In what has proved to be a politically turbulent month, Chancellor George Osborne has announced that he will present the 2015 Autumn Statement in conjunction with the Spending Review, on Wednesday 25 November. All eyes will be on the Chancellor as he presents his Statement opposite the newly elected Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and shadow Chancellor John McDonnell.
In the following blog, digital ink guru and General Manager Industrial Inkjet Inks at Agfa Graphics, Jan De Vooght, explains that ink, inkjet technology and ongoing ink developments are every bit as important, perhaps more so, than the latest all signing and all dancing hardware.
Go to any trade show and it is the inkjet printers that seem to take centre stage, gathering the largest crowds and the headlines. But although a great deal of attention is given to the mechanics and the output capabilities of the various inkjet engines, the ink technology itself rarely gets a mention.
However, it is not the hardware but rather the UV ink formulation that determines the suitability for each of the many applications of industrial printing.
Special ink formulations are indeed crucial for meeting the special requirements of most all industrial printing applications.
First of all the newest generations of print heads used in today’s inkjet engines require inks with excellent jettability and accurate dot placement. In particular compatibility with the newest print heads with speeds of up to and over 100m/min is required. This requirement calls for inks that feature high reactivity and ultra low viscosity capable of 4, 8 and 12 picolitre droplets.
With the increasing demand for industrial printing on various substrates such as plastics, metals, glass… all having different wetting properties, the ink formulations need to be tuned to the proper surface tension characteristics.
Industrial UV inkjet applications no longer print exclusively on flat surfaces. Inks are deposited directly on the product and are exposed to the same ambient conditions as the product itself during its entire lifetime. Chemical and abrasion resistance are therefore an absolute requirement. This can be achieved by the choice of unsaturated organic molecules, typically a mix of molecules with different degree of functionality. They form the bulk of the inkjet ink formulation, which after a sequence of radical polymerisation reactions will form a solid cross-linked network that determines specific physical properties of the cured ink layer, such as scratch resistance, solvent resistance, flexibility, and more.
In addition to this, pigments must be selected to have a good balance between colour gamut and outdoor resistance, e.g. for Sign & Display applications.
Perfect rendering of small print or fine details is equally becoming important for applications such as passport printing or the imprint of barcodes, QR codes or RFID tags.
Each of these requirements and many others are determined by the ink formulation and the design of inkjet inks has become a business on itself.
Built on experience
Agfa has a history of designing and developing high-tech consumables and components of inkjet printing, with focus on the interactions between these components, including the ink, the substrate, the piezo print head and the waveform of the piezo-electrical crystal, i.e. the sequence of electrical pulses that are applied to determine the drop size.
Agfa Graphics can also boast previous experience in applying functional liquids on various substrates, which gives us a leading edge over other ink manufacturers. Our R&D skills result in customised inks that can be formulated according to a list of technical specifications and with the purpose of fulfilling one of the following needs:
• Tuning of system-ink to the characteristics of (a) given inkjet device(s) • Quality upgrade of an inkjet system through improved ink formulations • Customised ink formulation for special (new) applications
With respect to the latter, Agfa Graphics has an extensive assortment of UV ink formulations that can be modified according to the specs for a given application – sometimes confined to certain conditions or requiring the ability to accommodate a wider variety of conditions. An example is the labeling industry: Next to general purpose UV inks which are designed for a broad range of label substrates (paper based and plastic based, as well as substrates primed, or pre-printed with flexo ink, or post-printed varnish), Agfa Graphics has also developed an UV ink set targeted specifically for paper based labels as well as another UV ink set targeted specifically for plastic based labels.
The industrial print applications can go pretty far. When Eartha, the world's largest revolving and rotating globe, was in need of restoration FedEx Office stepped in to give this landmark at DeLorme Headquarters, in Yarmouth, Maine (US) a facelift. With the Jeti 3020 Titan large-format printing technology, using UV inks on corrugated plastic, FedEx Office was able to reproduce the 792 map panels that comprise Eartha. Thanks to this creative use of industrial printing technology, visitors from around the globe will be able to admire this Guinness World Record attraction for years to come.
