For Heidelberg the Future of Industrial Inkjet is Taking Shape

Jason Oliver, Senior Vice President Heidelberg Digital is one of the keynote speakers at the IMI Industrial Inkjet Technology Showcase, he is also an InPrint Show Ambassador and Heidelberg will be exhibiting at InPrint 2015. There is considerable buzz surrounding direct to shape printing for the packaging sector and it was interesting talking to Jason about his opinion on the development of inkjet in this segment and within others ahead of the conference – so I asked him a few questions.

So the focus for Heidelberg at the IMI Showcase and at InPrint 2015 is on 4D Printing – what is this?

“4D printing onto objects, shapes and curved surfaces. This can certainly be used within the packaging sector for direct to cylinder decoration, but we also see exciting potential within automotive and fashion production. Our focus at IMI and at InPrint is to show the possibilities that the technology is capable of producing and the potential is incredibly exciting.”

So Heidelberg is developing technologies for direct to shape printing for packaging, when do you see a tipping point?

“The interest is really high and the potential is huge but we have not yet reached the tipping point. The reason for this is mainly as the people who will make the decisions need to see the technology being implemented into the line and feel confident it is not going to disrupt production and cause problems. When you think of the some of the volumes that packaging converters have to contend with, any new technology represents a risk and this has to be overcome before wholesale adoption takes place.” 

So when you say the interest is high, is this coming from the converters or the end brands themselves?

“I have to say that the converters are interested but cautious. The brands really want to be able to exploit the technology but they are not necessarily getting the information they need from the converters. This isn’t to say that the converters present the only problem, to be fair they have for years been focusing on providing an amazing solution for mass production, now digital inkjet comes along gives them a production problem. How do they exploit this whilst not upsetting their mass production lines? It means they have to change their thinking and look at things differently. This change doesn’t happen quickly necessarily and as I said given the numbers involved, I am not overly surprised. The tipping point will be reached however, it only takes a couple of pioneers to take on the technology and get some visible value from it, and then it will start being used on a wider basis.”

Has the famous Coke ‘name’ label campaign helped at all in regards to educating marketers of the potential of digital print?

“Absolutely yes! The results for Coke were outstanding. They had a 30% increase in sales! When you think that a campaign would be celebrated with a 1 or 2% increase in sales, the result generated by this campaign was certainly worth the risk they took to make it happen. The same kind of thing will need to happen with direct to shape inkjet printing in order for this to be adopted on a wider basis. As I keep saying I think this tipping point will be reached sooner rather than later, but we really need shows like InPrint to effectively highlight the possibilities to the wider world so that pioneer gets inspired and the technology gets used and the world can see what is possible.”

Tell me more about 4D potential in automotive and fashion?

“The potential for 4D inkjet along with robotics is considerable as you can make real one offs.  Take for example a motorcycle helmet. You can personalise this within around 20-30 seconds! I can see retailers creating new personalised solutions for their customers helping them to distinguish the products they buy but also helping the manufacturer create a unique service.”

This is very novel but how is this scalable? The ability to mass customise products, surely is more commercially compelling from a manufacturer’s perspective?

“Yes mass customisation is quite different to personalisation and inkjet could play a big role in this too. Heidelberg sees great potential within the fashion sector. Take the manufacturing of sports shoes for example. The potential for localised production of product that better fits the local taste and so on is really possible with inkjet. In order to this to happen supply chains will either adopt the new technology or you may well see new business start-ups beginning to provide a niche service that younger people will most certainly value. It is this segment of the population that will be driving demand for inkjet certainly in fashion as they are the people that are true early adopters.

“I have teenage children and they adopt and throw away technology quickly. They lose interest really fast and that generation changes taste so swiftly that to win you need to be cool tomorrow not just today. So inkjet can help these companies create products quickly and adapt them when the need arises. This changes what people do and how they think. I think that PSPs are simply not moving quickly enough because they want to continue to use the old presses and try to adapt to quicker turnarounds using the old technology. But pretty soon one of the big guys are going to do something special with digital and will break loose from analogue thinking and this will change the entire ball park. As I said earlier it only takes one or two for the shift to occur. It is just a matter of time. With the digital generation getting older and gaining more independence, and with those disposable incomes, the agenda is set to change.”