Ricoh Goes Big with Interact

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It seems like just a few years ago (it was probably more like 6-8 years ago) I was invited to participate at a Ricoh user’s meeting. I recall sitting in a conference room with about 10 Ricoh users and discussing where digital print was headed and other various industry topics.  Just last week I was invited to the Ricoh user conference called Interact and was that ever a surprise.

Ricoh had 250 customers plus another 150 vendors, media, analysts, and staff onsite in Denver for an amazing conference.  Ricoh users of all types were on hand including commercial print, wide format, and transactional printers. Wow what a difference a few years makes!

Ricoh nailed the reason for having the conference – which was to help their customers optimize their investment in Ricoh hardware, software and services.  This mission led them to put together a conference with four main tracks:  one track for the folks who focus on transactional print and are using Ricoh’s powerful software (RPD), two tracks for business development and sales, and one track to get more information about Ricoh commercial and wide format products, media, and finishing.

In addition to the tracks they had great keynote talks plus they had an area set up where Ricoh partners were able present to explain their offerings.

I asked numerous attendees what they thought of the conference and the reply was unanimous – the conference was great, the content was solid, but being able to interact with other Ricoh customers was the most valuable part. Some of the best moments in the conference were the session in which customers were sharing solutions with each other.

The conference wrapped up with a visit to Ricoh’s customer experience center where they could see the latest Ricoh cutsheet, continuous feed, and wide format products. All in all I think this conference just became a “must attend” event for Ricoh customers and for anyone thinking about buying Ricoh gear.

Ricoh Production Printing has come a long way in a short time.  In just 8 years revenues grew to $1 billion and they aren’t slowing down. I’m sure next year’s Interact will be even bigger and better.

Canon Enters the Label Market

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Leveraging its “Inkjet DNA” Canon is entering the packaging market.  The first inkjet entry is into the labels market with the launch of the Océ LabelStream 4000 series press. This press has many of the same characteristics of the inkjet presses Canon produces for the production printing markets.  The clean solid design of this label press is a hallmark of Océ branded products and these products are renowned for their uptime and reliability. The press is very fast with speeds ranging from 157 to 210 fpm (48 to 64 mpm). And the image quality is top tier with 720 x 600 dpi resolution plus three grey levels.

Canon Oce LabelStream

But Canon just didn’t create a new digital color UV inkjet label press. They have done their homework, chose excellent partners and created a product that delivers on a complete set of features needed by label producers to have a tailored single-pass label conversion line for every requirement. Features include

  • High opacity white inks (2 options 80% and 65% opacity)
  • Foil and lamination modules
  • Up to 10 additional flexo stations
  • Inline die cutting module
  • Web widths of 13” or 16” (330 mm and 410 mm)
  • Wide range of standard label stocks including PET, PE, PP, PVC, BOPP, paper, carton, metalized film at 40-450 microns standard and up to 600 microns extended.

Customers have three configuration options

  • Digital standalone press
  • Digital press with inline finishing
  • Full digital hybrid press

The press was designed and brought to market in just two years. Critical to delivering such a compelling product in such a short time were the two major partners:  FFEI and Edale.  Known for highly innovative and advanced product solutions FFEI is a leading integrator and manufacturer of digital inkjet systems. And Edale are experts in flexographic printing and finishing for label packaging. Add in Canon’s global service organization and commitment to the market you have a compelling offering.

The productivity of the Océ LabelStream 4000 is significantly higher than the leading toner-based presses and inkjet provides a running cost advantage as well. The press can output 10,000 to 18,000 square feet per hour (950-1,672 square meters per hour) depending on speed and web widths selected. Running costs are anticipated to be on the order of 20% less than toner based products. Target applications include beauty and personal care, beverages, beer and spirits, household, industrial, pharmaceutical and promotional.

Canon label press postioning

Pricing or the most basic configuration starts at €650K and goes up to €1.5 million with all the “bells and whistles”. Shipments begin at the end of this year in Europe and next year in North America.

All indications from Canon are that they see the packaging market as a good fit for their Inkjet DNA and so I expect we’ll see additional products targeting other packaging applications in the near future as well.

