Fujifilm and Developing Industrial Inkjet Ink

Gary Barnes, Fujifilm

Gary Barnes, Fujifilm

InPrint has always, since its beginning, been seen as an event that connects future oriented professionals with products, ideas and is designed to help people solve problems. I recently met with Gary Barnes of Fujifilm to discuss the potential and the problems confronting technologists when we look to develop industrial print technologies and products.

Firstly Gary, how do you define industrial print?

Our definition of industrial inkjet is where the technology is used in non-graphic display applications and the print is integrated within a manufacturing process. Often the print systems are not off the shelf and require a customised development with the ink needing to have bespoke performance characteristics to meet an exact specification.

Industrial print growth has accelerated according to IT Strategies, do you currently see that?

I’m not surprised at all as interest in industrial inkjet is at an ‘all time’ high. The challenge we have is to refine this high level of interest into workable solutions utilising our considerable expertise within inkjet. 

Whilst inkjet is already an accepted technology in some applications and industries, at Fujifilm we are aiming to expand this to new businesses so to some extent we are still in search and define mode. We must develop the right application for the right market and one that creates sufficient value. Fujifilm is investing in it for the long term and we still view it as early days.

If you were to take a look at the classic bell chart you would see that we are still very much at the early adopter phase with some functional and decorative applications. The ‘chasm’ and the new applications that cross this are the markets and opportunities that everyone is trying to predict. To a large extent this is difficult to do and a lot of effort is taken up in identifying the opportunity and feasibility before we go to beta then launch. 

Industrial inkjet jetting rig

Industrial inkjet jetting rig

What is different about developing industrial inks when compared with graphics?

It is a whole new approach to ink chemistry. Think of the graphics segment, this is a clearly defined industry that uses primarily UV or water based chemistry. The needs of the market are well understood from a development perspective and the lead contact with end-users is often through established OEMs and integrators so development is driven by them. In the industrial inkjet space the organisations we are dealing with are in diverse markets and their needs are more complicated particularly regarding ink performance. They have recognised this and are therefore contacting ink companies directly.

For industrial, FUJIFILM need to consider new ink technologies, it is not just formulating one type of ink then selling it. If it were that simple then everyone would be doing it!

The Ink technology itself is not off the shelf due to new demands, e.g. legislation, performance, quality demands and the complexity of the specific manufacturing process. Ink properties must be both functional and decorative. 

All of these factors lead to a long development time frame for these technologies in order to meet exact specifications. In some cases we have to encourage development of new raw materials and this doesn't happen overnight.  Part of the way to overcoming this and speeding up results is to create hybrid inks which combine chemistries and processes. By blending technologies you can achieve the desired result.

What is hybrid chemistry?

The three primary ink chemistries available today are UV, Water and Solvent technologies. By combining the chemistries and properties of these systems we can deliver enhanced performance for specific application. For example, our Chiron UV technology enables us to use resin systems not used currently in conventional UV systems to achieve specific performance demands. Another example of blended chemistries is within the corrugated sector where we see the adoption of waterbased UV to achieve high gloss, low odour and low migration inks.  Whilst I cannot comment on the current projects we are working on, we are investigating a number of application areas within the industrial market. Alongside conventional UV the hybrid technology will form a key part of our product line up.

Talking to Gary and knowing the amount of commitment this company has to industrial printing it is evident Fujifilm is serious about industrial. 

“In the mid 2000’s Fujifilm acquired Sericol, Avecia (FFIC) and Spectra (Dimatix) all within a couple of years of each other. That has given us the tremendous technical and production asset that we now have. These acquisitions gave us access to new technology and IP from which we continue to grow and owning and developing core inkjet technology is at the heart of this. Today, certainly in the inkjet ink field Fujifilm filed the greatest number of patents last year, it is all about creating building blocks for new applications within inkjet.

A good example of Fujifilm capability is the Fujifilm Dimatix Samba printhead – within Fujifilm we were able to create both waterbased and UV ink systems with ultra-fine dispersion technology to support this. This ability to provide solutions is why the 3 companies will be participating together at InPrint to demonstrate the high level of technical competence within Fujifilm. 

As a business we have a desire to increase its core technology and all of us are pushing the boundary of technologies to support the development of new opportunities as such as industrial inkjet. To do this we have a long term view so we can create the right technology that is reliable and sustainable.”

Is single pass the answer to most industrial inkjet applications?

Single pass does a great job in ceramics, textile, transpromo and labels - there are precedents where it works well.

Where it is more complex is scaling wider than 2 metres with ultra-high print resolution. This is a challenge for cost as well as from an engineering standpoint, to physically create a 2+ metre wide system. Also in single pass industrial inkjet the ink technology is often a limiting factor due to the need to achieve the high performance demands required by manufacturing specifications while maintaining low jetting viscosities needed by the printheads. 

But we are rising to this challenge, and whilst it isn’t easy, the potential and the future look very exciting indeed."

At InPrint Show 2015, Fujifilm will be showing inks, heads and integration demonstrating their expertise across the chain for industrial printing.

Fujifilm will be exhibiting on booth #D20