Skip the Label: Direct-to-Object Inkjet Takes Off

written by Debbie Thorp, Business Development Director – Global Inkjet Systems Ltd.  for Screen Print Magazine

 

The digital revolution has its sights on a new challenge, and decorating three-dimensional objects offers no shortage of puzzles or possibilities.

Product decoration using inkjet technology isn’t new – systems have in fact been on the market for many years. But recent developments have made decorating three-dimensional objects (not to be confused with 3D inkjet or additive manufacturing) one of the most talked-about segments in the industry.

Sales of small-format flatbed printers designed for decorating promotional items are increasing; more vendors are entering the market and the systems feature new capabilities. Also, we’ve seen significant developments in the mid- to high-end range of production printers. Systems that were demonstrated at tradeshows a few years ago are now proving themselves in real production environments.

Market Drivers
Personalization and engagement are buzzwords that have been permeating marketing campaigns and social media in recent years with companies vying for “likes” on Facebook and developing ever more innovative ways of enticing us to buy their products. Numerous fast-moving consumer goods companies are now using digital printing technologies to add value to their brands and increase the “user experience.” What arguably started with Coca Cola’s “Share a Coke” campaign has exploded into personalized Nutella jars, Heinz soups, My Heineken bottles, and even customized dog food with Purina’s Just Right range – and there are many, many more examples.

The benefits and drivers for using digital printing technologies are well-known, including cost-effective short runs; just-in-time production; design freedom; no screens, clichés, pads, or time-consuming setup costs; and variable-data capability offering the potential for every product to be different. Then there are the particular advantages that inkjet technology brings as a noncontact technology that can print onto different product shapes – not only flat objects, but also tubes, conical shapes, and even tubs. Inkjet can also print onto structured surfaces, creating unusual visual and haptic effects, enabling decoration in areas not possible with labels. In short, inkjet can potentially operate in the same space as screen, dry offset, and pad printing – and yet offer the additional high-value benefits of a digital print technology.


Printing onto spheres, cylinders, and uneven surfaces is a challenge inkjet developers have happily embraced, offering direct print alternatives in applications where pad printing or labels would have been used in the past. Courtesy of Roland DGA.

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Transformative Projects

Companies speak of guiding principles, vision statements and of strategic objectives. Companies proudly track significant achievements on timelines as a memorial to their evolution. I think it is important to have this perspective as Carl Sagan once said “You have to know the past to understand the present.”

Since our founding in 1985 we have important events we keep track of, most are facility expansion benchmarks required to keep pace with a continuous increase in projects moving through our shop floor. One of those transformative projects found its way back to the floor recently.

For some it seemed a bit out of place. Older technology, tattered graphics, comments like “it just looks used”. For others it marked an important point in our trajectory as an organization, a turning point that has led us down a pretty incredible path. It was here on our floor again because the client wanted to update it with the latest technology installed on the new printer recently put into production.

This was the first industrial inkjet printer we designed and built in 2009 to bring the customer into the digital manufacturing revolution.  This engineered solution was built to solve two important problems, first to cut labor cost and secondly to cut product loss….Could we design a first of its kind machine, completely unique in their industry in a way that made financial sense?

This new digital machine had to replace six separate rotary table pad printing cells that required nine full time operators running in three shifts a day, seven days a week. There was a perceived need to eliminate inefficiency of changing out inks and clichés after each 144 print count, every day. Production had flat-lined and the product margins were being squeezed by an increase in overtime pay. The project proved difficult but those challenges the team encountered changed our company and the functional teams approach and ultimately our companies’ philosophy. Our (long term) partner broke through their comfort zone and took a risk on an unproven design.

After successful factory acceptance testing the machine was put into production on the facility floor. As the initial weeks went by there was a enthusiasm from the shift staff about the level of production they were achieving. Each day they noticed output improvements and were eventually able to eliminate the weekend shifts. Worker morale improved because the difficult change-out process had been eliminated. The machine software was integrated seamlessly into the internal SAP system helping streamline the ordering process.

A year later a second printer was installed at another site. Finally a third system was ordered in 2014. Each machine took advantage of design improvement and new technologies. LED cure inks became available, resulting in a reduction of energy consumption while eliminating the need for elaborate cooling systems. There was a new smaller more efficient flow through ink management system with better control of ink viscosity

The original printer will be productive on a manufacturing floor again soon.

