Non-contact inkjet printers that are referred to as "high-end" systems can satisfy many needs for printers, newspapers, mailing houses and specialty printers. Some current providers of these types of systems, which are typically designed to run at over 400 fpm, include Videojet, Scitex and Domino.
There's no hard and fast rule for when to buy a high-end system, since any one feature may be enough. But in order to justify the purchase of a high-end inkjet system, there are a few guidelines to consider.
First, the production volumes are typically long runs and may exceed 100,000 pieces per shift or greater than two million pieces a month. Secondly, high-end systems are often preferred when the application calls for versatility and the ability to be used on many types of production lines and with a variety of other pieces of equipment such as mail tables, inserters, folders and stitchers that run all day, every day, all year long. Companies need to have a large enough business base with a sustainable flow of work to justify the utilization of a high-end inkjet system.
Ink Versus Ink
Businesses that have customers who require a lot of image production in a short time but who don't want to purchase and maintain multiple pieces of smaller, slower equipment, are prime candidates. High-end, solvent-based inkjet systems tremendously increase production rates. The system can run at faster speeds without having to slow down to allow the ink to dry. Solvent-based fluids have incredibly fast dry times compared to water-based fluids, which typically have much longer dry times, resulting in slower line speeds, and they sometimes require additional ink drying equipment and the extra power and safety issues that go along with it. The solvent high-end systems allow for more product to be output in a shorter time frame and thus more jobs to be done in a given period. Since solvent systems can also print on a wide variety of substrates (paper to plastic), suppliers can seek and gain a wider variety of business.
Versatility and Advantages
Another aspect to look for in high-end systems is the ability to print a wide variety of variable information at higher speeds, sometimes in more than one location on each piece. Applications that require the use of maps, "tickler" messages or matching address information in more than one location are often appropriate for high-end printers. For instance, based on the ZIP Code being printed, the · system can download the appropriate map showing a particular retailer in that ZIP Code that carries the product being advertised. These systems can also print contact information from the address block on the outside of a piece, as well as in another location, to personalize the item and make it more likely to be read.
Additional advantages of almost all high-end systems are increased throw distance, or ability to have more space between the printhead and the substrate while maintaining good print quality. This is very important because sometimes the substrate cannot be kept perfectly flat or because the transport mechanism uses pins to move the document, and the pins must pass beneath the printhead. High-end printheads can be positioned farther away from the substrate and still apply a quality image. The throw distance of most low-end systems is much shorter, eliminating them from consideration or requiring special substrate control.
Stand-alone or Inline
Stand-alone applications, using mailing bases, involve imaging on preprinted pieces ready to be addressed then gathering groups by ZIP Code break to be put into mail trays. The software contained in most inkjet systems and some mailing bases allows for operator-friendly features such as ZIP Code breaks, which can be either a space, a jog or a mark that designates the break. At high speeds, creating such jogs or breaks can be a problem, but quality bases do a good job, even at high speeds, of making a reliable space between ZIP breaks which makes the operator's life much easier.
Inline installations involve a product that is coming from one manufacturing process to another, such as moving from being unfolded to a folder, a finished magazine/ catalog on a mail table going to a stacker or inserts being fed and imaged before being inserted into an envelope. The inkjet imaging is being completed somewhere during this process, sometimes in more than one location on the line, and then the product continues through to the completion of the operation.
Maintaining Your System
Maintenance and training for high-end systems require a little more time and attention than the latest cartridge-based printers. That is attributed to the slightly higher expertise required to operate and service these faster and more versatile printers.
The high-end water-based systems have fewer maintenance needs but still require care and attention. The largest service issue related to these printers is the need to return the printheads and have them refurbished on a regular basis. This is an ongoing cost of ownership that needs to be considered when choosing an inkjet system.
On the other hand, solvent-based systems typically do not require any printhead replacement but do have increased operator start-up and shut-down procedures, which when done correctly, minimize downtime during operation.
All high-end systems typically require more training to get the most out of their versatile capabilities. All of the companies that provide these high-end inkjet systems offer a mix of classroom and on-site training for their customers.
Installation procedures and complexities vary by application. For stand-alone high-end systems, the installation is relatively straightforward. The system is installed on an inkjet base using standard bracketry and typically takes less than a day to install.
For in-line installations, more time is required to ensure that all interfaces of the individual pieces of equipment are communicating correctly. In-line installations, which can include folders, wrappers, stackers, inserters, mail bases on a stitcher, saddle stitchers and other types of equipment, may need a separate line controller to manage the document movement requirements, both before and after the document is imaged. The control system helps to track and control the product passing from one line segment to another. The control system also assists with synchronization of printing the right address on the right document in the correct location and assuring correct ZIP Code breaks.
A wide variety of accessories are available with most high-end inkjet systems. Product detectors, encoders, printhead mounting bracketry, label layout software and others add to the versatility of these systems.
When considering the purchase of an inkjet system, be sure your vendor has the range of equipment and options to meet your needs, not only current needs, but the needs you'll require to grow and adapt to change.
Theresa DiCanio is marketing communications specialist with Videojet Technologies Inc. Jay Kolka is strategic marketing manager with Videojet Technologies Inc. For additional information contact Videojet Technologies Inc. at 800 654-4663 or visit www.videojet.com.