The décor industry is rapidly becoming a new application area for ink jet printing. Several companies are developing systems to ink jet print decorative papers which are to be bonded with the laminate flooring base, or alternatively printed directly onto the flooring materials.
Välinge Innovation is the Swedish company that specialises in innovating new processes which are then licensed to manufacturing companies. They are taking a different approach to printing laminate flooring, where the pattern is printed with a water-based ink, then dry ink, as a powder is applied to the whole surface. Any non-bonded dry ink particles are removed by vacuuming, leaving a pigmented image.
Dr Andy Hancock of Mexar, who worked on the fluid technology, and Välinge Innovation, who have developed the process will give this presentation jointly. We’re delighted that these companies have chosen the IMI Europe Ink Jet Conference to disclose this technology to the ink jet industry. As well as describing the technological process, the way in which it may change the flooring industry’s products and logistics will also be discussed.
Join us in Amsterdam on 2-4 December, 2015 to hear about this novel approach for the ink jet industry.
Ink jet is just one of several digital printing technologies, so what’s makes it stand out against the others? Well, electrophotography has been around for longer, and the first digital commercial presses used this technology. EP is relatively mature these days, but it’s limited to relatively narrow widths and the substrates it can print onto. Enter ink jet. It rapidly replaced many installations of monochrome production printers offering colour at similar costs. At Drupa 2012 ink jet seemed set to enter the commercial print market. Will that promise be fulfilled at Drupa 2016?
Ink jet has proven to be excellent for production textile printing as well, and packaging. It is moving ahead on many fronts.
At IMI Europe we believe there’s a lot to learn by looking across all industries, rather than just focusing on one. Marco Boer of IT Strategies believes the same, and will explain that although the drivers and demands of the range of ink jet applications are different there are some common themes. Marco is a highly sought consultant in the industry and will be kicking off the presentations with his talk “Ink jet: The miraculous technology that continues to advance…“ at this year’s IMI Europe Ink Jet Conference, Amsterdam, December 2-4. Don’t miss it!
Innovation in ink technology is probably key to the increasing penetration of ink jet into new markets. There are several applications where ink technology is currently is lacking, one being packaging. We’ve already discussed the issues – see the blog about Stewart Partridge of Afford Inks. It’s a tough one, getting the ink to work well with ink jet printheads and perform well on the substrate is not easy. Apart from image quality, adhesion and flexibility are important requirements. But the ultimate challenge is making the inks and images food-safe.
Sun Chemical has taken the aqueous hybrid ink approach to this problem. Rather than use 100% UV-curable inks, the ink is an aqueous/UV-curable mix. Although this has advantages there are new issues to overcome too. We are delighted to have Jon Law, Managing Director of Sun Chemical explain the benefits of hybrid inks and how these have been commercialised. Come and hear him at this year’s IMI Europe Ink Jet Conference, Amsterdam, December 2-4.
The path to industrial inkjet applications has taken decades so far, but we are finally seeing some real applications. Back in the 1980s several companies including Cambridge Consultants, where Bill used to work, were working on a range of applications – just the sort of things being implemented today. But the big difference is that now these applications are much more viable and achievable.
Bill Baxter, founder of Inca Digital printers in Cambridge, UK is going to address this topic at our IMI Europe Ink Jet Conference in Amsterdam. He will, quite rightly, point out that the potential for using inkjet for a wide range of industrial applications is compelling. So why has it taken so long? Well, firstly there have been technical reasons, but the quality and capability of printheads has been transformed over the past decade. Ink technology has also moved on considerably over the past few years. But Bill believes there are some structural reasons within the supply chains that have also inhibited the implementation of inkjet.
The good news is that Bill is going to tell us what we have to do to make real breakthroughs in industrial printing. Find out more by joining us at the IMI Europe Ink Jet Conference, 2-4 December 2015 in Amsterdam.
