Last updateThu, 02 Apr 2020 8pm

Current developments in the inkjet sector and many reasons for the use of inkjet technology.

A key statement at drupa 2016 was that inkjet technology is now ready for the "big time" in many applications - and well positioned to replace conventional printing processes. The drupa motto for 2016 was "Touch the Future". In 2020 we should no longer just touch the future, but under the motto "Embrace the Future" we should concretely dive into the future and embrace it. We can assume that next year's fair will be under the impression of non-impact printing processes. For me personally, drupa 2020 is another inkjet drupa. The success of inkjet printing is inextricably linked to the specific technology, which is characterised by a number of key elements.

Non-contact printing
Currently, inefficient press downtime is largely eliminated thanks to digital printing, with almost no intermediate steps. The productivity of print service providers is increasing and delivery times are becoming shorter. In this way, suppliers contribute to the reduction of inventory at their customers. The future of the printing industry belongs to digital printing and inkjet printing. Xerography and offset printing cannot compete with inkjet printing for very large printing widths and for printing objects and fabrics. Inkjet technology also enables non-contact printing - eliminating the risk of image distortion and substrate damage.
There is no standstill on the market for manufacturers. All suppliers double their efforts around the tiny ink droplets, whether it is the ejection distance from the paper, the friction sensitivity of print heads or their interchangeability, the speed of ink ejection combined with the precision of the droplet shape, the size and quality of the pigments, limiting the penetration of ink into the substrate, improved drying of uncoated paper or many other individual aspects.
Many printhead suppliers (Memjet, Kyocera, Fuji, Xaar and Konica Minolta, to name a few) offer higher resolution, faster printing speed and lower cost.

This opens up new horizons, because until now, printheads have only enabled moderate resolution and speed; application usage has been limited. However, many suppliers are currently developing impressive new print heads with high throughput and high print resolution. Against this background, many manufacturers of inkjet printing machines are active in a wide range of markets, from label printing, large format and textile printing to packaging and industrial printing. Growth in these areas is strong. I am convinced that we are currently at a turning point and that inkjet printing will become the absolutely dominant technology at drupa 2020. We will see some revolutionary machines and find that there are virtually no limits to inkjet printing.

Software, artificial intelligence and 3D printing
Even the print head itself contains state-of-the-art technology. But the inkjet magic also unfolds thanks to other important elements such as 3D printing, advanced software and artificial intelligence. With these components, inkjet systems are perfected in the ultimate way - flexibility and accuracy exceed all expectations. Some printhead manufacturers, such as Bobst Group Mouvent, use 3D printing technologies to fit all components into a small space to achieve the highest level of accuracy. The compact printhead clusters are used in conjunction with a wide range of technologies. It's almost as easy as using Lego bricks!
Neighbouring technologies accelerate the further development of the inkjet technology that was created many years ago. New algorithms support manufacturers of digital printing machines, for example, in detecting nozzle failures, detecting air bubbles in the ink tank of the print head, achieving a constant ink ejection rate with fine droplets or correcting ink ejection by redirecting the ink jet next to the failed jet. In summary, artificial intelligence in advanced software programs helps to eliminate imperfections in printhead technology.
The principle of Industry 4.0 is strongly aligned with the cornerstones of inkjet technology - machines connected by wireless networking and sensors to a system that monitors the entire production line and makes its own decisions.
A wealth of colours
All colours can be printed with presses that offer up to twelve colours and where the droplet size can vary by a factor of ten. The color gamut is excellent across all printing systems. The differences between the original and printed output are no longer judged by the human eye but by the system, using its own patterns. Landa recently announced that it will reach almost 97 percent of Pantone; according to Landa, spot colors will soon be a thing of the past. This sets the stage for drupa 2020 - everyone expects inkjet technology to be the star there. The recently introduced BOBST DigiColor technology is also a harbinger of the end of spot colors. Announcements of this kind will appeal to brand owners, since they will soon no longer have to rely on the moods and subjective assessments of press operators.

Versatile application possibilities
Inkjet technology has the potential to print on almost any substrate, from textiles to packaging. Direct-to-shape" printing is also possible on many materials. With current inkjet technology, no milestones have yet been set for virtually anything that can be printed, but there will undoubtedly be further development. In some areas, such as decorations, inkjet technology is still in its infancy. Companies like MGI, KURZ and SCODIX are opening up new areas - and that's just the beginning.
Inkjet technology is increasingly seen as a driving factor for the further development of printing processes. In the course of further development, it will be possible to print on ever more complex materials. Thanks to contactlessness, inkjet technology can be used to open up countless new markets, for example for glass, ceramics, tiles or even circuit boards. No doubt drupa 2020 will launch such new applications. The motto "Embrace the Future" could just as well be translated into "Embrace Inkjet as the Future", because inkjet is the technology of the future. With disruptive innovations, a lot is in motion!
I expect to see digitally printed books with integrated augmented reality elements and printed electronics at drupa, networked packaging deliveries, enhanced security features throughout the supply chain, and fabrics with health sensors (to detect tension, dehydration and much more).

Variable data, agility and flexibility
Brand owners and their agencies expect (or demand) more personalization and individual adjustments in late process phases. In a sense, the packaging should itself become the product. Some major players such as Philip Morris International (PMI) expect digital printing to become a core element of their packaging production. With digital printing, each packaging element can be designed uniquely, within seven days instead of 18 months. Data is becoming the central element of Industry 4.0 and digital printing, like inkjet printing, must be able to cope with this new reality. The printed products can all be the same, but they can also all be different.

Many believe that inkjet technology is limited by the cost of ink. Ink manufacturers need to invest continuously in research and development, especially as printheads are constantly changing and require adjustments to ink formulations. Developing inks for inkjet printing systems actually costs more than developing inks for offset and flexo printing systems. However, it is only a matter of time before inkjet inks become cheaper. Once inkjet inks are produced in the same quantities as offset inks, cost parity could be achieved.
The accelerated introduction of inkjet technology also results from the fact that water-based inks can be used with all the associated environmental benefits. In corrugated printing, HP emphasises the sustainability of its own inks, especially for food packaging. Others will also jump on the bandwagon of water-based inks, as recently demonstrated at Labelexpo 2020 with the Bobst Group's mouvent-label printing press. The system reaches speeds of up to 100 metres per minute.
As mentioned in the introduction, inkjet technology will certainly play a bigger role at drupa 2020 than ever before. Inkjet printing is still relatively new and the technology is developing rapidly. Current and future innovations will bring inkjet technology to the fore in all major printing applications and beyond. So, in preparation for your visit to drupa in Düsseldorf, be open-minded and take a special look at what has not yet been possible at the exhibition. Very soon these technologies, machines and solutions will not be special features but the new normality!




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