The middle of March is a time of year when researchers and technology evangelists from the printing world gather at the annual Technical Association of the Graphic Arts (TAGA) conference, held this year in Memphis, Tennessee. An unusual aspect of this year’s TAGA conference was that there were five keynote addresses, instead of the traditional four, addressing the future of technology.
The first keynote presented by Mike D’Angelo, Managing Director Americas for Goss International, focused on why offset printing remains today’s dominant printing process around the world. D’Angelo pointed to a key trends affecting the current print market, including: Many magazines are still being printed, the book market is stable, the newspaper decline has stopped, and packaging is a growth business.
Commercial printing seems to have turned a corner, according to D’Angelo, but there is no doubt the run lengths are shorter, less pages per job are printed, more localized versions are produced, and the use of automation has increased. Newspaper printing needs a new business model, according to D’Angelo, with smaller, more agile presses. This in turn will translate into printing localized content to help stabilize newspaper sectors.
The packaging market sees increased competition and more versions of the same product are being printed. Web offset printing also offers some price and speed advantages in comparison to sheetfed offset. Offset plates are cheaper to make than flexo plates and web offset printing offers a unique speed advantage, not only in press terms, but also in the number of times materials need to be handled and stored.
The second keynote was given by Liz Logue, Senior Director Corporate Business Development with EFI, speaking about printing on textiles and ceramics with inkjet technology. Logue stressed a little-known fact that 50 percent of ceramic tiles and 40 percent of display graphics are digitally printed. Digital textile printing is gaining traction and currently only five percent of all textiles are digitally printed.
Rotary screen printing is still the dominant print technology for textile printing. Inkjet inks are adapted for textile printing and fast fashion turnover provides digital-printing textile opportunities. New digital designs enable new profits. Increases in print speed and resolution for digital textile printing helps with the transition from conventional to digital print technologies. From an environmental standpoint, Logue explains digital printing is also less water polluting than conventional print methods.
The next keynote speaker was Kevin Berisso from the University of Memphis, who talked about The Internet of Things (IoT) and posed an intriguing question to the crowd by referencing The Terminator movie series: Are we building Skynet? In truth, Berisso was really asking what exactly is IoT, because there are now so many definitions out there about this critical movement in business processes.
Berisso explains IoT is based on physical devices that are networked, collect data and make automatic decisions. An IoT solution needs to combine hardware and software, has to interconnected, and must interact with its environment.
The fourth keynote was given by Janos Verres, Program Manager at Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), speaking about the next generation of Printed Electronics. First, Verres give a brief historical overview of PARC and some of the many innovations made there that are now part of everyday live, such as the Graphical User Interface, ethernet connection and laser printing.
Verres also talked about how energy will be democratized and why the future will be personalized. He explained how this future will be driven by smart devices, smart analytics and smart infrastructure. In the future, electronics will have any form, any shape and will reach new levels of complexity. Yet, they still need to be easy to fabricate using flexible printed and hybrid electronics. IoT will change from Internet of Things to Internet of Everything. This will lead to ubiquitous intelligence and computing. Printing technologies will help shape the Internet of Everything, with integrated printing platforms that will be part of multi-process printing workflows. Simple electronics will be printed with very small memory capacity, which will be printed.
The fifth keynote was given by Don Schroeder, Director of Solutions Development at Fujifilm North America, speaking about key trends in inkjet printing. The use of inkjet technology is growing fast based on new print heads even as more paper products must be adapted to work well with inkjet inks. Although the use of inkjet printing is growing, Schroeder explains it still is only 0.5 percent of global print production volume.
High-speed inkjet printing is gaining traction beyond its current primary use for transactional printing. Its main challenges remain paper quality, costs and availability, in addition to capital costs and printing speed. Inkjet presses have become more expensive and people shy away from the risk of buying a new, expensive inkjet press that might become superseded in two years time. The amortization period is too short.
Schroeder also pointed to inkjet printing benefits: Less set up time, less waste, quick turnaround, variable data printing, low volume reprints, less consumables and less maintenance. Inkjet printing also offers a larger gamut than offset printing, as it makes inroads into the packaging and label markets. Looking at folding cartons, for example, the new Heidelberg Primefire 106 will be shown at drupa 2016 running with Fujifilm’s inkjet technology, reaching speeds of 2,000 sheets per hour.
The remaining TAGA program outlined critical technology progress, including a presentation on expanded gamut printing and, importantly, asking what is the correct colour sequence of CMYK plus OGV (seven colours) to find the best combination to achieve maximum gamut.
