Benny Landa, superstar of print.
BENNY LANDA WAS AT DRUPA IN 2008. BUT if you blinked you will have missed him. He came, stayed a few hours and left quietly. At Drupa 2012 there has been no possibility of missing the tall grey haired and bearded figure. His has been the return to spotlight, to the industry’s centre stage and as at Ipex 93 when the Indigo was launched, Landa has put the rest of the industry in a spin.
The Landa Corporation stand was mobbed from the opening of the show until the last chords of the Drupa song faded away, visitors eager to glimpse a future for the printing industry. They have jostled for a close look at the technology and for auditorium seats. A ticket tout might have done a brisk trade outside the hall such was the clamour for sold out seats. A video system was set up so that unfortunate printers might watch the presentation at second hand on screens outside the main show.
The reason for the excitement is a new printing technology, part inkjet, part offset, that Landa is calling nanography. The stand was populated by presses, sheet and reelfed, where delivery and feeder protruded from a 3m long touch screen. Their appearance stopped visitors in their tracks and created excitement even for those just wandering past the stand. In an exhibition which was mostly workman-like and earnest, Landa had created pure theatre.
AND THE HERO OF THE HOUR LAPPED UP THE ADULATION. When stepping on the stage to announce “My name is Benny Landa” there was the sort of applause reserved for a pop icon, or perhaps at one time Steve Jobs. Landa himself acknowledges a connection saying that the excitement “is an iPad experience. People can become crazy about it, they love the user interface,” he says. “When these printers see the presentation, they get it.”
And throughout each presentation there was further spontaneous applause. At its end, spectators wanted photographs, autographs even, while Landa Corporation wanted printers to sign letters of intent, accompanied by deposit cheques for €10,000. While nobody is going to announce official numbers, unofficial speculation suggested that 300 had signed up to be early adopters, perhaps three times as many as had been hoped for. Even if wildly inaccurate, such speculation points to the frenzy of interest that Landa had created.
Nanography produces high impact print.
IN TERMS OF A COMEBACK, THIS WAS MUHAMMED ALI returning to claim the World Heavyweight Championship, Napoleon after Elba or Manchester City scoring twice in time added on against QPR to clinch the Premiership title. The question of why he had returned was easily explainable he says: “I have spent my entire life in printing. I missed it terribly and felt like a fish out of water.”
But since selling Indigo to HP in 2002 (the best thing for the company he says) he has been buried in Landa Labs trying to develop an alternative source of energy, exploiting the nature of nano particles in order to extract electrical energy from ambient air. While this has been dismissed as impossible, Landa has received a patent from the European Patent Office and he is convinced that what he claims is achievable, albeit a long way off. “It is going to take many more years and is a massive investment and is very serious stuff. If we pull it off we will solve the world’s energy problems. It’s a big, big deal but we think it’s possible,” he says.
It was in pursuit of this dream that he needed a source of nano particles, as substances at this microscopic size begin to have different properties to normal, altering their freezing points, abrasion characteristics and so on. When the technique was tried on pigments, the result was a much higher optical density and much less scatter. With such pigments, printing could achieve brighter colours, would require less pigment in the ink, a much thinner film on paper, and could change the industry.
THE PARTICLE SIZES – LANDA SPEAKS OF TENS OF NANOMETRES ACROSS rather than hundreds used in most inkjet or toner applications – mean that they will lay more evenly on paper. Just how they are produced and the secrets behind holding them in a suspension are not being divulged. This is the Landa Nanoink and the key element of the process that the company is keeping to itself. Eventually there will be ink production plants in Israel, North America and Asia. For almost every other aspect of nanography, Landa is willing to cooperate with others.
It is a lesson learned from his own experience and that of Xerox. Until 1974 Xerox retained all rights to the electrophotographic process but the process only achieved widespread adoption once the patents were released and many more companies could produce copiers and eventually printers. Adoption needs almost universal acceptance. And with Indigo, by shunning litho printing and predicting its demise, Landa managed to spur these companies into competing with digital printing and made adoption even more difficult. At the same time Indigo was eager to ship machines quickly and just as quickly ran into reliability issues. “This time we will not be launching anything until it’s perfect,” he says.
THAT WILL BE AT LEAST ANOTHER 18 MONTHS IN HIS ESTIMATION, possibly more. The delay has not deterred those wanting to join the queue however. The press they will eventually end up with will not be built by Landa, another sign that its founder has learned from the past. Instead the company’s partners will build presses. “We will not compete with our partners,” he says. To date these are Komori, which has provided the paper handling system for the sheetfed presses, adapted from a Spica for the B2 machine and a G series machine for the B1 press; Heidelberg, which sees a future press sitting alongside its own Anicolor machine in B3 and B2, though it has nothing in B1 format; and Manroland where the intention is to offer the technology as retro fit to existing presses. There is no announcement yet about partners for a flexible packaging machine or label press interpretation, in which case these will be built by Landa. As well as access to the imaging, transfer and ink technologies, partners also get to use the dramatic user interface. Having reached this point, Komori will most likely stay with it, while others may prefer a more subdued version.
For Landa, the interface is a key part of the experience and not just a gimmick. The iPad look and feel is deliberate. “We wanted to make sure that operators were not intimidated by the machine,” he says. “We’ve put students in front of the press and they have quickly figured out how to use it. It emulates what people do today, checking the paper, the delivery, only we do all that electronically. And the operator is still working with his hands, not his fingers.”
The launch featured a striking show with dancers.