The machine is not viewed as an eyesore now.  It is viewed as a part of the proud legacy that shaped the direction of our company well into the future. The original project ushered in a new direction for EPS. This project was the catalyst behind the words ‘engineered’ and ‘solutions’ in our company name.

A vision is not where you are now.  A vision is where you want to be in the future. Our partner for this project had a vision and was willing to take a risk that led to completely project cost recovery in three months by reducing the number of operators, overtime and nearly all product waste.

Supporting and Training Industrial Printing Customers

In this edition of EPS Insider I caught up with Jim Tower, Technical Services Manager at Engineered Printing Solutions. Simply put, Jim is dedicated. He commutes around an hour each way every day and he offers customers around the clock mobile phone availability. His morning commute is devoted to mental preparation for the work day ahead, and his commute home offers an opportunity to wind-down.

Jim and the Technical Services Team play a vitally important role at EPS. Jim and his team are responsible for supporting the Sales Team in the early stages of product qualification, generating the samples for each of our prospective clients. Technical Services is deeply involved in the development and maintenance of our facilities process development. They also put the final stamp on our completed projects during the quality control phase prior to shipment. And lastly, our most important point of competitive differentiation, our post-manufacturing customer support that follows every product we ship for the products entire lifespan.

Q: What is your role here and what responsibilities does it entail?

“I am the Technical Services Manager at EPS and manage a 15 person department. Our team handles a wide variety of responsibilities, a good place to start is at the ‘hand off’ from the Machine Assembly and Engineering Team(s) after a piece of equipment is complete. We make sure that the equipment meets all specifications, and after we are satisfied that these specification have been met we build a process for support around them. We are very critical during these activities because nothing will leave this building unless we are positive we have met our customer expectations. Accomplishing this is all about process development, and this is where the talent of this department really comes into play.”

“In addition, we provide support for the life of the equipment after we have completed our final testing steps before we ship to their facility. This post purchase customer support is a large part of what we do every day. It begins with what I term, installation commissioning and on-site training. This involves visiting the customer’s facility, checking the equipments condition, reproducing the production process, establishing a baseline of what the equipment is capable of, and then training the customer to effectively perform the process themselves.”

Q: Can you tell me more about the free lifetime technical support that we provide to our industrial printing customers?

“While we offer an extensive warranty for every product we sell, the personal relationship never really stops for us. We provide free post-warranty, lifetime technical support to all original equipment owners of our machines. This support is provided via phone, email, Skype…whatever remote assistance is most comfortable for the customer. All of our larger systems can be operated and diagnosed right from my desk via TeamViewer, the proprietary remote access software solution we have relied on for years.”

“We find a special pride in our ability to develop long-term relationships with each of them. We cherish all of our customers and we frequently receive positive feedback because they know that we are always here for them. We will send a qualified Technician to any facility within a few hours time if the situation warrants this level of timeliness support. We know that really matters and we have loyal, repeat customers because that’s the level of support we are known for.”

Q: In addition to simply providing the free lifetime support, what about it do you think sets us apart from other companies in our industry?

“I think what sets us apart is our responsiveness and expertise, which is second to none. You can ask any customer and they will tell you as much. We make every effort to get back to our customers within minutes of a request. In addition to my team having a high level of expertise and quick response time, they are a ‘likable’ group. People enjoy speaking to them, and prefer that over opening a manual and troubleshooting an issue themselves. We have a mantra here; if our customers are successful we are successful. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, and therefore they are more likely to consider EPS for future projects. We have built relationships with our customers and know where they are at with a piece of equipment. As a result, we can pick up on something right where we have left off.

“That being said, the double-edged sword here is that if a customer is picking up the phone to call us, it’s not because they wanted to say hello. It’s because they have encountered an issue and they need a quick and thorough resolution. Let’s use a newly purchased machine as an example. A significant investment has been made and there’s a learning curve there, plain and simple. The customer is still getting their ‘sea legs’ and that is where most problems occur. It’s our job to diffuse the situation, to calm them down and do what we do…which is to work them through the problem. This is what my team is very good at.”

Q: How and why do customers depend on your department for sample production?

“There’s any number of reasons as to why we produce so many product samples. It can be a contract basis, a custom basis, and most commonly during the presale phase for a new tool for proof of concept and quality. A company might simply need samples done for a trade show. A customer may be struggling with their own in-house printing, and ask us to figure out the problem. There are lots of reasons we’ll turn a machine on here!”

