How Do We Classify Industrial Printing?
Industrial Print is a term now being used by manufacturers to categorize pretty much any printer that rapidly produces something other than posters and signage in a roll-to-roll configuration. There are a number of large format printing systems available on the market today and we can break them down something like this: I define a large format printer as being at least 24 inches wide or greater and grand format as printers that are 98 inches or wider. Roland, Mimaki, Mutoh, Epson and some of the HP Designjet printers fall into the low to medium production category. But what about industrial printers? Tom Cloots, (AGFA’s marketing director) explains that “industrial printing is more about the emergence of new high volume applications now made possible through the use of inkjet technology and ongoing ink developments. Industrial printing applications are indeed widespread and involve all situations whereby one or more printing steps are integrated in the manufacturing process and thereby contribute to the functionality of the end product.” For example, you may have fibreboard decorations that could mimic wood textures to produce furniture appliances that look like real wood but are really inkjet media laminated onto the fibreboard.
Gravure, flexography and screen printing are generally the technologies used today to produce these commercial products but it won’t be long until digital inkjet will start to replace some of these older technologies as the overall cost of the process starts coming down. Of all digital inkjet technologies, UV-curable inkjet has the highest potential to meet these conditions. The inroads for UV inkjet technology may come from the need of smaller run lengths.
UV-based flatbed printers
UV-curable inks consist mainly of acrylic monomers (a small molecule that becomes chemically bonded to other monomers to form a polymer). After printing, the ink is cured by exposure to UV light. The advantage of UV-curable inks is that they “dry” as soon as they are cured; they can be applied to a wide range of uncoated substrates. As such, they are often used to print directly to rigid substrates such as plastic, wood, tiles, textiles, glass or aluminium. Agfa, 3M, Canon-OCE, Durst, EFI, HP and Vutek among others, have jumped on the UV bandwagon with new machines designed to print on everything from wood to glass to vinyl. These new UV printers can range in price from about $50,000 to $500,000 and more.
<h2″>Brofort Print Solutions
Brofort Inc. is a retail print specialist offering a wide variety of services to national retailers with roots in retail management and construction space. They have become the #1 choice of national retailers for rollouts, fixture installation, merchandising and interior remodelling needs. Brofort Print Solutions is a good example of a cutting edge digital production facility that is capable of producing a full gambit of interior and exterior retail signage and print utilizing two OCE Arizona UV-curable printers plus a Zünd cutter. Within the services they offer, Brofort is able to create, produce, deliver and install channel letters, light boxes, flex face banners, fabric banners, window graphics, hoarding, cut acrylic letters, shelf talkers, backlit signs, roll up banners and more. Philip Klugman (VP of Print Services) explained to me as I visited their shop, that many high end retailers have need of variety merchandizing products which Brofort has been able to produce with their Arizona UV printer and Zünd cutter. Signage, intricate lettering, tradeshow exhibits or complex 3D displays: all of these products are produce in-house with the Zünd cutting systems.
Technological advances in printhead design, inkjet printers, ink and software design and manufacturing have all driven much of the growth and change for industrial digital printing. Large format industrial inkjet printing continues to grow for POP/POS applications mainly because it delivers high quality products as a one-off or as an assembly run. According to an SGIA Journal, large format inkjet printing will continue to grow between 10-20 percent per year, depending on market conditions, for the next decade.