What technical developments will most impact large-format digital inkjet in 2022 and beyond? That’s the question we asked a number of industry software and hardware developers to help you get ahead of the game. Will these responses help you do that?
Credit where it’s due - Italian machinery and suppliers associations Acimga and Argi, the two promoter associations of Print4All (Milan, 3-6 May, 2022) have done a sterling job in the run-up to the event in bringing together stakeholders in the printing supply chain and experts in economics, trends and regulations - to initiate an open discussion on the potential and new trends that the market is called upon to pursue. The upshot of those meetings has been a recognition that in less than five years, digitisation will have a major impact on the way we do business and manufacture, by replacing routine tasks and enhancing human intelligence and inventiveness. Industry 4.0 will become ever more significant, as will the need for constant collaboration between the various supply chain participants, and also among competitors. So, that accepted, we asked a range of industry software and hardware developers ‘What technical developments will most impact large-format digital inkjet in 2022 - and beyond?’ Here’s how they responded, starting with Epson, which spends approximately $1.2m a day to help shape the product roadmap to meet changing demand.
“In 2022 and beyond, expect to see from Epson new solutions that deliver lower total running costs, increased reliability, enhanced flexibility and improved ease of use.”
Phil McMullin, sales manager, ProGraphics, Epson (UK), points out that during the pandemic digital inkjet technology has had a huge part to play in offering just-in-time production, in tune with the focus on eco sustainability. The other key trend he notes has been the acceleration in consumer demand for customised and personalised print products - the enabler here being the internet and the flexibility of digital inkjet printers.
McMullin, reiterating that the company offers printers across all ink types - aqueous, eco-solvent, dye sub, UV, resin, DTG and direct to fabric - says that “Epson will continue working on developing ink chemistry to deliver the same high quality of print as you would expect from an Epson printer but using much less ink - ink that is more efficient and effective, while hitting the expected colour gamut.
“Our chemists sit next to the team developing the printheads and co-develop proprietary intellectual property for use exclusively in Epson printers. So, in 2022 and beyond, expect to see from Epson new solutions that deliver lower total running costs, increased reliability, enhanced flexibility and improved ease of use. These will enable PSPs to have total confidence in their print fleet and therefore focus much more closely on winning profitable new business. Only those that invest in the new generation of equipment will have the armoury to effectively compete.”
He adds: “Employing and demonstrating a more robust approach to sustainability is also becoming increasingly important. The signage and display industry has made strides in this area over the last decade but there is still much work to be done regarding an overreliance on PVC media. There is a new generation of more environmentally friendly media available today, but they tend to produce mixed results when digitally printed. However, the arrival of Epson’s new resin signage printer, the SureColor SC-R5000, potentially changes that. With a completely water-based ink-set and significantly lower curing temperatures than conventional resin systems, the R5000 promises outstandingly print, even on the new breed of heat sensitive media.”
“Automation options and robotics are continually being developed to optimise production workflows.”
Kevin Jenner, European marketing manager, Fujifilm Corporation WFIJ system business headquarters, acknowledges that “huge leaps in specification and performance are not happening currently as today’s machines are capable of satisfying the needs of the vast majority of print companies. Instead, machine producers are now looking for ‘marginal gains’ allowing print companies to streamline their workflow.”
He continues: “In the post-pandemic world, print companies face a difficult future. When looking at future hardware investments value for money will be crucial. They will be looking for printers that offer the optimum return on investment. That includes competitive hardware price, good ratio of speed to quality, reduced ink usage, maximum productivity. This is the backdrop against which printer manufacturers are developing new systems.
“It’s no longer a question of bigger, faster or innovative technology. It’s more a question of refining the existing technology to offer economic solutions. That is very much the approach we have taken at Fujifilm. We have gone back to the drawing board over the last three years to develop a new portfolio of printers within our Acuity range, which will redefine the benchmark for wide-format print production. Our focus is on making machines as user friendly as possible to streamline production and reduce downtime, improving the print speed/quality ratio, improving the GUI, increased automation, reduced ink volume and better ROI.”
