Can Konica Minolta capture the B2 market for digital color printing?

Posted on by Dave Erlandson | No Comments »

The centerpiece of Konica Minolta’s sprawling booth at drupa is clearly the KM-1, which is their new B2 size inkjet press intended for the commercial graphic arts market.  First shown as a technology demonstration at drupa 2012 the product is finally coming out of beta and will be ready for purchase soon.   It’s been a long road for KM as HP announced their B2 product (liquid toner, not inkjet), the HP Indigo 10000 also at drupa 2012, however HP currently has 100’s of installations around the world. So KM has some catching up to do.

Konica Minolta recognizes the most important feature of any new press IMG_5347is image quality. Printers need to be able to produce the applications they are currently producing and then be able to add new applications to grow their businesses. So a new press must have the same or better image quality than the current press, which means offset quality.  Related and also very important is substrate flexibility. Having to migrate current applications to different substrates is a non-starter for many print service providers. Meeting these two requirements has been the main focus for the development of the KM-1.

Image quality is offset-like. At Graph Expo I saw output from the Komori branded product, the IS 29, shown side by side with output from a Komori offset press and the match was terrific. Now these were just samples and everyone knows that producing samples is different from real world production, but the press clearly has the capability to provide the image quality needed.

In addition to image quality the big issue with inkjet has been substrate flexibility. Most of the current inkjet products on the market require users to print in inkjet coated paper to optimize image quality. The KM-1 does not have this limitation. Konica chose to use UV curable inks, which enable printing on nearly all types of standard offset stocks.  What is not generally known is the running costs of the new UV inks, I know they are typically more expensive, but Konica knows they have to be competitive.

The press runs at 3,000 B2 simplex sheets per hour and at 6 up (23”x29.5”) that equates to 300 letter size pages per minute, which is faster than toner machines.  Substrates from .06 to 0.6mm (24 Pt.) run on the press making folding carton production possible.  So the press will be able to handle a wide range of applications with good productivity.

Reliability and service are key elements for any press purchase and that’s why they have beta tests. The KM-1 will have gone through extensive testing prior to launch. And to date piezo inkjet print heads have been a very reliable technology.

In addition to running costs printers will be carefully examining the upfront capital cost. And here’s where two other vendors – Fujifilm and Screen – have struggled. Initially both vendors were selling their presses for well over $1 million and market reception was cool. However the HP Indigo 10000 sells for roughly $1.3 to $1.5 million. The KM-1/IS 29 price has not been officially announced and I expect to get some ballpark figures at drupa. Once pricing is known then the next calculation is total cost of ownership and everyone knows it’s a competitive market out there.

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