Print technologies of 2021 – Innovations that will impress James Bond - The Noel D'Cunha Sunday Column

The right processes and technologies can boost a business. A report by on the 13 technologies that won the Pinnacle InterTech Award 2021.

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10 Oct 2021 | By Noel D'Cunha

During my recent trip to Ahmedabad and Vadodara, I had conversations with a few print firm CEOs, some of them had invested in new equipment. I asked them a question – What are the key areas that are fuelling growth of your company? 26% said it is coming from overall market growth; 25% said it’s because of cost reduction; 34% said from increased capacity; and 40% said it’s all about implementing new technologies.

The fact that 40% of the printers said that implementation of new technologies are the drivers of future growth, I asked them why do they think so? One said, it plays an enabling role in nearly every aspect of business enhancement. When asked to elaborate, he said, “When he invests in the latest press, there are consumables which are expensive, for example, special inks. There are technologies which can reduce drying times, and about ten other things that we don’t need to pay for or spend time doing.” A factory in Vadodara has opted for workflow software that among other things, takes into account per hour cost of the machine. “So when I complete the job and it is delivered, I know what my net profit is,” he said.

In fact, most print companies in Ahmedabad have planned to invest in technology in some way, and are waiting for the market to further pick up.

And so, when the Pinnacle InterTech awards (formerly known as the InterTech Technology awards) for 2021 by Printing United Alliance, USA was announced, I knew that these 13 awarded technologies would make a significant impact on the printing industry. “The awards are not given to technologies with excellent engineering or the best reviews, but instead to those judged as important and meaningful technological advances,” says Jim Workman, vice president, technology and research, TAGA managing director at Printing United Alliance.

The 13 awards this year bring the number of awards granted since the award’s inception to 385. “A look at past recipients reinforces that the awards herald change. For example, scanning technology was first honoured in 1980 (Hell Chromacom and Crosfield Magnascan 570), years before scanning was widely used. The first digital colour press was added to the award list in 1995. By 2000, e-Commerce technology had already been recognised,” says Workman.

Let us take a look at the technologies that were singled out for the 2021 Pinnacle InterTech Award.

Canon Arizona Flow technology by Canon
Arizona Flow technology is a new approach to holding work on flatbed printing devices without the need for vacuum force and associated masking. Achieving adequate vacuum has meant that users must turn off or mask the vacuum areas that are not in use, preventing air leakage. It makes handling unusually sized and shaped media or multiple boards difficult, laborious and error prone. Arizona Flow technology changes the paradigm by allowing the system to leak without negative implications.

Canon’s inventive approach leverages the way in which airflow and pressure differential exert forces on adjacent surfaces, the same principle used in air flight. Instead of depending on vacuum, it depends on high velocity airflow.

Canon’s clever technology saves preparation time and increases application versatility.

Canon UVgel 460 inks by Canon

The Canon UVgel 460 inks represent a significant new ink technology. UVgel inks feature instantaneous “gelling” on contact with media, arresting dot gain instantly. This novel technology results in accuracy and colour fidelity, in part because UVgel is not susceptible to ambient temperature, humidity, or moisture/thermal sensitivity of media. Because the technology is not dependent on heat for evaporation or VOC content for catalysation it can have higher pigment loading.

 LED-UV curing can begin immediately after the ink is deposited to create a matte finish or seconds later for a reflective gloss print. The excellent chemical and mechanical resistance produce a durable surface that needs no protection for most applications, including those outdoors.

Finally, UVgel 460 inks feature enhanced elongation for flexible applications such as vehicle wraps.

CWT 1737 Evolution Max by Cutworx USA
A lamination device for professional sign makers and printers, the CWT 1737 Evolution Max is an innovative package featuring electronic pressure control, electric glide beam horizontal movement, and a heat-assist lamination roller. This means more precise settings and faster mounting and lamination without silvering.

The board to be laminated is placed on top of the LED glass top table and the roller gantry moves over it, a design that saves about six feet of space compared to conventional roll laminators.

Full automation reduces the labour requirement to one operator. The electric lift feature allows the height of the table to be adjusted for the height of the operator. It has an impressive level of automation and the associated boost in productivity.

Durst P5 TEX iSUB by Durst
The Durst P5 TEX iSUB is dubbed as a “game changer” and will transform dye sublimation printing because of the system’s unique inline sublimation system.

 Printing and fixating can now be done in one step, eliminating the need for a traditional heat calendar.

The P5 TEX iSUB is as productive, and less expensive than a transfer process, when factoring in transfer time and associated consumables. Users can take advantage of multi roll options so the next roll can be prepped and staged while the first one is printing. During a changeover, the sewing station allows the next roll to be attached to the one currently loaded.

Dual lane printing gives users a way to print narrow goods. In short, Durst has upended traditional thinking about dye sublimation printing by introducing a technology that both improves efficiency and lowers costs.

Kodak Sonora Xtra process-free plates by Eastman Kodak Company
Kodak Sonora Xtra plates overcome the limitations of the previous generation of process-free plates. Specifically, they provide faster imaging speeds and a three times stronger image contrast, in addition to being able to handle longer runs—up to 4,00,000 impressions on web presses, 2,50,000 on sheetfed offset presses, and 1,00,000 impressions in UV applications.

Also, Sonora Xtra is an advancement in process-free plates’ handling robustness, with scratch and scuff resistance similar to processed plates, making it even more suitable for fast-paced, high-volume printing environments.  The undeniable benefits of process-free plates—no processing equipment, chemicals, or waste disposal—is finally available to mainstream printers without compromising quality or run length.

