As Labelexpo showed, the sheer diversity of single-pass inkjet technology is nothing less than impressive.
There are at least 20 companies offering basic, reel-fed machines with OEM print engines. The level of software control and finishing capabilities, including an ability to process pre-printed webs, are the main differentiators. While capable of printing primary labels, an often under-regarded ability to handle industrial labeling is a major driver for growth.
At the top-end, the likes of Durst, Domino, EFI Jetrion, Gallus/Heidelberg, SPG Stork, Epson and Screen are locked in intense competition. Color printing standards are high on wider webs of 330mm (13in) augmented by in-line finishing.
Some models achieve speeds up to 50m/min (160ft/min). Many print CMYK + White, or hexachrome inks for extended color gamuts and some offer spot or solid UV varnishing. Xaar's 1001 series of printheads, based on a unique grayscale-based technology, are ubiquitous here, although other industrial printhead manufacturers have stepped up their development programs.
Joining this vote of confidence are such game-changing technologies as lower-energy LED UV curing. It now extends beyond basic inter-color pinning. Also, more inkjet manufacturers have adopted in-line laser cutters for truly integrated production. Like others, they talk boldly of taking the fight to flexo in a scenario with changing run length crossover points (although flexo is fighting back with higher levels of automation).
The launch of the Graphium (pictured, top) by FFEI introduces another big player. It was FFEI with Nilpeter that developed the Caslon print engine to produce a hybrid flexo/inkjet press, which it still supports. The jury remains out on a wider adoption of hybrid digital/analog technology.
Arguably, survival of a different order applies to the top-end sector in general. Pundits expect a thinning of the ranks over the next four years or so, watched expectantly by that pioneering duo, HP Indigo and Xeikon.