Live with people you love, work with people you trust and respect, and write as if your life depends on it because, one day, it just might. Who said that? I did, and apart from the writing bit I think it works as an ideal life principle for just about anyone.
Of course ‘ideal’ is the catchphrase here. Not everyone has the opportunity to make that step into an ideal world, some will spend their lives with people they have to put up with (at best) and work in a job that fills them with loathing alongside people they hate. My heart goes out to them.
At some point I must have done something good enough to earn some luck. I’m married to my ideal partner and I work with people on Large Format Review (LFR) who offer a level of support, enthusiasm and professionalism that allows me to enjoy my job without undue pressure. This isn’t some sort of smug statement about how well off I am, it’s more profound than that. It’s about making the right choices and seizing opportunities when they present themselves.
I’ve been working within the sign industry for nearly two decades, and I have gained a number of friends over the years. The majority of people I’ve got to know have been hard working and intelligent businessmen and woman who know when to roll their sleeves up but also when to have a good time. I haven’t spent the last 19 years grinning like a loon but I have spent most of it smiling and laughing while talking with up-beat, positive characters who pepper their words with humour and more. So many off-the-record conversations, non PC, blue, vulgar and strange − long may they continue.
Gates of change
When the chance to work with Marc Burnett, Abi Ricketts and the LFR / Format team came onto the radar it felt very much like I was being invited to join an exclusive club whose motto is proudly displayed over the bright doorway ‘Sit scriptor habere nonnullus fun’ (Let’s have some fun) and laughter peals from the windows. Abi’s welcome grin has become one of the highlights of S&D UK and Marc’s rapid wit is notorious. Now I join them.
Work hard, we’re told, and enjoy the rewards. Joining LFR feels like earning a reward for doing what I enjoy most, writing. Polishing some decent prose or taking a poor sick puppy of a press release and nursing it back to life are meat and drink to me. Stripping out over-enthusiastic superlatives to uncover an item of real news or putting boots on the street and visit a supplier, manufacturer or workshop to create fresh copy and tell a good story well, this is what makes the week sing. I work out of the public eye most of the time and it’s my words that have to enter the spotlight. When the stage they must perform on is LFR, one of the best, most prestigious in the business, I’ll make sure they’ve polished their shoes and washed behind their ears so they’re fit for their new audience.
LFR recently spoke to Frazer Chesterman and Marcus Timson of Mack Brooks about industrial printing, and of course about their pending InPrint show:
Q: Following the success of your previous In Print event, what are your main hopes for this year?
A: With any new event idea, you want to create a concept that really excites the industry that it serves. Our vision for this event was always to develop a new market opportunity for the Print industry and to broaden the visitor audience and potential opportunities for print technology manufacturers. We, like many others had observed that traditional printing segments are being challenged by the effects of digitalisation, promotional budget cuts and the volatility of the publishing house industry. Industrial print has benefited from rapid technological development and from the increased variety and broadness of the potential application. It is the only sector of the printing technology industry to show a two-figure growth rate: The industry experts I.T. Strategies predict a cumulative overall growth of 36% for the years 2014-2020.
The growing success of the InPrint show, with 50% more exhibition space since 2014, confirms this trend. In the manufacturing industry, there is a strong demand for technological innovations, supported by considerable pull-factors from the consumer side. At the same time, the developer community is bursting with energy.
Q: What sections of the industry will you be focusing on and how will this be reflected by exhibitors?
A: Industrial print refers to a procedure whereby ink or another substance is printed onto a product for either functional or decorative manufacturing purposes. It covers cutting-edge and innovative printing technologies in manufacture, including specialty, screen, digital, inkjet and 3D technologies, in the application segments functional and decorative printing and packaging printing. You will see a range of exhibitors from all these sectors, what they have in common, is their interest in addressing a new market – The Industrial print market.
