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  • Pay Attention to the Machine Behind the Curtain

    By Noel Ward, Editor@Large

    They served champagne. It was a product launch, after all.

    About halfway through the afternoon, at the far end of a meeting room deep within the Boca Raton Resort, Canon pulled back the curtain on the Océ Colorado 1640. Rolling out an entirely new set of technologies, the new roll-to-roll large format printer opens up new opportunities for Canon–and its customers–in the fastest growing segment of the large format market.

    The print samples on the surrounding walls and spewing out of the machine were impressive, causing some in attendance to wonder how the color gamut and print quality was being achieved with only four ink colors. And what was with the two heads ripping relentlessly back and forth across the paper, in alternate directions? Then there was this new UVgel ink. The operative term was “Huh?”

    Filling a space
    Canon already has a strong presence in large format with its Océ Arizona flatbed systems but it lacked a roll-fed machine to compete with other leading players, explains Sal Sheikh, Vice President for Large format Solutions. “There are strong offerings in the market that use latex, solvent, eco-solvent, and UV curable inks. We saw the opportunity but knew that making a difference would require a unique approach that offered more than existing technologies.” And that was UVgel.

    Canon’s R&D division had already developed proprietary print heads, inks and toners for other print engines, so when asked to redefine roll-to-roll large format printing the engineers were quickly able to color outside the lines and come up with a unique solution.

    “Customers don’t always know specifically what they want, but some key needs are always the same: Less operator involvement, reduced waste, lower cost of operation, and being robust enough to run all day,” says Sheikh. And judging from what was shown in Boca, those are all on the table with the new Colorado 1640.

    Two heads are better than one
    The proprietary UVgel inks land as 10 picoliter droplets as the print head moves laterally across the substrate. The gel ink doesn’t coalesce or blend with other colors as do aqueous or solvent inks. This limits dot gain and ensures accurate drop positioning. The gel inks, at least in the samples shown at the unveiling, also provide vivid hues, some of which seem to be decidedly outside what most think of as the normal CMYK color gamut. Then, moments after the ink hits the media, a compact LED array glides back and forth in precise opposition to the print heads, instantly curing the inks and making the image ready for use or lamination.

    Both the print head array and the LED curing unit are only a few inches square, which is surprising compared to the print head sizes of other UV machines and the large banks of LEDs often used to cure the UV inks or the heat lamps used for solvent printing. As it turns out, the characteristics of Canon’s UVgel inks let them be applied in an extremely thin layer with minimal (if any) physical profile on the substrate surface. This thin laydown requires less exposure to a UV light source, so what seems to be nowhere near enough curing time beneath the UV head is actually plenty.

    Less is more
    These characteristics are tied to two of the three key advantages with the new machine: ink cost, speed, and automation. All translate into revenue and value for print providers. First, the UVgel ink lowers ink consumption by up to 40 percent and costs less than inks used in competing technologies. Next, Canon claims a top print speed of 1,710 square feet per hour and says Point-of-Purchase quality prints can run at 430 square feet per hour, making the Colorado 1640 the fastest 64-inch printer on the market. Third, automated roll loading enables rolls to be threaded and printed without operator involvement, with the machine automatically adjusting for media type and weight. And finally, drawing on its experience with its industrial-strength Arizona flatbed systems, run-all-day robustness was part of the criteria.

    “For print providers it’s really about applications, operations and volume,” says Sheikh. “The Colorado 1640 is faster, more automated, and has a lower cost of operation. It can do more in a shift, save money, and help grow customers’ businesses because they can do more.”

    You can catch the Colorado 1640 live at the ISA show in Las Vegas in April. Pricing and all the detailed specs will be released at the time, but expect MSRP to be under $60,000.
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