The age of industrial printing?

Durst Rho 512R.What can we learn from last week’s Inprint show?

I have to admit upfront that I couldn’t make it to the show – too many other commitments. But the idea of using inkjet technology for industrial manufacturing greatly interests me. I remember back 10 years ago or so that when interviewing people working for companies like Dimatix about their inkjet technology they were always very careful to make a distinction between printing and fluid deposition, which basically means everything else. My interest was in printing but it was already obvious that it was the fluid deposition that represented the biggest opportunity to the printhead manufacturers, and also that it was the most interesting area because of the sheer range of applications.

According to IT Strategies, the existing market for digital industrial print is estimated to be worth $3.8 billion and predicted to grow to $21.6 billion over the next 10 years suggesting a very significant opportunity for digital adoption.

Much of this is based on the inks used, with industrial applications often proving more challenging than graphic arts because of the range of materials being printed to, and the ambient conditions that many of those materials are subject to, such as high temperature pressure washing, or extreme outdoor weather. So not surprisingly, all the major ink vendors turned up at the show.

Thus Agfa demonstrated its industrial inkjet solutions for applications such as decor and laminate, printing on glass, appliances and objects that all impose specific characteristics on the ink and the printing system. Tom Cloots, Industrial Print Marketing Manager for Agfa Graphics says that the industrial sector is important for innovation and future growth, adding: “Our industry specific UV ink formulations are the cornerstone of our new business offering.”

SunJet, the inkjet division of Sun Chemical and DIC, showed its Revolution ink range, which has been developed for high adhesion and resistance and for direct decoration of 3D objects, such as brake-pads, phone covers, car instruments and home appliances. The Revolution range also includes inks specifically developed for direct printing of containers for FMCG in high volume manufacturing environments. These meet low migration and list compliance requirements for packaging and still allow the containers to be recycled.

The Kiian Group launched a new K-One ink, designed specifically for the Kyocera inkjet print head. It’s a sublimation ink designed for industrial digital textile production. It’s said to have vivid colours and to work with a range of different textiles without requiring any risk labelling. It builds on last year’s launch of the Digistar Gen-R for Ricoh printheads. Kiian also announced a new division, Kiian Speciality, at the InPrint show as part of an ongoing growth strategy to streamline production operations and ensure a clearer and faster route to market.

Xaar talked about its new 1002 printhead, which is still a mechanically manufactured head and will fit into the same mountings as the existing 1001 head so that users can upgrade easily with no change to waveforms, voltage settings or inks. But it’s been re-engineered from the ground up and now has a more even ink flow around the head, with Optimised Geometry nozzles for better image quality at higher speeds. Xaar has improved the drop placement accuracy and drop volume for smoother printing and it has a more consistent drop diameter, by up to 50 percent. Xaar also claims that it is twice as accurate in dropping the ink in the right place. It has a more robust connector and new seals. Pricing is said to be only slightly more expensive than the 1001.

Xaar has recently added a new version, the 1002AMp, designed specifically for advanced manufacturing applications. It can fire droplets as small as 1 pL, suitable for the production of fine features, patterns and coatings. It’s said to be suited to applications such as displays, PCB, semiconductors and photovoltaics.

Fujifilm showed off its Dimatix printheads, including the 1200 dpi Samba that is used in the JetPress 720. Fujifilm also showed the Merlin D2 modular inkjet print engine that has been developed for product decoration and material deposition applications. This can be supplied in different configurations enabling integration into existing production environments.

Inevitably many large format printers were also shown off. But companies such as Canon, Mimaki and Durst have already been selling printing solutions into industrial uses for some years now.

In amongst all the inkjet printing there were also some table cutters. Zund, for example, showed off an advanced modular G3 cutting system configured with an automated sheet-feeder for continuous and virtually unattended cutting of various sheet, board and roll materials. It also showed samples produced by its customers from various industries, including automotive, aeronautics, photovoltaic and medical as well as functional textiles. Zünd systems have also been used to cut tachometers, leather for seats and steering wheels, carbon fibre, honeycomb materials and airbags.

By all accounts the show was busy, with visitors from many different countries and industry sectors. I have no doubt that as more and more manufacturers investigate these sort of digital technologies, so the graphic arts will become just a small part of the market for inkjet heads and fluids.

Then again, print production is increasingly becoming a manufacturing process and many large format printers have quietly experimented with manufacturing a range of products, from display stands and packaging up to home furnishings. But perhaps the InPrint show marks the point at which this all becomes a mainstream activity.

 

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