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History of the Indigo Digital Press

Posted on February 14, 2013 | 0 comments
Indigo is a company that develops and manufactures digital offset printing presses and workflow solutions, and was originally founded by Benny Landa in 1977. Now part of HP, its headquarters are in Ness ZionaIsrael. HP Indigo presses are used in production commercial and label converting environments to print applications such as marketing collateral (e.g. brochures, business cards, posters, etc.) photo specialty, direct mail, labels, folding cartons, flexible packaging, books, manuals, and specialty applications . Its ability to print without films and plates enables it to create personalized short runs, changing text, images and jobs without having to stop the press. Each press has up to 7 color stations, which can use cyan, magenta, yellow, black and a variety of special and spot color inks, such as white, UV Red and transparent.

History

Early Years

The name of the press series, Indigo, comes from a company formed by Benny Landa in 1977. Landa, known as the father of digital offset color printing, was born in Poland to post-World War II Jewish refugee parents, who later immigrated to Edmonton, Canada.[1] His interest in printing goes back to the time he worked as a child in his father's photo shop. His father purchased a cigar store that had a small photo studio in the back which he developed, using his skills as a carpenter, into his own portrait studio.[2] He then started taking passport photos for labourers who needed them for their ID cards. Utilizing his own equipment he was able to produce “direct-positive” photos, avoiding the need for film and printing images directly on paper, years before photo booths became commonplace.[3] While a student in London, Landa got a job at Commercial Aid Printing Services (CAPS), a company offering printing services and microfilm solutions. Landa was instrumental in developing a solution that won the company a contract with Rolls Royce and was appointed as Head of R&D.[1] However, CAPS lacked manufacturing capital and went into receivership in 1969.[4] In 1971 he joined Gerald Frankel, the owner of CAPS, and founded a new company - Imaging Technology (Imtec). Imtec became the largest European vendor of micrographics equipment (microfilm readers and reader/printers). Landa led Imtec’s R&D activities and invented the company’s core imaging technology. While researching liquid toners at Imtec, he worked on a method of high-speed image development that would later lead to his invention of ElectroInk.[3]

Early products and the Launch of the E-Print 1000

At the start of the 1990s Indigo moved from a primarily research-driven business into a full-scale printing equipment manufacturing company. The company's first product would be a digital plotter/duplicator, bringing the tiny company (its 1991 sales totaled less than US$5 million, generating a profit of $440,000) head to head with such industry giants as Xerox and Canon.[5] In 1993 Indigo launched the E-Print 1000 at IPEX trade show, which marked a turning point in the printing industry. The E-Print 1000 eliminated the expense and labor of the plate-printing setup process, printing directly from a computer file, and enabled inexpensive short-run color printing. Images not only could be readily changed, they could be changed from page to page, requiring neither additional setup or pauses in the print run. Instead of printing to metal plates, the E-Print created a latent image on the Photo Imaging Plate or PIP through the use of an elecrostatic charge. This charged area would then attract the charged ElectroInk, which would in turn be transferred to the ITM or blanket, and then again transfer from the blanket to the paper or other substrate. Because 100% of the ink transfers from PIP to blanket to substrate, a different image and color could be printed with each rotation of the press. At the same time, Indigo's ElectroInk-based color inks offered print quality rivaling that of traditional printing processes. Almost 20 years later, and despite the numerous technological improvements, Indigo presses are still based on this core technology. [5]

