Lessons Learned at HP’s Graphic Arts Experience Center

Jim Hamilton
Aug 21, 2012

Last week I went to Alpharetta, Georgia in suburban Atlanta to see HP’s Graphic Arts Experience Center. Opened in March of 2011, the site is a 60,000-square-foot showcase of HP’s graphic arts portfolio including its Indigo, SmartStream, Inkjet Web Press, Designjet & Scitex wide format, and Specialty Printing Systems (SPS) inkjet offerings. In addition to acting as a sales hub, the site also houses training facilities and is a center for graphic arts business development services for HP customers in the Americas.

I was invited to the Experience Center to attend an HP customer event along with a handful of industry analysts and trade magazine editors. It was an eye-opening experience in a number of ways and in this blog I’d like to share three insights I gained from the visit.

Make It Matter

The HP slogan ‘Make It Matter,’ which you see in HP promotional posters and on their employees’ business cards, has always reminded me of that scene toward the end of the movie ‘Saving Private Ryan’ where a dying Tom Hanks tells Matt Damon to ‘earn it.’ Movie dramatics aside, what HP has done with it Graphic Arts Experience Center has a lot to do with ‘making it matter.’ Bringing the whole portfolio (including Inkjet Web Press and SPS) under one roof makes a lot of sense and is particularly important given the cross-over opportunities for existing and future HP customers. That the site serves multiple purposes for sales, training, and business development is also key. The Experience Center has recently added an Inkjet Web Press T200 (that’s been upgraded to a T230) and it would also have an Indigo W7250 if it hadn’t been for the surge in demand for the product (the unit targeted to the Experience Center went to a customer in Massachusetts). I was highly impressed with the broad range of print samples, in fact, I felt like a kid in a candy store. (I made a video with some of those samples.) The samples cover a range of markets including commercial print, direct mail, technical, publishing, signage, labeling, packaging, and pro-photography printing.

The last time I visited an HP demo center in Atlanta was four years ago. It was an Indigo site. Not far away was another demo center for HP’s Scitex products. Both of those sites no longer exist. They were consolidated into the Graphic Arts Experience Center, which was expanded to include the full HP graphic arts portfolio. It was a good move and the result is an impressive resource that will benefit HP moving forward.

Did You Load that Pile with a Pitchfork?

An offhand comment by a commercial printer about HP Indigo’s new 10000 is a testament to how remarkable its paper feed unit really is. This happened not long ago at the Experience Center. The commercial printer was looking at the Indigo 10000’s paper feed when he asked the demonstrator “Did you load that pile with a pitchfork?” What he was implying was that the pile of sheets wasn’t carefully jogged to make a nice even stack, as one typically would on an offset press. The demonstrator’s response: “I’m not going to waste time making it look nice if the press doesn’t care.” He added that the 10000 aligns the sheet after pulling it from the stack.

HP Indigo 10000 feed unit

HP Indigo 10000 feed unit

The back feeder on the 10000 looks like an offset feed, and though that may be reassuring to a commercial printer who is used to seeing feed units rather than paper drawers, it is really just a passing resemblance. The point is that the feed unit has other features that separate it from what offset feeders are designed to do. Most important, the unit can draw from multiple paper sources (up to five). When I look at the offset-like feed and delivery units of many of the B2-format digital printing technology demonstrations at drupa I scratch my head in puzzlement. Why use an offset feed and delivery when virtually every digital product today can draw from multiple paper sources on the feed side and connect to in-line finishing at the delivery? Offset feed and delivery units aren’t designed to do that. All digital print devices should have at least two paper sources so that if you want to use a different paper on a subsequent job then you don’t have manually intervene. Of course it doesn’t make much difference on an offset press since you always have time to change paper while the plates are being changed but that’s not the way digital devices work. There is no wait. So why design a next-generation digital device with only one paper feed? HP deserves credit for having the foresight to design multi-source and in-line finishing capability into the Indigo 10000.

Inkjet Ink Consumption

Another benefit of a visit like this is the chance to hear from end users. In one round table discussion on high-speed inkjet a T300 customer noted how the business model for HP’s T Series products is ink consumption based. This isn’t exactly news, but it has important implications since it turns out that the ink cost for a given job can be adjusted depending on the customer’s quality requirements. Let me say this another way: if the end customer accepts the quality level, the print service provider can lower the ink laydown to limit ink consumption. You use less ink and you save some money. This means that each job can be evaluated to see by how much they can lower ink consumption before quality is impacted. If this lower density produces an acceptable result and the customer agrees, then everybody is happy. This T300 user said that at full ink laydown the black density on his T300 is very good. He noted that they can run it all the way down to 80% density and the output still looks good.

Some Other Points

A couple of additional points in closing:

  • The HP Indigo 10000 in the Experience Center is the first one in the United States. In regard to in-line finishing for this device, a representative from Standard Finishing was at the Experience Center and said that the Standard Horizon SmartStacker slitter/stacker for the 10000 would be formally announced at Graph Expo and would be available in 2013.
  • HP’s SPS division, which used to work only with OEM partners, now has HP-branded offerings, including the HP C500 Color Print Module, which was shown at the Experience Center printing in a roll-to-roll configuration.
  • HP has created a handy web summary of their graphic business offerings. See https://www.hpwsn.com/gsb/#/

Finally, if you haven’t seen the white paper I wrote on HP’s Inkjet Web Press line, consider downloading ‘HP’s Path to the Next Generation of Production Digital Color Printing.’ It’s free.

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