HP Indigo's digital print revolution is underway, reports Des King

It’s been nine years in coming, but with the introduction of the ws4000 six colour reel to reel digital label press, HP Indigo has now declared its serious interest in at least one sector of the converting industry.

Officially launched at LabelExpo last September, the ws4000 secured its first beta site with existing Indigo user Adesa Labels in Nimes, France. The press was installed in March and is now fully operational on a two-shift, five days a week basis.

HP Indigo recently completed a series of prospective customer tours of the plant to spread awareness of the press’s capabilities, with label printers from the UK, Germany, Italy and The Netherlands in attendance.

Adesa is also running the Gallus DO 330 digital web press with Indigo engine it acquired in 1998 – another ‘first’ at that time – and says the two presses in combination now account for around 20 per cent of its turnover. The digital facility sits alongside a full complement of conventional print processes, including flexo, offset, letterpress and screen, principally serving the food, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals markets.

Exports thriving

Whilst the greater proportion of the company’s customer base is located within France, there is also a thriving export business accounting for around 15 per cent of turnover into Eastern Europe, Algeria and Saudi Arabia.

HP Indigo could hardly have hoped for a more enthusiastic digital champion than Adesa owner Brice Carugati. “At the end of 1998, the choice to adopt digital was not without risk, but today we can all agree that the investment has been very successful. We now master the technology to its fullest extent, and have discovered new markets and new applications,” he says. “Three years on there has been tremendous progress in speed, quality and operational flexibility. The new ws4000 has practically no competition today.”

He cites doubled running speeds of up to 16m/min, extended suitability of pre-treated substrates and higher colour definition as the primary benefits. Run lengths of up to 1,000m are not uncommon, with most jobs requiring no more than a five day lead time to complete – a 50 per cent improvement on Adesa’s flexo process, for example.

The company employs Indigo’s proprietary Topaz pre-treatment system to extend the range of applicable substrates, which now include PP and PE in addition to all types of paper. Whilst pre-treatment can add up to 15 per cent on substrate cost, this is more than compensated by the almost zero degree of wastage incurred.

“We can also proof directly onto the client’s stock, which results in a reduction in the use of Cromalins,” he says.

HP Indigo has assessed the global label market as worth around €25 billion, of which perhaps as much as 60 per cent is accounted for by runs of between 1,000-2,000m. With an estimated 20,000 sites worldwide using roll-to-roll label machines, the sales opportunity open to the ws4000 press represents an attractive proposition.

In addition to Adesa, installations have already been completed at 12 other sites. Whilst HP Indigo readily admits that its first label press was not really designed to meet the needs of its target market – for example, it lacked an expandable shaft facility – it claims the ws4000 changes all that.

More to come

Additional features promised within the next 18 months include a blanket cleaning system; the option to re-insert ready printed stock; a capability to print upon transparent and conductive substrates; and the addition of fluorescent and security inks. In-line finishing by Omega Systems – and second generation Nilpeter systems to handle UV flexo varnishing and die cutting sometime next year – is already a feature, although the manufacturer now recommends off-line to allow for the disparity in running speeds.

While Adesa sees digital print as being a complementary rather than a replacement technology, in certain circumstances it is beginning to present a serious challenge to offset and letterpress. “Of course, printing speeds are not fully comparable but there are markets and applications where the ws4000 is more competitive than other systems,” says Brice Carugati. “Sixteen metres per minute might look slow, but one also has to take into account the substantially shorter makeready and change-over times.”

And with order volumes falling as markedly as digital press running speeds are accelerating, HP Indigo’s Benny Landa might not be so far out in his prediction that 40 per cent of all labels will be digitally printed in just three years’ time.

More information from: Richard de Boisson, HP Indigo – TEL: +31 43 356 5656. EMAIL: deboiss@indigoeu.nl WEBSITE: www.indigoeu.nl