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HP repositions wide-format portfolio with ream of launches

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James Matthews-Paul

Written on 10/04/2015 | Posted 2 years 10 months 11 days ago

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The Pagewide 8000 model will be available in June 2015 The Pagewide 8000 model will be available in June 2015

In mid-March, the European press was invited to Barcelona for the launch of HP's Graphics Experience Centre. It's eminently possible to experience showroom fatigue when one is invited to such gigs repeatedly but, in fairness to the world's largest technology company, it used the occasion not just to parade its newly extended showroom but also to brief leading journalists about a variety of launches anticipated ahead of FESPA.

There are few companies that can shape the industry with the alignment of their portfolios but HP is one of them: think about the impact on solvent technologies when latex was launched in 2010. The manufacturer's new positioning is based on four categories – aqueous, latex, UV-curable and, now, PageWide – with each imagined for the specific application areas of indoor graphics, outdoor durable, high-volume and copy shop production respectively.

PageWide

PageWide is HP's much-vaunted answer to Memjet's 22.2cm single-unit head and, having been on the billing for about a year now, now enters the market in a number of machines. Most significant is the PageWide XL series; intended for copy shops, in-house and reprographics departments, HP will buck type and launch the largest first in the form of the PageWide XL 8000. This four-colour, dual-supply device will be available from June this year and is the only one of the series not to include a scanner; that said, this 1.02m (40") engine processes 30ppm at A1 onto a variety of papers, suiting it to the AEC and CAD markets as well as cartography and light point-of-sale work. 

The PageWide XL 5000 is set to follow in November this year, with the XL 4500 and XL 4000 MFPs due on the market in January 2016. Coming in at 14, 12 and 8ppm respectively, each features hot-swap ink cartridges to maintain uptime, as with the 8000, and will be released in ten core markets – including the UK – in the initial onslaught. They also cut X-Y during print and can be supplied with a folder-stacker and dual stacker that HP has developed specifically to handle the high throughput of these machines.

HP doesn't envision PageWide purely as a proverbial-off-the-shovel platform, however. It's also putting these array-wide heads at the heart of its 3D print range, announced in tandem with its Sprout computer at the back end of 2014. By combining it with thermal ink-jet HP believes it's come up with a 3D process that is faster and more versatile than extrusion or laser sintering. Most exciting is the prospect of being able to provide each voxel – a 'volumetric pixel', and a word in HP-ese with which we'd better become familiar – with its own colour, tensile strength and even conductivity. 

We'll have to wait until the second half of 2016 for an actual manifestation, but the as-yet unnamed Designjet 3D does have promise; HP should take the next year to think through the more complex aspects of entering this market, such as intellectual property and materials delivery. Before then, however, PageWide has already been incorporated within the Inkjet Web Press range, massively increasing the efficiency of HP's high-volume, narrow-format engines.

Bedding down: the FB range

While UV-curable is now squared off in what HP calls the 'industrial' part of its range – ostensibly for its build quality rather than its applications area – there are also developments for these hybrid and flat-bed machines. The updates afforded the Scitex FB550 and FB750 are mainly concerned with productivity, with a focus on the operator's ability to load and unload at speed. At the core of this is their twelve-percent speed increase in quality mode over previous models. 

The core architecture of these flat-bed models has been improved with a new beam and head carriage design but two other inventions are the real addition to this pair of FB engines, which are designed for display producers with short- and variable-run work. Considering the regular media change-overs for these print houses, the new table-top roll holder is a nifty way of escaping a full switch to roll-fed mode when only a few metres of vinyl are needed; similarly, the new feeder tables feature tapered rollers which are intended to avoid scuffs when throwing sheets on or pulling them off. 

For those producing boards at high volume, the Scitex 11000 reaches up to 650sq m/hour, hitting a sweet spot for those producing FSDU or short-run boxes at a maximum of 3.2 x 1.6m. The new 15000 adds automated loading and unloading to this capability and is tweaked for corrugated applications, featuring a specially-designed grip for warped or bowed media. Both machines are able to produce onto rigid or flexible media from 90g/sq m up to 2.5cm-thick board stock, and employ HP's High Dynamic Range technology, which is a fancy term for variable droplet size, in combination with a six-colour palette.

Latex but not least

HP is unmistakably proud of its Latex technology range and, looking back over the last few years, its growth has been impressive. With one challenger formulation on the market officially and rumours of another to come, the company saw 48 percent volume augmentation between 2013 and 2014, counting some 25,000 units installed world-wide to date. UK resellers confirm that the 300 series, which can be accessed for little more than £10,000, flies off the shelves because of its low-cost, low-maintenance entry-point for short, sharp signage applications. 

The new 1.62m Latex 370 is designed to be left unattended, even when producing at its top speed of 91sq m/hour; specifically, it takes three-litre cartridges and as with most machinery in this product category these are swappable on the fly. One can see the 370 churning out continuous short-run jobs onto standard media while the operator manages a couple of other machines or, indeed, goes home. Their life will be made easier with the HP Latex Mobile App, which introduces job tracking, alerts and printer status; later this year a tablet version will provide consumption metrics, such as ink and media use.

HP supposes that its technology has been used in the construction of some 80 percent of the buildings constructed in the last 30 years; considering the breadth of its range it is possible to imagine that as the case. In its bid to maintain that position it is taking on a new strategy in these wide-format markets: most impressive at its new Graphics Experience Centre was not the machinery itself, which we are all used to seeing, but the lists of partner manufacturers dotted about the walls. In the same breath HP's executives were emphasising new service initiatives, discussing how its teams were exploring wearable technology as a support mechanism, and how members of its Dscoop user group are 15 percent more profitable than others.

It seems that HP is now lining up for an aggressive bustle in what it sees as the four core wide-format markets this year, inviting Durst, Agfa and EFI to a clean scrap; with both its launches and new attitude, its scoreline is looking promising.

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