High-speed industrial inkjet technology is expanding into décor applications including laminate flooring, furniture, doors, and more.
Yet in some applications such as countertops, laminates have been steadily losing market share to engineered and natural stone, metals, concrete, and recycled materials. Inkjet could reverse that trend. Laminates are manufactured in a variety of ways depending on the use: Floors and furniture are made from composite granulated or chipped woods that are pressed together at high temperatures and bonded with melamine resin; countertops are made from layers of plastics bonded on top of particle board or layers of Kraft paper.
Regardless of the construction, print plays a critical final role. To create the desired aesthetics, an image printed on a plastic film, paper foil, or thin sheet of wood (veneer) is bonded to the surface of the laminate. Ultimately, the quality of the printing determines whether the laminate looks cheap and cheesy or as beautiful as the natural product it simulates. Analysts at Freedonia believe high-definition graphics that provide a more stonelike appearance, which today’s inkjet technology makes possible, may help limit the decline of laminated countertops. Freedonia projects that by 2019, laminates will still account for about one-third of total countertop sales, expected to reach 810 million square feet and a value of $29.3 billion that year.
Laminates are a compelling application because aesthetics alone could drive significant growth for inkjet. But throughout the décor world, other market forces such as consumer demand for customized goods, pressure from retailers to cut lead times and order quantities while offering a wider range of options to shoppers, and the growing realization that offshore mass manufacturing may no longer meet the changing market’s needs are creating an ideal environment for inkjet. Smaller quantities of customized goods that must be delivered rapidly simply do not play into the strengths of traditional analog printing technologies.
Single-Pass Inkjets for Décor Printing
The scale of these applications will require fast, reliable, purpose-built production lines, which is where single-pass inkjet technology comes in. Single-pass inkjet printers use stationary printbars that span the full width of the print surface. Instead of making multiple passes back and forth across the print surface, as traditional wide-format printers do, a single-pass system applies all of the ink as the material moves rapidly beneath the printbar.
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