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Mike Horsten (left) is a busy man. A very busy man. And a very popular man. He is sitting at a table on Mimaki’s stand at Fespa Digital, but is constantly called away: for a short video clip; to share a few words with one of the Mimaki team; to talk to someone about that night’s party where 300 guests are due to turn up at one of Barcelona’s leading night spots in the Olympic Port area. In the event almost 600 people have managed to secure tickets and turn up.
Overnight Mimaki has become the most interesting company to be seen with. And the reason is the JV-400 wide format printer, a 1.3 and 1.6 metre wide roll fed printer that uses latex inks. Mimaki, a company with 800 staff worldwide, is tweaking HP’s nose.
The giant US company announced latex as a technology four years ago as an environmentally friendly alternative to solvent inkjet for display printing. It has continued to introduce printers since at different price and application points. The latex ink is essentially a three part product where the pigment and the resin latex element are carried by an aqueous solution. When applied, heat melts the minute resin capsules which flow into a protective coating around the pigment and the water is evaporated away. Think of it as an inbuilt aqueous seal for an offset ink. The ink is protected beneath its coating and is flexible enough to be used for a wide range of applications and materials.
Other manufacturers have watched HP’s success with the latex product and have responded with either eco solvent inks which contain far fewer VOC forming elements or by promoting UV, with or without LED curing as the alternative. Until now that is.
Horsten, Mimaki Europe’s marketing manager, explains that Mimaki told its dealers and distributors that it was developing a latex product at Fespa last year and swore them to absolute secrecy. It did not discuss a product until the eve of the Barcelona show, hence the widespread surprise when this smallish Japanese company managed to lay a trump card. And hence the reason for Horsten’s popularity.
The Mimaki machine is no catch up product either. The company has clearly watched the adoption of latex by the market and listened to comments to understand any weaknesses or concerns. The key one has been about the temperature needed to run the machines. Mimaki has cut this to 40-60º degrees (rather than 100ºC) with a system of preheating the substrate and then post imaging heating away from the head. This reduces the energy requirement and opens the way to print on more temperature sensitive materials like window films and helps prevent the ink curing on the nozzle. There is also a white ink available, again a requirement for this type of product along with the RasterLink 6 software to handle three layer printing for these films without having to feed rolls back into the printer and achieve register. And the third coup has been to present this in a sub €30,000 package.
Officially HP has welcomed another player into the field as a means of expanding the market and accelerating the adoption of this technology. Privately its thoughts can only be guessed at. And Mimaki has definitely caught the wave. Not only was its evening event the most popular in town, the company had secured more than 100 orders by the midway point of the show. These need converting into real sales and many will end up as show room machines around the network, but there are end user machines included.
These end users are going to include commercial printers in significant numbers. “A printer who wants to buy a new offset press faces a huge capital investment and cannot achieve the same return as in the 1980s and 1990s. At the same time today’s commercial printers have to become more of a one-stop shop and offer more opportunities to customers.
“These print buying customers also face colour consistency issues which makes it easier for them to go to a printer that has wide format as well as litho and who understands colour consistency, than go to a sign shop without this experience.
“What has also changed for the commercial printer is that when buying an offset press, he knows that it will be reliable and that it works. So when he moves into wide format he wants the same sort of reliability as he has been used to. Mimaki builds those machines,” he says.
Certainly the Mimaki’s are engineer’s rather than product designers machines. The flatbed UV machine is extremely solid while on the new JV-400 vibrations as the inkjet head carriage zips across are minimal. “Mimaki delivers a profitable money making machine,” he continues.
The previous generation of machines, the JV3 and JV33 in this segment are solvent machines and account for one in five of this type of wide format presses sold in Europe. They are workhorses and sell quickly on the second-hand market. The company is relatively young and compared to its rivals in Canon and HP, very small, though it is an inkjet only company.
As well as display print, Mimaki is strong in textile printing where another Fespa introduction the TS-500 sits at the top of the market and is capable of printing enough material for six football teams (reserves included) each hour. It claims No1 position in textile printing with a 70% market share.
It is unlikely to achieve that in the space the JV-400 is aimed at, but it should increase the company’s sales if not market share.
The printer was designed from the ground up around a new type of print head offering 900x900dpi resolution and 18.1 sq m/hr output. It includes software to monitor when a nozzle becomes blocked and respond by using the adjacent nozzle to prevent a white line appearing. This is the sort of technology seen on high speed web presses and the top of the pyramid flatbed printers from Agfa and Inca. It means that lost production is minimal, allowing the user to tend to the problem once the production run has finished. A twin heater system heats the substrate to 40ºC before printing and then to 60ºC after printing which allows lighter weight and a broader range of heat sensitive films to be printed with the latex technology. And this means a big drop in energy consumption adding to the environmental credentials. The white ink is supplied with a recirculating pump to prevent the pigment settling out of dispersion and two heads are used to provide the density needed for double sided printing. With a twin four-colour head, this opens the way to a wide choice of ink combinations.
Perhaps the most interesting of these is a completely different ink technology that Mimaki calls Solvent UV. It is a two-part system where the solvent attacks the surface of the substrate enough to provide a key for the pigment carrying UV ink. The result is strong adhesion on the surface and high gloss levels as a consequence. “Not everybody needs latex,” is the comment.
Currently the JV-400 is a 1.3 metre or 1.6 metre printer. By Drupa there may be additions to the latex family, but Horsten will not be drawn, hiding behind the idea that such information could be considered stock market sensitive. He knows the game in any case. His first jobs were in broadcasting, radio and then in front of camera as television reporter. He has been in wide format for most the last 30 years and operates from Mimaki’s Amsterdam office. It also has offices in Germany. The Dutch office has had a JV-400 in operation since January and has deemed it reliable to go to market. The next batch of machines is on its way from Japan and will no doubt head for dealers and distributors, of whom Hybrid Services is UK flag bearer. The Rip suppliers have been provided with the APIs and are ready with drivers.
Mimaki will be present at Sign & Digital UK and later in the year at EcoPrint, the new show in Berlin where print’s environmental credentials will be laid out. When signing up, Mimaki puzzled a few because solvent did not fit the bill. Latex however does, as does its contribution to Barcelona Zoo to help fund its breeding programme for the much endangered Sumatran tiger. “We wanted to give something back,” says Horsten. Tigers decorated the Barcelona night club and Mimaki will no doubt decorate the zoo and brand the information that thousands of Catalan school children will receive. For those eating and drinking at Mimaki’s expense, latex rather than tigers are the interest.
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