Screen’s Secret Sauce

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As inkjet now drives the digital printing industry there have been a few pioneers who have been leading the charge.  And one of them has been Screen.

Screen began their journey into high speed continuous form printing in mid 2000’s by building presses for IBM (later acquired by Ricoh).  Presses were sold by Ricoh under the InfoPrint brand to the transactional print market and by Screen under the Truepress 520 brand to direct mailers. To date Screen has built and delivered over 800 print engines.

The first models (designated as S) were designed for low coverage, low image quality applications on uncoated stock. This meant bills, statements, and direct mail letters.  This line up was expanded to include an EX model with color and mono options and then to the ZZ model which delivers even higher speeds.

At Print 17 Screen announced the NX model which Mark Schlimme, Director of Marketing for Screen labeled as a crossover press because it has the speed for transactional print but higher quality enabling more direct mail applications.  It also has the capability to run MICR and infrared security inks. This press utilizes the Ricoh’s inkjet technology also found in the RICOH Pro VC 40000. While this press can output higher quality than the S and EX models it is still meant for uncoated or inkjet coated stock.

The press that is targeting offset quality and coated offset stock is the SCREEN Truepress Jet520HD. This press delivers 1200 dpi and is being used in high quality commercial printing applications.  One customer has installed 4 HD presses.

Screen HD

According to Mark the secret sauce is the ink. With their heritage in color scanners, screening, dot etching for CTP and color management it makes sense that Screen is really focused on ink control.  Their goal is to use the least amount of ink and still deliver offset-like quality on standard offset stocks.

Screen SC Inks

While the SCREEN Truepress Jet520HD press uses the same Ricoh inkjet head technology found in the RICOH Pro VC60000 press, Screen has developed their own set of inks called SC Inks. This ink has a unique absorption technology that eliminates the preprocessing usually required for the surface of offset coated papers. With SC Inks customers can print directly on standard offset stocks and preserve the texture.  There is no need to jet primer and deal with excessive drying, heat and energy consumption. And with treated inkjet papers garnering a 20-30% premium the ability to run standard offset stock makes a huge impact on the bottom line.

Printing directly to the paper opens up a range of new possibilities and new markets for inkjet printing including commercial print, catalogues, magazines and high end books. One of the largest direct marketing agencies in the US is Epsilon and they print a variety of direct mail and loyalty applications for many industries including automotive, insurance and telecom. For their high volume variable applications they have been able to replace cutsheet toner output with output from the SCREEN Truepress Jet520HD press. Their customers who are very particular about brand colors are very satisfied with the image quality.

In addition to quality the press offers productivity and reliability. A 1.2 million piece self-mailer program that used to take 7-10 days production across multiple cutsheet toner presses now takes just 4 days. Equally impressive has been the uptime of the press. Epsilon reported that in the first 1041 hours of operation they had only 16 hours (1.6%) of unplanned downtime.

With the products like the SCREEN Truepress Jet520HD that  offer offset-like quality on standard offset coated stocks digital color inkjet printing is poised to enter the next phase of growth in which we will see another round of offset transfer.


Inkjet Adoption in Commercial Printing

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As I mentioned in a previous blog (link) the print volume of color inkjet comprises over 50% of the page volume of color digital pages in the production market in North America. While this growth has been impressive, it is only phase 1 for the adoption of inkjet technology.  This phase is characterized by 4 color printing of documents with medium image quality requirements and low coverage on uncoated stock, which means transactional statements, books, and direct mail letters.

