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VUTEk DS 8300 series flatbed UV printer, as a concept has potential…..but…. Print E-mail
The EFI/VUTEk booth at DRUPA 2008 had a printer which normally would have captured my admiration: for being innovative, clever, and a totally new and different concept of arranging the printheads.

But it had no actual printheads installed, and was not really printing. Instead a pre-printed image was put on the machine, to make it look as though it was actually printing.

Although a few shrewd people realized the machine was not finished, more than half the people who remembered the VUTEk thought it was a fully functional printer that was actually rendering the image in real time in the booth. They said they felt disallusioned when they found out later that the printed image was staged. Some were a bit more blunt, they said the DRUPA exhibit was cheating.

Oce Arizona 60UV

Yes, I understand that a second experimental model back in New Hampshire has printheads, ink, etc, and is claimed to actually print. But clearly if they don't have it ready for a show as important as DRUPA, it suggests they felt it safer not to show the print quality to 330,000+ visitors (Gerber has learned that exhibiting a printer that does not print most of the day is not good for product publicity). So it appears that the VUTEk DS flatbed will face standard hurdles as does any new technology. The first VUTEk printer experimented with Xenon flash lamps. So did Oce Arizona 60uv many years later. Both failed. But VUTEk went on to try another lamp system, and their UV printers gradually improved over the years. At ISA '09 VUTEk probably outsold Gandinnovations for the first time, so EFI VUTEk is doing okay (the claim by their competitor to have sold 75 printers was not true; they had about 14 leads and one source suggested they sold fewer; VUTEk had more leads and more sales at ISA; but no one sold 75 at one show in a recession).

The biggest hurdle in a single-pass or a page-array arrangement of printheads is to lower the price of each printhead (otherwise you end up with an Inca Onset which costs many millions of dollars because of all the Spectra heads). So VUTEk cleverly decided to try the lowest cost printhead available (one that no other company had dared to experiment with). With such a printhead, to get a complex new technology to work will take VUTEk another year. As a courtesy to VUTEk's request, we will not list the innovative printhead technology they are experimenting with (we will wait until it is common industry knowledge; actually most analysts know the brand of experimental head)). We respect the right of a company to be discrete with a really first-time use of a printhead that is not employed in any current inkjet printer (last time I saw this printhead in any inkjet printer was about 9 years ago!). Obviously VUTEk has a newer generation. Unfortunately something about the system did not function as desired (because the DS did not show up at FESPA '09).

The goal in inkjet printing today is “page-array” which is slightly different than one-pass (GRAPO Shark is one-pass but not page-array; the Durst Rho 1000 is also one-pass but not page -array). But a page-array is really “no pass” in the sense that the paper moves but the printheads do not go back and forth within the gantry. Page-array means the printheads have one complete row (for the maximum printing width) per color. Downside with page-array is that you need to design in redundancy, to cover errors, nozzle drop-out, and other defects, banding, etc.

But the VUTEk DS 8300 printhead system never reappeared at any tradeshow in 2009. It does have a long series of adjacent printheads, and they don't go back and forth on a traditional kind of carriage, but its not meaningful to discuss a printhead system that is not even installed in the printer that was displayed at DRUPA.

The other question for the development of any new printer technology is the size of your R&D department. Durst is building an entire new Research Centre for Inkjet Technology. Gandinnovations had a giant new factory and significant R&D capability (until they got caught in the world economic downturn and meltdown; many of the people that Gandy hired from VUTEk are now unemployed because Gandinnovations simply dropped them when the going got tough). Inca Digital and Fujifilm have substantial research budgets, and HP has endless resources via Barcelona HP, San Diego HP, Corvallis HP, Scitex HP in Israel, and NUR HP in Israel. I have been to Barcelona five times, San Diego HP campus three times, Scitex in Israel once, and twice to NUR R&D before HP purchased them. The resources in human talent and R&D funding stagger the imagination.

VUTEk DS-series, flatbed UV-cured inkjet printer reviews
The Efi VUTEk DS Series at DRUPA 2008.

Durst Rho 800

For any company that has to lay off people to meet Wall Street earnings estimates, or any company without ample resources, it is tough to convince the world that a complex printer technology will be quick or easy. Using a printhead that no one else in the industry employees is a further risk, but clearly VUTEk managers and engineers know printheads well enough to have reasons for picking precisely the printhead that they selected. But, if this printhead actually works, and if the overall concept functions, VUTEk can potentially recover from low sales of the QS3200r and slowing sales of all their other combo UV printers (combo style printers, with moving transport belts, are available in a wider diversity of sizes and capabilities from Durst Rho 800, Screen Truepress 2500, L&P Virtu HD8, Spuhl Virtu RS35 and other companies; and dedicated roll-to-roll printers are faster from Matan Barak 5, NUR Expedio 5000 Revolution (HP Scitex XP 5300), and the new Gandinnovations JetStream).

People who ordered the Gerber ion learned slowly that if you order any printer with new technology the wait can be forever (in 2008; things got much better for Gerber in 2009). Anyone who ordered the Kodak 5260 or the infamous CrystalJet also learned that unproven printers sometimes simply don't function as advertised. But hopefully VUTEk has a large enough R&D team, has enough engineers, and a budget large enough to hold up even when the printer takes longer than expected. Today the Gerber Solara ion with cationic ink works acceptably and as a result they have sold over 200 units. So probably at some point, when VUTEk settles on which printheads they will use in the final product, I hope that this DS printer will actually become available.

