The graphic arts have become increasingly industrialised over the last five to ten years, as standardisation has taken much of the craft aspect out of the business. So it’s hardly surprising that many equipment vendors are now looking for opportunities in manufacturing industries. But what are those opportunities, and what exactly is industrial printing?
Predictably, there’s no easy answer, making the InPrint show simultaneously one of the most difficult and most interesting shows I’ve covered this year. There’s a certain amount of kit dotted around the stands but not much in the way of new printers. So there’s no obvious new machine to grab the headlines, which would have made for a much easier story to write.
Instead, most vendors are here to talk about their capabilities, while most of the visitors seem to be machine integrators with a handful of brand owners, many already with ideas as to how to use this technology in their own areas.
Graham Kennedy, Ricoh Europe’s business development manager for industrial print, says that the market has become quite mature, noting: “More and more what we hear is about the integration of inkjet technology into manufacturing process and that’s where we can have a lot of value.” He added: “We understand that if print is to be integrated then customers don’t necessarily want to change their processes.” But he also pointed out that there has to be a reason for integrating inkjet and more often than not it will be adding value to the top line.
It’s a theme echoed by Andreas Unterweger, managing director of Durst Industrial Inkjet Application, who says: “Our customers are asking for a higher variety of products and consequently they decide to step into digital inkjet printing and can reduce costs like storing of semi-finished products and of things like screens. And the reaction time is very important.”
Heidelberg was one of the few vendors to show off new kit, demonstrating the Jetmaster Dimension, mainly by printing a thin swathe on footballs. I’m not sure that football is the best ambassador for any kind of printing these days given the FIFA scandal, though Heidelberg has managed to sell the show machine to BVD Druck und Verlag in Lichenstein. The machine itself will print to spherical or cylindrical objects, with a diameter of 10 to 300mm. It’s a four colour process, with 360dpi resolution, using Xaar 1002 printheads.
Most of the other print machinery here seems to be designed for printing short runs direct to bottles, cans or aerosols. That said, Mimaki has demonstrated a wide format flatbed printer, the JFX200, while Zund has brought one of its S-series cutting tables.
I’ll write a follow-up with more details once I’ve had a chance to go through the many pages of shorthand notes I’ve accumulated here. But for now it’s almost time to head for the airport.