Deep Dive: Inkjet Printing For Corrugated – Part 2

By Ralf Schlozer / Published:

In the second part of inkjet in corrugated printing we will examine options for post-print inkjet presses and consideration for investing in inkjet technology. For a general market overview and pre-print press option please have a look at the first part of the article.

Post-print presses

EFI was one of the first vendors to offer a page-wide printer for post-print corrugated, launching the Nozomi C18000 in 2016. EFI has the largest installed base to date with 35 presses installed. A couple of users are already operating multiple presses – up to four! Despite the pandemic print volumes grew by 41% in 2020 over 2019 and users typically produce 400k to 1 million m² per month. The Nozomi has an option for white and 2 more special colours to extend gamut. Last year the company launched an updated version as Nozomi C18000 Plus, and more recently a version targeted at POS displays. The Plus version is available as a field upgrade to existing customers.

HP is the only vendor active in preprint and post-print. The PageWide C-500 started shipping in 2017 and several presses were installed 2018. After collecting experiences with a range of early user sites HP is now accelerating the roll-out again and the first customer, CompanyBox, invested in their second device in February.

Durst and König & Bauer both developed a corrugated inkjet press. These are now marketed by their joint venture for digital print. The joint know-how and feedback from the first customers already led to further press developments, which are being launched now. With the SPC 130 ECO a lower priced version of the full blown SPC 130 Automatic Line was added, still featuring an automated feeder and upgrade path to the top model. The CorruJET 170 saw the CorruJET X version added with an enlarged format and a feeder based on the SPC 130. There are already 5 installations of the SPC 130 at customer sites with more in the pipeline. The CorruJET is now fully available as well after testing at the first beta customer site has been concluded successfully.

Domino started later in the market and launched their X630i in 2020. Domino developed an aqueous ink-set that is able to print on a wide range of substrates. The first device is running successfully at Independent II, a traditional full-service sheet plant based in the US. This helped the site to offload short runs from their flexo presses and make both, inkjet and flexo, more profitable. A second press is on operation at another site and the X630i is fully available now.

Xeikon entered the market as well in 2020 with the announcement of the Idera. The first press is installed at the demo centre in Lier (Belgium). The Covid-19 pandemic delayed the roll-out somewhat, however first customer installations are planned for 2021. While the hardware is based on the Hanway Glory, Xeikon developed new inks (with support from parent Flint Ink) and software for best productivity and quality.

Konica Minolta recently announced the PKG-675i in 2021 in Europe and the year before in the US. The PKG-675i is OEMed from MTEX and Konica Minolta has the exclusive distribution rights now. The device is targeting the entry level market. With an invest below €200k the printer is noticeably less expensive than the other devices, but there is also less automation and throughput to be expected. Nevertheless, the Memjet heads offer a high imaging resolution and the device is very compact. Konica Minolta already has devices installed in the US and is starting to ship in Europe now.

The table below offers a quick overview of the single-pass inkjet post-print inkjet devices available. More details can be found in the product finder of Inkjet Insight.

Selected Post-print Corrugated Single Pass Inkjet

Vendor

Barberan

Domino

Durst

EFI

HP

Konica Minolta

König & Bauer

Xeikon

Model

Jetmaster

X630i

Delta SPC130

Nozomi C18000 Plus

C500

PKG-675i **

CorruJET

Idera *

Max sheetsize

1,89 m width

74.5“ width

1,6 x 3,0 m
63“ x 118“

1,3 x 2,8 m

51“ x 110“

1,8 x 3,0 m

71“ x 118“

1.3 x 2.5 m

52“ x 98“

1,069 width

1,7 x 1,3 (2,1)m

51“ x 67“

1.6 x 2.8 m

5‘3“ x 9‘2“

Linear speed

Up to 80 m/min

262 fpm

75 m/min

246 fpm

Up to 120 m/min

394 fpm

Up to 75 m/min

246 fpm

75 m/min

246 fpm

Up to 18 m/min

120 m/min

394 fpm

Up to 150 m/min

492 fpm

Ink system

UV

Aqueous

Aqueous

UV

Aqueous

Aqueous

Aqueous

Aqueous

Resolution (dpi)

