Is there a business opportunity for the commercial printing segment in industrial printing applications? The most reliable answer at this point is a definite maybe. But, a market that’s been described by many pundits as “ready to pop for a long time” is definitely worth exploring.
When printing stops being printing for its own sake, it’s time to recognize it for what it actually is: industrial printing.
Another way to delineate industrial printing is by application. Broadly speaking, points out Josh Hope, senior manager of 3D Printing & Engineering Projects, Mimaki USA, industrial printing is putting ink onto “anything that isn’t paper,” but often in small batches that don’t scale up to true “industrial” quantities. He advises printers to look at the printable objects they are outsourcing for clues to the kinds of industrial printing they might be able to do in-house.
At Fujifilm Dimatix, says Timothy Rosario, senior project manager, Fujifilm Inkjet Technology, “we define ‘industrial printing’ by the various substrates we are printing on, including sandpaper, waterproof seam tape, cement board, drywall, house wrap and insulation.” This gives a sense of the role industrial printing can play in non-traditional markets such as homebuilding, where Fujifilm Dimatix has introduced an LED-UV solution, the StarFire SG1024 industrial inkjet printing system, for printing construction materials.
Flatbed UV inkjet printers that can accommodate solid objects, as well as flat substrates, work best. Hope says that Mimaki’s UJF Mark II (MkII) Series LED-UV tabletop printers are tailor-made for late-stage customization of phone cases, USB drives, skateboards and other items produced in small batches. With its 4˝ inkjet head height, the Ricoh Pro T7210 UV flatbed — the device that printed cinder blocks at the SGIA Expo — has been used to image bar stool seats and guitars, according to Dollard.
Unlike in traditional production, the printing isn’t the dominant technique, but one of a number of steps in a complex sequence of events. In industrial printing, “print adds value within a bigger process,” says Tom Molamphy, business development manager of the Industrial Inkjet Ink Div. at Agfa Graphics.
Molamphy points out that while there are industrial applications for Agfa devices such as the Jeti Tauro hybrid LED-UV inkjet printer, wide-format equipment generally isn’t geared for the high-speed, single-pass performance that industrial printing on an industrial scale requires. As a supplier of industrial inks, Agfa is working with printhead manufacturers and system developers to push wide-format inkjet further in this direction.