2020, as a drupa year, was supposed to be a year of inkjet innovation. But we all know that 2020 panned out differently. Despite drupa rescheduling and morphing into a virtual-only 2021 event, we have reported on quite a bit of inkjet news spread throughout 2020, although somewhat less than we expected. However; the year is not finished yet and at the end of November, Xerox released some advances on its Baltoro sheet-fed inkjet press.
Xerox launched the Baltoro HF in mid-2019 (covered here by Elizabeth Gooding), replacing their first cutsheet inkjet model, the Brenva. Like the Brenva, the Baltoro uses an iGen platform for paper transport, but Xerox upped the stakes with new inkjet heads, new inks and advanced control.
As Xerox made clear at the launch, the Baltoro is designed as a platform. The base device can be enhanced with a number of options. At launch, Xerox introduced the speed license, which is necessary to get the full speed of 300 ipm (achieved in duplex and printed 2-up on A3). With the latest set of announcements, Xerox is adding a few new functions and a whole slew of new technical terms.
At the core of the upgrade is the “Color Accelerator” including several components of which, some are hardware based, some are software/control based.
The hardware components consist of a new dryer and sheet cooling unit. The dryer essentially doubles the power of the existing dryer and is using forced air to dry the ink. According to Xerox this extends the paper weights to 300 gsm (110# cover) – an improvement on the 270 gsm for the standard model. Crucially it allows for printing offset coated paper including gloss, silk and mattes. Gloss compatibility was a key missing ingredient of the original Baltoro in several market segments. The paper listing on the Xerox website includes a number of papers that are supported on the Baltoro with the Color Accelerator kit. So far about a dozen offset coated paper types in various weights were tested and approved. Xerox expects to add more as the company is still testing multiple substrates available around the globe. There has been no feedback from Xerox yet on whether the speed will need to be reduced for certain types of papers, weights and page coverage or combinations thereof.
The software and control-based improvements are aimed at ink saving and color consistency. The additional improvements in the operating costs are subsumed by Xerox under the header Inkonomics Amplified. As part of Color Accelerator the “AI Update 1” for image process controls is introduced, the first official update release for the Baltoro AI. It is essentially based on the standard Baltoro real-time control but promises a better performance and consistency. AI helps to determine the right maximum ink amount for a given paper/image combination. As part of the upgrade Xerox claims the missing jet detection using its integrated Full Width Array and compensation is the most accurate in its class. To detect faults one diagnostic page is printed every 150 impressions. If the system detects a discrepancy that indicates a missing jet, surrounding jets are automatically adjusted to compensate. We have not had the opportunity to review print samples from Xerox yet, but Xerox has promised to send and we will provide an update when they are received.
To save ink Xerox introduced Intelli-Purge. When the press is idle for some time, e.g. greater than 40 seconds, a micro-purging capability, called Intelli-Purge, was added. Intelli-Purge uses 50% of the ink than the standard purge. According to Xerox, Intelli-Purge is adding a layer of missing jet recovery to the normal missing jet detection and compensation system. Standard purge operations remain the same and use the same amount of ink (head purging happens on a set cadence for operation and maintenance). Intelli-Purge incrementally adds micro-purges to accommodate for the new stresses placed by printing higher area coverage and higher ink load applications. Xerox believes this is the most economical way to achieve best uptime and print quality. Also, the Baltoro does not require wet or dry tissue wipes.
Availability and Outlook
Xerox plans to offer the complete Color Accelerator as a package on new Baltoro presses sold or as an upgrade for existing devices. Shipping is targeted to start in Q1 2021 on a worldwide basis. The kit remains an option and users can opt for the standard device as well. Xerox did not comment on the premium for the upgrade option or time required for the upgrade, however.
The Xerox Baltoro has been shipping since 2019 and has had strong sales. Not too many customer sites have been made public so far, but it seems that most installations went into direct mail up to now, where the high print resolution is surely appreciated but coated paper was not a necessity. The Color Accelerator fixes an important point in application versatility: the ability to print on standard offset coated stock, although it is too early to tell exactly which papers might be supported or which drawbacks could ensue. With the expanded capabilities enabled by Color Accelerator, Xerox expects the Baltoro to be able to better address customers in commercial and publishing print along with direct mail printing and other markets addressed already. It is certainly attractive to start out with a basic Baltoro and upgrade as the need arises, assuming that the upgrade pricing model is suitable for that purpose.