Japan Inkjet Business Conference Pt 2

In the first part of this story I covered those presentations that dealt with practical issues from printheads to pumps. But there was also a more philosophical side to some of the presentations, which helped to give the conference a more rounded feel.

Steve Knight, co-founder of the IJC, and director of Datapath Solutions, addressing the JIBC.

Steve Knight, co-founder of the IJC and director of Datapath Solutions, talked about the importance of communicating between the different disciples within the inkjet community. He described some of the issues facing inkjet systems developers, saying that “We are dealing with a data requirement that other industries don’t have” and adding: “Traditional print uses high viscosity fluids that stay where we put them but with inkjet we want low viscosity fluids.”

He continued: “Inkjet is not one technology, it’s a collection. If you do change one part of the mix it puts the whole solution out. We need to understand every element and how they interact. We need to understand how the waveform affects the jetting. And that means that we have to look at the rheology of the ink. There is a challenge communicating because of the different vocabulary of the different scientific disciplines.”

He added: “We have to understand the milling process to create a stable dispersion…We have to know the parameters of the different fluids and we have to understand how to commission an ink for sampling.”

Knight described how there are many clusters of specific technologies, such as in Cambridge or in Israel, and how important it is for everybody involved in all the different elements of the inkjet world to meet up and to interact with each other. He said: “You can talk by phone but it’s important to meet face to face. You cannot be an expert in every level.”

Thomas Poetz, textile division manager at Esma

Thomas Poetz, textile division manager at Esma, gave a fascinating talk about textile printing in the context of sustainability. He pointed out that digital printing consumes on average around a third of the amount of water used in analogue textile production processes, saying: “We have only one Earth. We have the opportunity to do things differently.” However, he added that some digital inkjet is more sustainable than others and that pigment and sublimation inks generally allow energy savings without using waste water. Interestingly, he also said that it was best to replace conventional dyeing with digital dyeing, which not only uses less water but also makes production easier because it’s possible to change colours on the fly. 

He concluded that simply developing digital printing technology alone is not enough as it will also take changes to business structures before the textile world really embraces digital production. That would mean decentralising the production with micro factories that can produce textiles closer to the point of demand, although linked through the Internet to centralise things such as colour management. That in turn means transporting data rather than products.

Yoshinori Domae, academic associate and scientific officer for iPrint Institute, started off his presentation by saying: “I don’t like money because I don’t want to think about how many people were sacrificed.” IPrint is a Swiss institute that aims to advance inkjet printing technology, and has developed a number of printers as well as material deposition processes. It mostly focuses on commercial printing but has also worked on printed electronics, bio-printing and additive manufacturing.

Domae continued: “I always like unique ideas so I will come up with various ideas. I came up with new ideas about head development and I wanted to deliver that.” He described how his career had involved working with EFI on ceramic and corrugated printers and how he now works for iPrint “because I think they are doing some interesting work.”

He talked about his work in ceramics – the Seiko heads he helped develop are used in EFI’s Cretaprint ceramic printers – noting that tiles are a building material with both a function and a design, saying: “So when we look at a building we can care about the tiles.” He pointed out that inkjet can do things that just can’t easily be done with analog production, such as adding textured surfaces like a stone effect. 

He added that in industrial applications the printing is part of a manufacturing process and you have to fully understand what that process is and what inkjet can and can’t do. 

Kazuya Yamashita, director at Tokyo Ink Europe Speciality Chemicals.

Kazuya Yamashita, director at Tokyo Ink Europe Speciality Chemicals, talked mainly about the problem of metamerism though he began by pointing out that Toyo has the ability to create its own pigments. He noted that the price of pigments went up by 5 percent last year because of shortages in supplies that were largely due to problems in Chinese factories, adding: “So developing our own raw materials gives us more security.” He pointed out that pigments can be contaminated with various impurities that can cause a customer to stop production or can block printheads so Toyo also wants to manage this.

He pointed out the advantages of digital in reduced downtime, faster time to market and shorter runs as well as the designs no longer being limited by the size of the cylinder for repeats. 

He said that the use of water-based inks is growing rapidly and that customer expectations to remove stitching and banding and to deal with missing nozzles and deviations between heads have all mostly been met but that there is still a challenge with metamerism, which is where different materials display different colours under some light sources, which in turn makes it difficult to have hybrid solutions. 

An example of this would be a wood panel where either the panel or edging have been printed with inkjet so that under some light sources they are noticeably different colours from the gravure printed area. He said: “The myth in the industry is that metamerism happens because you don’t use the same pigment.” The main issue is with the magenta so Toyo switched to red with a CRYK inkset and used a gravure ink, which was close but not perfect. 

Yamashita explained that part of the problem is that the gravure inks are specifically mixed for the desired colour while inkjet uses halftone colours mixed from process inks. So to counter this Toyo then mixed complementary colours in and this resolved the issue in 95 percent of cases. 

Simon Wang, CEO of Inkbank

Sticking with the ink theme, Simon Wang, CEO of the Chinese ink manufacturer InkBank, talked about how the market for inkjet looks from a Chinese perspective. InkBank, which is based in Shenzhen, produced around 9000 tons of ink last year, and is currently building a new factory in Nantong that should be able to produce 50,000 tons per year.  He noted that the trend toward digitally-printed textiles was now unstoppable, driven by government regulation and the need for a more sustainable solution. He also said that tighter government regulations are shifting the graphic arts market away from solvent to UV inks, much as has happened in Europe and the US. 

EFI was one of the early pioneers in high volume industrial printing through its Cretaprint range of ceramic printers. Bob Miller, global commercial sales director for EFI, took us through some of this story, and why the ceramic industry was so quick to adopt digital printing – namely down to offering better graphic definition and new design possibilities as well as the option to print to rough surfaces with better colour consistency between batches, all of which made life easier for the tile producers. 

But Miller also reminded us that the digital revolution really dates back to the introduction of Apple’s Macintosh SE, which not only kickstarted the DeskTop Publishing revolution but also gave designers in many graphics and industrial fields a lot more freedom, which inevitably led to the demand to output those designs. 

Naturally, this took us to the Nozomi, named after the express shinkansen bullet trains that make high speed train travel around Japan so easy. EFI has now installed some 30 of these presses, printing primarily to corrugated. 

Makoto Aruga, managing director of Digital Image Group, and Landa’s distributor in Japan, gave us an overview of Landa’s progress so far. There are currently seven of the single-sided sheetfed S10 presses installed, with a further three double-sided S10P machines, including one at Bluetree in the UK. By Drupa, Landa is expecting to have installed a further three S10s and two S10Ps. Meanwhile the web-fed W10 is currently in beta, with Landa still testing the water-based primer that it will need to print to flexible films and the white ink which Aruga pointed out is difficult to do in digital so that the beta unit is fitted with flexo units for this. It should be interesting to see how much progress Landa has made at Drupa.

Ivy Hall, Aoyama, venue for the Japan Inkjet Business Conference

In conclusion, I was struck by just how many speakers referenced each other’s presentations to underline their points, demonstrating how interconnected all the different aspects of inkjet technology are. And, of course, it is also an international business with speakers from Japan, Britain, Germany and the US. But although all the people attending come from different countries and disciplines, it is clear to me reading back through my notes that we are all part of one community and perhaps that is why this conference appeared to be so well-received.

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