The Growing Pains of Industrial Inkjet

Throughout 2016 InPrint Show ran a number of surveys, panels and seminar sessions with the aim of sharing insight with the inkjet and manufacturing community to promote growth for industrial printing.

What is clear from all of the information, the speed of growth within industrial printing is fast outpacing other traditional print segments. For example, results from the recent InPrint Décor Survey suggest that growth is expected to be well over 10% with many (nearly 40%) believing growth to be in excess of 15% per annum. The industry is busy and buoyant, however there remains challenges for technology and commercial development, because where there is growth, there are bound to be growing pains.

Mergers and Acquisitions Indicate Market in Development

2016 saw a plethora of mergers and acquisitions particularly within the industrial inkjet segment, suggesting a market that is growing but in a state of change, requiring support and resources to sustain healthy growth. This is likely to continue. It proves a point larger, more established companies see the potential in industrial inkjet printing, and they want to be part of this growth market and it also underlines that companies that are innovative tend to be smaller and entrepreneurial. In particular for integration these entrepreneurial skill sets are important in order to solve complex technical and commercial problems for end-user customers.

Integrating Inkjet isn’t Easy or Fast

When in discussion with end users who are attempting to integrate inkjet into their production, it seems that integration of inkjet is considerably harder and takes longer than they had imagined at the start.

The problem is that ‘digital’ generally challenges sectors that are heavily invested in analogue technology over many years and therefore tend to have a conservative culture, resistant to change. Added to this, many view digital as a replacement technology, and mistakenly believe that conversion will therefore be easy and fast. This is due to the fact a 'digital’ culture has formed around the technology which permeates everyday life, and generally makes life easier. This makes it a challenge for the integrator who has to manage inflated expectations by informing and educating the customer, whilst overcoming technical challenges and making a profit!

More Collaboration Required for Continued Growth

The industrial sector is challenging industrial inkjet and printing in general to meet difficult technical demands. Therefore collaboration is essential in order for effective integration. Respondents to our survey’s and in our discussions felt that this is a key industry issue. They all felt that all parts of the supply chain should openly collaborate and that failure to do so only slows digital conversion and growth. There are two broad approaches to integrating digital inkjet – a closed system where the end user works with one supplier who could perhaps provide an end to end solution or the end user will work with a number of different suppliers but with one company responsible for integration.

Bridging a Knowledge Gap

The fact is that there is a knowledge and skills gap and as demand for industrial inkjet continues to grow, this gap is more likely to widen. This is in some part a natural result of a fast evolving market where the structure of the market is not fully formed. Where there is not well structured market, there are very few well established channels to sell to customers who have a clearly defined need. Customers may know that they want to invest in digital inkjet but they do not know how and with whom they should be working with.

Inks are a Key Issue

Linked to a need for greater collaboration, it was widely agreed in the surveys, panels and discussions, that engineering is driving innovation for new applications. This doesn’t mean ink manufacturers are not dynamic or innovative! However, speculatively creating a new ink without an engine to drive the ink is difficult and perhaps unlikely. The challenge for ink manufacturers is therefore to respond quickly to demand or strike up strategic partnerships with OEM’s to make inks for evolving applications. Better communication and collaboration and a more open approach would likely help matters!

Flexibility is Compelling

It seems that regardless of the application type and manufacturing industry, it is flexibility that inkjet provides production which is deemed to be more compelling for production than personalization or customization. In an InPrint Webinar hosted last year, Ralf Ehrlich of PAS was one of the panelists. PAS prints onto home appliances with customers such as Bosch, and in the past 5 years they have developed digital inkjet production. They have found that whilst the capability for customization is there, this has not driven increased demand for inkjet printed white goods. The value of digital is the flexibility that inkjet has added to production in that they can run multiple jobs per day which adds competitiveness, speed to market and variability.

Economic Benefit Crucial to Speed of Adoption

Building upon the previous point of flexibility one step further, all respondents and interviewees think that if a clear economic benefit exists, particularly in the short term, then change and digital conversion will be quicker. Many discussions highlighted the inkjet revolution that took place in the ceramics industry. Most of the market is waiting to see which application sector will experience the next inkjet revolution. In my opinion, ceramics is an outlier in that in there were a unique set of circumstances at play within the ceramics (that are too numerous and lengthy to mention here)that came into play that are not likely to materialize in other sectors in exactly the same way.