Another presentation showed how the FOGRA 51 dataset and resulting ICC profile was put together before its public release. Other key topics printers should investigate included: Cross-media communications, PDF X/4, the influence of optical brighteners, new colour management tools for digital printing, shorter product cycles for packaging, print quality of 3D objects, printable films based on hemicellulose, inline direct-mail automation, on-press control of metallic inks using M3 measurement condition, CxF/X4, lamination for consumer packaging, spectral colour control, resistive gravure inks made with soy protein, print gloss, and how to extract capacitors out of recycled printed electronics.
TAGA once again delivered the message that innovation remains a key driver of the printing industry and that its proprietors must embrace change.
The following article by UK journalist Sean Smyth is part of the drupa Expert Article series to provide industry insight leading up to the drupa tradeshow running from May 31 to June 10, 2016, in Germany.
Parents know this refrain well “Are we there yet?” – just as they know the answer, “In a little while.” I spend my working life with printing technology and have heard this for many years. In the case of inkjet, it is a recurring theme. And while we are not there yet, we are getting much closer.
Approaching the destination
Some print providers have arrived. A great example is REAL Digital International based in South London. In 2004, the company was founded based on the belief that transactional and direct mail production could be improved using a flexible inkjet solution. They invested heavily in secure premises and powerful workflow with finishing systems to cut, fold, collate and insert almost anything.
REAL Digital invented 650-mm-wide high-quality colour duplex web inkjet printing by mounting a pair of single pass inkjet presses on a flexible transport system. Further, the company developed new paper coatings to reach acceptable quality for leading brands, printing personalized carriers, mailers and magazines. The business proved out the belief, winning multiple awards, including the PrintWeek Company of the Year, while inventing new business models as the marketplace matured. They identified inkjet’s potential and went for it, making good money in the process.
REAL Digital’s journey continues by upgrading to a pair of Screen Jet520 duplex lines in 2014, but is not stopping there. They continue to monitor the technology to see what the future holds.
“Inkjet technology provided the flexibility enabling us to deliver solutions that address latent customer demand and to drive new demand in areas where we have seen further opportunities,” David Laybourne, REAL Digital’s Managing Director, explains. “The technology continues to evolve, and inks are more flexible with increased colour gamut, reducing the need for special substrates whilst increasing productivity. As the ink manufacturers accept more viable pricing models, the proportion of the marketplace that inkjet solutions are able to address will only increase.”
Viable ink costs are key
Laybourne’s opinion about viable ink pricing models is informative. Ink cost makes medium to long runs with high ink coverage uneconomical in inkjet, as compared to analogue print. Suppliers want to maximize profit and this disconnect is holding back adoption of inkjet in commercial print, publishing and packaging applications.
Printers using analogue presses think the ink is too expensive. There are several supply models for equipment, service and consumables (mostly ink, but cleaning fluids and replacement heads must be considered). High value recurring consumable revenue is attractive to suppliers, but print service providers are not used to this. They buy a litho press and negotiate for plates, inks and support from the established supply base – although some press manufacturers are competing there. Costly ink is turning some potential customers away from inkjet.
Substrates also important
Another historical barrier to wider adoption of inkjet, especially for commercial printing applications, was the need to use specially treated papers and the inability to effectively print on glossy coated stocks. The latest generation of production inkjet presses is rapidly eroding those barriers.
“With the latest system introductions of the ImageStream, the reachable range of applications extends even further, due to the printability of offset coated material for matte, silk and glossy applications,” says Peter Wolff, Director of Commercial Printing Group Canon EMEA “With these new capabilities, additional applications like magazine printing, catalogue printing and others are now doable on inkjet with all the benefits in regards of individualization and customer targeted content without additional cost related to special inkjet treated papers.
“This offers commercial printers the opportunity to combine a broad range of applications on one digital press with productivity and quality equivalent to offset.”
Books leading the way
It is important to note that the costing of inkjet production is different from that of analogue print. It has lower prepress and set-up cost, but ink – and until recently, paper – is more expensive, often much more expensive. This means long run, high ink coverage inkjet is not cost effective, so there is little appetite for printers to change.
In book production, however, there are advantages in combining inkjet with in-line finishing, delivering finished blocks ready for cover application and final trimming. This is particularly true for monochrome books. Publishers and book printers have gone beyond just comparing print costs to considering the total cost of manufacturing, since inkjet can deliver folded, collated and glued blocks for a simple cover application and final trim for books in any format or pagination with minimal waste. The flexibility of inkjet allows book production to be re-engineered with overall cost and service advantages, enabling book publishers to reduce their stocks and their publishing risk. Colour books are quickly following the mono lead.
