Wood decor: The next big thing for inkjet?

Kurt Fischer of TCM

Kurt Fischer of TCM

Recently I presented at the TCM Decorative Surfaces Conference about industrial print innovation, trends and findings from recent research. For part of the presentation I was joined by Giorgio Macor of Kuei who generated a huge amount of interest in his new ‘haptink’ from their appearance at InPrint and at TCM. The ink itself is a new 3D texturizing inkjet ink. 

TCM proved to be very good with nearly 230 delegates, featuring 40 new delegates compared with the previous event in Munich demonstrating the vibrancy of this sector and the growth in interest for digital. I recently met with Kurt Fischer, the owner of TCM about the development of the event and the market.

Kurt, what is the purpose of TCM?

“Really our mission is to bring together industries and the more we do this the better the event is in our opinion. We want to perform the role of informing and educating the decorative surface sector with new developments and innovations. The satisfying fact is that this year we had a 20% increase in delegates compared with the previous event in Munich 2015.”

How important is print for Surface decoration?

“Strange as it may sound, sometimes the importance of print is underestimated. With a visual industry such as surface décor of course print plays a key role. Many of the panel manufacturers rely on the printers for trends, patterns and so on.”

Why was there an increase in numbers this year?

“Broadly speaking, on both sides of the Atlantic the economy is picking up. We have seen this especially in US, but it is also happening in Europe, albeit more slowly. The general business atmosphere is better and people are now happy to go out to events and spread the news about their companies. I would also like to think that delegates were attracted to the quality of the presentations.”

What kind of people attend?

“We always try to bring in a mix of designers, trends and the technological element. So fashion and technical. Ultimately, the focus is always on technology but design and trends matter too. People attend from the entire supply chain for wood and surface decoration, from designers, retailers through to the companies making the technology for wood décor. It is not all about print, but this does represent a key area of wood décor as it is a major visual element.”

The thrust of the content seemed to focus mainly on wood décor, why is that?

“There are not so many decorative surfaces that do not use wood in some way. For example, even a thermoplastic surface ends up in a wooden panel, so wood is always involved in some way or another. Even if you look at the newer technologies it will contain wood or come on a wood carrier so it remains a key material and for industrial production it is the best.”

So is the digital revolution influencing the market?

“In a word yes it is. To be honest, the main change for surface décor is happening here. 2D digital printing is becoming more and more established. It still has a comparatively low market share but this will increase as it provides something new and exciting for designers. Then we now also have the 3D option which provides a haptic effect from companies such as Metis and Kuei. This is important as the feel of the product is as important as the look for people.”

Will digital replace analogue?

“I don’t think so. There will always be a lower end DIY market and analogue production is perfect for this and the focus from companies such as Sappi are focusing on haptic effects for this area.”

The content focused upon sustainability for a key segment of the conference, why is this such a major factor? 

“Sustainability is a big issue for wood as it is the raw material for a lot of the surface panel decoration and is one of the selling points. Wood is actually a superb sustainable material handled correctly, but we as an industry must focus on doing things right and learning from one another as well as from the experts we had on our programme. Without a sustainable approach we would not have an industry.”

Are designers driving everything?

“Certainly not in the foreseeable future, but there is a good chance that there will be potential for designers to lead the production one day. Currently there is a gap between the creative input stage and production. This gap is holding development back. If designers knew of the potential of print and digital in particular then things would change more quickly, new designs would come to the fore and the industry would be better off as a result.

But for independent designers to introduce designs to production houses isn’t easy because they all speak different languages. Likewise, for production companies introducing a new material to designers isn’t easy as they are still quite distinct industries strangely. They therefore have different motivations. This is certainly one of the keys to change. The designers who are creating buildings and interiors need to know about the possibilities.”

What is driving people to try digital?

“At the moment there is not a short term economic driver for wood decoration. Many people try to compare this sector with ceramics and you cannot compare the two segments really. What people need to understand is that wood decoration is more complex and challenging than ceramic tile printing. A ceramic tile is a more simple set up than wood which could feature several layers - it is a much more complex system so takes more time to make changes to production. However individualisation and smaller lot sizes are compelling for some production and this is where digital is attracting new business.

In addition, the potential for consumers to have a joined up style approach also offers some exciting possibilities. By this I mean a number of different surfaces utilising one synchronised design approach onto plastic, wood, wall paper, ceramics glass and so on. You can imagine, the effect would be impressive.”

Victoria Neuhofer of Neuhofer Holz

Victoria Neuhofer of Neuhofer Holz

Who do you think is really leading the change within the sector?

“There are several European companies that are really pushing the boundaries, one of our first presenters, Victoria Neuhofer from Neuhofer Holz provided a great example of how a traditional wood company has introduced a new model for production utilising the internet for personalised interior production. The interface with the customer enables the business to engage directly and for the customer to fully immerse themselves in something very focused and specific to their needs. This company recognised the digital advantages quite early on.”

People kept telling me that Europe is leading in development of surface décor, why is this?

“I guess if you look at the make-up of the industry, most of the key players are European. The largest printers for example are European, the largest paper producers and technology companies.”

So what next for TCM?

“Next year we will run our event in Hamburg which we are happy about. The City is a creative centre as well as being a really nice place to visit, we expect the event to grow again given the buoyancy of the market as well as the fact that Europe is really leading the world and pushing the boundaries.”

InPrint will host a special webinar on 14th July Wood Decor: the Next big thing for inkjet? Register for this free webinar here. https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/4713552847343475971