What’s next in Inkjet and many reasons to adopt it!

The overriding message for drupa 2016 was that inkjet is now ready for ‘prime time’ across a growing range of applications and well-positioned to displace conventional printing methods. Inkjet specialist Régis Thienard explains why we were supposed to ‘touch the future’ in 2016 and should really ‘embrace it’ properly in 2020.

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For 2020, everyone is guessing that drupa will signal the victory of non-impact printing. For me, 2020 will be another inkjet drupa. The success of inkjet derives from the very nature of the technology which can be looked at across its key elements.

Contactless printing
Régis Thienard
Régis Thienard

Today, digital printing eliminates most of the inefficient down time of a printing machine as there are almost no more intermediate steps. The PSPs become more productive, they increase their responsiveness and they contribute to inventory reduction for their customers. The future of printing is set for digital and for inkjet. Xerography and offset can’t go where inkjet can go with very large widths, printing on objects and fabrics. Inkjet technology allows printing without contact, eliminating the risk of distortion of the image or deterioration of the substrate.

No market is standing still for manufacturers and they all are redoubling their ingenuity to manage those tiny drops of ink. Whether it means the ejection-height compared to paper, the fragility of the printheads in terms of friction, their inter-changeability, the speed of ink-ejection coupled with the preciseness of each drop’s shape, the size and quality of the pigments, limitation of ink penetration into the substrate, or the improved drying of uncoated paper, etc.

We see many printhead suppliers (Memjet, Kyocera, FUJIFILM, XAAR, Konica Minolta, to name but a few) delivering higher resolution, higher speeds and lower costs. This all opens up new horizons. While printheads previously only had moderate resolution and speed with limited application usage, we are witnessing an incredible development of new printheads across many suppliers delivering high throughput and print resolution. Therefore, there are a lot of inkjet machine suppliers serving numerous markets from labels to large-format, textiles, packaging and industrial printing. The growth here is significant and I am convinced that we are at a clear tipping-point for inkjet to become the dominant technology at drupa 2020.

We will witness some revolutionary machines and see that there is almost no limit for inkjet.

Software, AI and 3D printing

While the printhead itself requires advanced technologies, the inkjet magic taking place is also thanks to other key ingredients recently available such as 3D printing, advanced software and Artificial Intelligence (AI). These components are the ultimate tools to help in perfecting the inkjet machines, thus advancing their flexibility and accuracy beyond expectation. Almost as simple as Lego bricks!

Adjacent technologies are truly accelerating the ongoing development of inkjet, itself invented many years ago. New algorithms help digital press builders in the search for nozzle failure, in the detection of air bubbles inside the printhead’s ink tank, in achieving a constant ink-ejection rate coupled with the fineness of each drop, or with fly ink shot-correction by diverting to the jet adjacent to the missing jet, etc. In short, you can say that AI in advanced software is helping to remove imperfections in printhead engineering.

The recently invented Industry 4.0—which refers to machines which are augmented with wireless connectivity and sensors, connected to a system that can visualise the entire production line and make decisions of its own, is very much aligned to the principles of inkjet.

Application versatility

Inkjet technology has the potential to print on almost any substrate – from textile to packaging including direct-to-shape on many substrates. Current inkjet technology has not established a landmark across literally all that is printed, but there is no doubt that it will evolve further. In some areas inkjet is still in its infancy, for example, in embellishing.

Inkjet is increasingly seen as an evolutionary driver of printing techniques and such evolution enables the printing of increasingly complex materials. The contactless nature of inkjet opens up myriad of new markets such as glass, ceramics, tiles, even printed circuit-boards. We can be sure that drupa 2020 will bring such new applications to life. The motto ‘embrace the future’ could well become ‘embrace inkjet as the future’. Disruptive innovations are on the move!

Cost effectiveness

Many claim that the limit of inkjet is linked to the cost of ink. Today, the manufacturer-research required to produce inks involves ongoing investments, especially as printheads are constantly changing and ink formulations must be adjusted. Whilst it’s true that the development of inks for inkjet is more costly than for offset or flexo, it is just a question of time for inkjet to become more affordable and when its production volume surpasses offset inks it could indeed be at cost-parity. The acceleration of inkjet adoption also derives from the fact that it can be water-based with all the associated environmental benefits.

As I said in the introduction, drupa 2020 should embrace inkjet like never before. Inkjet is still a relatively new and fast-developing technology, the innovations taking place now and the ones to come will make it the dominant technology across all key printing applications and even beyond. So, as you prepare your trip to drupa 2020 in Düsseldorf, be open-minded and seek out especially the things that were not hither to possible, because they will very soon be the ‘new normal’!

(Régis Thienard is an inkjet specialist owning various inkjet patents and one of the JETVarnish inventors. He is a graphic industry specialist and consultant with a strong passion for printing and print-machine design.)