More Entrepreneurs Required to Accelerate Adoption

For the developing community, whilst technical knowledge is really important for effective integration of inkjet, it is most effective when knowledge is accessible to the entire supply chain. Whilst the technical challenges are not inconsequential, the developing community would also benefit with a greater number of entrepreneurial individuals to help connect opportunity, creating new value and convincing customers to take a commercial risk on inkjet.Leadership is required and people who can build teams, inspire customers and attract investment are crucial. This is particularly important for effective integration.

Top Secret! NDA's are Holding Back Progress

Lastly, a ‘bugbear’ of mine in particular is that industrial inkjet is awash with NDA’s which prevents the sharing of success that would help to grow the market. From a communication perspective, how do you convince customers to try something new when you have no tangible proof of success that can be shared with them? Of course you can share information without being specific, but I am not convinced this is overly compelling.Of course, it is understandable that customers want confidentiality but this is surely holding back progress? Solving this problem would add value and accelerate adoption as “success attracts success” and this builds confidence and trust.

InPrint USA Launch First Exhibition for Industrial Print for North America

InPrint Show USA 25-27 April 2017 in Orlando, FL is the next opportunity to connect with key leaders and innovators for industrial print production.  This is the only dedicated industrial print event for North America and is co-located with ICE USA which is North America’s leading event for the converting industry.

InPrint is the exhibition for industrial print technology for advanced packaging and manufacturing. The unique event has become the key marketplace in Europe for state of the art functional, decorative and packaging printing in industrial production. The InPrint show comes to the U.S. for the first time, focusing on connecting manufacturers who use print as a key component of the manufacturing process with leading brands in the fields of industrial specialty, screen, digital, inkjet and 3D technology print solutions.

 “This show, uniquely focused on solutions to integrate print technologies into manufacturing and is much needed as the U.S. manufacturing market expands,” said Melissa Magestro, Executive Vice President of Mack Brooks Exhibitions Inc., the show organizer. “InPrint USA is a very specialized, focused show aimed at manufacturers, who need complex, customized, co-operatively designed system solutions in order to reduce cost and waste, increase supply chain efficiency, and generate new possibilities and revenue in industrial production.”

InPrint USA highlights include:

• Leading Brands - Exhibitors will showcase the equipment, tools, and services for printing on metal, plastics, foils, textiles, glass, ceramics, woods and other substrates.

• Complimentary access to over 40 educational presentations.

• Complimentary access to the Global Industrial Inkjet Conference. This high-level conference will profile excellence, news and insights on the market opportunity for industrial inkjet and the challenges that may need to be overcome.

• Free access to ICE USA, the co-located International Converting Exhibition, where manufacturers will showcase their latest equipment and technology from all key areas of converting like web coating, laminating, slitting, rewinding, coating, pouch making and many more. 

• Two industry network receptions.

Exhibitors include: Afford Inks, Agfa Graphics, Alchemie Technology, Amica Systems, Apex-Desco Machine Company, Colorgate Digital Output Solutions, Collins Inkjet, Cruse Spezialmaschinen GmbH, CyconJet – Industrial UV Inks, Diversified Printing Techniques, Inc., dlp imaging corp,  DPS Innovations LLP, Dubuit America, Easeprint, EFI, Engineered Printing Solutions, ESC Europa-Siebdruckmaschinen & Co.KG,Excelitas Technologies, Factronics USA LLC, Fimor North America,  FUJIFILM, Global Inkjet Systems, Heidelberger Drucksmachinen AG, I.T. Supplies, ImageXpert, INC., Inca Digital Printers Ltd, Inkcups Now, Innovative Digital Systems, Integrity Integration, INX International Ink Co, ITNH Inc., Kao Collins, Kothari Infotech PVT LTD (KITL), LogoJET, Marabu North America, Memcon North America, Mimaki USA, Nazdar Ink Technologies, Phoseon Technology, Proell, Inc., R2R Print Solutions B.V., Roland DGA, Seiko Instruments USA, Sensient Imaging Technologies SA, Sensor FilmsInc., STAEDTLER Mars GmbH & Co, Sun Chemical – SunJet, Thieme Corporation, TTP Meteor Ltd, TTP Plc, Wikoff Corporation, Zund America Inc.