This talk at the IMI Europe Ink Jet Conference is from Konica Minolta, who will be discussing their new silicon MEMS printhead technology. This was first announced at IMI’s Ink Jet Technology Showcase in September 2014, held in the US. It is a modular technology where the printheads can be mounted together to form a head of any width.
The significance of piezo heads moving towards silicon MEMS technology is to enable higher channel densities, that is more nozzles per inch, across the printhead. This is key to achieving a lot of new high-speed single pass printing applications. This printhead technology is aimed specifically at industrial applications, which means it will be compatible with the wide range of ink types.
Konica Minolta promises to present some of the latest results during the development of this new printhead platform. To get an update on this technology, and competing technologies for future applications, don’t miss the IMI Europe Ink Jet Conference in Amsterdam, December 2-4, 2015.
Textile printing is well known as a vast consumer of water and energy, which in some places is having significant impact on local ecology with water tables dropping, rivers running dry etc. This is impacting society and also businesses, for example in Turkey where textile producers have been forced to leave the Istanbul area to protect the remaining water supply there.
Digital technology can have a positive benefit on the sustainability of textile production, as well as the typical benefits of fast design introduction, flexible production and new design possibilities. More efficient dye placement leads to a reduced need for water for steaming and washing, and power for drying, of between 50 and 90%. A particular area of improvement is the use of sublimation printing of polyester to replace other fabrics and processes, where water consumption of as little as 1 litre per linear metre of printed fabric can be achieved versus over 100 litres in more conventional cases.
One of the pioneers and market leaders in this segment is Sensient, and Dr Christophe Bulliard, Marketing Director, will be surveying the impact of digital technology on sustainability in textiles, and will be discussing recent advances that promise even greater benefits. Join us at the IMI Europe Ink Jet Conference, 2-4 December 2015 in Amsterdam.
Okay, all we’ve done is relocate our conference. We’ve been using Barcelona for several years but thought we’d move to Northern Europe for a change. In fact it’s back to the future, as we are going to the same hotel for this year’s ink jet conference as we used for many years in the 1990s!
So why Amsterdam? Well, like Barcelona it’s a great city that everybody wants to visit. Full of character with its canals and architecture, there are famous art museums, great restaurants and of course plenty of nightlife. Our venue is easy to get to, just two stops on the train direct from the airport. It’s also close to a tram stop, so you can get straight into the centre of town.
Although it’s a “new” location, the event is pretty much what you expect from IMI Europe. We have a great programme of invited speakers, both familiar faces and new ones, who are going to help you understand the future of ink jet.
You might be thinking that with all the events going on this autumn in Europe there could be nothing new to present at the IMI Europe Conference?
Wrong. We have great overviews of the industry from CEOs of the leading ink jet companies. We have some exciting new announcements, including breakthrough technologies for new applications. The programme’s so good you’ll want to stay ‘til the end!
The IMI Europe Ink Jet Conference 2015 takes place at the Novotel Amsterdam City Hotel, 2-4 December. For full information visit our website at http://www.imieurope.com/2015_Amsterdam/.
An interesting question that everyone wants to know the answer to. Ink jet has made rapid progress into several markets so far, so can this be repeated in new markets in the future? Martin Schoeppler is President and CEO of Fujifilm Dimatix and is in a great position to look at the future, as Dimatix is probably the leading supplier of ink jet printheads today. He will be speaking at the IMI Europe Ink Jet Conference 2015 this year.
The current trend is towards printheads manufactured using silicon MEMS technology. Dimatix were an early leader, announcing their Si-MEMS technology in 2008. Martin is going to describe how this technology has enabled expansion in many directions. He also believes that the printed electronics application is made for ink jet.
If you want to hear the captains of the ink jet industry give overviews of the industry there’s only one place to hear it. The IMI Europe Ink Jet Conference, Amsterdam 2-4 December. http://www.imieurope.com/2015_Amsterdam/ijp.html for full details
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.
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.
