Roland DG has got a problem with the XF-640. Don’t worry, there’s nothing wrong with the machine, far from it, and that is part of the problem: it seems too good to be true.
Roland DG Australia business development manager Conrad Birkett says: “In wide-format printing, when manufac-turers have previously claimed impressive productivity figures, people have got used to the idea that to get a realistic measure of the actual day-to-day throughput they need to effectively quarter the claims. That’s not the case with the XF-640. It really does what it says in the specs.”
For Birkett, that is proving to be a problem as, until they see the machine in action, people can be cynical. It’s like the story of the boy who cried wolf – customers are accustomed to taking the marketing claims with a pinch of salt.
“To date it’s been like with cars where you’re quoted a 0-60 time of a few seconds, which sounds impressive, but you have to ask yourself in reality, ‘When would you use that?’,” Birkett says.
So how fast is the XF-640? Running flat out, it tops out at 102sqm per hour. In the day-to-day mode that will most likely be used, it reaches 63sqm per hour and for high-quality work, it reaches 24sqm per hour. Birkett says that even that 102sqm per hour banner mode – the kind of top speed rating that is notoriously only good for headlines, spec sheets and marketing claims – looks “good when viewed from more than a metre away”.
There are two target markets for the XF-640: one is mid- to high-end print shops selling a mix of wide-format work; the other is soft signage outfits using dye-sub kit. Within the first group, Birkett sees a mix of firms upgrading existing in-house capability and commercial print guys who have to date outsourced their wide-format needs but have reached the point where it makes sense to bring production in-house. For these firms, the typical applications will include banners, high-volume self-adhesives, wallpapers and paper.
For dye-sub operators, the XF-640 is a different proposition. They won’t run it as-is out of the box with the Eco Sol Max 2 solvent inks but will opt for Roland’s water-based dye-sub ink instead. The appeal for the dye-sub firms producing soft signage, banners and curtains is the speed. A single XF-640 could replace three or four existing machines.
In these instances, the XF-640 runs as a dye-sub transfer device, printing onto paper with that image transferred onto the fabric in a calender (heat press). This is because the media feed is designed for the core market of durable graphics film and paper rather than including the more complicated tension control needed to deal with fabric’s inherent stretchiness. Even though the machine had only been on sale in Australia for a limited period at time of writing, three out of 12 Australian installs have been at dye-sub shops.
How does it do it?
Roland DG has invested heavily in R&D to combine speed and quality. At the heart of this is a new eight-channel print head – the latest Epson Micro Piezo technology – which runs in a staggered configuration with two sets of four (CMYK) nozzles to print a two-inch swathe in each pass. However, while the head is central to hitting those speeds it is not enough on its own and is bolstered by enhanced mechanics, drive electronics and inks.
The hardware enhancements include a much more robust chassis and media transport system. This, along with the drive electronics, ensures much more accurate ink droplet placement, especially at speed. With the head and media travelling faster the chassis needed beefing up to ensure it wasn’t flexing out of true and affecting that drop accuracy.
Lastly, there are the new inks: Eco Sol Max 2. These were first introduced late last year in the sister product, the Pro 4 XR-640, a printer-cutter that supports eight colours for versatility rather than the XF’s four for speed.
The inks boast quicker trying times, more neutral greys and blacks and stronger colours. The benefits include higher quality, wider media compatibility and lower operating costs.
“Operating costs are very low,” Birkett says. “Ink cost per square metre is around a third less [than our earlier machine] while also producing a higher print density and wider colour gamut.”
Ink is supplied in 440ml cartridges with a total of eight loaded on the machine – two for each colour – and cost $130 each. Typical ink cost is estimated at $3 per square metre.
Another benefit of the new inks is their improved results on standard coated paper, traditionally a problem for solvent printers. This is not to be underestimated. The XF-640 can handle pretty much any material you throw at it, and offers cost, media versatility and productivity benefits aqueous and latex machines can’t touch. That’s before you throw into the mix the new opportunities for solvent printers to produce high-quality graphics using the latest nano-coated medias.
Existing Roland users are set to benefit from the new inks later this year when they can upgrade – getting some of the benefits without needing a new printer.
Pricing starts at $29,995 for the basic printer chassis, VersaWorks RIP and five-year head warranty. Most users will also opt for the additional dryer and heavy-duty media take-up unit, for a total price to $36,495. Anyone opting to use it for dye-sub use is expected to take the basic unit and not need the dryer and take-up.
Roland DG says the supplied VersaWorks RIP is up to the job of feeding the printer with data even when it is churning out in excess of 100sqm per hour. Some of the other solvent machines that promise fast throughput at a low acquisition price need to be bolstered with an external RIP to reach those speeds. Other features of the VersaWorks RIP include variable data capability and Pantone spot-colour support.
When it comes to alternatives, the field is limited. While the XF-640 can handle work previously the preserve of aqueous and latex machines, none of those machines can really compete in terms of throughout and price-performance. HP’s Designjet latex machines produce a fraction of the throughput while the HP Scitex LX latex machines are significantly more expensive.
That leaves other solvent machines, principally the Epson SureColor SC-S 50600 and the Mutoh ValueJet 1638. While all are based on very similar Epson printhead technology, Roland argues that its additional expertise and engineering have produced a machine that outclasses rivals on the ground, even if on paper they are similar. Mutoh is now a relatively old machine. The SureColor is only Epson’s second-generation solvent machine, while the XF-640 is Roland’s fourth generation (as designated by the Pro4 in the name), although Birkett says that when you include all the incremental upgrades within each generation it’s more like the 12th iteration of the SolJet since 2002.
At PacPrint, Roland DG was running the XF-640 all out to show just how productive – and profitable – the machine can be. In the course of the show it was printing day in day out averaging a 40-60sqm roll of material every hour.
“Over the show, we produced $100,000-worth of work. All in, the total cost of ink and media was around $15,000. With an ROI like that, you could pay back the cost of two of these machines inside a week,” says Birkett.
The XF-640 is less an instance of the boy who cried wolf and more that of a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Roland DG’s British division certainly believe it is a bit of an animal and has taken to promoting it as ‘The Beast’. But excusing the hyperbole, if you’re in the market for a cost-effective, versatile and speedy durable graphics printer it could be a beauty.
Epson SureColor SC-S50600
Launched at Drupa last year, the S50600 is one of the three machines in Epson’s second-generation solvent (or ‘signage’ in Epson-speak) range. The S50600 is the sprinter of the pack. Like the Roland DG device it uses a dual head configuration with two sets of CMYK to get higher throughput. Inks are Epson’s second-generation eco-solvent inks the GS2 set. The standout feature of the S50600 is the addition of white ink to the mix.
Max Speed 52sqm/hr
Contact Epson Australia, (02) 8899 3666, www.epson.com.au
Mutoh ValueJet 1638
When it was launched 18 months ago, the ValueJet was the first solvent printer to use a fast-four configuration with the dual printhead. In Mutoh’s naming convention the 16 denotes a 1.6m-wide machine, the three denotes it is the third-generation while the eight denotes the number of printheads. For firms that want it, Mutoh has also launched wider versions recently using the same head configuration if you need a wider roll.
Max Speed 48sqm/hr
Contact Mutoh Australia, 1300 468 864, mutoh-au.com
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