The Unveiling of HP’s Inkjet Web Press at O’Neil Data Systems

Jim Hamilton
May 7, 2009

With strobe lights flashing and loud music blaring, HP unveiled the Inkjet Web Press this past Tuesday at O’Neil Data Systems in Los Angeles. The device, first seen at drupa 2008 is about the size of two tour buses end to end. With a 30-inch (762 millimeter) web width and speeds of up to 400 feet per minute (122 meters per minute) it was the star of a three-day event sponsored by HP and hosted at O’Neil Data Systems.

HP Inkjet Web Press at O'Neil Data Systems

HP Inkjet Web Press at O'Neil Data Systems

On the first day of the event, about thirty-five print market analysts and industry trade magazine editors flocked to the O’Neil site. The analysts and editors had been flown in from all over the country to see the beta installation. The analysts and editors were on hand for the first day of a three-day event entitled “The New Digital Reality” that would later include O’Neil customers and HP prospects. HP partners participating in the event were CMC, EMT, Hunkeler, MBO, Muller Martini, Pitney Bowes, Timsons, and Ultimate. Also represented at the event were HP’s own Solutions Group, HP Exstream, and HP Media Solutions.

Two New Beta Sites: Consolidated Graphics and Courier
In a press release entitled “HP Showcases World’s First High-Speed, 30-inch Digital Color Press” HP also highlighted two new beta sites: Consolidated Graphics and Courier Corporation. Consolidated, which has more than fifty HP Indigo devices, will house the second beta site when it is installed this summer. Courier, described as the third largest book printer in the United States, will install one in the fourth quarter of this year.

The previously announced CPI beta site will go live September at an unspecified location in France. Taylor Corporation is also in the pilot program, but no installation date or location was mentioned. HP confirmed that commercial availability of the Inkjet Web Press was on target for September (the company had stated at drupa that it would be available in the second half of 2009). All of these installs will be 30″ in width.

The First Beta Site: O’Neil Data Systems
Jim Lucanish, President of O’Neil Data Systems, first learned about the Inkjet Web Press in April of 2006 when HP reached out to him to describe the concept and later invited him to visit their research and development facility in San Diego to show him an early version of the device code-named “Tinker Bell.” This small prototype, shown to him under non-disclosure, had the distinctive arched paper path of the Inkjet Web Press that now sits in his facility in Los Angeles. Another thing he remembers from that time is his insistence that one thing HP had to do was to get rid of “click” charges. Lucanish favors a consumption-based model that doesn’t punish the user for light coverage color. He also stressed the importance of workflow, saying that particularly in this economy businesses need to cut out steps or else they’ll die. He believes that the front end RIPs and servers are critical to the success of the product.

O’Neil’s Inkjet Web Press arrived in December of 2008. Lucanish said that by the second or third week of January they had produced their first sellable book on the device. It was the print version of the O’Neil database. Today he calls the Inkjet Web Press a “game changer.” While he likes the 30-inch web width he would like it to be even wider. He also said that the results have exceeded their expectations quality wise. Currently the Inkjet Web Press is being shared by O’Neil and HP. O’Neil is using it for healthcare, direct mail, book, and application testing, while HP has access to the device for part of the time for its own testing purposes. O’Neil is holding space for a second unit.

It becomes apparent through this visit that the Inkjet Web Press is not just a process color device. Its true advantage is in being able to handle monochrome, low coverage color, and full color output cost effectively. The lack of a typical click charge and the opportunity to add color as needed are important differentiators from toner-based digital products. Lucanish sees monochrome volume migrating from O’Neil’s continuous feed digital devices to the Inkjet Web Press. These pages frequently are printed on an offset-printed shell, though some is also digital spot color. He believes that the floodgates will open given that his customers will now have the opportunity to print color judiciously whenever they want.

Later, on a tour through O’Neil’s enormous warehouse we see a range of healthcare applications being printed, finished, and assembled. The Goss newspaper presses were quiet as we passed early in the day. Later they will be busy printing the Investor’s Business Daily. Much of what we see in the warehouse is automated high-volume kitting solutions. O’Neil has plenty of offset capability but describes itself as moving from being an offset to a fully digital color printer. They said that they rarely lead with their offset capabilities anymore but instead stress their digital side, which frequently gets them some offset business as well.

