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Xerox has revealed a new digital printing technology and plans to aggressively enter the 3D printing market, including the acquisition of start-up Vader Systems.

Chief technology officer Steve Hoover made the announcement on Friday 8 February at an investor day when the firm provided more details on Project Own It, its plans to improve efficiency and return to growth.

The new digital printing technology, which is aimed at the packaging market, is claimed to dramatically cut costs and widen substrate latitude over current inkjet- and toner-based processes.

“Brands want digitally printed packaging but the materials – the inks and toners – are too expensive and packaging materials, especially foils and films, are hard to print onto,” said Hoover.

“We’re working on a new printing technology that is not inkjet or laser-based electrophotography, as those techniques aren’t compatible with the ability to produce low cost print on those materials. This is a new-to-the-world technology.”

Prototypes at Xerox Parc are producing samples “in volume” and it has been shown under non-disclosure to end-users and partners in the packaging market. Hoover said the company still had key technology milestones to reach and was not ready to announce products or a launch date. He added that it had defined early stage partners to bring the technology to market using a new 'Powered by Xerox' model.

The new process is part of the firm’s aim to widen the addressable market for digital printing of packaging from the current circa $5bn (£3.9bn) with existing technologies to the whole $45bn packaging printing market.

The imaging giant plans to move 3D printing (3DP) beyond prototyping to production by leveraging its core skills in print technology and workflow to simplify the process, widen the materials that can be printed and to slash production costs.

According to the firm the 3D printing market is worth $8bn and growing at 25% year-on-year.

“3D printing has gone through the classic hype cycle, including the mistaken idea that the future lay in consumerisation, with everyone having a 3D printer at home,” said Hoover.

“Most 3D printing now is for prototyping rather than short run and low volume production. Currently the technology is too slow - taking days - and is unreliable, the cost of the materials is too high, the range of materials is too low - you just can’t 3D print with the materials end users need - and the workflow isn’t there.”

“Our core competences in high-speed printing, material design and digital workflow are a great platform to solve those problems. Today the workflow is just not there; we invented what you see is what you get (WYSIWYG) for the documents market and now we see the same problem in 3D printing of ensuring that the output matches the design.”

Vader Systems is a five-strong “pre-revenue start-up” based in Amherst, upstate New York that has developed a process called Magnetojet, which enables drop-on-demand production using molten metal.

“Today 3D printing of metals uses powders, which are very expensive and you can’t use the materials automotive and aerospace manufacturers want,” said Hoover. “We are very excited, this can deliver parts using materials manufacturers want and that cost 1/10 that of currently available. Those are the kind of things that can take 3DP into manufacturing.”

He added that Xerox was also working on technology to speed up plastic 3DP by a factor of 10.

“2019 is about getting the technologies through key milestones, with customer testing in 2020 and moving into growth beyond that.”