The Future of Functional Printing

Screen printing's versatility is solving imaging challenges in countless industrial settings.

Our special "SWOT: Changes & Challenges" issue brings industry experts together to consider strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats to screen printing. Zoomer's addition to the "Strengths" section outlines why screen's place in the field of functional printing is rightly deserved.

 It’s becoming clear that screen printing faces increasing competition from other printing processes, including inkjet, for applications that are mainly decorative in nature. Does that mean screen printing is doomed? No; on the contrary, it has a secure future, provided that the industry recognizes its potential in other areas. Screen printing began as a process for reproducing decorative images – posters, display graphics, outdoor advertising, etc. Those markets still exist, representing around 20 percent of screen-printing production today, but they are declining. As an industry, we should shift our focus to substantial markets and challenging applications that offer interesting prospects for growth.

Increasingly, these opportunities can be found in industrial settings, particularly functional uses where screen printing deposits a liquid substance such as an ink, paste, or adhesive that, after drying, imparts a product’s actual function. Put simply, without screen printing, these products would not work.

Most people don’t realize just how extensively screen printing is used in functional applications. Did you know that screen printing plays a dominant role in the manufacturing of money? Or that the black pattern you may have noticed around the circumference of your car’s windshield is screen printed? Perhaps someone you know suffers from diabetes and uses throwaway test strips to monitor the glucose levels in their blood. These are also screen printed, and billions of them are used annually. These are just a few common examples that don’t even begin to scratch the surface.

Screen printing has proven to be an essential and affordable way to manufacture products requiring the deposition of such functional materials as electrically conductive silver and carbon inks, pressure-sensitive adhesives, glass pastes, water-based enzymes, and more. What makes screen printing so relevant in these functional applications?

Uniqueness Screen printing is unlike any other imaging technique, with the ability to deposit an average wet-film thickness of between 10 and 30 microns at a reasonable speed.

Versatility Screen printing can be easily adapted to many requirements and needs. Production setups range from manual to fully automatic. Materials that can be screen printed range from traditional inks (UV curable, solvent based, or water based) to adhesives, pastes, and much more. Substrates are almost unlimited.

Measurability Immediately after printing and drying, the characteristics of the printed deposit can be evaluated to get a clear measure of performance, such as electrical conductivity or resistivity, voltage, magnetism, peel strength of two adhered materials, and more.

Controllability Repeatability is a critical factor in screen printing’s growth in industrial applications. Manufacturers are able to control various parameters to get consistent results, and test the printed deposit to monitor quality and build statistical process-control data that is often a requirement in these fields.

Scalability The characteristics above enable very large quantities of a product to be manufactured using screen printing. This is obviously important in any manufacturing environment to support required output and decrease per-unit costs.

Together, these characteristics represent screen printing’s unique selling proposition in the field of functional industrial applications. They also make screen printing the perfect match for manufacturing flexible printed electronics. This field is exploding, with some forecasts predicting the market will be nearly three times its current size by 2026, growing to approximately $70 billion.

[Forecasts for the total printed and potentially printed electronics market. Courtesy of IDTechEx.]

Printed electronics include the familiar membrane switch circuits as well as a host of newer technologies that many may not think of as printed electronics, including electroluminescent applications; OLED screens and wiring; RFID tags; smart packaging; photovoltaic (solar) cells; IML (in-mold labeling) and IMD (in-mold decoration); skin sensors and patches to control the release of medication or cosmetics; and much more. Look for these applications to flourish while other new uses are discovered that can take advantage of screen printing’s unique capabilities.

For more from our "SWOT: Changes & Challenges" special issue:

Editorial Insights
Screen Printing: A Technology at a Crossroads, Steve Duccilli

Strengths
Why Industrial Applications Hold Tremendous Promise for Screen Printing, Mike Young
Screen Printing: King of Textiles, Charlie Taublieb
A Partial List of Industrial Applications for Screen Printing, Wim Zoomer

Weaknesses
The Limitations of Screen Printing in the Graphic Arts, Tamas S. Frecska
Why Web-to-Print Software Matters for All Printing Businesses, Eileen Fritsch
A Sampling of Web-to-Print Software, Eileen Fritsch

Opportunities
What if Screen Didn't Exist? Andy MacDougall
Are Screen Printers Part of the Maker Movement? Kiersten Wones

Threats
Threats to Screen Printing, Inside and OutMark Coudray
Digital Ceramic Printing: A Logical SuccessSophie Matthews-Paul
 

View more from this Screen Printing issue