Q: What do you think best summarizes the importance of the technical services department?

“It would be the fact that there is no such thing as a ‘service-less machine’. Our customers simply need us in one manner or another. Regardless of whether or not it is a technical issue with some aspect of the printer, or the operator is struggling with a process. My team is here to see them through it.”

Q: What do you personally enjoy the most about your position and leading your team on a daily basis?

“The challenge of the job, hands down! After doing this for 20 years, I still learn something new every day. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be doing it. Engineered Printing Solutions is a ‘custom automation house’, and thus no two processes are the same. We are uniquely positioned to produce and service three very different solutions; pad printing machines, cutting edge digital machines and completely customized, uniquely manufactured proprietary machines. There might be a few cookie cutter aspects with the smaller, pad printing equipment. However, when you get into the larger machines, none of it is the same. The challenge for my technicians and I is understanding what those differences are so we are able to diagnose and repair them. That’s the challenge, in addition to always meeting the customer’s expectations…of course!”

For more information about Engineered Printing Solutions custom solutions, such as standard pad printers, industrial inkjet, consumables and auxiliary equipment, visit www.epsvt.com, email info@epsvt.com or call 1-800-272-7764.

Industrial Printing – Customer Needs & Challenges!

In this edition of EPS Weekly, I caught up with Dan Leiter, sales engineer here at Engineered Printing Solutions. Dan has been in the printing industry for 25 years, with the last 10 years of it providing industrial printing solutions to clients via both pad printing and inkjet technology. We had an interesting conversation that touched upon a number of things related to the dynamics of the customer relationship. This ranged from the inception of the EPS/Client relationship to ongoing support and maintenance of a solution that has already been designed and delivered.

What do you think is the most critical consideration when beginning to work with a client toward the custom design of an industrial printing machine, be it a pad or inkjet printing solution?

The qualification process of defining the customer’s needs and delivering a solution or product that meets those needs is by far the most critical part of the process. It can be a difficult job, because a lot of our larger customers often have the involvement of numerous people from various departments such as engineering, operations, and marketing. The project might start out with a very simple process for a company, but as more players get involved, more requirements get brought in to the mix that have to be met.

As a result, we have worked hard over the years to establish and confirm expectations as early in the project as possible. We have achieved this through extensive specifying of needs with our customers to minimize unnecessary research and development costs, as well as keep projects on schedule.”

Do you feel that taking this ‘deeper dive’ with specifying needs early on with the customer has been successful in defining what the customer is truly looking for and needs?

“Yes. It has allowed us to define things, so that invariably when a customer approaches us later in the process regarding a specific functionality (or feature) that was requested, we can in turn reassure them that they will be getting exactly what was detailed in the design documentation.

On the other hand, if the customer is requesting additional features and/or functionalities after an entire process and procedure has been documented, that’s something different. Yes, we are always going to go above and beyond to make our customers extremely satisfied with the end product. However, add-ons and change requests in the middle of a machines design inevitably result in more project hours and thus additional costs.

The pre-build specification process places a milestone in the path, which protects both the customer and EPS by minimizing the probability of unforeseen costs and completion delays. So ultimately, it’s about getting as granular as possible when establishing expectations, and keeping everybody on task.”

As a sales engineer, what are some of the things that you find most gratifying (as well as challenging) when you’re working toward a custom, industrial printing solution for a customer?

“I’ve been in the graphic arts industry my entire adult life. We all claim to have ‘ink in our veins’. As a result, I have a natural inclination toward the entire printing process, including direct-to-shape, which I’ve been doing here at EPS over the last 10 years.

What makes it challenging is that we often have to reinvent the wheel to meet our customer’s specific needs. Every job can be an entirely different product – every job can comes with an entirely different set of requirements. You have to ‘define’ all of these requirements and then develop a solution that is going to ‘address’ all of them…each and every time.

I would say what makes it gratifying is taking a complex set of requirements (that are unique in nature) and exceeding the customer’s expectations in the end. A lot of what we do here is about helping our customers bring an innovation and/or invention to life. We are playing an active part in making entrepreneurial visions a reality. This is why we refer to our customers as partners. It’s a reference that is used all too often, but is completely fitting in our business.”

Tell me more about the customization side in all of this. What do you mean when you say “every job is different”? Can you give some examples?