Mike Willis, Managing Director of IMI Europe, reminisces about the beginnings of a leading ink jet printhead manufacturer
You’d think that, like the day you get married, your children are born or your cat dies, you’d remember the day you set up a company. But the problem is founding a company can be a long drawn out process. When do you count from? The day official documents were signed? The day you got funding? Opened bank accounts? Moved into the premises? Probably joining the payroll is what most employees would remember.
But sometime in early May, as best as I can remember, 25 years ago, four of us with two investors and the help of Cambridge Consultants formed a yet to be named company. The name came a month or so later. We couldn’t come up with a name internally and so the lead investor got a marketing consultancy to come up with one. Xaar. None of us liked it. The concept was that it sounded like something Russian – perestroika was big news at the time – and it was spelt like it was from California. We learned to like it more when told that without a name there would be no bank accounts and therefore no pay at the end of the month. And we joked that it was short for ‘biz-xaar’.
Xaar was set up to exploit a new ink jet printhead technology developed at Cambridge Consultants in 1986. Two of the inventors joined Xaar, David Paton (sadly no longer with us) and Steve Temple, who for 20 years served as Technical Director. Mark Shepherd had joined the team in the early days of the CCL development as an experienced process technician and quickly rose through the ranks of the new company. I’d project managed the development at CCL, leaving the others to concentrate on the technology. Once an MD had been appointed to Xaar I adopted a business development role and sold the first licence to Japanese company Brother.
You have to remember that ink jet was still in its infancy at the time. In 1990 we had trouble convincing manufacturers of impact dot matrix printers that ink jet would soon wipe them out. I’d also been ridiculed by an expert from one of the investors for predicting that the sub-$1,000 laser printer was just a few years away!
The focus was very much on office printing as that’s where the action seemed to be. The same was true of other developers of ink jet printheads. US company Spectra, now known as Dimatix and owned by Fujifilm, was the main competitor. They were developing a colour printer for Apple, but then had to downsize when the contract was pulled.
It seemed to me that the way forward for Xaar was to licence the technology for mass markets, like the office, and to develop and manufacture printheads for graphics and industrial applications. Sadly the investors didn’t agree with my view, nor many of my other ideas, disagreements leading to my leaving within 18 months of the start. For some reason I still remember that day very clearly!
As with many changes in life, with hindsight the move was positive. I’ve spent the last 25 years advising most of the major players in the business around the world, and many smaller ones too. Through IMI Europe I’ve been organising conferences and courses for 15 years, contributing to the leading position that European companies have in commercialising industrial ink jet. Amazingly our Ink Jet Academy course, run in partnership with Dr Alan Hudd, has had over 3,000 attend from over 800 companies. And Xaar has managed without me just fine, becoming one of the leading printhead manufacturers and a major local employer.The next Ink Jet Academy course will be held at the IMI Europe Ink Jet Summer School 2015, Munich June 22-23. You can also get the latest information on industrial ink jet printing at the upcoming IMI Europe Industrial Ink Jet Technology Showcase, Munich June 24-25, 2015. Details on both at www.imieurope.com.
The trials and tribulations of developing ink jet products and processes
Some say being a project manager is the worst job in the world, where you just can’t win. You’ve been given a budget and resources, probably in your mind nowhere near enough. By now you have probably proven the feasibility of a new printer or printing process. Marketing has been talking to a lot of potential end users and has agreed with you the specification of what’s needed. Oh, and they also gave you the deadline of when the product is needed, probably for a trade show coming up in the next year.
So now the impossibility of what you need to achieve becomes clear. How can you please everyone? There’s a lot of risk associated with the project; if there wasn’t it probably won’t be competitive by the time it’s launched. And time is not going to be on your side. You and your team will need to work hard to complete the design, test it and carry out further development.
But along the way there will be problems. Some ideas that worked with the prototype may not suit the full-scale machine. Of course the requirements have probably also evolved during the feasibility phase. You may therefore have to question everything you have decided in the past. Am I using the most suitable printheads for this application? Is our ink supplier the best choice for moving forward? How do I redesign the curing system to work at double the process speed? It’s probably a long list.
