Industrial Printing Market: Fueling New Opportunities for Output Providers
One of the fastest growing sectors in digital printing today is the industrial printing market. Research firm Smithers Pira currently sizes up this market at about $75 billion globally, with a projected average CAGR of 8.3% to 2022 when the market will total $123 billion.
The industrial market encompasses the packaging arena, home décor and laminates as well as ceramics, textiles and glass where the design is a key factor in the product. Additionally, it is utilized in a much wider array of processes, including promotional item decoration as well as application components for aerospace and automotive, printed electronics, biomedical and 3D printed products.
Tom Molamphy, Business Development Manager — Industrial Inkjet, Agfa Graphics North America, said the industrial printing market today can be best described as a collection of many distinct sub-markets. “Clearly the advances in digital print technology — primarily printheads, fluids and drying technology — are having a significant impact on the development of industrial print technology. To some degree this is still in the early stages and although we see significant applications for digital printing already, I think there is much more to come.”
He pointed out that printhead technology continues to advance and probably has the most significant effect for both single-pass and multi-pass (wide-format) applications. “For single-pass, the development of larger, scalable and more cost-effective printheads is helping to make the possibility of single-pass inkjet more of a reality for industrial applications. Developing ink capabilities that match these printhead capabilities while providing the color and physical characteristics that are required for the application — and in many cases, tuning to the needs of the specific substrates, that can vary widely — has been key.”
He added that UV-curable formulations have played a large part in this development. “For food- and pharma-related packaging, there has been significant development in low migration UV-curable ink sets. For UV curing, the continued development of UV-LED curing has allowed UV-curable applications to grow in areas where the size and heat generation of traditional lamp systems were a negative.”
Smaller Print Businesses Entering the Market
Josh Hope, Senior Manager, 3D Printing & Engineering Projects Business Development & Marketing, Mimaki USA, pointed out that recent developments in technology have allowed smaller-sized shops to enter this market. “Technologies that were only available to large, highly capitalized manufacturers or customers in the past have now been scaled down to the point where they are accessible to smaller companies. UV flatbed printers are a great example of this, with industrial grade machines starting at just under $20,000.”
He said often it’s not a single technology, but a combination of complementary technologies or processes that are driving this market. “Customers combining UV flatbed printers with laser cutters or computer numerical control (CNC) machines for making jigs and other printing fixtures is a good example. Plasma treating is also becoming a more common process for improving adhesion on problematic substrates.”
Customization Offers Variety of Products and Applications
Hope stated that late-stage customization is one of the most impactful processes in industrial printing today. “The ability to keep stock in a generic state until orders are placed is key in competing with larger companies. This can be done on a wide range of products and applications.”
He added that 3D is also an emerging technology that is already impacting many markets. “There is a wide range of materials that can be used for additive manufacturing in both the prototyping and functional arenas. The ability to hold a prototype in your hand that has the same physical properties as the final product is very powerful — especially when you add in the ability to produce the prototype in full color. This gives both tactile and visual feedback to the designer that cannot be done from a screen rendering.”
M&R Offers a Wide Selection of Print Options
With all these new print applications available, many manufacturers are expanding their product lines for wide- and small-format printing.
The M&R Companies is the world’s largest manufacturer of digital and screen printing equipment. Their products include a wide range of textile and graphic presses and dryers, an extensive line of traditional and CTS exposure systems, and an impressive line of finishing equipment. M&R’s Novus Imaging Division makes the industry’s most innovative, technologically advanced and affordable large-format flatbed and roll-to-roll digital printing equipment.
The company is known worldwide for its wide range of patented innovations, working with companies to design custom industrial solutions to vexing problems. M&R manufactures more than 100 distinct types of equipment and hundreds of product models to address the myriad needs of the industry. Saturn Platinum II and the Textura 1800 are two in their lineup.
Brad Snell, Product Manager, M&R, said that the company’s Saturn Platinum II flatbed graphics press sets the standard for high tolerance printing in an industrial compact press, with a level of control and quality normally found only in large, expensive presses. “It’s ideal for applications where absolute precision is critical, delivering exceptional results on circuit boards, nameplates, panels, backlit graphics, flexible membrane switches, glass, ceramics and four-color halftone printing.”
Kevin Currier, Product Manager, Novus Imaging, an M&R Company, added that the Textura 1800 large-format automatic dye sublimation printer is the newest printer in the Novus line. “It’s designed for unattended roll-to-roll highspeed transfer dye sublimation printing in four-color CYMK and true grayscale at resolutions up to 1200 dpi. It’s capable of printing substrates 1.8 meters wide at high-productivity speeds up to 140 square meters per hour and at sustained production speeds up to 120 square meters per hour,” he explained.
Advances in Materials Help Push the Envelope
David Haas, General Manager, Proell Inc., feels that new technological advances in materials have allowed original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to push their required specifications higher. “As a result, current standards will no longer be suitable. This will provide the challenge to all manufacturers to have a flexible research and development department with the capabilities to provide timely, customized solutions.”