“There is almost always a difference and/or variation when it comes to the automation that we customize for a client. This ranges from the type, size and shape of the product that they’re looking to decorate on, to the way in which they are looking to decorate on it. Product examples as simple as a tape measure, a glass bottle, a flashcard (to name a few), still have specific print areas that the customer wants to decorate.  This in and of itself creates the need for a custom fixture, and that makes it unique to that particular customer. Even with similar shaped products, it’s different from customer to customer. Customers manufacturing the same type of product can have different processes in which our equipment needs to fit.

They’re all trying to create new processes to improve their quality and efficiencies. It’s exciting, but at the same time challenging. That being said, we love being part of it!”

Can you think of a specific industrial printing solution (pad or inkjet) that stands out as far as size and scope?

“A project that comes to mind is a printing services company that was looking for a digital inkjet machine that would exclusively work on their direct mail campaign. The machine needed to offer heavy personalization, short run capability and high throughput. In addition, the client wanted a solution that would print onto a pen 180 degrees (around the circumference of the pen barrel), in two different colors, and onto a dozen different pen styles.

These requirements required a digital inkjet printer that was highly customized from both an automation and software standpoint. When you’re working with a number of variables that require specific robotic features and heavy software programming, you’re now looking at a fairly complex and sophisticated machine. You are also looking at a significant investment.

In the end our mechanical and software engineers worked together to deliver a heavily customized XD-70 Industrial Inkjet Printer. (Click link for more information on standard configuration). The machine met all the demands that the client requested and we’ve been providing ongoing training and field support since it was deployed to their manufacturing environment last year.”

What do you think the future landscape of industrial printing looks like, and do you see it changing how you work with your customers?

“In terms of the direction that the industry is going, digital is clearly driving the bus now. Digital is still in its relative infancy as far as a decorating technology. Where digital needs to go to achieve broad market acceptance primarily involves pretreatment and ink adhesion.

Getting the ink to stick to the product and meet customer durability standards is paramount. Most of our customers are not printing on ‘throwaway’ items and have stringent requirements when it comes to this. The image needs to be able to maintain its quality while being exposed to various degrees of wear and tear, cleaning and expected life of the product.

It is my belief that new methods of pretreatment will be entering the market and gaining acceptance. Currently we use various methods; a chemical wipe, a flame, corona, and plasma treatments.  Although they all have their strengths, ink adhesion with glass, metal and ceramics come with challenges. It is the new pretreatments that are expected to largely address these challenges, allowing greater ink adhesion and durability.

As far as how we are going to be working with our customers towards solutions, it will still be a lot of customization based on customer needs, and probably more. This is because customers (particularly large ones) will be looking for an all in one machine specific to their product line. A company that wants to print on 18 different products (all of various shapes, sizes and substrate types), and wants a single machine to accomplish is what you’re looking at here. That’s where we come in, because that’s what we do at EPS. That’s what we’ve already been doing for quite some time.”

For more information about Engineered Printing Solutions custom solutions, such as standard pad printers, industrial inkjet, consumables and auxiliary equipment, visit www.epsvt.com, email info@epsvt.com or call 1-800-272-7764.

Designing a Custom Digital Inkjet Solution – The Beginning

EPS Weekly is a new resource that we’re starting here at Engineered Printing Solutions. Its purpose is multifold, as it is intended to inform, educate and provide an inside look at the many factors that go into industrial printer manufacturing.  We’ll start by describing the initial steps in designing a custom industrial inkjet printer for product-marking and decorating.

This week, I had the opportunity to sit down with Kevin Metcalfe, Applications Engineer in our single pass digital inkjet division. Kevin’s role is a critical one, as it primarily involves determining the process in which EPS can satisfy customer requirements when designing a machine specific to their industrial printing need(s). This involves working with all aspects of product decoration from adhesion testing, print quality, throughput requirements and any other specifications that the customer may have. A large part of Metcalfe’s expertise lies in performing extensive feasibility studies to troubleshoot potential issues related to direct-to-shape printing, such as scratch resistance, color gamut, substrate composition and contour, pretreatment methods and testing, testing and more testing.

How it Starts

The process typically begins with a set of predefined requirements from the customer. Samples are sent to the EPS facility to be sample printed, delivered back to the customer for review, and the journey toward a custom solution begins! It is during this process that a lot of discovery takes place and the relationship between EPS and the client becomes more of a partnership as new ideas are exchanged, possibilities discussed and limits pushed.

