Asia gears up for inkjet boom

Until recently, the InfoPrint marque laid claim to a worthy – though not dazzling – place in the Australian market. Older hands may recall InfoPrint toner technology, based on Xeikon’s engine, competing in the production colour space in the 1990s. But much ink has passed over the rollers since then.

InfoPrint is getting attention for its combination of IBM-driven data-gathering and Ricoh drop-on-demand inkjet technology. The Ricoh-IBM joint venture is hoping its products could be
the game-changer for cutsheet and contin-uous print on-demand and transpromo.
InfoPrint Solutions Company was formed by IBM and Ricoh in 2008 and is set for full Ricoh ownership in mid-2010. It opened its Shanghai Print Innovation Centre to ProPrint in mid-December, inviting the first foreign media group to visit its customer facility at Ricoh’s Chinese headquarters.

Ricoh’s production print range includes the mid-market cutsheet toner-based Pro C900, while InfoPrint’s continuous print range includes the 75-100, the 4100 mono, and the high-volume drop-on-demand inkjet 5000.

Centre manager David Ye told ProPrint that while manufacturing remains in Japan and the US, InfoPrint was drawn to Shanghai. A similar centre at IBM’s US HQ in Boulder, Colorado is the company’s only other such facility. But while China is a focus, Australian printers are switching on to the vendor’s kit, said InfoPrint’s Asia Pacific vice-president Christopher Reid.

A number of Australian printers have already visited the centre. With three Australian companies, including Salmat, talking to InfoPrint about the 5000, the premier Australian install might not be
far off, said Reid. He also nodded to the surrounding region, including India and the broader region.

Formidable array
China is self-sufficient in print, and honing a formidable array of export markets, said Reid. He anticipates the broader Asia-Pacific region following suit. In fact, some Asian countries are benefiting from rising labour margins in China, added Reid. “The aim of the Shanghai Print Innovation Centre is to support China’s printers as they try to meet domestic and export demand,” said Ye. “Resources at the centre include product showcasing, process incubation and customer education.”

In a week when the Shanghai Daily proclaimed a return of boom times, and the hoardings around construction sites advertised May’s mammoth 2010 Shanghai Expo, a tour of the innovation centre’s showrooms gave an insight into InfoPrint’s China-centric strategy.

Reid used the tour to give a briefing on the company’s essential-mail toolkit, Automated Document Factory (ADF). The tool is delivered through its InfoPrint Process Director (IPPD) product, which has 30 customer sites in the region. “We’re talking to several Australian PSPs about IPPD implementation,” he said.

ADF applies ‘clean’ manufacturing to print and mail production, particularly with confidential documents in the health, insurance, legal and government areas. The buzz now is about innovations such as receipt verification on billing. Reid described the typical steps of document flow: application, data preparation, spooling, RIP, printing, insertion and posting. ADF helps bust the bottleneck that now exists where high-speed printing meets low-speed insertion. The tool provides increased throughput, job-status verification and job tracking.

The magic of adding customised advertising to indispensable mail is a marketer’s dream come true, and turns cost centres into profit centres for corporates – but, declares Reid, it needs to be managed properly.

Fully realising the transpromo opportunity requires cost-effective colour digital print. He said that older inkjet technologies, such as Kodak Versamark, and toner, which he sees as a “mature” technology, are only part of the equation.

Drop-on-demand inkjet, with dynamic Epson heads, Screen’s stochastic engine and IBM’s software, has opened a window to the right kind of colour for high volumes. He claimed the InfoPrint
5000 “is replacing or complementing the Versamark technology”.

Application aside, digital is also flying the sustainability flag. InfoPrint’s sustainability officer Joe Czyszczewski, explained how he believes digital is becoming the ‘green’ option. Inkjet printing, with its customised focus and short runs, is leading the way, he said.

The IBM veteran spoke of the greater recyclability of inkjet inks over toner. But he warned that marketers also ran the risk of ‘greenwashing’ their products and processes with inflated claims.

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