For other products, the benefits of changing manufacturing processes to inkjet are not so clear yet. Well-established analogue methods are meticulously honed to minimize cost while delivering high quality. This will change as more companies install inkjet equipment, learn the capabilities and exploit new opportunities. New inkjet equipment will provide higher return on investment for many print products.
Production inkjet: a growth opportunity
In 2015, there are many inkjet early adopters and profitable users. Ricoh is at the forefront of quality with the high speed Pro VC60000 press launched in 2014. It has several early adopters, including HansaPrint in Finland, a €70m turnover firm specializing in retail and publishing.
“Prior to experiencing the Ricoh Pro VC60000, I did not believe that there would be a major shift from offset printing to inkjet. But the new press has changed my mind,” says Jukka Saariluoma, HansaPrint Business Unit Director. “Our clients are very excited by the new level in quality and the increased flexibility offered and are moving significant amounts of their work from offset to inkjet.”
The print world is certainly changing. All the key analyst organizations predict very high growth continuing for inkjet print volumes and values. Smithers Pira forecasts that the value of inkjet printing output for graphics and packaging more than trebles over 10 years, from €23 billion in 2010 to more than €70 billion in 2020 (in current values), with CAGR forecast of 12.7 percent between 2015 to 2020.
HP alone reports that its customers have produced more than 100-billion inkjet pages since its first installation of a production inkjet press in 2009, a clear indicator of overall market trends, with other inkjet press manufacturers reporting rapidly growing volumes as well.
Beyond traditional print
The applications for inkjet are many. There is coding and marking, addressing, security numbering and coding, photo-printing, wide-format (sheet, roll-fed and hybrid), flatbed imprinting systems, narrow web, tube and irregular shapes, high-speed wide web and sheetfed, to name a few. Outside of traditional printing and graphics, inkjet has revolutionized ceramic tile printing and it is growing very strongly in textiles and other industrial decoration applications – from pens and memory sticks to architectural glass and laminated decor.
“Inkjet has become the preferred decoration process for ceramics and other decorative materials,” explains Jon Harper Smith, Fujifilm Specialty Ink Systems Business Development Manager.
Thus, inkjet offers opportunities for expansion into related areas that may not normally be considered by traditional print providers. “Not too long ago, inkjet was praised as an alternative to conventional systems for its ability to offer single-off sheets, short runs and personalized prints. In the meanwhile, the technology is challenged to offer higher speeds and higher volumes to replace some of the conventional systems,” says Paul Adriaensen, Agfa Graphics PR Manager. “But the technology is also introduced in new areas never related to the printing industry before. This creates interesting dynamics in the industry.”
Mimaki and other manufacturers are bringing innovative digital inkjet solutions on the market delivering higher speed and productivity to meet demands of the booming textile market.
From a technical perspective, inkjet has a major advantage over all other print processes because it is the only non-contact, high quality, high performance process. The advances are primarily in new and better control of print heads, better inks and a much wider selection of readily available and more affordable inkjet treated papers. New applications are developing almost daily. For example, Canon has installed lines in Nigeria to print election ballot papers.
Ink manufacturers spend lots of money on developing new inks that perform well in the heads and provide excellent print quality. Such research is not cheap. But the result is that ink properties have improved, with higher density levels that result in more offset-like quality with lower coverage. There are also now more substrates that perform well with inkjet, aided by colour management improvements.
There are many routes to market for inkjet inks. Some equipment manufacturers formulate and manufacture their inks; others sell ink that is made under license by ink specialists. In low-end wide-format inkjet, there are independent third-party ink suppliers competing with the OEM. That is probably the healthiest part of the market for end users, with thousands of machines sold each year consuming millions of litres of inks. This is not the case for high performance systems, where the equipment supplier typically provides the ink tailored to optimize performance within the overall system.
There are indications, however, that this is changing. Collins Inkjet is an independent inkjet ink manufacturer who sells a range of inkjet inks, innovating in many applications including new electron beam curing. It makes water-based inks for many of the high speed single pass presses. It remains to be seen how effective this company and others will be in establishing itself as a third-party ink provider, in competition – or partnership – with OEMs.
“Low consumables costs promote growth and easier adoption. When customers see competitive pricing for the more efficient inkjet technology, it is easier to switch, and they are more willing to change,” says Chris Rogers, Collins’ VP of Sales & Marketing. “Our business model is a traditional ink company; our manufacturing scale allows us to price inks at lower profit margins. This long-term strategy has proven successful over 25 years and it seems that OEMs are now starting to agree. They realize the easiest way to grow market share is to price their consumables fairly and we can help them with that."
