but certainly with a future generation of inkjet heads, although Heidelberg did not reveal any specifics.

The Primefire is scheduled to find its first customer in 2016, with general availability slated for end of 2017. Pricing has not been announced yet, with service contract and consumables to be charged according to consumption. The press will be shown at Heidelberg’s drupa booth only, although Fujifilm plans to take on the press as well.

In tune with the targeted market of folding cartons the press is set for substrates from 0.2 to 0.6 mm thickness and the inks have Swiss Ordinance conformity for low migration. Focussing on the folding carton market as a first market makes a lot of sense for Heidelberg, since:

  •  The press is single sided only
  •  Folding carton benefits most from a large format
  •  There is limited competition in the digital print market for folding cartons

So far only Landa is aiming for a B1 digital folding carton press as well, with Canon Océ’s InfiniStream being another possible contender, albeit using a roll-fed approach. The B2 digital press offerings for folding carton are likely to address a different tier in the market. At the same time the Primefire evades the strong competition from much more productive roll-fed inkjet devices for the transaction and commercial market.

There is no doubt however that a commercial print model is on the roadmap as well. This would require a duplexing (or perfecting in offset terms) press and likely faster speeds to compete against the continuous feed devices on the market.. The Primefire 106 is certainly another good reason to visit drupa this year.

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