There is in fact a whole industry of companies whose business is to help you through this process. These days there are many sources of components and consumables. Some companies specialise in ink jet integration. And they are there to help.
Many years ago I used to work as a project manager so I know what you are going through. These days at IMI Europe we organise conferences and courses focusing on ink jet printing. For 13 years we’ve been running an event called the Ink Jet Technology Showcase, especially designed for the ink jet development community. It has been interesting to see the growth of ink jet for industrial printing in Europe, as almost all of the new adopters have been to our events at an early stage in their developments.
At the Ink Jet Technology Showcase we have keynote speakers to explain how the different industrial ink jet markets are evolving, and to give case studies of how they have grown successful businesses from nothing. We have technical experts giving a range of Tech Talks, passing on useful tips and information you can take back with you and immediately use.
But most importantly we have the suppliers to the ink jet community who give short product presentations to bring you up to speed with their offerings. Unlike other events we don’t ask the speakers to dress up their talks as technical presentations; here they focus on what they do and how they can help you. At the end of each session at the breaks, lunches and receptions you have the chance to visit their table-top displays and have follow-up discussions. So you get the chance to meet existing and new suppliers who can help you, as well as the latest information, all packed into 2 intensive days.
This year the Industrial Ink Jet Technology Showcase is in Munich 24-25 June. Expect over 30 presentations. And for the first half day we have invited Frazer Chesterman and Marcus Timson, the organisers of the InPrint trade show, to hold the InPrint Industrial Print Forum, where a series of experts and end users will discuss the state of the art of decor, textile, packaging, industrial and 3-D printing.
In addition on the 2 preceding days we are holding the Ink Jet Summer School, featuring the three most popular courses we run – the Ink Jet Academy, Ink Jet Ink Manufacturing, and Jetting Functional Fluids.
We already have the basic information available on our web site at www.imieurope.com/IJTS15 and we will be updating this regularly as we announce more of the programme.
So project managers, here at IMI Europe we love you, and we hope to see you in June!
In the book ‘The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’ Douglas Adams describes how the hero meets Slartibartfast and hears how a race of hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional beings built a computer named Deep Thought to calculate the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. After many millennia, the answer is revealed to be 42. They then realise they don’t know what the question actually was.
Being a big fan of this story I always associate the number 42 with the answer to the ultimate question. It was therefore interesting to hear that our forthcoming Digital Print Japan events December 2-4 will be held on the 42nd floor of the Keio Plaza Hotel, Shinjuku.
So, 42 is the answer, so what is the question this time? Well, it’s all to do with digital printing, and in particular ink jet. The IT Strategies Executive Conference focuses on the big questions of when and how digital printing will enter commercial printing markets. We all know one day it will make an impact, but when and to what degree? Anyone involved with sales of equipment, consumables or substrates for the vast printing industry will want to know more. A subsidiary question is whether digital can generate new revenues for the printing industry, not just replace it for short runs. Through a series of presentations and panel discussions by industry experts we hope to improve the vision of what will happen.
As well as commercial printing, ink jet is becoming increasingly used for other applications as well. Once desktop printing produced the majority of the ink jet industries revenues, but pages printed in the home is in rapid decline, and vendors are looking elsewhere for new business. Ink jet is already strong in graphics printing and has grown at a phenomenal rate for decorating ceramic tiles. The ink jet textile market is now taking off, soon to be followed by packaging and labelling applications, and decor printing – flooring, wall coverings, panels and so on. The technology involved in all of these non-office printing applications requires different printhead and ink technology to desktop printing. Building reliable machines to deliver high quality print in manufacturing environments involves addressing new issues and challenges. For this reason we are bringing the Ink Jet Academy course to Japan. The course gives an overview of all of the issues involved in industrial product integration. Over 2,500 have attended this course already, helping build the industrial ink jet industry. This is the first time we have held the course in Japan, so don’t miss it.
And hopefully there will be no need to build ‘Earth2’ to discover the question this time, all will be clear!