Driving new market opportunities
Inkjet has been around for some time. Today, a huge amount of money is being spent developing print heads, inks, substrates, control software, transport, drying and turnkey print systems. While these investments have forced changes on the world of print, it is nothing compared to what we expect to occur over the next few years. The inkjet markets today are largely new.
As productivity grows, inkjet is becoming greedy, with suppliers now turning toward siphoning volume from analogue print markets for additional growth and offering directly competing solutions. The productivity, quality and economics are pushing inkjet firmly against sheetfed litho and narrow web flexo, and it has larger format flexo and web offset in its sights.
While a few inkjet suppliers may be guilty of hyperbole (sorry, they are very guilty of it in some instances!), it is good to see users and customers voting with their feet and their wallets. That being said, we will continue to see enhancements to productivity and boosts to the cost performance of inkjet. Some totally new formats and systems are coming to market. At least a couple of these will be on show at drupa, in new formats and markets. What is also new is that these will be firmly aimed at the heartland of offset and flexo printing.
Choice of printing methods changes because of one or more reasons: to reduce cost, to improve quality, to achieve greater levels of service, or to do new things. Inkjet allows printers to do all four – and no doubt there will be other new reasons going forward. Flexibility. Agility. Power.
In addition to graphics and packaging, inkjet is making rapid progress in textile printing, ceramics and industrial/architectural decoration. Then there is the new arena of 3D printing, where inkjet is an important enabler. These have the potential of opening huge new opportunities for companies that are smart enough and brave enough to explore the potential and exploit new markets.
In technology terms, inkjet is state of the art. In business terms, inkjet is being used to re-engineer supply chains, making money. That certainly is not fiction.
TTP, a UK-based research and development company, has introduced its new Vista Inkjet process, which the company believes can one day revolutionize the manufacturing of cars, planes and appliances, amongst other industrially produced products.
The Vista Inkjet process developed by TTP is capable of printing with standard industrial paints. TTP states it has already tested Vista Inkjet successfully with cellulose and two-part part polyurethane paints used for car and aircraft body manufacturing. After testing such high-end uses, the company explains this opens up many other possible applications including the use of thermoplastic fluoropolymer paints like Kynar for decorative finishes on architectural metallic structures.
TTP states it is also exploring the printing of low cost and high functionality materials for ceramics, textiles, security and brand protection along with high conductivity patterns and 3D printing.
TTP’s patented print head design overcomes what the company describes as the limitations of existing inkjet printing processes, restricted by ink formulations and the use of closed chambers and narrow channels. Instead, Vista Inkjet is based on a planar construction that allows free-flowing ink circulation and accurately controls the movement of the nozzle plate to eject droplets, from 0.5pl (pico litres) to over 1nl (nano litre).
TTP explains this means that fluids with large particulates and high viscosities can be used along with aqueous pigmented inks and a range of solvent inks such as alcohol based fluids, ethyl acetate, MEK and Dowanol. Motion of the nozzle plate is controlled by customized electrical drive signals to eject droplets on-demand or on a continuous basis.
TTP reports its prototype array of 128 Vista nozzles has delivered drop placement accuracy with a standard deviation of just +/- 3 milli-rads. Print heads can also be designed with specific nozzle diameters, pitch and number of rows for different inks, paints and applications. And with the inertial transfer mechanism and fluid recirculation, the ejector system features priming, self-cleaning and refill attributes.
“We have taken the principles of inkjet printing and re-invented the ejection mechanism and print head to create a potentially disruptive technology for digitally printing industrial paints, opening up exciting new opportunities from customizing car and aircraft bodies to creating architectural finishes and printed electronics,” said Dr. David Smith, head of business development for Vista Inkjet at TTP. “As well as providing greater flexibility, the process also saves time and money and reduces waste.”
TTP is currently looking for partners to commercialize the technology.
Toronto-based Avanti Computer Systems made a $75, 000 donation to Ontario’s University of Waterloo, where all three of the company’s owners originally met and from where many of it’s current employees graduated.
“The University of Waterloo played such an important role in both our professional development and in bringing the three of us together, that we wanted to give something back,” stated Patrick Bolan, Avanti’s President and CEO.
Bolan, Stephen McWilliam and Peter Funnell, who together own Avanti, which develops management information system software, including Web-to-print and workflow products, are all University of Waterloo graduates. The trio formed a business partnership and purchased Avanti in 2004. They have since tripled the size of the company and expanded its reach well beyond Canada’s borders.