Substrate Pretreatment

Meeting our customer’s adhesion requirements is paramount, and various methods are implemented during testing to determine what will produce the best results. Corona treatment, atmospheric plasma, flame and primer are all examples of pretreatment methods utilized in acquiring necessary adhesion to specific substrates.

Meeting adhesion requirements ranges in difficulty, depending on the substrate and the complexity of the desired result. For example, while polystyrene is a simple substrate to achieve adhesion with using UV inks with no pretreatment, other substrates such as polypropylene or high-density polyethylene are more difficult and require more process development. This is what makes Metcalfe’s position a very important one.

Cost and Compromise

Sometimes the ability to produce a difficult solution for the customer comes down to capital expenditure and/or compromise with respect to what their expectations were at the beginning of the project.  While some are willing to invest in additional research & development to achieve their goals, sometimes the answer requires changing how the substrate is manufactured.

“It is a series of stages that is prudent to follow. If you haven’t dotted your I’s and crossed your T’s with regard to the process (the right ink, the right pretreatment, the necessary cure and adhesion), you can find yourself in a position where you have built a machine that does not yet meet customer requirements, so we must be thorough in our feasibility studies well in advance of building a machine.”

The Speed of Inkjet

The industrial inkjet printers built at EPS range from basic, single head monochromatic machines to complex staggered head array solutions capable of printing multiple colors, primers and clear coats.

“One of the great advantages of single pass inkjet is incredible throughput. The faster that you can run the parts beneath the print heads in a single pass formation the faster they come out the other end, while still meeting whatever other requirements that the customer may have” says Metcalfe.

EPS’s single pass applications are UV curable, meaning that the inks are cured using targeted wavelength ultraviolet radiation.

When is Inkjet the Answer?

There are many reasons to embrace digital technology for decoration over analog solutions. The desire for short runs, better print quality, just-in-time manufacturing, and quick job changeovers are just a few of the reasons to switch to digital.

The question of when to switch to digital comes down to the customer’s requirements, and whether or not these can be met via inkjet technology. The industry is still scratching the surface with regard to its capabilities. One of the more interesting aspects of Kevin’s position is overcoming a decorating challenge where there was initial uncertainty as to its feasibility.

“The challenge is both interesting and intriguing, because you’re pushing at the edge of an envelope here and the technology is constantly changing. Despite what others may say, there are always opportunities to do something more.”

What Makes EPS Different?

A history of being willing to custom design and build a machine to meet a customer’s needs clearly sets EPS apart from other companies.  Our foundation is rooted in the analog process of product decoration, and this experience informs our design choices when building a digital solution.

“At the end of the process, once all the hurdles have been cleared, every customer we partner with receives an engineered printing solution that has been purpose-built to suit their specific manufacturing and decoration needs. Once installed in their facility it is extremely rewarding to watch their decorated product racing off the end of the conveyor.”

For more information about Engineered Printing Solutions custom solutions, such as standard pad printers, industrial inkjet, consumables and auxiliary equipment, visit www.epsvt.com, email info@epsvt.com or call 1-800-272-7764.

Direct To Shape Printing – Is Label Replacement Inevitable?

The industrial labels market is expected to exceed 50 billion dollars (USD) by 2020 according to Markets and Markets, the second-largest market research firm worldwide in terms of premium market research reports published annually.  It is also a fiercely competitive market that consists of more than a half dozen label manufacturers that have had a strong foothold in the industry for many years.

While digital direct-to-shape printing has been seeing growth in other printing markets such as textiles and ceramics, the packaging industry has been slow to adopt the new techniques for a number of reasons.

Bottles and jars and cups…oh my

The packaging industry is charged with decorating substrates that have more shape and curvature than any other market. In addition, the variety of materials – including glass, plastic, metal and cardboard among others – all require different pretreatment methods, while manufacturers are under changing consumer demands for personalization and more eco-friendly practices.

“From direct printing on bottles to can-to-carton conversions, packaging trends are fascinating to watch.”Ben Miyares, Contributing Editor – Packaging World

While the advantages of digital label printing (namely personalization and short run capability) are clear, digital direct-to-shape is perceived by the packaging industry as a ‘replacement technology’ and it is difficult to determine how much the consumer is willing to pay for these benefits. Adoption of direct-to-shape label printing is the ‘elimination’ of the label altogether and thus a major industry game changer.

