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Inkjet’s New Frontier

(March 2014) posted on Tue Mar 18, 2014

Most industrial applications today remain the realm of analog printing processes, particularly screen printing, but inkjet is rapidly gaining momentum.


By Ron Gilboa

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Mass customization: Consumers are increasingly looking for individualized products that meet their needs. Custom cell-phone cases that carry consumers’ names over their choice of backgrounds and home-décor products such as wallcoverings printed to a customer’s exact specifications are just two examples. Mass customization requires a new business model that is based on just-in-time manufacturing. Digital printing enables customized products to be produced in short runs while optimizing the supply chain to take advantage of online ordering, reduced warehousing costs, and hub-and-spoke distribution models. It could even bring some manufacturing back to local markets and reduce the trend of outsourcing.

Operational benefits: For in-plant printing facilities, the trend toward shorter-run production demands different resource management strategies that lend themselves perfectly to digital printing. Web-based digital store fronts allow jobs to be submitted with minimal manual labor, enabling faster response time, better load balancing of production resources, and maximum utilization of output devices. The ability to synch printing with just-in-time delivery schedules, or on demand, also reduces raw material inventory and streamlines the supply-chain operation. In addition to allowing more jobs to be processed more quickly, digital printing reduces waste when optimized correctly, a key consideration in many industrial applications. Finally, while there may be no substitute for a well-trained workforce, digital printing typically requires less manpower than analog processes.

Environmental benefits: Just as in the commercial graphics space, many industrial printers are looking for their next investments to be environmentally friendly. By displacing multistep printing processes, inkjet printing reduces material consumption as well as power and water costs. It also reduces the amount of ink used since each droplet lands in its intended location with no overspray or spread.

InfoTrends firmly believes that these trends will continue to drive a digital transformation in industrial printing, from an estimated $30 billion (worldwide) in 2012 to an estimated $107 billion in 2016. Many industrial inkjet applications are in the development phase at this point and the pace of progress will vary by market needs, technological maturity, operational benefits, and the cost of doing business using these new solutions. An example we can all relate to is 3-D printing, which was introduced in 1984 and now in 2014 is surging ahead through rapid growth a mere 30 years later! We’ll examine some industrial markets where interesting developments are happening in the remainder of the article.

 


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