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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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Windows and doors, an $8 billion market, are another product category where inkjet printing has brought customization and short-run printing capabilities. Similarly, flooring materials (a $2 billion industry in the US) are increasingly being printed digitally, and on an increasing range of carpets and laminate flooring materials in addition to tile. Inkjet allows corporate colors and brands elements to be incorporated into the design, providing faster turnaround for custom fixtures compared to traditional methods. Digital printing could also be used in the production of countertops, a $10.3 billion market.

Two well-known European vendors that have been active in developing inkjet technology for wallcoverings and carpeting materials are MS Srl from Italy and Zimmer from Germany. MS has a range of printers for textile and paper printing applications, including the JP7, which uses up to 164 grayscale heads to print 71-in.-wide rolls at speeds up to 18 ft/min. Zimmer specializes in digital printing systems for carpets, allowing manufacturers to simply stock white carpeting and then custom print each order as it comes into the facility. Zimmer’s ChromoJET MT-4000 is a 163.4-in. printer available in several models, the fastest of which has 1024 nozzles per color and a top quoted speed of 20 linear feet/min.

Textiles
Initially, digital textile printing was mostly the domain of dye-sublimation systems for applications such as garments and soft signage, but the technology has grown rapidly over the past decade. InfoTrends recently projected that the worldwide market for digitally printed textiles will be $18 billion by 2016 with a 39.3% compounded annual growth rate from 2011 to 2016. The garment industry is included in these totals and since these applications are mostly outside the scope of this article, I won’t cover this sector here (with the exception of some very interesting examples in the next section).

Where industrial markets are concerned, many applications involve interior décor, some of which we covered in the sections on furniture manufacturing and construction materials. Digitally printed textiles are also used in a variety of exterior industrial applications including tarps and screens.


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