Industrial Printing — But Not Printing On an Industrial Scale
While “industrial printing” is a very broad topic that can include a multitude of applications, one component of it is printing done as part of a manufacturing process. This has led many players in the printing industry into entirely new areas — often very far afield of the kind of printing they are used to.
“We had the capability and engineering where we could make some modifications to our equipment, especially on the feeding system, to print on garage doors,” says Larry D’Amico, Sales Director-North America, at Durst Image Technology (Booth 1945). “The veneer on cabinetry is another popular application. We have seen people using the Tau for wood borders. We’re also developing some products for the luxury vinyl floor tile market.” (The Tau is Durst’s digital label and packaging press series.)
The ability to print on virtually any surface — digitally, and in short runs — is helping to create new applications, especially in areas like home décor — and not just wallcoverings and the sorts of things you are starting to find in the places where commercial and wide-format printing meet.
Take ceramic tiles. If you have been to a home improvement store lately you know there is no shortage of ceramic tile-based décor options. And a lot of the time, you may not even know at first glance that the material is actually ceramic. “Wood” flooring, for example, can actually be ceramic with wood grain and texture printed on it. Durst offers the Gamma series of ceramic tile printers, and in 2012, EFI (Booth 1501) acquired Cretaprint, a Castellón, Spain-based manufacturer of inkjet printers that print on ceramic tiles, and the Cretaprint line has been growing ever since. So, more and more digital tiles are being printed digitally.
So, we can digitally print on anything, and the demand for those things is growing.
However, while these opportunities do exist, we need to be cautious is perceiving them as immediately actionable, because when it comes to industrial printing, there is often a whole ecosystem or manufacturing process involved that the average print service provider may not even be aware of. Think about those ceramic tiles. At present, the ceramic tile printing process — analog or digital — is integrated with the manufacturing of the tiles themselves. Raw clay is shaped into a tile, dried in a kiln, then printed and put back into the kiln. How many print shops have the space for a kiln?
Then take printed electronics, another industrial printing application that is not without opportunities, especially with digital printing. Printing electronics is more than just buying a new piece of equipment, some conductive inks and off you go. There is a lot of highly detailed scientific and engineering knowledge needed to even start to think about adding those capabilities.
Even something as seemingly commercial printer-friendly as packaging is not without its challenges. Take corrugated, a hot application, with new digital production equipment emerging regularly. “If someone wakes up in the morning and decides, ‘OK, I’m going to be in the packaging market,’ that’s not as easy as it seems,” says D’Amico. “It’s straightforward to put a piece of corrugate on wide-format equipment and create a box, but there are so many other aspects to getting into that market.”
That said, a lot of the new opportunities in what we call industrial printing don’t have to necessarily be traditional industrial printing. In fact, it may just be commercial printing using unique substrates. The average printer can do ceramic tile printing without “getting into the ceramic tile market” simply by using a UV flatbed and a post-coating, or even a dye-sublimation printer. These can be short-run promotional items for business customers, or even custom printed tiles for DIY homeowners adding a custom tile backsplash to their kitchen. It’s industrial printing, but not printing on an industrial scale.
When pursuing these new kinds of opportunities, it pays to start close to home. “I always find that customers are looking for new applications,” says D’Amico. “So they should focus on the things that their current customers can utilize rather than going out and finding a whole new market with all new customers. Leverage that relationship and expand into applications they’re not doing today.”