Phase 2 encompasses the ability to print with offset like quality and high coverage on standard offset coated/glossy stocks with ink prices that raise the breakeven point to at least 10,000 sheets for cutsheet or 5000 catalogs or magazines for web production. We are just at the beginning of Phase 2. Inkjet products aimed at this market and available for purchase today include:

  • Canon ProStream
  • HP PageWide Presses with HDNA
  • Kodak Prosper
  • Ricoh VC60000
  • Screen Truepress 520 HD
  • Xerox Trivor 2400
  • Fujifilm J Press 720
  • Komori Impremia IS29
  • Konica Minolta Accurio KM-1

Today we’ll take a closer look at the Kodak Prosper inkjet technology and how this technology helps enable Phase 2. Read the rest of this entry »

EFI Launches MarketDirect Cross Media Software

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EFI recently released a significant rewrite and enhancement to the Direct Smile platform and they have named it MarketDirect Cross Media.  EFI rebuilt the authoring, publishing and management tools on top of the legacy Direct Smile composition tools. This gives users access to all the channels: print, email, landing pages, mobile, and social. This cross media marketing software combines campaign design and campaign automation into one program.

Campaign design features includePrint Media Design

  • VDP
  • Personalized images
  • Mobile sites, QR codes and SMS
  • Interactive customer surveys
  • Templates
  • Themes


Campaign management features includeStoryboard

  • Campaign wizard to simplify creation
  • Storyboard for a graphical view of the campaign
  • Automated reminders and triggers for follow up activities
  • Real-time analytics

According to Aaron Tavakoli of EFI there are two core reasons for the rewrite of the Direct Smile platform: Read the rest of this entry »

The Journey to Inkjet Printing Hits Another Milestone

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Both in North America and in W. Europe in 2017 over half of the production digital color pages were printed on inkjet presses. The majority of what was printed can be characterized as applications that require low color coverage on uncoated stock which translates to transactional documents, direct mail and books.

inkjet percentage

When it comes to transactional printing and a good portion of direct mail the combination of offset preprinted shells with monochrome laser overprinting has been supplanted with white paper-in color inkjet printing. This transition started in earnest about 7 or 8 years ago and has been going strong since.  This effort has been led by continuous feed inkjet products from Ricoh and Canon. Read the rest of this entry »

Super Bowl Drives Print

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Close but no cigar. My Minnesota Vikings came within one game of playing the Super Bowl in their home stadium. It seemed as it was destiny as in the divisional playoff game the Minneapolis Miracle occurred when with 10 seconds left in the game and trailing by one, the Vikings completed a 61 yard pass for the win over the Saints as time expired. However, the euphoria of a last second win versus the memories a many last second losses only lasted one week as they were thoroughly trounced by the Eagles in the NFC Championship game. Oh what fun it could have been to play the Super Bowl at home.

The economic impact of the Super Bowl on local businesses is forecast by Rocket Analytics LLC to be $338 Million.  Of that $268 Million will be spent by visitors on retail shopping, hotels, food & beverage, rental cars, entertainment, and ground transportation.  But that still leaves $70 million for a wide variety of services needed to support the game including creating graphics for the venues, and printing programs, signs, flyers, etc. Read the rest of this entry »

Digital Printers Invest in Finishing

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More than ever, printers are investing in technology to automate their shops. Order entry and prepress is being automated with web to print software, new digital presses continue to get more productive, and job information is flowing effortlessly through the system. Now that drive for automation is now being directed at finishing.

That helps explain why print service providers are investing in finishing to grow their businesses. Caslon’s survey of print service providers shows the areas where printers are investing to grow their business and for the digital printer segment (businesses who primarily used digital presses) finishing is the top choice with 65% of the respondents signaling a plan to invest. And two other segments, quick printers and commercial printers with more than 10 employees, are also investing heavily in finishing.

Digital Printer InvestmentsQuick Printer Investments Commercial Printer Investments

In the past the typical wisdom was to finish digital printing output offline on the robust finishing equipment made for offset output.  Printers would tell me that equipment designed for digital presses was not robust enough and that tying up a production line with inline finishing equipment just didn’t make sense.  However, the development of new more rugged digital finishing equipment combined with the new paradigm of having finishing equipment that can easily work inline, near line or offline is changing the ROI calculation.  Printers are now gaining the benefits of digital, short set up times and faster throughput, while not giving up production flexibility.

At Print 17, a wide range of finishing devices designed specifically for digital printing output was on display. The full range of devices from inline, near line, offline, or a combination was available. Two that caught my attention were from C.P. Bourg – their Bourg Sheet Feeder (BSF) and the Bourg Sheet Preparation Module (BPM).