It is being applied in various industries: from functional print that enables an electronic product or device, individually designed mass products and packaging, to decorative print onto various surfaces. Special technologies such as 3D print are used by industrial designers for prototyping, or to generate tailor-made packaging for fragile goods.
You will see new Industrial Print technology and applications from some of the recognisable Print names such as Konica Minolta, HP, Agfa, Canon, Durst , Ricoh and Heidelberg who will show their technology and applications for the first time, as well as more unique and specialised technology from the developers and integrators who have created technology that you would not see at any other Print event.
Q: What sort of visitors are you hoping to attract to the show and why should they come along?
A: With 150 exhibitors, of which more than 60 are new exhibitors, InPrint is characterised by offering high level expertise, product launches and showcases. One of the impressive aspects of the event in 2014 was the quality of conversations that Exhibitors had with Visitors. Unlike any other traditional print event, our unique audience (over 50% board level) comes from both the manufacturing sector and industrial print production companies as well as from traditional print houses looking to adopt new techniques and technologies to generate new revenue streams. In 2015, we also have the extra value of being co-located with Productronica providing added value for visitors interested in the electronics market and other related technologies.
Q: In your opinion, what does InPrint offer that other events do not?
A: The key to understanding the opportunities for printers in the industrial sector is the continually growing range of applications amid evolving technology for applying inks, coatings, liquid & 3D material to more and more substrates. This event is for the printer who is interested in ‘Tomorrow’s World’ and who wants to understand what opportunities there are to develop his business further. There are lots of transferable skills and technology from commercial printing, large format printing and packaging printing in more industrial applications. With industrial print technologies being highly innovative, the underlying expert knowledge & understanding is what manufacturing companies rely on when implementing new technology into their production line.
In this context, our innovative and comprehensive technical conference featuring about 60 free seminars, discussions and showcases alongside the show, will provide lots of impetus, knowledge sharing & learning that will support classical printing companies in moving their business forward towards industrial print.
Case studies from a range of ‘real life’ industrial applications in the automotive, aeronautic, decorative and packaging industries will give insight into how traditional technology is applied to this growing market.
Q: There is a wide format printer, they have a broad portfolio of print equipment covering roll to roll, flatbed and superwide, plus automated finishing. The margins in sign and display print are getting tighter. How would you advise a business like this to begin preparing for, or diversifying their business into, any of the new niches created by the ongoing march of industrial digital?
A: You are right there is definitely a sense that Industrial Inkjet Printing offers a ‘holy grail’ to the wide format industry as the opportunities for continued growth in Sign and Graphic slows. Industrial Print is the only print technology sector that can claim double digit growth.
The growth rate of InPrint Show itself is proof of this. In one show cycle the show has increased in size by over 50%, proving the sector is in a dynamic phase of change. There is simply a huge amount of interest in this evolving marketplace and from our experience in launching the show, there is clearly a big need for insight, information and innovation for print in manufacturing from the entire industrial print supply chain.
InPrint research partner, I.T. Strategies have forecasted that between 2014 and 2020, the average cumulative growth across all industrial print segments is slated to be 36%. This is an increase on previous estimates of approximately 20%. The growth of the show proves that the market is accelerating in its growth as the forces for innovation continue to impact on the manufacturing sector.
As well as the considerable ‘push’ for development and the energy of the developing community, the fact is that there are also considerable ‘pull’ factors from the consumer market which is also fuelling this drive for change. In order to align with this and to synchronise with the changes within the traditional manufacturing sector, production simply requires innovation through the adoption of new technologies, whether this is screen, specialty, digital, inkjet or 3D printing technologies.
In terms of key sectors for a wide format printer to explore, we have tried to break into 3 broad topic areas: Function and Future, Design and Décor and Packaging and the core technologies shown at the event will include screen, specialty, digital, inkjet and 3D printing processes.
Typically in each of these cases ‘Wide format digital technology’ is being used. So whether we are talking about for short run versioning or prototyping in a functional environment or a broad variety of different materials that can be then used for a more industrial environment, opening up a more industrial market offers different opportunities and different customers.