Early Financial History

In 1977 Landa decided to move to Israel and established Indigo in the town of Rehovot, near Tel Aviv. Later the company reincorporated in the Netherlands for financial purposes. Indigo initially focused on pure technology research and development and selling licenses of its technology to other manufacturer. At the same time Indigo was working on developing the liquid ink technology that was suitable for the quickly growing digital printing market. By the early 1980s Indigo unveiled its ElectroInk, a liquid ink that when heated was transformed into plastic. Throughout the decade Indigo continued to invest heavily in its research and development activities, building a patent portfolio that the company itself would refer to as a "patent fence." By the early 1990s the company had refined its ElectroInk technology to the point where it was ready to compete not only with xerographic imaging, but as well with traditional short-run printing techniques.[5] In support of its move into full-scale manufacturing of the E-Print, Landa began seeking additional financing. This was provided by George Soros who in June 1993 bought 14 percent of the equity of Indigo for $50 million, the remainder of the equity remained owned by Benny Landa. The purchase was the first investment Soros has made in Israel.[6] In 1994 Indigo had an initial public offering on the NASDAQ stock exchange, selling 52 million shares at $20 per share and raising $100 million. The offering reduced Landa's personal holding in Indigo to 70 percent. As the stock continued to climb, the following year, Landa's paper worth reached some $2 billion by 1995.[7] The company's revenues reached $13 million in 1993 and $73 million in 1994, by 1995 300 E-Print machines were sold and revenues reached $165. In 1995 Indigo launched another revolutionary product: the Omnius press. Whereas E-Print focused on medium-volume single-sheet printing, Omnius brought digital printing to a variety of surfaces, including plastic, cardboard, film, and, especially, cans, bottles, and other packaging surfaces. The Omnius's chief market target was the packaging industry. Based on the same technology as the E-Print, the Omnius enabled economical color printing for print runs under 100,000 on such surfaces as soda cans or product boxes—making the machine an ideal marketing tool.[5] At the end of 1995, Indigo sales did not reach the expected levels, and the company found itself overstaffed. Despite a strong rise in revenues to $165 million, the company posted its fourth year of losses, of about $40 million. George Soros however still believed in the company’s potential and increased his investment to 30 percent of Indigo's shares by 1997. By 1998 the company improved its financial performance and revenues passed the $200 million mark for the first time.[5]

Sale to HP

Hewlett Packard offices in Ness Ziona
In 2000 the Hewlett Packard company made a $100m investment in Indigo, buying 14.8 million of Indigo's common shares, which represented 13.4 percent of the company's outstanding shares.[8] On September 6, 2001 HP announced that it will acquire the remaining outstanding shares of Indigo Indigo N.V. (NASDAQ: INDG) for approximately $629 million in HP common stock and a potential future cash payment of up to $253 million contingent upon Indigo's achievement of long-term revenue goals, for an aggregate potential payment of up to $882 million. Following the acquisition, Benny Landa became a strategic advisor to HP CEO Carly Fiorina, Landa was quoted saying:[9]
"Our vision has always been to lead the printing industry into the digital era and to see Indigo technology pervade the commercial printing market. Now, as part of HP, that goal is in sight."
In the following years, HP continued to invest in Israel-based graphic arts companies, acquiring Scitex Vision[10] in 2005 and Nur Macroprinters in 2007.[11] HP workforce in Israel (which includes not only employees of the Indigo division, but also of [Scitex], [HP Labs], [HP Software] and others) reached 5,500 people in 2010, making HP the country’s second-largest foreign employer after Intel.[12]

HP Indigo today

Under the ownership of HP, Indigo developed and grew to become the world leader in production digital presses. The company is ranked No. 1 in the US high-volume digital press market[13] and, according to HP officials, has a 75% share of the world market for digital commercial photo printing.[12] In August 2009 HP announced that there are now more than 5,000 HP Indigo digital presses in operation around the world.[14]

Kiryat Gat plant

In 2004 HP made NIS 100 million investment in a new production site in Kiryat Gat, Israel. The factory is responsible for manufacturing HP Indigo ElectroInk.[15] There is a sister facility in Singapore that also manufactures Indigo ElectroInk. In 2007 an adjacent hardware center was opened in Kiryat Gat. This facility assembles frames, feeders, and other components with imaging engines into finished presses, and also serves as the site for manufacturing other components, such as the PIP and the blanket. In late 2012, HP Indigo inaugurated a second ink plant in Kiryat Gat, which will focus on the manufacturing of ElectroInk for the new "Series IV" presses: the HP Indigo 10000, Indigo 20000 and Indigo 30000 digital presses. This 118,000 square feet facility is reported to be the first building in the country and the first HP manufacturing facility worldwide designed to meet the LEED environmental standard. [1]

