20 November 2017 Digital Printing Technologies

Landa delivers first stage of the revolution

The installation of a first beta machine begins the next chapter in what Benny Landa believes in the next print revolution, where nanography is just part of the story.

Landa Digital Printing reached another milestone this summer when it shipped its first press to an actual printer. This was the first time, other than Drupa, that the technology has left the Landa factory, and the first time nanography has not been under the minute by minute care of its developers. It has been a long time coming.

The first concept machine caught the imagination of the printing populace at Drupa in 2012. Many printers placed deposits because they expected it to ready in a reasonable timeframe, certainly before the next Drupa. That did not happen. And the time scales announced at Drupa 2016 have also slipped.

Even now the first machine is far from the finished article. It offers four colours only, to be extended to eight colours next year, and crucially lacks the AVT quality inspection system that is core to plans for the technology and beyond.

Nevertheless the B1 Landa S10 press has entered production at Graphica Bezalel, an Israeli carton printer. Some of its output has been accepted by clients and sits on supermarket shelves in the country. The proof is in six packs of Tuborg beer if not in the packs of pudding.

The schedule says that the beta phase will end midway through next year with the W10 Webfed version of the machine then entering its field trials, followed in turn by the perfecting version of the sheetfed press and finally the double-sided web machine. In short, the waiting for the dozens of printers who have placed deposits for the presses may soon be over.

Landa Digital Printing remains confident. It is adding to manufacturing facilities to cope with the demand and according to founder Benny Landa will have the ability to produce tens of thousands of tonnes of ink that its presses will require annually inside eight years. There are further claims that Israel is in a position to usurp Germany’s position as the leading country for printing press production after 200 years in the box seat.

The confidence is understandable. He explained how life as a refugee and then as son of a photo technician in Canada have prepared him for his subsequent career as arguably the leading inventor/entrepreneur in Israel.

Having stepped away from printing after the sale of Indigo, research into converting molecules moving in air into capturable electricity led to developments in nano particles and their interesting colour characteristics. Nano pigment particles are at the heart of the technology, which Landa believes is capable of becoming the first new mainstream printing process since Senefelder left his shopping list on a lump of limestone more than two centuries ago.

That was not the case with the e-ink print technology, his previous print technology and one that has earned him an image as a notable Israeli seen by international visitors arriving at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv. “Indigo will never replace mainstream offset printing,” he told 100 or so guests invited to Israel to see the technology in action. “It is addressing a niche, a very big niche.”

Nanography on the other hand can and will replace offset litho printing. “We have been accelerating down the runway and now it’s time to take off,” he said at a welcome event.

The technology is an offset process, using a flexible belt to carry an inkjet image to the substrate to which it is transferred under heat and pressure. The belt has a coating applied which both allows the ink droplets to form into a flat pancake shape and, thanks to a tiny positive charge, holds the negatively charged ink in place and prevents it beading up.

The image is heated to drive off water from the ink so that at the point of transfer, a complete image is transferred to the paper or whatever substrate the printer wants to use. The technology overcomes limitations of aqueous inkjet which must use a combination of coatings and harsh drying to prevent the ink soaking into the fibres of the paper and achieves a decent production speed. Nevertheless considerable heat is still needed and that needs to be dealt with especially at speed.

Currently this is 6,500 B1 sheets an hour, increasing to 13,000sph. The calculations are that this would make the press competitive against a litho press at around 5,000 sheets. This is confirmed by those in attendance. Graphica Bezalel reckons the Landa will soak up runs of this extent that its three litho presses find awkward. It will also be producing customised and personalised packaging: one early job has been 1.2 million individualised chocolate wrappers.

This aspect also appeals to German pharmaceutical printer Edelmann which is due to install its S10 before Christmas. “We handle a lot of serialisation on packaging,” says technical director Oliver Sattel. “And there is a lot of late stage customisation. With the Landa we will be able to take a day or more from the process. This is extremely important in the pharmaceutical sector.”

It feeds in too to trends in retail that Landa Digital Printing CEO Yishai Amir identified as the millennial generation gains ground. “As consumers we buy more and more online. To understand where we are going, look at what Amazon is doing. The solution to the production problems is digital printing.”

And of course the Landa will provide the answer to the colour, the speed and the consistency issues required. The aim in design has been to deliver a press that is capable of round the clock operation. This is supported by a new style service operation, what is described as “21st century service for a 21st century press”. This entails virtual reality headsets, cameras and sensors to identify issues and tackle them remotely.

Constant communication between each press and the manufacturer will gather data about service intervals and identify the issues that without intervention may build to problems. Owners will be able to perform many regular tasks, replacing the transfer belt for example, without waiting for an engineer to visit.

This will be a key part of the total cost of ownership of a press which will come with a price tag reportedly around €3 million with monthly service charge of €10,000 and then ink on top of this according to TAC coverage. The revolution does not come cheap. But it will be a revolution.

The technology has removed almost all variables that afflict the printing process. It has no plates to intervene between the approved digital file and image forming mechanism. The transfer process means it is agnostic to the substrate: other digital print processes, conventional inkjet included, will result in different results on different papers.

The Landa produces no waste sheets, is always in register and the colour will be spot on, at least will be when the Advanced Quality Management system is in operation. This is the part of the print unit that has been delayed. It has to keep the press calibrated, using dots along the side of the sheet to do this; it needs to scan the sheet for defects caused by blocked nozzles and fire back messages to enable adjacent nozzles to compensate and it needs to ensure that the job is in register and that the colour is consistent. In effect it is the opposite of the EFI Fiery which sends data to each inkjet nozzle.

The data rates of both elements are staggering and impossible to contemplate only a few years ago. “It is a combination of electronics, optics and software,” says Landa. “The speeds and reliability we are seeking we are pushing the envelope in terms of technology. The implications of AQM are much more far reaching closed loop quality.”

AVT, which is developing AQM, is also now part of the same Danaher conglomerate that owns X-Rite, Pantone and Esko. At the recent Labelexpo, AVT outlined its iCenter Platform, a cloud solution for measuring and managing quality and colour from production sites around the world. A network of connected printers would be able to load the settings for each colour directly into the AQM and provide a feed back to the print businesses and brands to show in real time that consistency is achieved.

This is a long way from a conventional offset press and has been part of Benny Landa’s vision from the outset. The giant touch screens on the side of the presses at Drupa 2012 were part of this.

“When we introduced the touch screen in 2012, the feedback we received was that it was in the wrong position because the operators has to be able to inspect the sheets from the delivery.

“But our vision is that this is not needed because the sheets will be inspected by computer and printers will never have to inspect the sheets. It is a step towards a fully automated manufacturing process like other industries: BMW car assembly is all by robots.

“Our vision is that one day print will be fully lights out automated workflow and process driven in line with other manufacturing.”

Robots are already used in logistics, loading board into the feeder and removing the stack from the delivery. In the Landa vision the robot will then load the Highcon digital finisher using a laser for die cutting and digitally created die for folding and creasing. “The AQM is the key to that happening,” says Benny Landa.

In a conventional print operation the Landa press will earn its place beside the litho presses. The real gain, however, comes when the press is used to rethink the entire production process. That is the Landa ­revolution.

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Benny Landa

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