This week we have two trade shows to choose between, Formnext in Frankfurt and InPrint in Munich, both interesting in their own right and ostensibly targeting different markets but both involving printing technology as a manufacturing process.
Formnext is nominally about 3D printing but it deals with the additive manufacturing end of 3D printing so it’s not the place to go if you’re mainly interested in printing plastic Star Trek characters. Instead Formnext tends to feature the bigger machines aimed at production such as the XJet Carmel, as well as new software, including Materialise’s new tools working with metal.
It was clear to me at last year’s Formnext that it’s no longer a question as to if manufacturers will take up 3D printing, more a matter of when. In this respect 3D printing is in exactly the same position that digital printing was in 15 years ago; the concept had proven itself but the economic argument limited it to high value short run commercial print jobs. Ongoing improvements to the technology coupled with changes in the way we buy print ensured that printers either adopted digital presses or went out of business. Additive manufacturing is not quite at that stage, but already many manufacturers have realised that it’s only a matter of time.
So at this year’s show we can also expect to hear news of more industrial users adopting additive manufacturing as the technology into use to spread into tooling and end parts production as well as more functional prototyping.
InPrint, on the other hand, is more obviously a printing show, with most exhibitors involved in inkjet in some form or another. This includes some printer manufacturers but also companies involved in manufacturing printheads and UV curing systems. More importantly, there will be a number of ink manufacturers, which is really the key to developing industrial print systems, as the inks have to adhere to a range of different surfaces and cope with varied ambient conditions as well as other factors such as washing.
There is some cross over with large format printing and several large format vendors are exhibiting, including Roland and Mimaki. We can also expect to see a number of small flatbed printers that are sometimes characterised as industrial printers because they tend to be used for decorating small products though there’s usually a limit to the degree of curvature they can handle.
Several companies will show off direct to object printers, including EPS and Tonejet, which have both developed machines that print to cylindrical objects. We can also expect to see some industrial garment printers, including direct to garment printers from Kornit as well as solutions for printing to furniture and flooring.
So I guess InPrint isn’t really like a printing show – it’s the same technology but is covering a much broader range of issues, which is what makes it interesting.
Just to complicate matters, there’s a third show this week – Productronica – which is about manufacturing solutions, but at least this is located next door to InPrint! Interestingly, I looked at Nano Dimensions’ Dragonfly Printer at last year’s Formnext, but this year Nano Dimensions has chosen to bring its new Dragonfly Pro to Productronica. This is really the next stage, as printing and 3D technology moves more fully into production.
Personally, I believe that more and more manufacturing lines will incorporate both 3D printing and industrial printing, and who knows, maybe even some graphics.