Experience tells us that new technology is taking longer than expected to reach the market – often a lot longer. Landa Digital Print is certainly no exception. Grabbing the attention of the printing world at drupa 2012 – and again at drupa 2016 – there is still considerable interest on how the technology is developing and being used.
On the 18th of January Landa and Groupe Prenant invited potential buyers to an installation near Paris, almost three years after a launch event in 2020 had to be cancelled at last minute due to the Covid pandemic. The event proved to be an excellent opportunity to get an update on the current status of the technology and feedback from a user.
Not only had the presses, also Landa Digital Printing evolved over time. Today German entrepreneur Susanne Klatten owns 46% of the shares via directly controlled subsidies, while Benny Landa still owns 54%. The company now has 550 employees with 250 in R&D. This still indicates a strong R&D focus although it has to be considered that many components such as sheets transport and quality control systems are bought in.
In 2022 Landa opened its first ink factory outside Israel in the Netherlands. This does not only pay tribute to the increasing demand, it also improves supply chain security. Crucially it simplifies compliance with EU regulations as the ink is manufactured in the EU as well. An ink plant in the US is in planning.
There are 30 presses installed at the start of 2023, ten more than a year before. It is a mix of single sided S10 packaging presses and duplex capable S10P for commercial applications.
According to Landa volumes on the presses keep increasing. The average of the S10P commercial presses moved towards 1.3 million impressions/month, while S10 packaging press users average about 1 million. Although volumes keep growing, this implies that there is capacity left.
With 6,500 images per hour, or 3,250 duplex printed sheets, the Landa presses are the fastest inkjet sheetfed presses on the market. The originally planned speed of 13,000 images/hour seems to be some time out, however.
One of the first S10P customers is Groupe Prenant in France, a large commercial printer with several sites, more than 400 employees and €65 million in turnover. The press is now operating for three years at their commercial printing site near Paris. The company deliberately decided to install the press at their sheetfed offset division dedicated to high-quality print customers. It is the first digital press at the site. Four main factors were crucial for Groupe Prenant when deciding for the S10P:+
- B1 format
- Same paper possible as on offset presses
- High print quality and Pantone capable
The company invested in a S10P press with seven colours and coating unit in 2019 and the press was installed in January 2020.
Groupe Prenant is a forward looking printing company and has subsidies for augmented reality (ARGO) and online map services. Those can be powerful tools in conjunction with the variable printing capability of the Landa press.
Landa S10P at Groupe Prenant
Applications and Economics
Like many printing companies Groupe Prenant found print runs decreasing considerably in recent years, to the point where offset was not viable anymore. Accordingly, most volume running on the Landa press has been shifted from offset (the site operates six B1 offset presses), however, the company is developing some new applications as well. This includes selective auction catalogues (depending on the buyer interest), automatically assembled POS kits, or short run specialty publications.
The Landa press is also used for hybrid work, mixing Landa and offset sheets. Often book covers are offset printed, while the book block stems from the Landa press.
Groupe Prenant calculated the breakeven against B1 offset for a 16 page job at close to 1,500 sheets with a 40% coverage. A higher coverage would lower the breakeven, while a lower coverage would raise it. This is simply down to the business model of a Landa press, which includes a coverage-independent service cost and a coverage-dependent ink charge. Technically users do not buy the ink but are charged according to consumption.
Apart from the break-even, Group Prenant finds that there are other considerations whether to use the Landa press:
- Allowing for last minute changes (especially in financial print)
- Images suitable or less suitable to the Landa press compared to offset (see below)
- Variable data print (about 15% of the Landa press volume today)
Main applications running on the Landa press today are:
- Books, including art books
- Financial/legal communication (where run lengths declined drastically in recent years)
- Magazines (including fashion magazines)
- Posters (also printed on micro-flute)
- Commercial print & brochures
- Catalogues (e.g. for auction houses)
- Point-of-sales materials (on non-paper substrates)
Apart from those applications, Groupe Prenant is looking into additional markets like packaging, to develop new, high value applications for the Landa press.
With the B1 format the Landa press allows for taking advantage of the existing finishing equipment. Only variable data applications made some extra finishing equipment necessary so far.
Undoubtedly quality came a long way since introducing the press. Landa has always been bullish about the quality potential although some industry experts also voiced concerns.