Let me give you a couple of examples: “4D Digital printing onto objects, shapes and curved surfaces. This can certainly be used within the packaging sector for direct to cylinder decoration, but we also see exciting potential within automotive and fashion production”. Heidelberg, Hinterkopf and Encres Dubuit will be showcasing machines doing this, using inkjet technology. “The potential for 4D inkjet along with robotics is considerable as you can make real one offs. Take for example a motorcycle helmet. You can personalise this within around 20-30 seconds! I can see retailers creating new personalised solutions for their customers helping them to distinguish the products they buy but also helping the manufacturer create a unique service.”
Another example is Digital Print that could be used in a more decorative environment, printing a short run wood surface, or on glass for interiors. Companies such as Durst and Hymmen have really opened this market.
Alternatively there is the packaging sector, which is now open to Wide format Printers. Microbreweries have become one of the biggest supporters of digitally printed labels and packaging. “With the UK being the biggest Craft beer market in Europe, and the desire not to have over stocked inventory, then digital gives you the competitive advantage needed and the cost savings”
What is interesting about the InPrint show, is the fact it brings together three different communities - the Printer, the Industrial End-user and the Integrator/developer. No other show in Europe does this. If you are looking for new opportunities then join us in Germany on 10th -12th November at the Messe Munich – find out more at www.inprintlive.com
We’ve some exciting news at LFR this week: we’ve just added Derek Pearson, former editor of Sign World, to our team. To explain the reasoning behind this – and indeed detail other changes at Format – Marc Burnett has written the below blog:
Refreshing news from LFR and Format PR, or… Marc Burnett learns how to run a business that serves many masters while minimising the potential for conflict.
As some of you will already be aware, there are two distinct businesses being run here at Format HQ – an online news publishing business, and a PR and marketing agency.
Clearly there is significant potential for conflict when you have two such businesses, one that sets out to serve everyone in the industry equally and impartially, and another that specifically serves a select few with a service entirely biased towards gaining those select few a competitive edge.
So, how did we get into this position? And what’s to be done to allow these two businesses to continue to flourish and grow without conflict or compromise?
Here’s the history, as briefly as I can:
In 2012 − following the management buy-out I undertook with Abi Ricketts – Large Format Review became a fully independent, online news publication serving the sign and wide format display print market. Since then Large Format Review (or LFR as it is more commonly known) has grown into one of the industry’s leading online publications, boasting an advertising portfolio that is currently sold out, an LFR Product Bulletin email advisory service that operates at near capacity, and a website that boasts more daily visits from sign and display print professionals than you could reasonably shake a whole truckload of sticks at.
Good thing too, because that level of commercial success was planned from the minute the management buyout was conceived, and no-one is ever happy if such plans don’t pan out.
Format PR on the other hand was born entirely by accident.
I have been in the sign and display print industry for some 25 years now, and in more recent times worked in senior marketing positions within businesses that had commercial relationships spanning the entirety of our market – hardware, software and consumable supplies – both here in the UK and internationally. Over the course of that time I’ve worked with a large number of big brand manufacturers on collaborative marketing campaigns and associated PR. Bottom line − I know a lot of senior people in a lot of senior businesses in our industry.
After Abi and I had completed the MBO of LFR we got phone-calls from a number of those senior people. I’ll take it as a compliment that some of those phone-calls were from previous associates who wanted to know if we were also available to do some freelance marketing and PR work. Now, I’m not very good at saying no at the best of times, but with a new business to fund and develop, the luxury of saying no to a guaranteed revenue stream seemed daft. So, almost from the get-go, we had found ourselves doing marketing and PR work which we originally believed was to be little more than short-term “favours for friends”. However, things quickly developed beyond that.
I’m blaming Abi Ricketts for what happened next. You see, Abi is a top quality, corporate-level PR specialist. Her previous gigs include European PR Director for telecommunications giant Alcatel, as well as bucket-loads of high-tech PR agency experience over the past 20 years. She was able to take my 25 years of industry specific experience and polish my work to the point where it suddenly became more than reasonably professional.