PS When writing this I was surprised to see ‘Slartibartfast’ come up as auto-predict, obviously fans at Apple too!
The IMI Europe Ink Jet Conference in Barcelona next week is looking again to be very successful, with registrations higher than last year and some great presentations reviewing the hot topics within the industry. This is a high level event, focused on emerging ink jet technology and markets.
So why do we cover all types of ink jet and applications? This approach might appear to lack direction. But ink jet applications are emerging at different rates. If you find out more about how other segments are developing, then you can have a better understanding of your own application and interests, what questions to ask, and what key indicators to look for.
The majority of our conference speakers are invited. We look carefully at how ink jet is evolving, and look for the hot news and developments. Our speakers are therefore chosen because they have new things to say. We don’t charge anyone to speak at our European Ink Jet Conference, their registration is complimentary.
This year we have some great presentations from companies such as Landa Digital, Hewlett-Packard, Heidelberg, Fujifilm Dimatix, FFIC, Konica Minolta and so on. We have new technology announcements from STMicroelectronics, Alchemie and Thallosjet, and much more, in total 21 presentations. The full list is at http://www.imieurope.com/2014_Barcelona/2014_ijp_barcelo.html
We also recognise that a key part of our events is the networking. Two complimentary receptions are held with delicious canapés and local wines and beers. It’s an opportunity to meet senior industry contacts within a relaxed environment.
Over the past 3 years IMI Europe has worked hard to double its database, increase its web content, and engage with the industry through social media. And our events have evolved over the years too. But two things haven’t changed. The quality remains high, and the delegate fee has remained the same for over a decade.
So how do we know we are doing a good job? Satisfaction ratings remain high year after year. And with more registrations that in 2013 we must be doing something right.
Aimed at providing a foundation of basic knowledge of ink jet technology for those new to the industry, and an update for those already working in this field, the Ink Jet Academy has been running for over 15 years.
So how did the Ink Jet Academy begin? Well, around 1997 if I remember correctly, Dr Alan Hudd and I were sitting in Amsterdam airport waiting for our delayed flight back to the UK. We were of course sitting in the bar, and while enjoying our beers we reflected on the IMI Ink Jet Conference we had just attended. We’d both been surprised when close to the end of 2 days of presentations someone from the audience had asked a speaker “what do you mean by piezo?” We realised that not everyone who attended the conference was an ink jet expert. In fact some were very new to ink jet and were attending the conference to find out all about it.
But the conference wasn’t an ideal way to find out about ink jet at all! It consisted of a series of invited speakers to talk about the state of the art of ink jet. Anyone new to the industry would get a very distorted view of what was going on.
So we concluded that what was needed was a course describing the fundamentals of ink jet, and an overview of all aspects of the technology. I could cover the printhead and hardware topics, and Alan the ink and materials. But what should we call it? “Something catchy, like ‘Ink Jet Academy” said Alan, “but not that”. I disagreed, it was perfect, capturing what we were setting out to do, and it was memorable. But would it be successful? We estimated that maybe 200 might attend over 5 years.
Proposing the idea to Al Keene, President of IMI, he suggested we try the course prior to his US Ink Jet Conference the following January in Orlando, Florida. Amazingly 70 signed up for it, around half the numbers attending the conference!
Over the years the course has evolved as we have adapted it to reflect the change of focus of the delegates. At the beginning around half of the course was devoted to desktop technology and coated media, these days it is almost exclusively industrial piezo ink jet and applications.
So how many are there working worldwide in the ink jet industry? Amazingly we have had well over 2,500 attend the course, and will probably exceed 3,000 by 2015. Delegates from just about every company in the industry have attended. We have run courses in the US and Europe twice a year, we’ve been to India 3 times, and early in 2014 ran a course in Hong Kong. And this December we are delighted to be running our course in Tokyo for the first time. Over the years 30 Japanese have travelled to the US and Europe for the course, so this will offer a greater opportunity to attend.