“It works—well,” say experts. “There’s little excuse for printers not to consider process-free plates now.”

Direct by Global Graphics Software
Direct is a new approach for digital printing that sends data directly to printhead electronics instead of writing to disk. This reduces image processing times significantly, handles large volumes of data with ease, and accelerates the time to print. It’s designed for digital press manufacturers, ensuring that the capability of a press is not limited as data rates increase and fully variable workflows become common.

Increasing resolution, speeds, and print widths are problematic for disk-based workflows. Instead, Direct RIPs data on the fly and streams image data in memory directly to the printer electronics. The judges expect this technology to be widely adopted and accelerate the use of inkjet for high volume personalised communications and packaging.

Hycolor Pro by Heidelberg
Heidelberg’s innovation allows for remote control of the dampening system on its Heidelberg Speedmaster XL 106. Two digital motors on both sides of the press permit remote metering of the dampening solution, fast corrections, and a more precise approach to the scumming point.

The Hycolor Pro’s ability to make fine dampening adjustments while a press is running. For example, if the ink is scumming, the printer can now also add more water specifically on the left or right of the sheet, all from the press console. It’s based on the offset (aka “skewing”) between the pan and metering rollers, which is what controls the distribution of the dampening film. Sensors have been installed in the dampening system that measure the exact position of the rollers relative to each other and show this on the press console.

Performance Advisor Technology (PAT) by Heidelberg
With Performance Advisor Technology or “PAT,” Heidelberg has introduced the use of artificial intelligence to mine press performance data, recognise significant changes, and provide explanations and recommendations to users to improve their performance.

PAT can define the average performance of a press based on its production profile and provide notifications when significant changes occur. Further, PAT can give specific recommendations to operators. The recommendations help them understand and solve upcoming issues on their own. Once a recommended action is applied, PAT observes the impact to see if performance improves. Ultimately, with machine learning, it understands which recommended actions help significantly and adjusts the priority of its recommendations. The shortage of skilled press operators makes AI-based advice like this really important.

Push to Stop in folding by Heidelberg
Push to Stop is the Heidelberg vision for fully autonomous processes, in which the operator intervenes only when production needs to be stopped. The concept has now been applied to Stahl folder equipment through seamless section changes and robotic stacking. The folding machine recognises section change autonomously by means of a camera system and printed barcode. When the camera detects a section change, production is interrupted and restarted as soon as the separation of the different sections is guaranteed.

The Stahl folder P-Stacker is a robotic stacking system that stacks section piles on the pallet, matching the speed of the folder. The articulated robotic arm grips the stacks with the right amount of pressure and places them precisely with minimal gaps. The judges were impressed with the application of automation and robotics to a production area often under-resourced.

HP PageWide C500 Top Feeder by HP
The HP PageWide C500 Top Feeder is a feeding solution that automatically handles differences in stacks of corrugated sheets. It provides a smooth feeding process, short stack replacement times, and minimised setup between jobs, even when piles are poorly stacked and uneven. These capabilities increase press productivity and enable faster time to market.

In addition to the sheet range a bottom feeder has, the HP top feeder also handles micro-flutes. The technology’s most noteworthy elements are air cushions located at the edges of the lift conveyor to even the stack, dynamic stack alignment that addresses skewed or zigzag stacks, and an automatic recovery process in case a sheet fails to load properly.

It’s a technology that can accurately place corrugated sheets in the print engine and maintain a consistent speed of 246 linear ft per minute.

TagBot by Livingston Systems
The TagBot is a patented t-shirt neck tagging system for automatic screen presses that allows for the inside neck label to be printed concurrently with the main front graphic. It takes only one rotation of the printer carousel to produce two images on two distinctly different areas of the t-shirt. With the TagBot, total printing time is cut in half by eliminating the secondary printing operation.

The technology has three parts; the tag along pallet, the print-head adapter that allows for printing a full-sized chest graphic and neck label simultaneously, and the unique loader/unloader mechanism to maintain print speeds. Mechanical fingers push the neck area of the t-shirt into place for the operator to tweak final positioning and to quickly unload it. As one expert commented, “This is a simple, innovative solution to a real-world problem.”

Aerocut X Pro by MBM Corporation
The Aerocut X Pro is an all in one, user friendly machine for slitting, creasing, cutting and perforating. This automated unit for digital print finishing is affordably priced with a relatively small footprint. The user interface is intuitive and easily viewed on a 10” colour touch screen.

Barcodes can be read to detect a mismatch between the print and machine settings. The change function automatically adjusts the machine settings according to the barcode scanned and the job recalled.

“I think some smaller-sized companies will consider this to be one of their best technology investments,” forecast an expert.

Included PC software gives operators the ability to impose, format, and add personalised information to documents for fast and efficient finishing.

PureFlexo Printing technology by Miraclon
Ink that flows easily is a natural characteristic of printing with solvent flexographic inks on film. When that ink flows in unwanted places it can fill in, cause bridging, and build up, creating ‘dirty print’ and excessive dot gain. PureFlexo Printing promises to change that by using sophisticated plate surface patterning technology to resist the tendency of ink to spread during printing. Digital data is imaged to build precise microscopic islands and spaces on the plate surface.

A combination of patterns that optimise ink laydown, air flow, and ink retention across all printable areas – even on dots smaller than the width of a human hair. Unique to the Kodak Flexcel NX System, PureFlexo Printing brings a wider operational window regardless of line screen, with compound savings from fewer unscheduled press stops each day, reduced downtime and delays, and faster colour setups.

(The awards data courtesy: Printing United Alliance, USA)