William O’Neil
For stock market aficionados and investors the high point of the event was the presentation by William O’Neil, founder of O’Neil Data Systems and author of the book “How to Make Money in Stocks.” His underlying theme is that historic data reveals valuable information about the stock market that is predictive in nature (unlike price/earning ratios, which he disdains). The value of decades of historic data is why he created the database that is the foundation for Investor’s Business Daily. The database drives detailed charts and tiny text that provided the first quality hurdle for the Inkjet Web Press. The book length database printouts (and O’Neil’s Investor’s Business Daily newspaper) will provide some of the volume for the Inkjet Web Press, but health insurance subscriber kits and direct mail will be important as well.

A Personalized Version of the Investor’s Business Daily
As the day began we received under our hotel room doors the Tuesday May 5th edition of Investor’s Business Daily. Red text on the front of my copy stated “Special Edition Just for Jim Hamilton” and the back cover had a color advertisement from HP thanking its partners and showing a shot of the Inkjet Web Press. The back page of the first section included one of four focus areas. Mine had an article on healthcare with tables of healthcare stocks. The newspaper, of course, was printed on the Inkjet Web Press.

R.R. Donnelley’s Apollo
Many readers will have noticed another big inkjet announcement that came out a day ahead of HP’s. This was R.R. Donnelley’s news about on-press color inkjet capability that it calls Apollo. Described by R.R. Donnelley as fully variable offset, Apollo takes the previously announced IPS 3 technology and puts it on an offset press. In her keynote at ON DEMAND Mary Schneider of R.R. Donnelley stated that the company was developing this type of hybrid capability to combine the favorable cost metrics of offset with inkjet color variable capability at very high speed. The release also says that colors or effects beyond four-color are possible. MICR capability was mentioned, which would follow Océ’s similar announcement from earlier this year. At the O’Neil event HP said that it also expects to have MICR capability on the Inkjet Web Press before long.

R.R. Donnelley has been somewhat secretive about its inkjet developments. It has made announcements but has to date been unwilling to provide additional specifics on IPS 3 or even release a picture. In addition, R.R. Donnelley’s timing on its press releases has been uncanny. It would be naïve to believe that the dates on the previous two releases were coincidental, one coming the day before the HP announcement of the O’Neil event and the other coming right before Océ’s announcement of the 30-inch JetStream 2800. These news items were perfectly timed to make the most of the hubbub about HP’s and Océ’s commercial products. Another R.R. Donnelley release came right before drupa 2008 when inkjet mania was at a fever pitch. It is, in fact, some savvy marketing work by R.R. Donnelley, which doesn’t need to sell the product, but instead is doing its best to promote its color inkjet services to its own customer base.

Coated Stocks, Product Specifications, Applications, and the Future
Some other interesting points came out of HP’s event. HP said that it is making progress on the Inkjet Web Press’ ability to print on coated stocks. The bonding agent, which is used for uncoated stock, does not facilitate printing on coated stocks. HP showed (but did not hand out) test samples of an HP Coated Media stock that it believes could be available soon (no specific date mentioned). It was displayed in a 60 lb. version, but HP said that it could be adapted to other weights.

There were also some changes in the product’s specifications. The base unit, which supports from 40 to 200 gsm, can be adapted to support up to 350 gsm. In addition, the print resolution, described at drupa as 600 by 600 dots per inch, is now 1,200 by 600. Though the dot size is not variable, HP is able to achieve three levels by overlapping printed dots. (The three levels are: no dots, one dot, and two overlapped dots.) HP also noted that the smallest drop size was six picoliters for cyan, magenta, and yellow, and nine picoliters for black.

HP has said that the top target applications for the Inkjet Web Press are books, direct mail, transaction, and newsprint. In regard to books HP said that the break-even point (depending on a range of factors) was 3,000 books or higher. Another application point is around transaction. None of the current beta sites are typical transaction environments and yet the presence of Pitney Bowes at the event confirms that transaction is still on the radar. HP hinted that it was unable to talk as yet about its activities in the transaction market.

Today the Inkjet Web Press is set up to print four colors plus the bonding agent. The 29.1 inch print width is accomplished via seven overlapping 4.25″ heads with two rows for each color. This redundancy gives HP flexibility to mask image artifacts in cases, for example, when individual jets on a head fail. Based on the product’s design it looks like there is room for another paired row for a sixth special effect or color. InfoTrends assumes that this is where HP would add the MICR print capability.

The unveiling of the Inkjet Web Press at O’Neil is another milestone in the product’s march to general commercial availability. Innovative sites like O’Neil are an ideal proof point for this product and HP did a great job highlighting this customer in front of analysts, press, O’Neil clients, and HP prospects.

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