Product Releases

The first press released after the HP acquisition was the HP Indigo 5000, a product known internally as "Jericho." It was first announced at [drupa] 2004 and became commercially available in 2005. Subsequent releases based on the platform include the HP Indigo 5500 Digital Press, and the HP Indigo 3500 press, both sheetfed devices. In [drupa] 2008 the company released the Indigo 7000 digital press,[16] which increased productivity by 70% over the previous sheetfed models. Known internally as "Carmel," this press marked a news stage for the company, targeting not just variable data applications and short runs, but aiming to transfer medium runs from offset devices. Other products for that press family unveiled at drupa 2008 included the webfed W7200 digital press and the new labels and packaging press, the Indigo WS6000. In [Ipex] 2010 they announced the Indigo 7500, which replaced the Indigo 7000 as the flagship sheetfed press. At drupa 2008, Indigo unveiled a new workflow strategy for their portfolio called HP SmartStream, based on their own development and on partnerships with other industry vendors. Among the announcements was a [web-to-print] product in partnership with Press-Sense (later bought by [PageFlex]). They also released new versions of their Digital Front Ends (DFEs). Today, their SmartStream workflow portfolio is based on both their own products, as well as partnerships with other graphic arts vendors in fields such as job creation, pre-press, variable data printing and finishing.

New products

At drupa 2012, HP Indigo unveiled a new family of digital presses, known internally as "Series 4". The flagship was a a full 29-inch, B2 format press aimed at commercial printing, publishing and photo environmnents. Other members of that family (but which are not yet released) include the HP Indigo 20000, a webfed press aimed at the flexible packaging market, and the HP Indigo 30000 press, which targets Folding Carton converters. The Indigo 10000 is expected to be launched commercially in early 2013.[17][18] From their current portfolio, the new announcements included the Indigo 5600, Indigo 7600 with "special effects" similar to embossing and thermography and the W7250, as well as the Indigo WS6600 Digital Press for labels & packaging (which was announced a few months earlier at Label Expo 2011.) On the workflow side, Indigo made announcements on new finishing partnerships and strategies, and a new solution for production management.

Technology

The technology is based on HP ElectroInk, which uses small colour particles suspended in Imaging Oil (Isopar) that can be attracted or repelled by means of a voltage differential. The ink forms a very thin and smooth plastic layer on the paper surface. The fact that these particles are so small ensures that the printed image does not mask the underlying surface roughness/gloss of the paper, as can be possible with some toner-based processes, bringing Indigo printing closer in appearance to conventional offset lithography, whereby ink is actually absorbed into the paper. HP provides the option for users to mix their own ink colours to match Pantone references. This is common with non-digital offset litho presses, and is one of the features that distinguishes the HP Indigo process. "Off-press" colours are mixed from 11 colour (from the 15 original) Pantone spectrum at an offline, ink mixing station. Users can also order special pre-mixed colours from HP Indigo, for example fluorescent pink. HP Indigo presses are available in configurations supporting four, five, six or seven colours. Operators are trained by HP at specialist centres in Barcelona (ESP) or Andover (MA) in the U.S.. There are two main courses, initially a certified operator qualification and, once some experience has been gained with day-to-day maintenance issues, an advanced (also known as DPP or shared maintenance) course. The Series 2 printing engine can be easily differentiated from the original format by the double sized PIP (dynamic plate), which allows the press to run twice as fast. Current models in this series include the HP Indigo press 5500, 3500 and w3250 (Commercial) and HP Indigo press ws4500 (Industrial). Previous Series 2 models included the UltraStream 2000, HP Indigo press 3000, 3050, w3200, 5000, HP Indigo press ws4000 and ws4050. The Series 3 printing engine was introduced with the launch of the 7000 series at drupa 2008. Products in that family of presses include the HP Indigo 7000, 7500 and 7600 digital sheetfed presses, as well as the rollfed W7200, W7250 and WS6000 for the commercial markets. There are several versions of the HP Indigo press, which can be broadly grouped by the Printing Engine (Series 1,2,3 or 4) and by application - either Commercial (sheet-fed, mainly for paper printing), or Labels & Packaging(web-fed, labeling and flexible packaging). HP introduced the Series 3 engine at Drupa 2008. The first model to be introduced was the HP Indigo 7000 Digital Press (Commercial). In March 2010 the HP Indigo 7500 Digital Press (Commercial) was released. The launch of Series 4 in 2012 marked the first time the company embarked on a platform that supports sizes beyond A3. With their B2-format Indigo 10000 Press, they aim to increase the productivity and application range of traditional print service providers.

Criticism

Early incarnations of the press (Series 1 engines) were prone to banding and ink adhesion problems. However newer models have corrected most of these issues.   Composite Colour is one of Melbourne's Leading HP Indigo Print companies
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