He pointed out, for example that in the field of industrial screen printing inks, emerging technologies are looking to combine function with design. “These functions include resistance to scratches, abrasions and chemicals, as well as inks that are self-healing and self-cleaning. As an ink manufacturer, we support the function within the OEM’s design.
New high-quality surfaces in automotive interior parts (one of Proell’s core competencies) are being combined with genuine materials, such as wood and stone, as well as with images optimized by four-color process screen printing.”
Haas added that as an active player within the in-mold decorating/film insert molding (IMD/FIM) market, they are always experiencing new trends. Some of which are significantly larger panels, displays and decorative trim parts incorporating secret-until-lit designs, and the integration of printed electronics.
He reported that other areas, including automotive interiors, white goods and sporting goods markets, will see many IMD/FIM parts utilizing second surface printing (back side) of a clear film (e.g., PC or PET).
“Injection molding directly against the screen printed ink creates indestructible graphics for the life of the part due to the ink residing between the film and injection molding resin. It is becoming evident that thin glass screen printing requests will soon dominate the market. Although glass substrates are currently dominating smart phone applications, they will penetrate other markets, especially interior automotive.”
Haas explained that the real challenge in modern applications continues to be the combination of function and design of the final product. “This challenge is often times taken a step further by involving further processes such as formability, injection molding and a reliable combination of conductive and non-conductive areas within the parts.”
He added that 3D output and prototyping in general will be highly important in the future. “Using this [will potentially lessen] the layout and design time as well as costs at an early stage of a project.”
Technology Changing the Market
“It’s quite clear that technology is playing a huge role changing the landscape of the industrial printing market,” noted Brent Moncrief, Vice President, Strategic Marketing & Brand Management, Fujifilm North America Corporation.
He said that historically, membrane switch graphic overlay (MSGO) printers, and other industrial printers, have used screen printing solutions to manufacture long runs of printed overlays. But that is changing.
He explained that screen printing provided many advantages, including specially formulated inks to adhere to substrates and meet actuation performance criteria. “Screen printing inks were uniquely formulated for durability with properties such as lightfastness and physical adhesion tailored to the specific application of the finished print. These inks are also formulated to be highly flexible, which means prints can withstand an impressive number of actuations.”
Moncrief said that many printed overlay jobs require eight or more colors, with each color requiring a separate screen. “There are extensive pre-press processes involved with screen printing, so typically lead time to deliver jobs is long. Many MSGOs require reprints and variations. Samples often need to be created to win more business. Unfortunately, screen printing has limitations when trying to balance customer expectations for short runs, reprints and samples. For example, the setup involved in preparing screens for a sample was labor-intensive, and producing short runs was not cost effective. In addition, tying up screen presses with short runs, reprints or samples would mean the screen equipment couldn’t be used on longer run, more profitable jobs.
Enter inkjet technology. Inkjet technology is now so advanced, and the quality so impressive, that it is providing industrial printers the ability to respond to demands for short runs, reprints and samples. UV inkjet is a fast-growing technology, set to dominate many markets — and gain a strong foothold in MSGO production — with its incredible productivity, quality and versatility.”
He stated that UV inkjet is emerging in this area due to key features delivered by properly formulated UV inkjet inks. “UV inks specifically formulated for industrial applications deliver a wide color gamut for vibrant visual appeal and impact. UV inks also jet reliably, printing high-quality work for long periods with minimal intervention. These inks are durable and flexible so overlays can be produced to withstand an impressive number of actuations. (That actuation level can be further enhanced with the addition of a screen white.) Finally, UV inks deliver efficient and cost-effective production, providing high-quality prints at a reasonable cost.”
Inkjet Solutions from Fujifilm
Moncrief said that Fujifilm is focused on providing both screen and inkjet solutions for the production of graphic overlays for many end use markets such as automotive, appliances and control panels.
“Fujifilm is helping graphic overlay printers to adopt UV inkjet equipment and inks for the production of short runs, reprints and samples. Inkjet systems are making a difference for graphic overlay printers by providing a high-quality and high-performance print that meets the needs of their clients with a cost-effective solution for short runs, reprints and samples. Unlike screen printing, inkjet can create complex graphics such as gradients and photographic images.” He pointed out that this expands the possibilities for customers. “It takes very little labor to set an inkjet printer to run and a roll-fed machine can print a job entirely unattended, so labor costs are reduced. Inkjet produces less chemical and material waste while also reducing water and energy consumption.” For example, Moncrief said one of their end users, Elitronik, now prints all of their membrane switch graphic overlays with a Fujifilm Acuity LED 1600. Powered by Fujifilm’s leading printhead and ink technologies, the Acuity LED 1600 utilizes LED UV lamps that use a fraction of the energy of conventional curing systems, produce very little heat, and are compatible with most graphic overlay films. “Since switching entirely to inkjet, shifts have been cut from three shifts to one. Production time for a typical job has reduced from 7–10 days to less than three days. Samples, short runs and reprints are no problem in terms of color matching, and we are taking on more jobs from existing clients,” a spokesperson for Elitronik reported.
Flexible Products from Memcon
Another company in this area is Memcon, a global supplier to the membrane switch and flexible technology industry.