There are a number of parameters to judge quality upon. Since offset and inkjet are vastly different imaging technologies, there are bound to be differences in appearance. Groupe Prenant found that the Landa press quality has some upsides compared to offset:
- Larger gamut
- Being able to print more than two Pantone colours (as the offset presses used have a max of six units)
- No moiré issues, e.g. when printing textile patterns
- Very good repeatability of secondary colours from sheet to sheet
In other areas offset presses give better results.
- Evenness of solids
- Blends & vignettes with light colours
Groupe Prenant found that few customers insist on offset print, while most customers are technology agnostic and few even find the Landa press superior.
The event provided ample material to judge the quality. Unsurprisingly the prints from the seven colour press show a large gamut and good colour strength. Some prints show slight colour-to-colour register deviations, most likely to appear in yellow. However, in the image areas they are not perceptible. Overall, the registration is noticeably improved compared to some older prints I have. Solids occasionally have some unevenness or slight streaks as often found in inkjet printing when watching out for this – probably artifacts caused by stitching or nozzle compensation. The drops on the (coated) paper are round and well-defined in high magnification.
According to Groupe Prenant the seven colour process required quite some work in creating profiles. While sometimes a match to offset print is needed, other jobs demand the biggest gamut or hitting certain Pantone colours. In art print also custom profiles can be required.
An interesting side effect of the seven colour technology is a potential reduction in ink costs as ink consumption is charged regardless of the ink type. For example blue ink can replace an overprint of cyan and magenta. The service charge for a seven colour press is somewhat higher than for a four colour press, however.
Almost all printing companies at the event agreed that print quality is sufficient or even more than sufficient for their needs. Groupe Prenant routinely serving luxury brands, printing fashion magazines or coffee table books speaks for itself.
Working out the kinks – blanket issues
With quality less of an issue, uptime and availability of the press remain an important consideration.
Groupe Prenant openly admitted that there are two Landa engineers on site most of the time. This helped to improve quality and availability since installation. The press is used for ongoing finetuning of the technology and training engineers. Landa was quick to assure that most sites have fewer or no Landa engineers on site all the time and that the company is committed to supporting their users.
A critical component of the Landa Nanographic imaging is the blanket belt. In essence, the blanket enables indirect (offset) inkjet printing, allowing for a large substrate range. An image quality control system (AQM) constantly monitors register, density, blanket and nozzle health on the blanket belt. The 300 dpi scanner scans every frame. It can automatically correct for nozzle problems and blanket movements.
Still, the blanket belt is subject to degradation and could be considered a consumable. The exchange is covered by the maintenance contract. As it is a crucial component, it is a focus of Landa’s R&D and has seen several iterations already. The latest version of the blanket lasts about 100k to 150k prints, depending on the paper used. Landa expects to drive this number considerably higher.
A major factor is the blanket exchange time. With three hours, or somewhat lower with a trained crew, the downtime is considerable, even if a change can be moved to the end of a shift or to days without production. Landa made an announcement that an upgrade is being implemented in a few weeks which should bring the exchange time to less than one hour.
Aiming for more
Despite some of the shortcomings Groupe Prenant is banking on the Landa technology and plans for a second press. The company is happy with the press and the constant improvements in press performance. McGowans, a S10 user in Ireland and attending the event, commented that press is performing well and that functionality kept on improving constantly and is now “at 90% of the targeted level”.
The Landa statements at the event marked a shift as well with Landa focussing more on improving quality and reliability of the two existing models, instead of aiming at additional goals like the 13,000 sheets/hour speed or introducing the web-fed models.
The Landa presses and technology are surely not at the end of their development path. At the moment the press offers some unique properties, such as the extended colour gamut, B1 sheets and a wide paper range. On the other side there are limitations in availability, e.g. due to the blanket, or a 40 second spooling time for jobs. Overall the Landa press is not a press for single copy editions or ultra-short runs. The press will make sense to some users already, while others are likely to wait and even others might be better served by alternatives. However in all cases it is worth having a closer look. Still the biggest challenge is finding sufficient jobs to keep a productive press busy. Continuous feed inkjet presses pose a strong competition, however for some a sheetfed press will be a better fit for their application and substrate needs.