What’s the point of attending if you already know about ink jet? Well, we have given in-house courses to some of the major names in the industry, who make $B a year from ink jet. But their staff only know their own technology. They learn about their competitors and other applications from the course. Some companies are expert in their particular part of the ink jet industry but don’t have the full view. And new employees can get an overview of the field they are entering.
So no matter how much you already know, we are sure you will learn something from the Ink Jet Academy. Full details of the Tokyo course, December 3-4, 2014 can be found at http://www.digitalprintjapan.com. The course is also running in Barcelona November 4-5, 2014 http://www.imieurope.com and in the US in early 2015.
Ink jet technology is evolving fast, and with it the markets and applications it can satisfy. We’ve seen ink jet dominate the large format graphics market, and more recently the very rapid growth of ceramic tile printing. In both cases traditional press sales have fallen dramatically once ink jet gained a foothold in the market.
In the case of graphics, hardly any of the traditional screen press manufacturers had the vision to react sufficiently to the change of technology and retain a significant market share with ink jet products. But with ceramic tile printing it was different. Visionary companies led the way, others followed and many of the ink jet tile printing systems and inks are produced by long-term industry players.
So what about other applications? The big question is what is the next ink jet market? Candidates include commercial printing, packaging – specifically labels and ‘direct to shape’, industrial and textile printing. Even though ink jet entered all of these markets many years ago it has only had a significant effect in specific parts of each market. You can’t predict from the initial impact of products whether there will be rapid growth and disruption. It’s much more subtle than that.
With this in mind we put together an annual Ink Jet Conference; now in its 22nd year, this year it’s being held in Barcelona 5-7th November. Although we always welcome companies to approach us with new developments, we use our expertise to identify and invite representatives of what we consider to be hot news and the latest developments. We are proud of the great speakers and programmes we are able to offer you each year.
This year is no exception; we have market overviews, new technology, new companies, and new products being announced. You can hear Landa Digital talk about the commercialisation of Nanography, and why Heidelberg is going digital. Konica Minolta will be talking about their B2 press development with Komori, and FFEI speaking about the requirements for label printing. Fujifilm Dimatix’s CEO will be reviewing where industrial printing markets are heading and Xennia, the status of textile printing.
What about new printheads? We have STMicroelectronics describing their thin film piezo MEMS developments and Alchemie will disclose their plans for digital decorating. Inks are not forgotten with presentations from FFIC on aqueous inks and colorants for commercial and packaging markets, and Toyo Ink on advances in ink formulations. This is just a glimpse of the 20 presentations we have over 2 days. As well as inviting these industry visionaries to speak we make sure you have time to meet and network with them too, at our full lunch and two complimentary receptions. The full programme can be found at www.imieurope.com .
We strive to put on the best conference programmes possible, and at IMI Europe we are truly independent and don’t have to follow the interests of a membership. What we do is keep a finger on the pulse and invite the best speakers who represent emerging technologies and markets. We hope you will join us in Barcelona this year and benefit from the outstanding programme we have to offer.
When you go into a store to buy a new desk-top printer do you look at print samples? These days probably not, as just about every printer produces excellent image quality. Therefore when developing industrial ink jet products or processes, it’s an easy trap to fall into that just putting together the right printheads, inks, data path, RIP and so on, the image quality will automatically be high. Unfortunately that’s not the case, as many other factors will affect the image quality you will achieve.
There’s the 80:20 rule that everyone has heard about, that 80% of the development will take 20% of the time. These days most of the remaining 80% of the development time will be spent working on optimising image quality. After all, if you can’t achieve the high image quality required for the applications your machine is destined for, then potential customers will walk away.
So for weeks, but more likely months, the development team will be looking closely at the images and test charts that they print, and will then try to work out which parts of the ‘chain of pain’ – from the RIP to dried or cured drops on the substrate – that need further optimisation.
