The silent revolution

It’s a technology that has been in your home and office for the past 20 years, and in the past decade it has begun transforming industries. Isn’t it about time you considered it for your manufacturing business?

Mike Willis, Managing Director, IMI Europe

There’s a technology that has been commercialised since the 1970’s, yet it has only been in the last decade that it has begun to transform manufacturing. Ever wondered how Amazon has such an enormous range of books for immediate shipment, or if not immediate in 1-2 days? Or, if you go to a Zara store the latest fashions are available in your size? Perhaps you’ve recently sourced ceramic tiles for a remodelled bathroom and been surprised at the range available – even convincing wood and metal effects.

How can they do this? Amazon can maintain low stock levels yet offer almost instant fulfilment with digital print. Many other industries can do the same using digital industrial printing.
How can they do this?
Amazon can maintain low stock levels yet offer almost instant fulfilment with digital print. Many other industries can do the same using digital industrial printing.

The book production, fashion and the ceramic tile industries have been transformed by using ink jet technology. That’s in addition to point of sale and in-store graphics for stores, billboards and building wraps. Ink jet is proving a very versatile way of digitally applying images to substrates. The next candidate likely to be transformed by ink jet is the décor and product manufacturing industries. Yet despite having such a major impact, industrial ink jet printing and decoration gets hardly any of the exposure that 3D printing gets, hence the ‘silent’ revolution. Newspapers print stories about the latest 3D printing application at least weekly, but when did you last read about the impact of digital printing in manufacturing?

The basic principles are the same as in that humble ink jet printer you use at home. However, today’s commercially available ink jet printheads can use a range of inks based on water, solvents, or UV-curable, allowing printing to take place on virtually any substrate. Ink jet is non-contact, so non-flat surfaces can be printed. There is no impact or pressure, so even very thin and delicate surfaces can be used. Laminate flooring, worktops, panels, wall coverings and furnishing textiles are considered to be the next affected by the ink jet revolution. Even the automotive and aerospace industries are getting in on the act, promising a whole new level of customisation in the future.

So what does ink jet do for the customers who purchase products?
It helps streamline distribution channels by allowing responsive manufacturing rather than produce for stock, allowing a faster time to market and reduced waste and inventory. Therefore customers can decide what they want to buy, and get it, rather than select from what’s in stock. Manufacturers can streamline production and significantly reduce costs. Ink jet decoration can be implemented on-line.

What has enabled this revolution is the availability of the necessary components. A wide range of both industrial-grade ink jet printheads and different ink types are available. Data control and printhead drive cards allow printing on webs, sheets and shapes. Ink supply systems are available to maintain the ink in optimum condition. Drying and curing systems specific to ink jet allow control at a wide range of production speeds, and integration services and inspection systems are available too.

So, whether you manufacture toothbrushes, kitchen appliances, footwear, power tools, cars, trains or aircraft, this new way of applying ink to surfaces is having a great impact, even though there is ‘no impact’!

To find out more about ink jet technology, how it is transforming industries and how it can be implemented, join us for the Industrial Ink Jet Technology Showcase taking place in Munich, German 24-25 June, 2015. Prior to this is the Ink Jet Summer School 22-23 June offering three courses related to ink jet.