High-Tech Inkjet Printing Applications

by Marcus Timson, In-Print USA
Photo courtesy of Cyan Tec

Inkjet printing is gaining momentum in all types of 3D object applications, including automotive, aerospace, medical, consumer goods and packaging.

Marcus Timson, who writes for the InPrint USA blog (www.inprintshow.com/usa) talked with Clayton Sampson, entrepreneur and managing director of Leicester, United Kingdom-based Cyan Tec, on some of the new applications for inkjet printing and its future.

Q: For automotive, aerospace and other advanced industry sectors, what is driving interest for inkjet printing technology?

Customization and reduction of waste is driving interest in the automotive sector. Traditional spraying of car components is actually a wasteful process. If any savings can be made in production, manufacturers are very keen to make them. When manufacturers spray a component, 50 to 80% of the material is wasted. The precision nature of inkjet printing enables automotive and first-tier automotive suppliers to reduce waste and enhance their environmental credentials.

Windscreen manufacturers can drive process efficiencies by using inkjet to apply coatings to enhance scratch resistance, edge sealing or light filtration. We have come across all sorts of components from brake pads to number plates and dashboards to engine covers where manufacturers are looking to enhance the quality of their product and their process efficiencies using inkjet.

The opportunity to customize also is a reality for aerospace. A first-tier supplier of interior trim for airplanes, for example, can add value to their product by offering personalized full-color logos, information images and text or patterned decoration to enhance their product.

But it is not just trains, planes and automobiles where inkjet technology is growing. Suppliers of plastic extrusion or laminated flooring can add value by applying a scratch-proof coating or wood-effect pattern to differentiate their products from alternatives and benefit from the inkjet revolution. We hear of new niche applications all the time, which is what creates the buzz in the industry and offers exciting opportunities for growth.

Q: What kind of customization?

Customization is appealing, for example, to manufacturers offering high-end products such as the low-volume super cars where the car manufacturer is driving the first-tier supplier to develop distinct products with a luxury feel valued by car buyers.

Customization isn’t restricted to the luxury market. Inkjet technology can be used to print faux leather decoration onto interior trim for automotive and aerospace industries. The customization can be both decorative and functional, where warning and information symbols can be printed.

Then there is the youth end of the market, where buyers purchase low-price cars but still want a degree of personalization. Here shops need to personalize at full production speed. Inkjet is a great platform to achieve this.

Q: What about medical?

Inkjet systems offer medical device manufacturers the opportunity to add value through decoration, marking, calibrating and coding. We regularly come across new applications for inkjet systems from blister packs to test tubes and inhalers to syringes. Inkjet technology can be used, for example, to make asthma inhalers more attractive to younger users or to print dosage measurements on distribution devices.

Q: Over the past decade, how has inkjet technology changed?

In the last several years, customers have become more aware of inkjet and what it can do. At the first InPrint, for example, people came to speak to us who had never seen inkjet before and were excited by its potential for their products. At the second show, people were more informed, and at the third they brought their products along to discuss. Year after year, manufacturers increasingly came with real applications and a greater knowledge of inkjet technology and the possibilities for enhancing their products.

Q: How do you feel the market is growing?

The inkjet industry offers both challenges and opportunities, and as with any high-tech industry, success builds success. This is why we work closely with technology providers and promote the advantages of combined inkjet and automation expertise. We believe an industry can grow only if its technology providers stick to what they know and combine those unique skill sets to drive the industry forward.

In order for the market to grow for everyone from printhead to ink suppliers, from software to module suppliers, printing systems in the field must be shown to be robust and fit for 24/7 production.

In the industry, generally people have inkjet printing on their radar and seem poised to take the next steps whilst growth is currently being driven by niche applications, high-end products and the early adopters wanting to get ahead of the game in their industry.

Q: What would you regard as the biggest challenge?

Challenges arise from the sheer variety of applications and the complexity of combining various advanced technologies to build robust solutions. The industry needs to remain aware of potential pitfalls that could impede growth across the industrial inkjet community.

As a relatively new technology, customers are hesitant to invest before seeing samples to demonstrate image quality and durability. This requires upfront cost on the part of the equipment provider with no guarantee of order placement. Again, both investment and a collaborative approach aid industry expansion and technological advances.

Q: What markets, in your opinion, offer the best potential for growth into the future?

The big growth markets in the industrial sectors are those where product handling, presentation and the production environment are a big factor. We see using robots directly for inkjet coating and decorating as a big growth market in the future. Robotic inkjet is an exciting and deliverable technology to combine inkjet and a number of complementary technologies together with a fully integrated production line, including loading, unloading, motion and data handling.

These are exciting times. The future is what we in the inkjet community want to make it. Let’s work and grow together.

Clayton Sampson serves as managing director of Cyan Tec, which specializes in high-tech inkjet printing and automated laser systems sectors. For more information, visit www.cyan-tec.com.

Marcus Timson has been a member of the exhibition industry since 1999. A believer in innovation and communication, Timson regularly writes and presents about innovation, industrial printing and marketing.

InPrint USA will take place April 9-11, 2019, at the Kentucky International Convention Center in Louisville, Kentucky. It will showcase printing equipment, technologies and systems ready to be integrated into manufacturing processes. This includes digital, inkjet, screen and other specialty printing applications ranging from individualization and producing special editions of smaller batch sizes up to mass production. For more details on the show, visit www.inprintshow.com.