The Bourg Sheet Feeder (BSF) can accept collated sheets from any number or brand of print engine stackers and automatically aligns the incoming stack and feeds them to the respective finishing module.

The three key benefits of the Bourg Sheet Feeder (BSF) are :

1. No manual transfer of collated paper sets saves time and money

2. Ultimate flexibility between inline, near line and offline with the Dual-Mode BSF which can produce perfect bound books or saddle stitched booklets in-line while another job is being simultaneously printed offline

3. High productivity with the BSF tandem configuration: automatically switches between 2 BSF units for non-stop production

The Bourg Sheet Preparation Module (BPM) is designed to help automate the creation of perfect bound booklets created from output on digital presses. The BPM converts large parent size sheets with multiple pages printed on them into small individual pages of different formats all in one pass enabling the creation of multiple book formats from media of a single size. So you get the labor savings from automation of the converting process and ability to run multiple book formats inline creating more revenue growth options for the business.

New finishing equipment on the market is not limited to booklet making. Today’s digital presses can connect in some form or fashion to over 250 devices. With the improvements in capability, reliability, automation and flexibility it’s no wonder that printers are investing in finishing.

Ricoh Expands its Wide Format portfolio with addition of EFI® Vutek™ Hybrid Printers

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Since 2004 when Ricoh acquired Hitachi Printing Systems, they have been on a mission to become a world leader in production printing. In a short period of time they have built an impressive portfolio of high speed rollfed inkjet presses and cutsheet toner presses, software (Web to Print, VDP, MIS, and workflow) plus a line of services that include color management and workflow analysis.

Ricoh continues to invest in this market. Just this year they doubled the number of sales reps in the field selling to the production and wide format markets. And of course new products are being continually added to the portfolio.

EFI 16h hybrid printerThe newest additions to the wide format portfolio are mid-level EFI® H1625 and high-speed EFI® Pro 16h wide-format LED printers. The portfolio now includes Ricoh latex roll to roll printers, Mimaki flat bed printers and the EFI®hybrid printers.

The partnership with EFI goes well beyond a simple reseller’s agreement.  It’s a worldwide alliance that Ricoh has with EFI that includes software, DFEs and now wide format printers. On the software side it is a fully integrated partnership that covers just about all the devices offered. With regard to wide format printing, this is a worldwide alliance as well. Ricoh is already selling and servicing EFI printers in Latin America and Europe.

Why partner with EFI? Well EFI is a market leader in the UV inkjet space and their hybrid technology which combines roll-to-roll and flatbed printing is compelling and fits a nice segment of the market.

What enables this partnership to work is the combined skills of both companies makes for a better experience for the customer.  One of the key elements of any wide format printer is the inkjet heads and EFI has adopted Ricoh Gen5 Printheads in this product.  Thus the customer gets the advantage of Ricoh inkjet technology along with EFI’s expertise in imaging science, software science and substrate delivery. (The Ricoh inkjet printheads are also used in Ricoh’s Latex printers and Mimaki flatbed printers.)

In addition, since the hybrid printers are driven by Fiery™, integration with Fiery cutsheet presses is seamless making it easy for plant personnel to run these new hybrid printers and streamline workflow.

And finally, Ricoh will leverage its massive service organization to service these printers giving customers faster response times and more peace of mind.

What’s in Your Mailbox?

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The USPS just reported their results for 2017, (their fiscal year ends in September).

For the year ended September 30, 2017, Marketing Mail revenue decreased $1.0 billion, or 5.7%, on a volume decline of 3.2%, compared to the prior year. The percentage of decline in revenue was greater than the percentage of decline in volume for 2017 due to the April 10, 2016, expiration of the exigent surcharge, which generated approximately $396 million in incremental Marketing Mail revenue in the first six months of 2016. Revenue and volume were also adversely affected by a reduction in mail advertising campaigns by certain large mailers.

This is in contrast to the year ended September 30, 2016, Marketing Mail wherein volume increased 1.1%, compared to the prior year.

Read the rest of this entry »