Changing the mindset

In a packaging world that has largely consisted of labels used for the branding, coding and decorating of product, the idea of direct-to-shape printing is a substantial culture shift. It is one surrounded by economics, perception, new technology and new processes. But it is a shift that is likely to take shape (no pun intended) in multiple packaging sectors, as the technology and expertise continues to improve.

More than just a change of mindset is the fact that the integration of industrial inkjet is a challenge in and of itself. This is not because it is more complex and overwhelming, but the simple fact that it is a ‘new’ disruptive technology. Integrating any new technology into a manufacturing environment means process change. This can mean everything from working with digital for the first time to adapting to print head and ink changes.

“Compared to screen or pad the lack of any setup time or tooling cost more than compensates for the higher ink cost. Compared to digital label printing, direct to shape removes one process step but also removes the label printer – and his profit margin.” – Marcus Timson, Co-Founder – InPrint (IndustrialPrintBlog.com)

Overcoming the challenges

There are also logistical challenges that are going to require further testing and collaboration. When you are talking about the concept of jetting ink directly to substrate, adhesion and print head positioning inevitably come into play. Removing steps in the process and/or benefitting from the economics of something mean very little if quality is compromised. Maintaining optimal print resolution and acceptable adhesion cannot ‘take a back seat’ for direct-to-shape to be fully embraced across the packaging industry. Therefore, the supply chain will need to continue to work together to overcome these new challenges and allow direct to shape to pick up momentum by way of being a stable, diverse solution for many.

New ideas and opportunities

Thanks to the continuous evolution of digital printers (and specifically the capabilities of the print heads themselves) – quality, consistency and feasibility are among the challenges that the industry is taking head on. Digital printing already eliminates costly parts of the analog process, but direct-to-shape takes it one step further by eliminating the cost of the labels and their application. Furthermore, this new process will likely spark innovation that results in new product ideas, exciting changes and measureable savings. Sound familiar? Once again, digital printing has the potential to change everything!

So back to the original question

Will direct-to-shape printing replace the usage of labels in packaging entirely? The best answer to that question might be ‘maybe, but not right away’. The packaging industry is a printing market that consists of many submarkets all with their own demands. At the end of the day, it will come down to a willingness to embrace the new challenges and invest with the right partner to integrate the new technology.

Direct-to-shape labels will happen over time for different parts of the industry. For some, there are already “out of the box” solutions available. For others, it will be a longer arc to adoption. As process engineers move the digital solutions out of the R&D stage and onto the production floor, they will find ways to make operational changes that save time and money, while catering to their customers’ ever-changing needs.

What Defines Functional Printing?

The phrase “industrial printing” is becoming more and more an all encompassing term used to describe the printing process utilized by the manufacturing sector which has evolved over the last couple of decades. Throughout the world we are seeing a continued expansion of printing technology beyond product decoration, and this expansion, spurred by manufacturing, is pushing the role of print to the limit. From the advancing capabilities of industrial printing machines, to the development of versatile inks and print head technology, there are now many new and exciting solutions to traditional hurdles.

It’s fair to say that all of these changes and additions to the industry have created new segments in the market, and sometimes the lines can be blurred.

One such segment where confusion occurs is functional printing. The definition of functional printing varies (depending on who you are talking to). The concept of print ‘providing a function’ has been around since printing’s inception. Traditional methods such as a highway sign visually warning us those two lanes are about to merge, a watch dial, or the markings of a tape measure all provide a function. Are these examples of “functional printing”? Well, technically yes, but functional printing can include more than tics on an odometer.

Among the many breakthroughs that are occurring within the printing industry, is the ability of a printed substance to actually perform a function, such as ink that illuminates, or conducts electrical current. Yes, illumination and electronics are very far from being new technologies, but the ability to effectively ‘print them’ is still an industry at its infancy, redefining the role of print providing a function.  These growing capabilities are opening new doors for industrial manufacturers and process engineers charged with ever changing market demands and ink manufacturers are glad to follow suit. The manufacturers who stimulate this growth are at the forefront of these new developments. Robin McMillan (European Marketing Manager of Industrial Inks at Sun Chemical) believes that functional and industrial print are “two sides of the same coin”. More specifically, he prefers to talk about ‘Functional Industrial Specialty Print’, which he describes as: “a group of markets where printing is used as part of a manufacturing process or as a functional part of the end product.”

