L&P Virtu HD8 UV printer with Spectra M Class MEMS printheads Print

The L&P Virtu HD8 UV printer with Spectra M-Class silicon MEMS printheads is precisely the kind of high-tech digital imaging technology that I am interested in. As a professor in my earlier life, this is the kind of impressive UV-curable printer that I would enjoy learning about (especially since I lecture to screen printing owners and managers around the world who ask FLAAR what new UV inkjet printers they should consider buying).

In the past years, L&P always made strongly built machines but in recent years their print quality was surpassed by printers at a fraction of the cost made in Korea and elsewhere. Then the L&P Virtu HD8 UV printer with Spectra M-Class Silicon MEMS printheads offered a quality that catches up with the competition: and exceeds with even better print quality. But then at SGIA '08, L&P did not have a booth, but two printer manufacturers (one American and one Korean) had the same identical printheads as L&P Virtu HD8, but at 30% of the cost for the overall L&P printer.

Then came the unexpected shock that the Spectra M-Class MEMS printheads are being phased out and replaced in the Rastek T1000, InkTec Jetrix, and in other printers that started with this innovative high quality printhead.

The failure of the MEMS printheads is not the fault of Leggett & Platt. But either way, the result is the same: there is now no HD8 Virtu printer from the L&P Technologies in the US. This may explain why they did not exhibit at SGIA: there was no printer that they could exhibit that they could realistically sell: to re-issue the same printer with a new printhead would take months (and tons of more R&D budget).

If L&P lacked money to rent a booth at SGIA '08, they had even less money to redesign their entire printer to work with a replacement printhead.

L&P Virtu HD8 UV printer Spectra M-Class Silicon MEMS printheads
L&P Virtu HD8 printer showed at SGIA '07

Leggett & Platt Virtu UV printers

Samples printed by L&P Virtu HD8
Samples printed by L&P Virtu HD8

Leggett & Platt, the parent company of L&P Digital Technologies, is such a large and financially successful company on it's own (the largest mattress producer in the world, for a starter), that its printing division is to some degree subsidized (sort of as was DuPont's failing attempt to get into UV printers with its Cromaprint 22uv ). Being subsidized means there is plenty of money available even if sales are low. The L&P Virtu was a prestige project by capable engineers such as Richard Codos, but Durst, Inca, and everyone else outsold them 20 to one.

As of November 2008, the L&P Virtu printer entity was taken over by Wifag-Polytype Group and will operate as WP Digital AG. What's left will need to reappear at ISA 2009. I hope by then that the one single nagging issue of the impressive printer is fixed long before. During the initial evaluation at the factory in Miami the prints had one failure in them. Durst has already overcome comparable issues over a year ago and now can achive the absolute top quality; the Virtu has significant other advantages over the Durst Rho but has one Achilles heal.

Wifag Polytype Group of Switzerland has bought all the digital printing assets of Leggett & Platt, which include what's left of L&P Digital Technologies and the larger and more successful Spuhl Digital Printing in Switzerland. The Swiss branch sold the Virtu RS25/48 and RS35 printers.

Unfortunately there are today too many UV printers for a printshop owner or manager to keep track of. For example, even with four days at SGIA ‘07, there are 45 manufacturers of UV printers, over 101 models, and even though not every manufacturer is present at SGIA, even though I arrived a day early (set-up day before the show opens), and even though every evening I had a minimum of three hours of meetings with UV printer manufacturers, there simply is not time to cover each brand and model. The L&P booth at SGIA 07 was so far away that I did not get there until the last day.

Another reason that I spent the limited time available at the other manufacturers was that I heard from several sources rumors that L&P Digital was looking for either a buyer or an OEM manufacturer. Lüscher's wide-format UV program went bust earlier that year (their printer was simply too large and unwieldy and had issues with UV curing). Zund is now going to concentrate on their successful cutters and no longer build and sell UV printers. And DuPont's entire printer division simply is being downsized in the process of going out of direct sales of UV and textile printers. If there is only time to concentrate on the companies that are moving ahead, I will tend to skip those companies that are asking for someone to buy them or manufacturer their printers for them.

I have followed L&P's progress since it's printers first appeared at the DPI trade show in Atlanta (2001?). We do get readers who ask our opinion about L&P printers, so it was helpful to visit the L&P factory and demo room in Florida during 2008, and also to spend a day at the impressive Spuhl factory and demo room in Switzerland.

Other UV-cured inkjet printers using Spectra M-Class Silicon MEMS printheads?

L&P Virtu HD8 UV printer reviews Spectra M-Class Silicon MEMS evaluations
L&P Virtu HD8 UV Printer

The Raster Printers Daytona T600UV is the first UV-cured flatbed inkjet printer to use Spectra M-Class Silicon MEMS printheads. This small-footprint machine, manufactured by ISI (INX) in Alabama, costs $80,000. I have already made two trips to the Raster Printer headquarters in California and stop at their booth usually several times a day.

I also bring clients by to visit the Raster Printers booth (since there are so many booths to see that a printshop owner or a corporate manager that is looking for partners might not know which booths to concentrate on). FLAAR offers a “walk-through” of every trade show to clients: we take them, personally, up and down every aisle and introduce them to the CEOs, president, top managers, and/or key technical, marketing, or sales personnel (per interest of our clients).

But is L&P Digital Technologies changing?

At SGIA '07 people were already asking whether L&P would exit the UV printer market. Then in December '07 there was an announcement that L&P, the parent company of L&P Digital Technologies would exit non-core businesses.

