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Xerox Re-enters Graphic Arts Wide Format Fray

Jul 1, 2013 12:00 AM


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But is it Too Little, Too Late ?

by William C. Lamparter
 
After several tortured years of almost invisibility, Xerox’s wide format graphic arts business is being re-emphasized with the introduction of a new inkjet, single pass, high speed, 42 inch wide machine, which was announced last week (Monday, June 24, 2013).  Historically, Xerox’s wide format market efforts have focused on engineering reproduction with graphic arts applications almost an afterthought.   Xerox did not reveal where the machine is being made and whether or not the inkjet heads in the new equipment were of Xerox or Fuji Xerox origin or if they are supplied by another manufacturer.   Similarity in specifications suggests that Xerox’s new machine, labeled the IJP2000, may be using Memjet (most probably through Fuji Xerox) heads in a one pass configuration similar to the Xanté Excelographic.  To date, wide format printers have used a single traversing head to lay down ink across the sheet a line at a time, i.e., a multiple pass machine.  Xanté and now Xerox print an entire 42” wide sheet by moving the substrate past a stationary sheet-wide series of imaging heads, i.e., a single pass process. The primary advantage of the single pass process is throughput speed.  Both Xanté and Xerox run at 6” per second at 1600 x 1600 dpi, significantly faster than any other available wide format printers.  The faster speed can improve provider profitability and open up new applications.
 
 Xerox is entering the increasingly competitive, constantly improving wide format arena with a limited application machine.  While most manufacturers tout multiple models and a wide range of applications, the Xerox entry is a single model with a restricted range of applications.  The 4-color 42” IJP 2000 is limited to short term indoor applications because of ink fading and permanence issues.  Nevertheless, there are a wide range of indoor applications produced on paper, vinyl, film or banner fabric.  However, the application restrictions limit the potential for Xerox’s market entry.  Single machine installations look for application diversity, which is not a forte of the initial Xerox approach.  Software Integral to Performance In addition to machine speed, Xerox software may provide a marketplace edge.  The IPJ2000 utilizes the Caldera Grand RIP plus to enable the device to run at full rated speed while processing jobs.  Caldera also has a tiling feature that enables the printing of larger than 42” wide by outputting an image in multiple strips or sheets suitable for manual assembly.  Adobe InDesign plug-ins FreeFlow and VI Design Express with templates and step-by-step instruction are claimed to simplify the design and creation of variable signs.  
  
 Although we have not seen Xerox samples, wide format printing usually produces dazzling color.  Xerox will have to meet that level of excellence to find a place in the market.  We expect that they will.  Samples from Xanté using Memjet heads are vivid and outstanding.   

The new Xerox wide format printer will be sold through dealers, which have not yet been identified.  Although Xerox recommends a pricing structure that includes click charges, because the printer is being sold through a distributor, pricing will be up to individual dealers.  Xerox expects that the total cost of operating (TCO), including ink, service and consumables (primarily printheads), will be in the order of just under $0.20 per square foot. 

Xerox Adopts Inkjet
Xerox, which is well known as the citadel of toner digital printing, now appears to have recognized the hole in their digital print product line and is moving to adopt inkjet technology.  The late February acquisition of Impika, a French-based inkjet provider that offers proprietary inks and piezoelectric imaging heads, signals a serious move into the production inkjet market.  Xerox has been reselling Impika products in Europe since 2011 but they are virtually unknown in the U.S.  Impika does not offer a wide format product.  PrintCom analysts had the opportunity to see and touch Impika output at Drupa 2012 and give the output a thumbs-up.

CiPress, Xerox’s home-grown waterless technology which uses phase-changing solid polymer inks, has generated limited market appeal.  Although the waterless technology eliminates the issues related to water-based inks, output quality limits the CiPress to low end applications.  

With CiPress Xerox has the advantage of the highest de-inking rating from the European-based International Association of Deinking (INGEDE).  The de-inking status of Impika prints is in doubt because in 2010 an INGEDE test found that their prints were not de-inkable.  There has been no additional Impika de-inking information since that time.  The Impika de-inking issues need to be resolved if Xerox’s new acquisition is to penetrate the U.S. market.

The addition of a wide format inkjet product will further Xerox’s move into the digital print market.  With the combination of CiPress, Impika, the wide format IPJ2000, and an OEM deal with Memjet as well as a wide range of dry toner-based presses, Xerox should be in a position to blanket the market.  But to do so will require a deeper investment in continuing and enlarged technology development as well as marketing efforts that emphasize providing the print producer with business assistance.  For the past decade or so, Xerox’s R&E investment has been eroding.  With more products, applications and additional technologies, larger future investment will be required.  If this fails to materialize, Xerox’s inkjet thrust could turn out to be --- too little, too late. 

New Buzz Missing
Missing from the Xerox larder is the current technology product buzz --- 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing of physical material.  Samples of 3D plastic figures made on a Xerox development lab machine were shown during Drupa 2008.  Since that time, additive manufacturing, which could disrupt traditional manufacturing techniques, has become a hot technology.  Although 3D printing is an extension of inkjet and has been under development for some time by Xerox, the company is absent from the scene.  

 See it at Print  ‘13
Full IJP2000 specifications are attached.  But you can see the real thing as well as the CiPress and Impika products at Print ’13 in Chicago this September.