PULL SHEETS CAN BE STUCK TO THE SIDE PANEL USING magnets, an electronic loupe pulled over to examine detail or to compare with the pass sheet from the original job if a reprint. Today the Landa press operator would be severely disappointed by what he sees. The prints on display at Drupa were marked with streaks, indicating an issue with the print heads, the inks or the transfer process. What was not in doubt was the brightness of the images, vindicating the claims for the extra impact of the technology. Spots appeared sharp and similar to FM dots in high end litho printing. Each night new sheets were run and replaced poorer quality versions on display. Nor did Landa attempt to show images with large flat tint areas or with text. This will no doubt come.
The inkjet head, the company calls them injectors because this is an indirect process, is currently an adapted Kyocera KJ4 piezo head. The changes involve tuning the waveforms for the different ink type and perhaps more, but in essence this is a standard head and will remain that way so that Landa can switch between head suppliers to suit its need for speed or accuracy. The claimed speeds will require faster heads, but these will be available before the press itself reaches market. While piezo is preferred and offers most promise, Landa does not rule out versions using thermal heads as there is nothing in the technology to preclude this. Currently the machines run to the 200m per minute limit of the heads at 1,200 x 600dpi. The droplet size can be varied, but this is less important than the nano dimensioned pigment particles suspended in a solution of what is conditioned tap water. As the image is formed on a moving belt, its temperature, said by unconfirmed reports to reach 240ºC, drives off the water to leave a wrong reading image film just half a micron thick. As the image comes around to the impression cylinder, the temperature is raised again to make the transfer to paper easier.
The S7 is the B2 version of the Landa Nanographic press.
THE LIFE OF THIS BELT IS AN UNKNOWN, PERHAPS HUNDREDS OF thousands of impressions, says Landa, rising to more than 1 million, a count that will be reached quite quickly at 10,000 impressions an hour. If the technology is really to challenge offset, this component is critical, no printer will want to change the belt too frequently. Unlike most other digital processes, the paper itself is not subjected to fusing or drying in the process, allowing Landa to claim to be able to print on any substrate, including heat sensitive films.
From this stems one aspect of the technology’s environmental claims. It is heating only the image film. The energy (and quality) problems come when heating both ink and paper in high speed inkjet to drive off the water. The result is a practical limit to ink coverage says Landa of around 30% before speed needs to be reduced. “Offset on average is using 60-80% coverage, while the Indigo average is beyond 90%,” he says.
AND WATER IS THE BASIS FOR LANDA’S BELIEF THAT NANOGRAPHY is intrinsically a more ecological process, that solvents in print will be eliminated. “Even if customers can afford this,” he says, “the planet cannot. In future all printing will be water based printing.” Recycling of paper will not be an issue because the ink volume is small and like offset, sits on the surface of the paper. Tests have proved satisfactory and Landa is now seeking FDA compliance to allow the NanoInk to be used in packaging.
He says that Landa nanography will not be competing with Indigo, but there is clearly some overlap at the very least. Most interest he says has been shown in the B1 format, a size that Indigo does not offer, at least at present. “This is the only B1 digital press that exists,” Landa says. Then it is B2 and finally B3 where there is a plethora of options in digital printing.
Under the hood is the paper transport of a litho press.
But Landa is not about tackling the variable data printing and personalisation that these machines offer, though the digital nature of the technology and duplexing ability says that they can print variable data if this data can be presented to the press quickly enough. Landa has made no announcements on which company is providing this technology, though Global Graphics would appear to be well placed with its powerful high speed Rips.
INSTEAD LANDA IS AIMING AT THE 98% OF PAGES THAT HAVE not been converted to digital printing, or at a bigger percentage of them because he modestly admits that beyond 10,000 or 12,000 sheets offset printing will remain the dominant process. It is in the area beyond the point where digital remains economic and below which offset can be profitable that nanography fits, through elimination of plates and instant makereadies.
In the public presentations this was point which had the audience nodding. “It is going to take many decades before print is replaced by new technologies,” he reassured the audience. “However, how can I make money? The gap between digital and where offset is profitable happens to be short run, the jobs that we are already have but can’t do profitably.” Personalisation is not necessary and that can come later, he continued. But this was not something for today and Landa nanography would not be released until it is perfect. “Your customers expect this of you, you should expect it of us. Perfection takes time.”
The show will return at Ipex in two years time.
THE QUESTION HANGING IS JUST HOW MUCH TIME AND HOW MUCH money will be needed. Some doubt that Landa will ever deliver, or will do so when it has missed the boat, that other companies have looked at the indirect inkjet process before and have been unable to master it. Perhaps. But Landa is selling hopes and dreams and his flock believes he holds the key. It has taken a decade to reach this point, he says. “We want to jump start this industry into a new order.”
His vision includes taking the NanoInk technology into office and home computers, something that Indigo with its reliance on solvents and mineral oils could never achieve. Having delivered with Indigo, though it took seven years from launch until the Indigo 3000 to deliver on many of the promises and then it took HP’s engineering skills to hone the product to the point where it sits today, Landa cannot afford to fail. Through 300 directly employed scientists and engineers and a further 500 in subcontractors and those in other businesses driving forward component development, there is a vast enterprise at work.
THERE IS ALREADY A STAND BOOKED FOR IPEX, WITH MORE space than at Drupa. It is a fair bet that the company will show something that begins to approach the quality and consistency that the industry expects. It may also be the point that others show their implementations of the technology, because delivering short run work quickly and profitably needs more than an imaging system. There is a workflow to sort out, and importantly the means to move paper into and out of the press quickly, areas that Landa is leaving to its partners to sort.
Also Ipex some of the euphoria may have dissipated, but not too greatly. There will be a new show to look forward to led by Landa himself. “I will never leave this industry again,” he says.
Watch the video of Benny Landa's presentation to the press
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