The immense Luscher JetPrint required considerable down-time in order to allow being loaded and unloaded (plus the Luscher never worked adequately and tech support was not realistic for US clients from limited Swiss tech support hours). So building a super-sized printer has not always been successful in the past.

One way to get around this is to employ a simultaneous loading system such as that of the Durst Rho 800. Rho printers utilize the transport belt system admirably. Durst has, so far, never build a dedicated flatbed printer because of the time a print operator wastes loading and unloading the material.

But miracles do happen, and Gerber has actually gotten cationic ink to work ( after millions of dollars in investment by them and KonicaMinolta ), so let us hope that VUTEk gets their pseudo page-array printheads to work as well. The VUTEk concept looks more realistic than the Inca Onset (which is simply too large and too expensive; it is safer to have three or more smaller more agile UV printers than to attempt to do everything with one single 3-million dollar machine).

Fixed array, page array, one-pass

If you are a professor type of research, then the word “one-pass” is not really appropriate for a fixed array or page array set of printheads. Because in reality, a true page-array set of printheads would be “zero passes” since the printheads are supposed to be stationary while the paper goes underneath. So on a page array (fixed array) there are no passes (or should not be any passes) since the whole purpose of a fixed array is to get rid of passes all together. The Sun FastJet would be an example of a fixed array.

But, in the real world, you get better results if the printhead array does move a bit (to cover up nozzles that are out or jetting at a poor angle). So the VUTEk DS8300 is close to a fixed array, but is not really fixed; it must move a bit for covering banding and other inherent aspects of wide-format inkjet printing.

Competing products to the VUTEk DS8300: Inca Onset and HP Scitex FB7500

The HP Scitex FB7500 was clearly nowhere near finished at SGIA 2008, but looked better at FESPA 2009. Actually everyone in the Gandinnovations booth commented on the bizarre patterns of the images and other aspects of the HP FB7500 at SGIA '08. Of course now in 2009 Gandinnovations is caught with no comparable solution as three companies offer high-speed flatbeds: Vutek DS8300, Inca Onset, and HP Scitex FB7500.

Meital is also now a potential competitor for Gandinnovations Jeti flatbeds. At FESPA Europe 2009 the Meital will be on exhibit. So far the Inca Onset has never been transported to any trade show. If the HP Scitex FB7500 has improved, since HP missed ISA 2009 completely, then HP may think about exhibiting the FB7500 at FESPA.

A flatbed printer is printing zero square-feet per hour while being loaded and unloaded

If it takes one year to get the VUTEk out of prototype state through alpha stage and into beta stage, what other options exist if you need a fast flatbed printer during 2008? One of the few flatbed UV printers in the world that can be loaded and unloaded while printing is the new Meital 302 dedicated flatbed printer, originally from One Solution. This innovative flatbed UV-curable printer was launched at DRUPA 2008. It has the most impressive printspeed of any flatbed machine at DRUPA 2008.

If the Meital 302 (its new name) can be finished before the VUTEk, it can achieve significant advantages. The Meital 302 printer is very fast, and is not a complicated design (a polite way of saying that it is more likely to function without intricacies). Plus the Meital has a known printhead from a major printhead manufacturer that is being used increasingly in one-pass applications: so that printhead manufacturer (Xaar) has incentive to maintain a high standard of quality.

In closing, it is worth mentioning how many totally new and different technologies in flatbed printers were exhibited at DRUPA: the VUTEk DS system is definitely the kind of printer technology that a professor of inkjet printing would be interested in (it was just kind of unfortunate to learn how many people felt the display did not warn them it was not actually printing). The Meital is the other flatbed that was different in virtually every respect: and it was really functioning.

In the meantime, Oce has sold almost a thousand of their traditional UV-cured flatbed, and Gandinnovations sales of their flatbeds at DRUPA broke all expectations (a trend, however, that sputtered by late 2008 and all through 2009). So clearly dedicated flatbeds are proving to be a key printer class: Teckwin had dozens of sales of its successful mid-range flatbed (TeckStorm) and Raster Printers had the best entry level dedicated flatbed at DRUPA (Daytona T600UV, now EFI Rastek T660, made in the US). Many printshops prefer to enter the world of UV printing gradually, so starting off with a mid-range flatbed today is a good idea. Once your sales reps have experience marketing flat and rigid applications, then you can move up to an Inca Spyder 320, and eventually expand to the point that you can consider the VUTEk DS8300 when it is a proven concept next year.

I will be curious to see whether VUTEk exhibits the DS8300 at FESPA 2010. The EFI VUTEk booth was very busy at ISA 2009. Unfortunately the VUTEk DS8300 was not in the EFI booth at FESPA 2009. Someone elsewhere said he was told, unofficially, that the DS8300 had been cancelled. It was probably the printheads, a brand and model that no other UV printer used, or really even tried.

In the meantime, Durst came out with their Rho 1000, which is a veritable production machine. At half that size (and thus half the price) you also have the Grapo Shark. Not a dedicated flatbed but a combo flatbed and very fast. Plus the Vega from One Solution is now available.

I had hoped the VUTEk DS8300 would be successful, but if the story is true floating around FESPA 2009, that is not the case.

the VUTEk DS-series, flatbed UV-cured inkjet printer evaluations
Efi VUTEk booth at DRUPA trade show 2008.

 

Most recently updated August 5, 2009.

First posted June 19, 2008. Updated May 11, 2009.

 
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