We also managed to secure the services of Morwenna Kearns in 2013, previously co-founder of Output, editor of Print Monthly and deputy editor of SignLink, as well as a charity marketing assistant and blogger. Alongside her impressive CV credentials, Morwenna is super-organised, an excellent copywriter and a proof-reader extraordinaire.
The end result? The short-term, “favours for friends” quickly evolved into solid commitments to provide a PR service on an ongoing basis. We were being asked to go on retainer as a contracted marketing resource. Over time more companies came on board, and they wanted the same level of service.
In a nutshell that’s how Format PR came about, by accident rather than design, and it’s grown exponentially. We now look after an exclusive client list that includes Nazdar Ink Technologies, Drytac Europe, Zünd UK, HEXIS UK, ArtSystems and a number of other, equally well-known UK distributors and resellers who collectively represent just about every reputable brand in our industry.
As a result we found ourselves in a tricky position where LFR and Format PR co-existed, but − as the PR side of our business continued to grow – there was too much potential for conflict and something had to change. It is impossible to be totally impartial with one hat on and completely client-oriented when wearing another – and, believe me, we’ve tried. No business can achieve its full potential when shackled by compromise. While we think we’ve done a pretty good job of managing the situation, the fact remains that, in order for our publishing business to thrive and our PR business to reach its fullest potential, they will have to operate in greater isolation from each other.
And then Derek Pearson phoned me. And the clouds parted. And I had my moment of clarity.
Derek Pearson started working in the sign industry in 1996 and has been the editor of Sign World magazine for about 11 years. His credentials, and his experience, are second to none. Derek told me he was available.
By the end of that phone-call Derek was − to all intents and purposes − the new editor of LFR.
Just as importantly, this freed up Abi Ricketts to become the boss of Format PR, meaning she doesn’t need to log in, look at, or even consider LFR ever again. In fact I don’t even care if she and Derek never talk to each other again, though as friends I bet they will. Abi can now focus her time and talents exclusively on developing the PR and marketing side of our business.
Our plans for Format PR remain modest – we have no desire to take over the world, or become a big agency – we simply offer a well-tailored PR and marketing service to a discerning clientele. I guess you could call it a kind of boutique PR and marketing service.
The result? We now have two business running independently of each other – both firmly in the hands of absolute professionals – and both can now thrive.
So, what have I learnt?
I’ve learnt that I have a huge amount of respect for distributors – particularly distributors who serve many masters − where each master expects to be the most important and demands results. I’ve never done that job, but I think the last three years have given me a very real insight into just how hard it must be. Steve Hawker at ArtSystems − I’m thinking of you here. You’ve been elevated to status of “Industry Legend” because you’ve been doing exactly this for years, and doing it very, very well.
I think I’ve also learnt what it must be like to manage a dealer channel – where everyone you look after is competing, and all of them want to be top of the pile. Again, I have a new found respect for anyone that works in channel management. Never done it myself, and I don’t think I ever want to.
And in conclusion I’ve learnt that in business, particularly when managing the potential for such conflict, the only, and I mean ONLY, way to make things work is to be absolutely and unerringly honest with everyone and anyone that is in any way invested in you and your business. No hidden agendas, no playing people off against each other, just straight down the line honesty – even if it isn’t always the answer that some people want to hear.
Industrial Print is a term now being used by manufacturers to categorise pretty much any printer that rapidly produces something other than posters and signage in a roll-to-roll configuration. AGFA digital inkjet guru, Tom Cloots, explains that industrial printing is more about the emergence of new high volume applications now made possible through the use of inkjet technology and ongoing ink developments.
Today’s manufacturing industry has developed a preference for additive processes - think of 3D printing, a topic of preference in almost every industrial trade magazine. 3D printing already finds its application in the distributed manufacturing of specialty products, otherwise cut out, lathed from, or assembled with bulk raw material shipped to remote manufacturing plants.
