Digitally Enabled Industrial Printing Opens Up New Opportunities
Industrial printing can be defined as printing performed as part of a manufacturing process, depositing ink (or some other substance, such as conductive materials for printed electronics) onto a surface or finished product for functional and/or decorative purposes. It may seem like industrial print is a million miles removed from commercial print, but it turns out that — like so many lines these days — the line between industrial and commercial is blurring. And it should be no surprise that it is largely due to the exponential growth of digital printing.
“You’re seeing digital print used as a replacement for analog processes, but you’re also seeing digital print opening up new opportunities that you couldn’t do with analog,” says Steve Hatkevich, Director of Research and Development at American Trim and head of SGIA’s (Booth 2245)Industrial Printing Committee.
At the same time, companies are combining digital and analog printing processes to create entirely new products, or create products more cost-effectively than had previously been the case.
Analog technologies — such as offset, screen or pad printing — are “contact” printing technology in that they print by making direct contact with the substrate. Because digital printing technologies are non-contact (i.e., shooting droplets of ink at a surface), the process then becomes generally substrate-agnostic, after accounting for ink/surface compatibility which affects adhesion. This substrate flexibility also translates into flexibility for PSPs. “That opens up all sorts of opportunities, either new markets or more vertical integration in an existing facility,” says Hatkevich. “An increase in vertical integration allows you to increase the delivery time of a new product into the marketplace — ‘first to market’ is going to be crucial as we go forward.”
The potential exists for commercial or wide-format printers to morph into industrial printers (or even vice versa). “As digital emerges, division lines between the different marketplaces start to erode,” says Hatkevich.
The SGIA Expo offers an excellent opportunity for printers to evaluate the new opportunities in industrial printing. “The show gives you a good opportunity to benchmark where you are vs. the rest of the industry,” he says. “It also gives you an opportunity to look for evolutionary developments on your existing products, or something revolutionary that would be entirely different.”
Just as the commercial and industrial spaces are beginning to merge, so, too, will different industries. “Take electronics on textiles,” says Hatkevich. “Does that go to a textile printer or to a printed electronics manufacturer? Probably both.”
Then there is the emerging flexible display market. “My suspicion is you’re going to find some partnerships evolve in the future that 10 years ago you’d say, ‘Why are they doing that? They’re diametrically opposed,’” he adds.
“The SGIA Expo is a great place to see and develop those kinds of relationships.”