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Digital Ceramic Printing: A Logical Success

(December/January 2016) posted on Thu Feb 04, 2016

Why transitioning to digital technology was a natural evolution for the ceramic tile decoration industry – and why this transition may provide a future model for other industrial applications.

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By Sophie Matthews-Paul

The resulting printed products were designed to offer consistency and were restricted to plain tiles or those whose patterns could be repeated without variation. Using the screen-printing process, color consistency was almost impossible to replicate with any degree of accuracy across different batches but, with no feasible alternative, the world at large had no option other than to accept the limitations imposed by analog methods. Ceramic tiles and other items produced in the same way were ripe for conversion to digital printing.

Recession and Change
Behind this metamorphosis were several drivers that resulted in an “industrial revolution” for this particular segment. The worldwide economic downturn, particularly during and after the recession of 2008, was responsible for diminishing the demand for projects in which ceramic tiles traditionally played a part. With the building trade being affected adversely on a global scale, manufacturers found it increasingly difficult to maintain margins and stay profitable using conventional printing methods.

Digital inkjet printing had already become a standardized process in the graphic segments by the time the global recession took effect. And although initial developments were underway that were designed for functional and industrial decoration, most of these techniques were still in their infancy. However, in the ceramics market, it was evident that change was needed both in terms of production accountability and logistics, as well as from financial and environmental standpoints. This declining sector was affected significantly by the reluctance of the supply chain to continue to purchase and store products in very high volumes. At the same time, end customers were driven by fashion trends that increasingly required creativity and individuality. These parameters could not be achieved using analog production methods that were based on a high-volume, low-cost manufacturing model that required long lead times from design through production to delivery of the end product.


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