However, the use of print technologies borrowed from the graphic arts industry already started many years ago in industrial areas with e.g. fiberboard decorations that could mimic wood textures to produce furniture appliances that looked like real wood for half the price. And whereas the traditional printing industry is increasingly challenged by electronic delivery and on-line availability of information, this new industrial printing market is not. Today’s estimates of the print value market size differs on the source used but is ranging from 40 to 80 billion Euro’s. All sources however do concur that a future potential of 100 billion Euro and above is well within reach. The reason is obvious: the market growth of industrial printing is not determined by the demand of information, but by the increasing number of consumers for utility products and appliances.
Industrial printing applications are indeed widespread and involve all situations whereby one or more printing steps are integrated in the manufacturing process and thereby contribute to the functionality of the end product. Gravure, flexography and screen printing are the prevailing technologies today but will be replaced by digital if this can reduce the overall cost of the process and/or provide more application possibilities. Of all digital technologies UV inkjet has the highest potential to meet these conditions.
One example are the sign & display and label printing markets where inkjet technology stands for a huge saving potential by virtue of its faster job completion and the good adhesion of UV inks to difficult substrates. Since UV inks cure immediately and remain on top of porous substrates, up to 30% savings in ink consumption can be achieved. In this application Agfa Graphics’ UV inkjet formulations are characterised by a high colour gamut and available in CMYK with special light colors, including white, varnish and if needed a primer that can equally be applied by inkjet.
Perhaps the most typical industrial printing application is that of product decoration, either for functional or cosmetic purposes. Examples are office and kitchen furniture items made of fiberboard covered with melamine-impregnated paper and a protective layer before being pressed together at high temperature. Typically the paper will be gravure printed with the desired texture and supplied by third parties in large quantities of 50,000 square meter or more. Inroads from UV inkjet technology may come from the need of smaller run lengths or ultimately the desire of the furniture manufacturer to incorporate the printing into his manufacturing process and to print directly on the fiberboard.
Just as on fiberboard, inkjet can also be applied directly onto other industrial surfaces like e.g. tiles, textiles, electronics, consumer objects or even glass and plastic containers. As to the latter, the capability of orienting the printheads in a horizontal position and the rapid UV LED curing allows the print process to be completely integrated in the automated production line of packaging products like for example butter containers, tubes or even bottles.
Expanding these possibilities of UV inkjet, backed up by the customised UV ink formulation know how of Agfa Graphics you may soon find similar industrial printing applications used on your kitchen appliances, windows, the dashboard of your car and other mass utility products.
This survey of industrial printing would be incomplete without also mentioning marking & coding applications as well as the use of “smart” inks.
Marking and coding goes hand in hand with the automation of industrial processes (tracking products along the production line or at the warehouse) and also with the increasing necessity to add legal information (expiration date, safety code) on the products. This is where UV inkjet is already the vested application with Agfa Graphics providing high-density neutral black inks with curing speeds of more than 100 meter per minute on coated and non-coated stock, as well as on plastics.
Future oriented is the industrial printing sub-segment of functional inks. Here we are talking about ‘printed’ electronics applications such as human-machine interfaces (touch surfaces, keyboards,…), smart sensors or packaging (RF-ID and NFC antennas) and other products based on the deposition of thin layers of conductive material on rigid and flexible substrates. Our experience in the field of conductive polymers and Ag particle technology puts Agfa also in the driver seat for the development of so called smart inks. In this class of industrial printing applications it is clear to everyone that the most important system component is the ink formulation.
In all other industrial printing applications, previously discussed, inkjet formulations are of the same importance, yet hardly recognised as such…
Want to Blog for LFR? We have an educated audience of print professionals who are looking for pertinent and relevant information to assist them in their own decision making and business development processes - talk to them, and join the likes of HP, Mimaki, Nazdar and of course now AGFA, who all regularly Blog informative content for our readers.
Large Format Review provides daily breaking news on digital printer technology as used for commercial production of print for wide-format sign and display, dye-sublimation textile and fabric printing, packaging and industrial applications. We also cover 3D print and additive manufacturing.