Links in inkjet – the importance of partnerships in digital printing

Digital printing technology is making revolutionary changes to many markets, with a (mainly positive) impact on peoples’ lives. Behind this success is the hard work of bright people in companies across many parts of the world.

Partnerships are important in many walks of life

Partnerships are important in many walks of life

So why are partnerships important? The main factor is that development of cutting-edge technology requires state-of-the-art expertise, and often not all of the required expertise resides in one company, even very large ones. For example any inkjet printing application at a minimum requires a printing system and an ink to work together for a successful result. Most companies do not develop both, and the required expertise only comes from direct experience, so even if an existing printer is being used with a newly-developed ink (or vice versa) then a degree of cooperation between companies is required. More probably, significant changes will need to be made to existing technology, or completely new fluids or hardware will need to be developed. This means that partnerships between ink and hardware developers are vital for developments in new digital printing applications.

There are many examples in the industry of such partnerships existing successfully over many years, and just as many examples of these partnerships breaking down when (as is almost always the case) the development turns out to be more challenging than originally envisaged. Establishing clear technical milestones, and just as important, business goals and ways of working together are essential to ensure that the relationship survives under the pressure of missed deadlines and recalcitrant technology. In addition, different types of technology calls for different mindsets – non-technical people would probably guess that a mechanical engineer and a chemist are essentially similar but they really could not be more different in terms of their ways of thinking. I have witnessed conversations that might as well have been between two different species!

The second type of partnership that is essential, especially for industrial digital applications, is that between the technology developers (hardware, software, ink etc.) and the end user community who understand in detail the application to which the technology will be put. It is fundamental to industrial applications that the printing process needs to be compatible with an industrial production process. This process may appear disarmingly simple, or fiendishly complicated (especially to an outsider), but generally the process is proprietary to the end user company and integral to their business. The key to success in an industrial application is integration with the existing process to the greatest possible degree, and this means that understanding of this process needs to be shared with the developers (and the developers need to take the time and effort to understand it). This again calls for individuals from disparate backgrounds to work together with a common goal, which is difficult to achieve but highly rewarding when successful.

These two key types of partnership are just the two most obvious ways in which companies with different mindsets need to work together as a closely-knit team in order to develop successfully in new digital applications. In general the advancement of technology relies on working together – inkjet just happens to be an excellent example of this.

Tim Phillips, Catenary Solutions