Jenner stresses that “automation options and robotics are continually being developed to optimise production workflows, and that automation is not just about the hardware - software is also very important to streamline the workflow. For example, Inca Connect software tools provide a modular capability to integrate with pre and post press activities. This includes interaction with the Rip and potentially the finishing department.” He also flags up Inca Script and Inca API, that allow the end user to configure and/or integrate with existing or specialist, customised software. They can provide an instruction to the printer with all the information such as the print mode, UV finish and media set-up parameters. The process can then be concluded through the software as the data can then be pulled into an MIS or finishing department to fulfil data input tasks.
From an eco standpoint Jenner says of Fujifilm’s R&D: “Many solvent-based users have moved to UV, although we know there is still strong demand for solvent printers. There is a growing switch from mercury UV to LED UV (although mercury still has a place for the highest output so at Fujifilm we maintain mercury options where we think it is relevant). At Fujifilm there is increasing focus on reducing wastage and costs in our printers by lowering energy consumption, reducing ink usage and wastage, making printers easier to use and service, and by working on automation solutions.”
Developing inks that will perform at high speed, on difficult or sensitive media and for demanding applications, is another development focus. “At Fujifilm we’ve formulated our Uvijet UV inks so they not only deliver outstanding image quality and durability, but also have a minimal environmental impact. Formulating for LED UV curing is a more complex process than formulating for mercury curing, as the curing spectrum is so much tighter. To formulate an ink that cures at speed and with adhesion to the relevant media takes considerable R+D capability - something Fujifilm places great focus on.”
“We will continue to see the industry develop large-format products and consumables designed with sustainability in mind.”
Daniel Martinez, general manager, large format business, HP, is quick to highlight the need for intelligent automation going forward. “Automation and true unattended printing is a major pain point for PSPs. Intelligent automation allows them to offer fast turnaround jobs at a competitive price. In fact, 64% of PSPs voted ‘cost control using workflow tools’ as their technology priority in 2021, according to research we conducted recently. This need will remain the same going into 2022. Services and solutions such as HP PrintOS and HP SmartStream allow PSPs to better streamline workflows and realise the benefits of intelligent automation.
Martinez says the agility to produce different content - and ultimately accept a wider range of jobs - will continue to drive large-format transformation. “Our own research shows that 47% of PSPs believe that product and services diversification will futureproof them, and 59% of them believe that customer demand for just-in-time deliveries will increase over time. With this in mind, PSPs will increasingly look to technology to gain flexibility and keep pace. For example, our recently updated HP Latex printer portfolio now offers white ink capability for the first time in this category, as well as updated cutting solutions.
Like practically everyone else, Martinez also talks of meeting the needs of ever more eco-conscious end print customers. “Our data shows that over 50% of corporate customers transitioned to sustainable print solutions in 2020 and 81% of PSPs are seeing ‘green’ print solutions as ‘more important’ than ever before. As end customers demand greater responsibility, print service providers that display sustainable impact will continue to win market share. In the next year, we will continue to see the industry develop large-format products and consumables designed with sustainability in mind.”
Mimaki’s Arjen Evertse, general manager sales EMEA, is nothing if not succinct when asked ‘What technical developments will most impact large-format digital inkjet in 2022 - and beyond?’. “I believe the answer to the question is workflow automation, consisting of both software and integrated hardware solutions. Also, we see a trend around UV curable inks, which is already visible, but I believe will continue to rise with both a higher adoption rate in roll-to-roll as well as an increased market size for flatbed printers.”
Paul Willems: “We can expect to see more innovations that will compliment a personalised, digital-focused print service such as increasingly sophisticated online webshops.”
Paul Willems, director of business development and product management at Roland DG, is more forthcoming, saying: We believe that personalisation demand will be a key driver for technical developments in large-format digital inkjet over the next year and beyond, with major developments to be made in UV, software, and textiles in particular.
“UV printing has been increasing steadily, largely due to its versatility and adaptability. We believe with further growth in the industrial flatbed segment, there will be a strong focus on improving image quality further, with a wider gamut and dedicated inksets.
“Across all sectors, automation and connected devices have surged in popularity following the pandemic. Customers have built up more confidence to purchase printed products online and it’s likely that more business than ever before will take place digitally. As a result, shoppers now expect hyper personalised products, on-demand. And with the UK personalisation market set to hit £1 billion in 2021, the potential for 2022 is vast. Ultimately, we can expect to see more innovations that will compliment a personalised, digital-focused print service such as increasingly sophisticated online webshops.”
Lets see what will come to pass.