This partnership between manufacturers and industrial printing is just one example of how the definition of functional printing will change and develop as it ‘creates and competes’ to meet the needs of such a wide range of industries.

Short-Run Printing – The New Digital Megatrend

It’s no secret that we live in an on-demand world. Technology has provided us with immediate gratification in nearly all aspects of our lives. Print on demand is a perfect example of how the digital age has redefined the what, how and when of our printing needs.

Albeit a less popular buzz-word, short-run printing is becoming an ‘industry equivalent’ in many respects in the world of commercial and industrial printing.

Manufacturers need to enable their clients with the ability to produce smaller, customized quantities in a cost-effective manner. This is proving as necessary on the industrial printing side of the industry as it is the consumer printing side.

“Customers want to do shorter runs. They want to do shorter runs, because they want to version, or they want to have personalization, or they want to run very specific campaigns. We see those same megatrends that are happening in the core (publishing, transactional, commercial printing) are happening in the packaging industry”, said Eric Weisner (VP & GM of Hewlett Packard) in a recent interview.

The Benefits to Companies (Large and Small)

Although digital printing has been commonplace in the home and office environment for some time now, it is still referred to as a change of revolutionary measure in the professional printing world.

The efficiency and profitability that digital printing creates is stirring up a world of possibilities in the printing industry. It is driving innovation and pushing companies to new limits, all very good things.

Among short-run digital printing’s many benefits is the fact that it is not company size-centric. While the benefit to small businesses is obvious, larger companies with hundreds of products benefit equally. The ability to print the amounts needed at a particular time (and apply changes ‘on the fly’) makes short run printing just as appealing to big business.

It’s all about meeting deadlines and staying within (or below) budget, regardless of who you are.

Endless Opportunities: What the Numbers Are Saying

Commercial printing currently makes up close to 40% of the worldwide $901 billion print industry. Over the past 20 years, digital printing has literally transformed the industry (initially at the consumer level). Think about how receptive the market was to the introduction of personalized cards and calendars? We love the ability to make something ‘our own’ through personalization.

Digital printing has given us the ability to innovate endlessly. High quality, short run capabilities (with constantly improving technology), offering the ability to print on virtually anything…in small amounts and with variations as well.

Digital short run packaging has hit a high gear with the private labeling of in-demand goods, personal care products, food  and beverages, seasonal packaging and special events to name a few. It has also created an affordable and flexible means for brands to test the waters with short runs of new products, as well as testing those new products in different languages.

Industrial Printing: Short Run and the Manufacturing Process

Digital short run printing (for both decorative and functionality purposes) during the manufacturing process is another large segment. Medical devices, automotive parts, textile and glass are all industries that are prospering from both digital and its short run capabilities. When it comes to innovation, market testing and customer requirements, digital short run is becoming more and more an obvious choice.

“The migration to customized digital solutions that satisfy the needs of brand owners and product managers is why equipment manufacturers are developing new and innovative solutions in imaging, inks, material deposition, and printing technologies.” says Ron Gilboa, Director of FIPS.

When we stop and take a look at the substrates that digital short run printing can print on (from both the decorative and functional perspectives) it is easy to envision the boundless opportunities and the inevitability of growth. The technology now exists to digitally short run print on metal, glass, plastic, wood, wax, fabrics, ceramic…even food.

Direct-to-Shape: Replacing the Printed Label and More!

As Marcus Timson well stated, “Printing and placing labels onto packaging and products is big business.” As a segment of the printing industry that is approaching $50 billion, there is no shortage of innovation brewing as to the possibility of replacement of the printed label. Businesses are starting to realize the economics of it, while also beginning to embrace the new possibilities that come with direct-to-shape. The flexibility of direct-to-shape compared to printed labels allows for more customization and more creative freedom. The ability to effectively print directly onto various contours opens a world of possibilities.

Decorative Examples

  • Clothing
  • Fabrics
  • Home Furnishing
  • Flooring
  • Toys
  • Bottles/Jars
  • Helmets
  • Signs
  • Candles
  • Glasses

Functional Examples

  • Circuitry
  • Sensors
  • Batteries
  • Catheters & IV’s
  • Instruments
  • Display Panels
  • Antennas
  • Dashboards
  • Switches

…the list goes on!