For instance, visible artefacts such as banding are most likely due to mis-directed jets. Or a data issue. Or a printhead alignment issue. Or the way that drops wet the substrate and coalesce. Or…you get the idea. The problem could be software, electrical hardware, a printhead or ink problem, air entrapment in the head, variations in meniscus pressure, the list is almost never-ending.
So the development of a great ink jet printer is more than just integration of the components, for which the component suppliers are offering more and more support and knowledge. It’s about choosing to do things the best way and then optimising the whole process. It’s also about understanding what development work is likely to be needed, the options open to you, and the time realistically required.
With this in mind IMI Europe has decided to launch a new seminar this Autumn, in Barcelona November 4-5th, immediately preceding the European Ink Jet Conference. A series of experts representing the chain from RIP to image will discuss the issues and optimisation of all of the sub-systems and data paths of the process. It’s a good time to find out more about the parts of the process you know less about, or to re-examine what you already know but haven’t thought about for a while.
Interested? Further details are available at www.imieurope.com
It was back in the early 1990’s at an IMI Ink Jet Conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts that a couple of young students talked to me about work they were doing at MIT Labs. This involved jetting an adhesive in a pattern onto a powder bed. After each layer had been imaged a further layer of powder was spread across the bed and imaged, and so on. Eventually you could blow away the loose powder, revealing a 3D object. I wished I’d accepted the invitation to take a look at it now!
Since that time 3D printing has changed from being a novelty process to a major industry. It is still very much in its infancy in terms of the scale of production and the exploration of what it can do. It has become an easy source for media articles, with the most outlandish claims at times. The frenzy has grown so much that I read a story last year in a 3D printing magazine entitled “How to hype your 3D technology”! Many expect it to lead to a new industrial revolution, transforming the way we develop and manufacture products, in the same way that manufacturing changed from hand production to machines 250 years ago.
There are many different 3D printing technologies, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. At present no one technology can satisfy a broad range of requirements, so normally you select the best process for a specific application. In many cases the restriction concerns the materials that can be used. For instance some just work with a particular polymer, others with metals, rubbers or ceramics.
Autodesk aims to become the 3D printing industries ‘Android’
Many of the fundamental patents for the different processes have now lapsed, which has led to a broadening of the industry. On May 14, 2014 Autodesk, the leader in 3D design and modelling software, announced plans to launch its own 3D printer. But perhaps even more significantly it will allow others to make their own versions of the printer or they can use Autodesk’s Spark software to drive their own designs. This business model is expected to drive up the numbers of 3D printers, just like Google have grown the smartphone market using their Android operating system.
Estimates vary as to how big 3D printing currently is, but it is at least $2B and growing fast. Therefore a lot of companies are exploring how to engage with this fast growing industry. There are a great number of opportunities, from building new processes to developing new materials.
So how do you begin to explore the wide range of process, materials and capabilities 3D ink jet printing has to offer? One way is to attend the 3D Ink Jet Printing course, part of IMI Europe’s Summer School, June 16-20 in Milan. Dr Alan Hudd of Alchemie Technology, an expert in ink jet functional materials, will describe the processes, applications and markets for 3D printing, and then explore in depth the functional materials that can be used. The course concludes by describing the processes and issues relating to new 3D printing applications.
When was the first ink jet textile printer developed? 2002? 1995? 1988? Actually, a lot earlier than that. In the early 1970’s a small consultancy in Cambridge, UK was asked by the large chemical group ICI to come up with a new way of printing textiles – digitally. They adopted continuous ink jet technology and built a prototype that printed 2 colours over a 10 inch wide web of fabric. And it worked (just).
But it was just too far ahead of its time and the project was abandoned. The developers at Cambridge Consultants bought the IP, and the project leader span off an ink jet business soon after. He called it Domino Printing Sciences. Cambridge Consultants went on to pioneer many other ink jet technologies and spin-offs, such as Xaar and Inca Digital. The textile printer may not have made it to commercialisation, but the project spawned a large cluster of ink jet activity in Cambridge.