360

600

Up to 800

Up to 360 x 720

1,200

Up to 1,600

1,200 x 600

600×400 at full speed

Up to 600×1,200

White ink

no

no

no

yes

no

No

No

no

Availability

Available

Available

Available

Available

Available

Available

Available

announced

* Based on Shenzhen Hanway Glory1604
** Based on MTEX NS

Considerations for investing

With so many options, choices can be bewildering. Here are some considerations for selecting the right inkjet corrugated printer:

  • Inkjet is seldom a one-to-one replacement for flexo, rather an extension for short runs. Shifting short runs to inkjet can help make your flexo operations more efficient.
  • What is your target volume? You might be able to shift some short run work from existing presses, but to make best use of a production printer will require some market development to drive short runs, just-in-time production and new users groups.
  • The higher the volumes, the more automation becomes important. Sheets are large, therefore handling large amounts become a burden on operators quickly.
  • Do you want to offer variable data imprint, coding, tracking or security features? Check whether the front-end and workflow supports these features
  • What quality level do you need? Print quality expectations are lower for boxes than for graphic arts and aiming at the highest quality can be a burden. However, consider that quality expectations tend to grow when technology offering that level becomes available. If you plan to take on POS work, quality is getting more important.
  • The quality of inkjet is very dependent on the substrate. Check which grades give best results. There might be liner material that is inkjet optimised.
  • The higher cost for better substrates will typically require upselling customers, so have samples ready to show the impact of better quality prints.
  • Is CMYK sufficient or do you need a wider color space? Keep in mind that inkjet usually has a larger color space than standard offset. Still close matching of some spot colours might require extra ink channels
  • Do you need white? White can add unusual effects. Keep in mind that white inks are more expensive than CMYK inks.
  • Green credentials get important with more and more users. Inkjet has much less waste and uses less materials than flexo (plates). Still check energy consumptions, inks and deinkability of print.
  • Match the press format to your converting equipment. If you need a certain format, check the press productivity again, as some devices are less efficient outside an “ideal” format.
  • Inks are a major cost factor in inkjet printing. Comparing prices per litre can be deceptive however, as devices can use different amounts of ink for the same image. If you can, check consumption for a range of test images.
  • Aim for an ROI within a few years. Digital equipment becomes obsolete much faster than conventional presses. An upgrade path can prolong the usage time, but already plan in to replace a printer with a next generation device in a few years.

Moving forward

The increase in inkjet solutions for corrugated in recent years has been quite remarkable. Most focus is on post-print cut-sheet printers, but preprint roll-fed solutions exist as well plus the concept by Inca to add inkjet printing into the corrugator itself. Additionally, scanning-head large format printers are used in corrugated as well, although the possible volumes are much smaller and are more targeted at mock-ups and test runs.

There could be more to come this year. Single pass corrugated inkjet printers have been hinted from companies as Inca (owned by Screen) and Mouvent (owned by Bobst). More products are likely to arrive from China. As the biggest packaging market in the world, many inkjet printers from local brands are in use already, but those make it rarely to Europe or the US.

It is still rather surprising that single-pass inkjet for corrugated spawned such a high interest from manufacturers as it requires print widths much wider than in all other page-wide inkjet applications – on a substrate that is quite challenging – in a market generally governed by high volumes and low margins. Still adoption has been rising rapidly despite the high price of each of these presses. The outlook remains bright with double digit growth rates in corrugated shipments forecasted, propelled by more online ordering during the Covid-19 pandemic. Despite the high growth rate, the competition among press vendors will be stiff in digital corrugated print, however.

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About the Author

Ralf Schlozer

Ralf Schlozer is Independent Print Analyst. Ralf provides analysis, sizing and forecasting the market for digital printing technologies and associated applications and business processes. Connect with Ralf on LinkedIn

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