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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.

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By Ron Gilboa

In addition to many of the vendors covered in the Textiles section, two vendors (Durst and Dip Tech) come to mind when discussing the automotive industry. Durst has had technology to print windshield borders for several years; more recently, its Rho IP 203 machine was designed for a variety of industrial applications that include automobile components such as dashboards, dials, and membrane switches. Dip-Tech, a relatively new entrant into the marketplace from Israel, focuses specifically on printing solutions for glass applications, including automotive, marine, and a range of other transportation markets.

This fascinating and rapidly developing market involves both decorative and functional applications for digital printing technology. On the decorative side, the application most familiar to readers of Screen Printing is probably the instrument panels used in home appliances, medical instrumentation, and a host of other equipment to provide a human/machine interface. These decorative panels and the flexible circuitry beneath them are still predominantly produced by analog methods today, but a number of leading vendors in the wide-format space have been working to penetrate this market.

Another decorative application in the electronics field involves printing accessories for devices such as tablets and cell phones, or even the devices themselves. The consumer electronics market was valued at $202 billion in 2012 according to the Consumer Electronics Association and the demand for customization is just beginning to be met. Already, a large number of commercial print-service providers offer customized smart-phone cases. This application also crosses over into the promotional-products industry, where vendors have developed smaller inkjet machines for decorating everyday items such as cell-phone covers and advertising novelties.

Moving into the functional side, rapid advancements in material science are enabling inkjet to be a viable technique for producing electronic circuit boards, chips, and flexible circuitry. Applications range from inkjet-printable solder mask for traditional circuit boards to conductive inks that allow fully functional electronic components to be printed via inkjet. This market is still in its infancy, but is already estimated at $1 billion with projections that it could reach $45 billion in 2016, according to Xerox.


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