Perhaps the first commercial use of ink jet textile printing was by the Japanese company Seiren, who in 1989 began building several hundred scanning head printers using piezo drop on demand printheads for in-house production. By 2000 Seiren had gross annual sales of over $100M, supplying automotive upholstery, swimwear and apparel.
Today, after a couple of false starts, the ink jet textile industry is thriving. According to SPGPrints, the digital textile market for 2013 was 310 million m2, and is growing at 24% per year. Yet it is still only around 1% of the total printed textile market of 30 billion m2. However, in 4 years time it is forecast to more than double to 733 million m2.
Ink jet textile printing offers rapid fulfilment of new designs, essential for the fast moving fashion industry, but also a key part of the professional interior design market too. The bulk of the medium and high volume ink jet textile machinery manufacturers are based in Europe, with some of the large players located in Northern Italy. So when IMI Europe decided to hold their annual Ink Jet Summer School in Milan this year it was natural to propose an Ink Jet Textile Printing course.
Running 18-19 June 2014, three experts within the industry will give delegates a thorough overview of the ink jet textile industry. Thomas Poetz, of 3T Consulting will describe the markets and applications for ink jet textiles, the drivers for growth, the main players, and how the industry is likely to evolve in the next few years. Dr Simon Daplyn, Ink Sales Manager at Xennia Technology will describe the various ink chemistries that can be used, and the pre and post processing required. Finally, Paolo Torricella, Product Manager at Reggiani Macchine, just up the road in nearby Bergamo, will teach delegates about building machines, the issues of selecting printheads, architecture options such as scanning and single pass printing, and the system design issues of implementing ink jet in production environments.
Anyone with an interest in this increasingly important ink jet application is welcome, and full details can be found at www.imieurope.com.
Another interesting presentation at the 21st European Ink Jet conference run by IMI Europe was from FUJIFILM Speciality Ink Systems. Jon Harper-Smith described a new hybrid UV ink technology that they have been developing.
A trend in ink jet is towards higher resolution printheads, which tend to require low viscosity inks. At the same time the range of applications for ink jet is growing, and with it the range of substrates that users wish to print on, requiring increased functionality of the ink which tends to increase the ink viscosity.
Conventional UV-curable inks consist of monomers, polymer/oligomers, and other additives. Basically the functionality comes from the polymer/oligomer and the viscosity from the monomer. It is hard to balance these to achieve the required performance. In addition all of the volume of the ink is left on the substrate surface, which can lead to undesirably thick layers for some applications.
The new ink consists of solvent, to adjust the viscosity, and a special hybrid polymer to create the functionality. After the drop reaches the surface, the solvent (which can be aqueous or a volatile organic solvent) evaporates to leave a smooth even film. This is then cured using a UV light source as usual.
The ink is free of monomer, which is important for food industry applications. Because the image is flatter than normal UV-curable inks the print quality is claimed to be higher, and this should suit consumer applications such as labels.
With the apparent demise of Olivetti in Italy as a source of thermal ink jet heads, it was very interesting to learn of developments from Taiwan at the recent 21st European Ink Jet Conference run by IMI Europe in Lisbon, Portugal. One of the speakers, Dr Daniel Lan, Managing Director of IUT, described their experience in developing thermal ink jet technology. This began at ITRI in 1993 and R&D led to the formation of three manufacturing spin-offs. IUT has manufactured 11 million ink jet printhead cartridges over 13 years, and since 2004 a major shareholder has been Asus.
Dr Lan explained that what they have been able to offer in the past has been restricted by patents, particularly those from HP. Although they were convinced their technology worked around IP restrictions, the cost and timescales of challenging any legal action was prohibitive. But that may change next year when in late 2014 a significant number of fundamental patents, including matrix addressing, over-edge ink supply and nozzle densities greater than 300 dpi expire.
In addition IUT is developing some new printheads. Special materials are being evaluated to allow solvent inks to be used. And 2 and 4 inch wide heads are being developed. These are intended for fixed array single pass applications.