The Future for Printing

Industry vets predict what will come in the ensuing year.

A fast-moving area for graphics printing lies in the growth of digital. If it can be digital, it will be is a frequently quoted comment attributed to Benny Landa of Indigo, now HP-Indigo. “I think this quote extrapolates to the screen and specialty printing markets,” says Tim Greene, adding that innovations in material deposition, printhead technologies, and substrates enable digital printing systems to take on more marketshare than in the past. But some things can’t be digital, he adds.

“There will always be room for flexo and screen-printing processes for different applications and/or longer job runs; however, we see the future in digital printing and laser cutting inline,” says Mike Bacon. “This eliminates waste, tooling costs, design times for tooling changeover waste, and reduction of operators. Digital printers and laser converting offer true plateless technology that allows the prepress department to RIP files and send both the cut and print files to the machine so that the operator only needs to push a button and run a product.”

As the speed and accuracy of digital printing increase, so will the inherent benefits of minimal set ups and changeovers, adds Herb Gieseler.

Even with growing digital printing, screen printing is still a platform for long runs, says Rick Moore, explaining that printers have already made an investment in equipment and screen but that production has steadily moved to wide-format digital and printers are now moving workloads to UV flatbed systems.

Declining run lengths
Danielle Mattiussi, Mike Bacon, David Murphy, Hiroshi Ono, and Jim Lambert all commented on declining run lengths and shorter lead times, requiring flexible printing and converting equipment. Optimizing efficiencies everywhere sets the pace for production control in a successful printing operation.

“Where end users may have once requested a print run of 2000 identical point-of-purchase displays, they are now asking for 500 for one region, 150 for a smaller market highlighting a new promotion, 50 for a new store, and on until the total reaches the original,” Harel Ifhar says.

New inks, substrates, and equipment
According to Greene, tremendous innovations are taking place all the time in inks, material deposition, printhead technology, and substrates that enable digital printing systems, tools, and technologies to be applied to the wide range of applications that now fall under the screen/specialty printing headings.

Sal Sheikh predicts that the flatbed UV market will grow in the coming year for four main reasons. First, there will be transfers from older to newer printing technologies. Users will realize productivity gains and cost savings without sacrificing quality. Second, new applications use flatbed printers—applications such as packaging for variable-data, short runs, and prototyping. Third, traditional signage applications will contribute to UV’s growth as more prints are made directly on a rigid substrate. And fourth, more flatbed UV inkjet printers will become available, especially at entry levels.

Eric Matsumoto agrees that many screen-printing applications are switching to UV inkjet technology.

Lean manufacturing
The industry is headed into lean manufacturing. Chase Roh says more than 60% of garment printers plan to adopt the direct-to-garment printer approach and that the new generation of printers for garments is much more productive.

Bacon and many of the others agree that lean is the way to go to control the cost of manufacturing. Danielle Mattiussi adds that from a software perspective, customers are looking at ways to automate every facet of production.

Continued reduction of the labor force remains a component of cost controls for printers. As new manufacturing methods, such as cellular manufacturing, digital printing, and fabrication are added, the speed and accuracy increase. Giesler sees a shift in the future back to more domestic manufacturing as these changes take place, as opposed to outsourcing or off-shore printing. However, he also sees consolidation of companies and assets in the future.

Juergen Roesch explains that print shops are looking to integrate all shop-handling processes connected to MIS: inventory, ordering scheduling, cost control, and billing—and if you can add automation, centralize color management, and create color appearance across all devices, digital or not, you can stay on top of all operations.

Dealers and shops are looking at scalable solutions, Roesch adds—tools that work modularly, are easy to operate, and can be extended to multiple production sites. The flexibility to expand or contract to fit the economic situation is needed now more than ever.

Customization
Wherein lies the promise of growth? “Customization, localization, and the ability to change labels dynamically is creating a while new market for label printing,” Jim Lambert says.

An area in our industry that benefits from a slow economy is where labels and marketing are used to capture the consumers’ attention, adds John Bennett. Brand marketers and grocery and mass merchandisers tend to change prices frequently in this type of economy; therefore, there are increase demands for media that can present these changes to the customer.

David Murphy sees potential in retail, interior décor, event graphics, out-of-home advertising, vehicle graphics, and traffic signage. He sees growing markets in folding cartons, corrugated packaging, and P-O-P displays that are just ripe for the benefits of high-quality digital printing.

According to Kim Hensley, label printing will fill a growing need to prevent products from being tampered with by using incorporated holograms, watermarks, RFID, and other tamper-evident films.

The market for personalized products continues to grow across every facet of the printing industry, and businesses that capitalize on this opportunity will thrive in the future, explains Hiroshi Ono. Helping fuel the trend are the recent advancements in UV-LED technologies, which enable printing on unconventional substrates and even directly onto products—from pens, key chains, and promotional items to cell phone covers and laptop computers.

Sal Sheikh believes that new applications, such as packaging printed on flatbed UV inkjet printers using variable-data short runs and prototyping, are the wave of the future.

Healthy rebound
Times are inevitably changing for most screen printers. Industrial printing applications using specialty inks will provide an area of growth, especially in photovoltaics, RFID applications, and other segments. T-shirts, textiles, special effects, long runs, décor, promotional items, and security are other areas of positive growth in traditional screen-printing venues.

“I think the industry is at a crossroads for many companies,” Riley Hopkins says. Though old-style business is giving way to new-style business somewhat, smaller companies and those capable of flexible production have an advantage. Paying attention to matching colors in an advertising campaign printed on different presses, to meeting a deadline, to providing value-added services, to controlling costs seems to make a big difference between the survivors in a tight economy.

“I’m optimistic that the industry will continue to grow in exciting new directions while at the same time retaining some of the core principles that got us to where we are now,” Hopkins says. “I, for one, welcome the new and exciting possibilities.”

Panel of Respondents

AnaJet Inc., Costa Mesa, CA
Chase Roh, Founder

FLEXcon, Spencer, MA
John Bennett, VP, Product Identification

GMG Americas, Hingham, MA
Juergen Roesch, Manager, Business Development

Hewlett-Packard Company, San Diego, CA
David Murphy, Director of Marketing, Americas, HP Graphics

Hewlett-Packard Company, Scitex Industrial Printing Solutions, Netanya, Israel
Harel Ifhar, Marketing Manager

Hop Industries, Lyndhurst, NJ
Eric Matsumoto, Account Representative

InfoTrends, Rockville, MD
Tim Greene, Director

INX International, Digital Division, San Leandro, CA
Jim Lambert, VP and GM

MACtac Graphic Products, Stow, OH
Rick Moore, Marketing Director

MACtac Roll Label, Stow, OH
Kim Hensley, Product Manager

Océ North America, a Canon Group company, Chicago, IL
Sal Sheikh, VP Marketing

ONYX Graphics, Inc., Salt Lake City, UT
Danielle Mattiussi, Director, Product Marketing

PANNAM Imaging, Cleveland, OH
Herb Gieseler, Senior Technology Engineer

Riley Hopkins Screen Printing Machinery, Gig Harbor, WA
Riley Hopkins, President

Roland DGA Corp., Irvine, CA
Hiroshi Ono, Group Product Manager

Spartanics, Rolling Meadows, IL
Mike Bacon, VP Sales and Marketing

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