How production inkjet can help you achieve your sustainability goals

By Carl Metelerkamp, Head of Commercial Print at Canon South Africa

As a commercial printer, how comfortable are you with your environmental credentials? Are they solidly green or perhaps a few shades lighter that you’d like them to be? Have your customers or prospects started to ask you about them yet? If not, they soon will.

If you are able to demonstrate now that you’ve established solid sustainability goals and that you’re making clear advances towards achieving them, that could give you a real competitive advantage. Potential customers will be more likely to view you as the kind of progressive company they want to work with – after all, they are probably also under pressure from their own customers to show that they have set up clearly defined sustainability policies and are putting those into practice.

If you currently print predominantly on offset or other non-inkjet technology, reducing your environmental impact and boosting your reputation for sustainability are just some of the substantial benefits you could achieve by moving to inkjet production printing.

By its very nature, digital printing offers many sustainability benefits, such as less waste and chemical-free production, thanks to the reduced make-ready and set-up time, together with the cost-efficient production of shorter runs matched to actual demand – even down to a run length of one. And being a digital process, the efficiency of digital printing and its consequential sustainability benefits can be maximised – and the risk of human error minimised – by putting in place fully automated workflows managed by software.

Digital printing also gives access to more sustainable business models, such as on-demand printing (sell first, then print), dynamic publishing (highly targeted content based on streamlined data workflows and automated production processes, resulting in lower page counts) and programmatic print (linking marketing automation platforms and highly-automated print production workflows).

Through the use of production inkjet technology, however, the environmental benefits of digital printing can be raised to an even higher level. If we start with print heads, most inkjet sheet- and web-fed production printers use piezo print head technology, which works by rapidly passing an electric charge through a piezo crystal that flexes and, in doing so, forces a drop of ink out of a nozzle of the print head. Engineered for precision and durability, these print heads have a lifetime of thousands of hours and only need to be replaced after years of use. The long lifetime of the print heads is also aided by the close interdependency between the print head technology and inkjet inks, resulting in minimal maintenance costs.

As for inkjet inks, the most environmentally friendly are stringently manufactured aqueous pigment inks. Being water-based, the inks emit low odours, do not carry any substances of very high concern (SVHC) and are free of mineral oil, aromatic hydrocarbon (MOAH) and saturated hydrocarbons (MOSH). Look for process-colour inks that are listed in the Nordic Swan database of approved printing chemicals and that show good deinking properties according to INGEDE method 11 when combined with appropriate substrates.

Solvents used and produced in the manufacture of inks, coatings and paints contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), human-made chemicals that may have adverse health effects. However, sustainability-conscious suppliers ensure that the VOC emissions of ink and paper conditioning products remain well below the levels allowed by governmental guidelines.

In addition, some inkjet printers use innovative technology to further reduce the impact of VOCs. For example, some drying technology uses a sufficiently low temperature that any VOC particles that do enter the paper fibres are not released into the air, which means that no exhaust air cleaning is required. Other printers also have integrated exhaust air cleaning systems that completely eliminate VOC emissions. And, of course, any inkjet production printer worth consideration should be compliant with the European Union’s Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) directive.

Having highlighted the main sustainability benefits that can be gained through adopting inkjet production technology, if they’ve given you real food for thought, there are also other features and sustainable benefits to seek out when considering what inkjet press to invest in. For a start, energy consumption – while a press that is robust enough for heavy duty 24/7 operations is a given, there are inkjet presses that feature low energy consumption per printed page, some even meeting the Nordic Swan requirements.

Then, allied to durability, are longevity and upgradability – as “digital” machines have at times been associated with “built-in obsolescence”, look for an inkjet press that has proved itself in the market and offers a clear upgrade path for new features and speed enhancements, maximising the lifetime of the system and making it truly sustainable. An inkjet press that has been built to last and to operate round the clock, especially one that incorporates preventive maintenance concepts, is most likely to deliver the high levels of uptime and productivity required, and potentially up to 10 million impressions per week.

Finally, an inkjet press that can be refurbished and has multiple parts that can be recycled will also add to your sustainability credentials. So look for a supplier that maximises the economic life of its inkjet presses with a high refurbishment rate and that recycles within industry standard recycling processes a high percentage of the parts in its presses.

With sustainability becomingly an increasingly important topic for commercial printers, it is even more of a reason to think about moving some, if not all, your work to production inkjet and assessing which technology partner is going to be best for your business.