“What a thrill, for me personally, to come back to see a campus with all the familiar icons from my time at Waterloo, integrated with all of the new facilities,” said Stephen McWilliam, Executive VP at Avanti, who recently visited the campus for the first time in many years to mark the $75,000 donation.
“Many of Avanti’s long-term and new employees are University of Waterloo graduates. They have played, and continue to play, a vital role in our product innovation,” said Peter Funnell, Avanti’s CFO. “We are excited to be supporting the University of Waterloo and we look forward to continuing to tap into both the co-op program and graduates for new Avanti team members to support our growth.”
From quantum computing and nanotechnology to clinical psychology, engineering and health sciences research, the University of Waterloo is today recognized as one of North America’s leading post-secondary institutions within a range of research fields and information technology.
Komori Corporation has launched a new gravure press line designed for the production of printed electronics. The new machines will be introduced this week at the Touch Taiwan exhibition in Taipei.
The PEPIO F20 is a flatbed gravure offset press designed for producing touchpanels on both glass and film. The PEPIO R20 is a roll-to-roll offset gravure device aimed at fine-line electronics production on film.
“First and foremost, Komori is an expert in precision manufacturing, and the entry into the printed electronics marketplace reinforces Komori’s message at drupa 2012 that we are expanding into new markets,” says Kosh Miyao, President and COO of Komori America Corporation. “We are very excited about this new product offering, not only for the opportunities for business growth it provides, but as further evidence of Komori’s commitment to the advancement of printing technology.”
The company calls the new press offerings "the next logical addition to the Komori press line."
The Environmental Paper Network, with more than 100 member organizations, released a new sustainability report on paper production and consumption in North America. Called The State of the Paper Industry 2011: Steps Toward an Environmental Vision, the report is based on monitoring pulp-and paper indicators, while providing industry trends based on data and analysis over the past decade.
The last such report by the Environmental Paper Network (EPN) was published in 2007. EPN was established in 2001 and now includes member organizations like Canopy, The David Suzuki Foundation, FSC (in the U.S.), Greenpeace Canada, Sierra Club of British Columbia, and the World Wildlife Foundation.
The new report highlights notable achievements like the recent Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement, while also identifying key areas for improvement like controversial fibre sourcing and greenhouse gas emissions.
Read or download The State of the Paper Industry 2011
Just five years after hitting the 1,000-patent milestone, the Xerox Research Centre of Canada (XRCC) has been awarded its 1,500th patent from the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
XRCC is one of four research and technology centres that Xerox operates in the United States, Canada, and Europe. The majority of XRCC patents are for inventing cover materials and processes for toners, inks, photoreceptors, fusers and specialty media, which have been commercialized in key Xerox products for more than three decades.
Under the leadership of Hadi Mahabadi, VP and Director of XRCC, the 120 scientists at the Mississauga-based research centre registered 140 patents in 2010, which represents an increase from the 111 patents assigned in 2009 and nearly double the yearly average over the previous years.
“Reaching our 1,500th patent is an excellent indication of the passion and proficiency with which our researchers work,” said Mahabadi. “This milestone signifies not only the growth and advancement of the research centre, but also the creative and inventive spirit that characterize our diverse staff of scientists.”
XRCC’s 1,500th patent (U.S. Patent 7,875,411) is part of a portfolio covering long-life photoreceptor technologies. More specifically, this patent is responsible for developing the armour technology that, according to Xerox, nearly doubles the life of photoreceptors – multi-layer thin film devices that convert light into electrostatic images.
“This technology has enabled a 30 percent reduction in waste, less down time and disruption to workflow, improved productivity, and fewer service calls,” says Yonn Rasmussen, vice president of the Xerographic Component Systems Group.
Research by the U.S. Army is underway to investigate using modified inkjet printers to print new skin cells on people suffering from serious burns.
Modified inkjet printers, guided by 3D maps of the affected burn areas, could actually place skin cells into place to rapidly speed up healing.
"The bio-printer drops each type of cell precisely where it needs to go," explains Kyle Binder, a biomedical scientist at the Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine's Wake Forest lab. "The wound gets filled in and then those cells become new skin."
According to a video by the U.S. National Defense Education Program documenting the research, burns can count for upwards of 30 percent of battlefield injuries.
Watch the video.
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Labelexpo Americas 2018
September 25-27, 2018
PAC to the Future II, Retail Reinvented
September 26-27, 2018
Howard Iron Works Print Expo & Fair 2018
September 29, 2018
September 30-2, 2018
Ghent Workgroup Graphic Arts Workshop
October 9, 2018
October 18-20, 2018