For those who think print is dying, we have some just-released news for you from UK-based printing industry market research company Smithers Pira. Forecasts indicate that industrial and functional printing applications are all seeing growth in several sectors – including décor and laminates, ceramics, electronics, displays and photovoltaics, glass, aerospace and automotive, biomedical, promotional and miscellaneous items, 3D printing and and inkjet-printed textiles. All of these are printed by a variety of specialist analogue methods and inkjet. In its The Future of Functional and Industrial Print to 2022’, Smithers Pira values the current world market at $76.9 billion, up from $37.2 billion in 2012 – but with further growth forecasted to $114.8 billion by 2022.
The company adds that suppliers have developed new equipment that widens applications with new inks, coatings and functional fluids, providing new properties of flexibility, adhesion and durability, together with novel capabilities in electronics and biomedical fields. While analogue printing methods – gravure, flexo, litho, screen, pad printing and foiling – are widely used, there’s very strong growth in digital methods, with new inkjet inks and fluids opening many new opportunities, said Sean Smyth, author of the report. These markets don’t necessarily use paper or paperboard substrates – rather plastic, film, glass, wood, metal, ceramics, textiles, laminates and composite materials are involved. There’s strong growth in North America for high-value items and as improvements to many manufacturing processes. New technologies are being developed, with inkjet textile printing bringing high-value, short-run textile printing closer to the end user, while 3D printing is enabling changes to some manufacturing – while potentially changing business models and entire supply chains through distributed 3D printing on-demand.
Gravure, screen, pad printing and foiling are perfectly adequate for many of the long-established applications in which they’re used. For example, in producing a beer stein or sheet of exterior architectural glass, the printing is a small component of the process and often the decoration will be integrated into the manufacturing line. In a changeover, the print set-up is generally a lot simpler than the product change. The required skillset for this print is probably less than in commercial printing or packaging. Prepress production is often outsourced with screens, plates and cylinders brought in as required and reused over many years. The management of the industrial plant will concentrate on improving the methods of making the product, rather than the intricacies of print technology. There’s also much activity in developing routes to marke, for print suppliers and equipment manufacturers, and for associated consumables supply. And this represents just one of the many reasons why print is absolutely not dying.