Most industrial applications today remain the realm of analog printing processes, particularly screen printing, but inkjet is rapidly gaining momentum.
By Ron Gilboa
The US furniture manufacturing industry is made up of around 20,000 companies with about $60 billion in combined annual revenue, according to Hoovers. Included in this group are prominent US-based manufacturers such as Herman Miller and La-Z-Boy, as well as several major names that do some manufacturing here including Hunter Douglas and IKEA.
Increasingly, many of these manufacturers are changing their product lineups seasonally. The changes can be as simple as switching out a slip cover to match the season or as extreme as replacing the entire set. As consumers become more accustomed to having a greater range of choices, their demand for customizable furniture will grow and digital printing enables
manufacturers to capitalize on the trend. Recently, IKEA began offering limited runs of upholstery-quality fabric in their stores, allowing consumers to purchase the material by the yard to create custom interiors. With advancements in inkjet technology, IKEA’s next step could be offering fully customized upholstery for a premium price. A variety of print-service providers have already been serving this niche on a smaller scale with custom-printed leather and other fabrics to allow for fully personalized furniture and décor.
Furniture applications for digital printing aren’t limited to the upholstery. A number of high-speed systems design specifically for printing onto wood and other surfaces used in manufacturing furniture, cabinets, doors and laminates have been introduced in the past few years. Two examples from Europe are the German company Hymmen, which partnered with Xaar to develop the single-pass Jupiter system capable of producing about 80,000 sq ft/hr., and the Spanish company Barberán, which offers systems for a variety of direct printing applications onto wood, MDF board, and similar materials.
The US construction industry was worth $1.3 trillion in 2011 according to the US Census, with some key opportunities for digital printing. The first is glass, estimated to be a $22 billion market in the US alone. Beyond the advantage of allowing product to be printed on demand, digital printing enables multiple effects to be achieved on each piece of glass more easily. Sheets can be printed with a design and a gradation screen for privacy in a single step, compared to traditional methods where the glass would undergo several stages before the design was printed.
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