At ISA 2008 most industry analysts repeated the common rumor based on L&P parent's statement that they would divest themselves of non-core businesses. Although they denied this when asked, the purchase by a Swiss company reveals that all along they were trying to be sold.

At the ISA '08 booth of Leggett & Platt Digital Technologies it was possible to have a good discussion with Richard Codos (Executive Director, North American Development) and Ed Morris (Director of Sales).

During this same period, with Agfa there were two totally different stories floating around: one is that Agfa is dropping out of the UV printer business totally. Another is that Agfa is about to offer new products. Indeed Agfa will offer their rebuilt :Anapurna 100 as the new :Anapurna XLS. So rumors tend to be wrong (except about DuPont). Now that Wifag-Polytype has taken over the wide-format inkjet printers of L&P, they will need to redirect popular misconception of this entire wide-format venture.

I was present at DPI trade show in 2001 when the first L&P UV printer was unveiled. I have watched these printers improve (especially after a short-lived and unsuccessful alliance with 3M, whose ink in those years was not considered adequate by end-users). Now the L&P no longer uses 3M ink of that kind, and the printers are improved. The Spühl version is obviously “Swiss made quality.” I lived in Switzerland for three years so I have experienced Swiss quality. I have spent two days in the Zund factory too.

Then in 2008 it was possible to spend an entire day visiting the Spühl factory in Switzerland. This was very productive as it was possible to learn about their past, present, and future.

A month or so later it was possible to visit the L&P factory in Florida. But this was primarily a familiarization visit. I will need more time if an actual evaluation is to be forthcoming.

reviews L&P Virtu HD8 UV printer
Nicholas Hellmuth with some samples printed by the L&P Virtu HD8, ISA 2008

What is the future path for the WP Digital AG Virtu family of UV printers?

The challenge of WP Digital in Europe is much easier than in the US: in Europe the Swiss can interact more easily. But North America is a completely different culture (I know, since I lived in Zurich for three years, and my brother studied at the ETH in the same city). In the US the Virtu printer has substantial competition.

Durst is immensely successful. I have been to their factory twice in Lienz and three times in Brixen already this year. Durst has one of the best educated CEO's in the sense of a CEO who knows the entire wide-format inkjet printing world inside out, especially UV-cured ink, printheads, technology, and industry politics. Durst sells well throughout Europe, in the US and in other parts of the world.

HP of course is the biggest competitor to anyone and everyone. True, they have nothing comparable to anything produced by L&P or Spuhl, but they don't need to either: they simply sell by brand name.

Same with VUTEk: their products are not a match for Durst and definitely not for Spuhl, but VUTEk outsells both L&P and Spuhl put together.

Gandinnovations has no combo systems (conveyor belt) but outsells everyone else but HP in roll-to-roll. Oce outsells everyone (including HP) in dedicated flatbed.

The immediate question is why did L&P allow sales in the US to drop to virtually 0 printers per month in the last year. I would be pleasantly surprised if they sold more than 1 a month. It is my estimate that Spuhl sold between 20 and 30 printers in 2007 and perhaps at best 1 to 2 a month in 2008. Gandy sold 90 at DRUPA and 40 at SGIA: L&P did not even have a booth at either !

Oce is selling one printer a day (if you spread out printers sold during trade shows over the year).

Sales of NUR printers doubled between December 2007 and DRUPA 2008, and rose to treble pre-HP sales by the time of SGIA (in other words sales of NUR printers tripled under the HP logo, compared to what NUR sold on their own before being taken over by HP).

So the question is, what will WP Digital AG need to do to first increase sales 100%, then 200%, and then 300%?

These are exactly the type of questions that FLAAR handles, so we will be curious to see how WP Digital handles things. One thing for sure, their sales can't go down because they were selling zero in the US in months before the sale. So the proverb is true: “there is only one way to go, and that's up.”

Spuhl will first have to figure out how to convince the world that their printers offer something different (I know several things that impress me).

Spuhl will then need to be sure there are no defects, deficiencies, or issues whatsoever (FLAAR will shortly have a list of all weaknesses of UV printers in general; a new publication. The new WP Digital can't afford to have one single solitary weak point that appears in this generic list (the list is based on the overall UV printer platform, not aimed or based on Virtu printers).

Gandy has a large organization and an impressive demo room in Toronto (I have been there twice). HP has multiple demo rooms that stagger the imagination on what this all costs. Durst has large and professional spaces at both Brixen and Lienz (I have not been to their US headquarters). VUTEk has a nicely outfitted and capable-looking demo room in New Hampshire. So WP Digital AG will need to create not just the space, but have friendly, capable people (more than just sales managers; they are essential, but VUTEk has Keven Currier who simply helps people learn: no hard sell.

I will be curious to see how WP Digital AG staffs a new demo facility in the US, and how they can make it exciting, dynamic, innovative, and a place worth visiting. This will take both space, decoration style, and appropriate people to make printshop managers want to come, and once there, to enjoy the experience.

L&P Virtu HD8 UV printer samples
Samples printed by the L&P Virtu HD8 UV printer.

Postscript 2010

In order to keep track of the history of UV-cured printers from the year 2000, we maintain pages on older models (such as the present HD8).

The Virtu line of UV printers is still alive. The ill-fated HD8 was dropped; then the USA factory was closed (because the Swiss factory produced a better machine). After almost two years under the name WP Digital, the Virtu printers were moved to Polytype, one of the dual parent companies. At SGIA 2010 you can see the current model in the Polytype booth.

 

 

Most recently updated before SGIA 2010, autumn 2010.

First posted November 2, 2007. Updated Feb 19, 2008, March 7, 2008, April 1, 2008, April 7, 2008. November 4, 2008, November 24, 2008.