 Conclusion: So Much Can Be Done In the “Short Run”

Digital short run printing within the realm of industrial manufacturing is opening the doors to enormous opportunities. When technology creates the ability to innovate cost-effectively and with less and less creative limits, a renaissance of sorts occurs. Companies are able to introduce new products in a manner that is less risky, new markets are created at a faster rate, and providers of the technology are continually inspired to invent new capabilities. This is what the age of industrial digital printing is creating. A kind of new “Industrial Age” in and of itself.

Industrial Printing Takes Branding to Next Level

Industrial printing is considered by many industry experts to be the greatest advancement in the printing industry in decades, and for good reason. We are seeing the opening up of endless opportunities in the personalization, geo-customization and consumer interaction of product packaging.

The ability to connect with consumers in a more personal and engaging manner than that of your competition is more important than ever now. Digital printing has become a ‘game changer’ in creating an efficient, cost-effective way for companies to make this happen.

Whether it is diverse packaging versions, multi-lingual labeling or custom messages, digital printing allows for short runs that keep your consumer loyalty high, while keeping production costs low.

Significant Growth in Industrial and Functional Print Markets

The industrial and functional printing industry is expected to grow another 62% by 2020 (becoming a 107 billion dollar industry). “Printing technology is widely used to decorate items from architectural and automotive glass to ceramics, electronics and textiles with new functions including biomedical, display and photovoltaics becoming significant”.

Although analog printing methods are still widely used, digital printing is growing most significantly here as well. New inkjet inks and fluid are creating new opportunities, and the overall efficiency and cost –effectiveness of digital printing is creating an inevitable shift in the industry.

“Industrial functional print is growing as demand grows for construction, automotive, electronics and manufactured products that use print – and there is more print involved in the manufacturing processes. This is in stark contrast to publication and commercial print, where volumes are declining,” said Sean Smyth, print consultant and author of The Future of Functional and Industrial Print to 2020.

Why Digital Printing is Making a Difference

Although digital printing is still in its relative infancy, it is unquestionably one of, if not the most revolutionary advancements in the history of printing. Digital printings superior accuracy, speed and short run capability has created an industry game changer…and we’re just getting started. Its many benefits include the following:

 Speed

Digital printing eliminates the need for any press preparation. The printing process is extremely simpler. No plate mounting, no adjustments, no ink keys and minimal setup. This means production begins almost immediately and the finished product is delivered much more quickly. As the saying goes, time is money. Digital printing saves a ton of it!

Cost

The financial savings provided by digital printing is monumental. The ability to provide short-run print jobs eliminates the need for minimum quotas, prep time (associated with offset printing) and results in quicker delivery. This all equates to lower overall costs and the ability to offer your services to a wider range of businesses.

Green

When you go digital, your company’s green status is elevated right away. This is because (unlike conventional printing) the pre-press stages involving photo chemicals, plates, ink keys and other materials no longer exist.

Flexibility

Due to the non-existence of plate changes and setup fees, digital printing offers the ability to make design changes quickly and with minimal effort. This is becoming increasingly essential in a world where Web-to-Print and Print-on-Demand markets are growing rapidly.

The Future of Digital Printing

The digital printing industry has increased by more than 400% over the past 10 years. According to Smithers Pira, the digital print market will reach 225% of its 2013 value by 2024. Reasons for the growth cited their report The Future of Digital Printing to 2024 include the following:

  • Improved customer service levels
  • Increased personalization and versioning
  • New revenue streams for customers
  • The ability to produce high quality short runs
  • Impact on labeling and packaging industry

The report also states that while electrophotography is currently a leading contributor to the growth of the digital market, inkjet is the sector that is growing more rapidly. It is expected to account for 53% of the digital print volume by 2024.

The future appears very bright for the digital printing industry, as increased volume is expected in printed packaging, electronics, medical, automotive, glass and textiles.

Engineered Printing Solutions designs and builds specialized machines to fit whatever unique application you can dream up. We partner with you to create a machine that satisfies your requirement 100%. Visit us at www.epsvt.com

EPS proudly offers The XD-70 Multi-Color Industrial Inkjet “image direct” from computer to print. The perfect solution for short or long runs with quick changeovers Single Pass Inkjet Printing and variable data. This printer is ideal for multicolor printing on flat and semi-flat surfaces on a variety of substrates and can be customized to meet your printing needs.