The opportunities of industrial inkjet

The industrial inkjet market is set to gain ground rapidly but is it answering the shifting demands of the printing industry? There is no doubt that there are considerable opportunities for growth, particularly in digital labels and packaging. A guest article by John Corrall from Konica Minolta.

John Corrall_main

Guest article by John Corrall. He is Managing Director of Industrial Inkjet Ltd, a global specialist in industrial inkjet design, manufacture, technology and service,
as well as being the official sales and technical supp
ort centre for Konica Minolta industrial inkjet division. Before setting up IIJ in 2006, John held senior roles in various inkjet companies.

The industrial inkjet market, a sector I’ve worked in for almost 30 years, is set to gain ground rapidly but is it answering the shifting demands of the printing industry? There is no doubt that there are considerable opportunities for growth, particularly in digital labels and packaging.

Recent statistics from IT Strategies project the digital label press market worldwide will be worth over £400 million to vendors this year, of which nearly £120 million will be in inkjet alone. The growth in printed area for digital prime labels is expected to exceed 18 % year-on-year.

However, these numbers really are quite small compared to the “buzz” in the label industry. Inkjet penetration into label markets so far remains very limited despite huge investment from significant players. Independent research mirrors our own first-hand experience that growth will accelerate next year as the market demands more customization through digital, alongside conventional systems with higher capacity, however we need to stay aware of the economics of digital print.

A digital economy suggests variation and customization, and this is where digital printing, and particularly inkjet, makes economic sense. But any high volume non-variable print will remain with conventional “analogue” print technologies, simply because digital print costs more.

In a digital economy late-stage customization becomes a very real need. Where everything is customized – your mobile phone, your clothing, your medicine – then the ability to economically print directly onto the finished product just before shipment is key. In our opinion today’s label convertors should consider becoming print solution providers to their customers. Perhaps installing digital print units in their customer sites – printing directly onto items that once needed a label.

The packaging and labelling market remains an enticing prospect for commercial printers and is attracting forward-thinking printers, but they must be careful in selecting the right equipment. The requirements for packaging are likely to be a lot more diverse than the markets they have been in until now. The packaging market is usually looking for special effects so a customer will want to choose a print system capable of more than just CMYK.

Wide format is one sector that’s already in packaging. A lot of high-end wide-format machines are sold to people supplying short-run packaging for product trials. But it’s important to realise that the customer is likely to be very demanding in terms of quality and special effects. Not every wide format machine will be suitable.

But packaging is obviously a very wide area and some sectors are better suited than others for new market entrants with a wide-format or commercial press used for other work. Flexible packaging and carton packaging immediately spring to mind for growth opportunities

These are potentially ready-made opportunities on which commercial printers can capitalize. But they are very different in terms of production volume and print equipment needs. It’s not clear to me that the same printer will want to go after both segments.

However, the good news for printers is that they don’t necessarily have to make a big investment, even at entry level, to make packaging work, be it in software, finishing kit or press adaptations, or, indeed, new staff. Many printers are finding that they can simply install an inkjet module onto an existing press – avoiding the need to invest in a complete new press. People who want to print on packaging at packaging line speeds won’t be using a wide format machine, which prints in terms of inches per minute, whereas commercial printers talk in terms of hundreds of metres a minute.

In single pass printing the addition of variable information using inkjet at high speed has been a reality for years. What is different is that modern inkjet systems are far more capable than the older systems. I mean in terms of quality, print width, low-migrations inks, white,  colour and special inks such as flourescent security inks.

Exactly what a packaging client will expect of their commercial printer depends on their relationship. I’d again argue that a lot of special effects will become more of the norm such as quality varnishes, metallic, particularly gold metallics.

Here at IIJ, we have visitors coming to us every day who have no experience of inkjet – but think it might be useful for their production process. It’s our job to find out if that is true for them. As well as the obvious print sample work, we spend a long time talking about how the inkjet system would need to fit into their production line, and how the economics are likely to look. There is no point spending time and effort on an inkjet system if in the end the cost-per-print will be prohibitive. Again its print volume and the need for variation that is likely to be the deciding factor.

Based near Cambridge, UK, as an industrial inkjet specialist and the official sales and technical support centre for Konica Minolta products outside of Asia, we have meetings like this every day and we have built up a good understanding of what is important for each customer – what they will need to understand and what the problems will be.

We offer advice on any aspect of the use of inkjet technology in industrial applications, providing complete solutions for the successful design and implementation of Konica Minolta’s industrial printheads. Our aim is that visitors and clients will grasp enough to know which questions to ask any inkjet supplier, with digital being a crucial focus. We are always happy if we can cut away a little of the “tech speak”!

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