Over the last six years, Memcon has grown to be a multi-national business with facilities in Stevensville, Michigan; Hong Kong; Shenzhen, China; and Letchworth, England.
As a leading supplier, the company diversified its product range from electromechanical technology used in an extensive range of connectors and metal domes, to the latest in Opto technology to bring to the market one of the world’s thinnest LEDs in a 1206 chip package. The company’s adhesive range also continues to develop with its latest introduction being the Double Thickness Laminated Spacers.
Shops Taking Printers to New Heights
Dan Johansen, Marketing Manager, Wide-Format Solutions at Ricoh USA’s Commercial & Industrial Printing Business Group said vendors are putting out flexible, powerful engines and printheads, and users are finding exciting new ways to use them, pushing the industry forward. “In turn, that’s pushing manufacturers to build on that innovation and find ways to facilitate those use cases. For example, shops with ‘normal’ wide-format UV printers started using them for custom flooring, rigid wall coverings and furniture. At Ricoh, we saw this happening and realized we could make equipment that would help out. That inspired us to design and release the Ricoh Pro T7210 flatbed printer, which is targeted at the décor market with a feature set that helps accommodate the unique substrates and applications that market segment produces.”
Customers are getting increasingly more creative, he added. “We’re seeing people use our printheads in ways far beyond their originally intended use to great effect. That includes expansion in the direct-to-garment (DTG) space, among other unique needs, where customers are able to mix and match flexible, powerful equipment for innovative new methods and applications.”
Johansen said going forward they look to maintain an ongoing dialogue with customers so they can see how the industry is developing and accommodate new and shifting needs.
“The Ricoh Pro T7210 flatbed is a great example of a device where we are taking our technology and adapting it for new markets and applications. We’re seeing similar evolutions and innovations from OEMs that use our printheads. They are also looking for ways to develop new print engines to satisfy the diverse and growing needs of trailblazing end users — or they’re trying to blaze trails themselves. As new technologies have developed, it has become easier and more affordable to produce broader varieties of applications. It’s an incredibly exciting time for print, in wide- and small-format,” he concluded.
Applications Abound from Agfa
Agfa’s Molamphy is seeing a wider range of applications and services being offered by their customers.
“On the product decoration side, we are seeing the development in many applications for packaging (label printing, folding carton, etc.), plus decoration printing for home goods (flooring, furniture panels, wall panels, doors, blinds, etc.).
In addition, there is a growing market for what can best be described as direct product decoration from simpler one-color coding/marketing to multi-color applications for mass-customization and personalization of things like promotional items (cups, glasses, bottles, etc.).”
They also see development of systems for textiles for industrial and consumer markets, he added.
“There are many potential applications in automotive. The challenge — especially for the developers of fluids and inks — is that many of these applications require specific development because of the physical and other characteristics required. Also challenging are the very wide range of substrates and operating conditions that have a major effect on the selection of suitable formulations.”
The company offers the Jeti Tauro LED, a robust hybrid UV inkjet printer with an integrated roll-to-roll system. The Jeti Tauro LED features continuous and automated feeding of rigid and flexible media. “Its possibilities for high-end sign, display printing and industrial are endless,” said Molamphy.
The UV LED curing unit prints up to 2.54 meters wide at speeds up to 275 square meters per hour, with countless applications.
End Users Getting More Creative
Mimaki’s Hope added they are seeing end users’ abilities to do more with existing equipment as a trend, particularly in flatbed printing, driven by a variety of ink colors and ink types. “At Mimaki, all our flatbed printers use UV ink and a UV-LED curing technology. New advances in UV-curable technologies have increased their demand recently, and new applications where UV has become more popular are driving interest.”
He pointed out that UV ink that is flexible enough to use in a thermoforming process to create dimensional signage is interesting. “This opens up a whole new niche for advertising as well as industrial applications. It also enables low cost prototyping that can show both design and form. Mimaki offers LUS-350 UV inks that can achieve up to 350% elongation for thermoforming applications.”
The company also provides printing platforms that can be used in conjunction with other complementary technologies — laser, CNC, sewing, etc. to create open environments that are both powerful and flexible. Hope said, “This enables customers to address dynamic markets that may have very short windows of opportunity, and still be competitive with larger companies.”
Seattle Shop Scores with Mimaki Flatbeds
One of the company’s customers is iClick, an award-winning promotional products decorator and supplier. Hope pointed out that fast, quality imprinting has been a core component in iClick’s evolution, previously with single- or multi-color pad printing.
In 2011, iClick added a Mimaki UJF-3042 tabletop flatbed printer, and more Mimaki flatbeds — including a JFX200- 2513 model — quickly followed. The company imports many of its already-assembled products from overseas, and the final personalization is done in its Seattle facility.
“A variety of substrates are hard to print full-color on,” explained iClick’s Warehouse Engineer, Dan Kaufman. “So, if you’re able to offer that on an item that another company can’t, you’re ahead of the game. That’s definitely true for battery packs, where we’ve managed to print full color using our Mimaki machines instead of offering laser or pad printing, and we’ve seen a noticeable increase in sales. And the Mimaki printer’s speed allows for a higher pass count, which translates to finer lines and a better image,” Kaufman concluded.