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Meeting the Digital Challenge

imageThe full impact of inkjet print technology has not yet been seen in the label and packaging market and still the core technology continues to evolve at breakneck speeds. Steve Knight from explains how digital revolutionises the industry.

Early developments aside, the breakthroughs occurred with innovations in “re-circulating ink systems” and “small multi-level drops”. This in combination with increased nozzle density and ink improvements has led to reliable high speed, high resolution, single pass digital label presses. The first generation of machines satisfied market’s demand for flexibility, the second quickly followed with improvements in image quality.

Each successive generation of machines shows yet higher performance and more integration to a digital workflow; each generation building on developments in the core inkjet technologies. We are now starting to see direct to object printing which – when fully implemented – will revolutionise the production process.

It is not just printheads and ink. Software, electronics, chemistry and integration know-how continue to drive this trend, ultimately leading to a digital production process that will challenge the conventional product marketing.

Thankfully it is not just labels and packaging that are fuelling the core technology. Inkjet technology is widely used in the production of ceramic tiles, textiles, display graphics, newspapers, transactional mailing. Inkjet has proven itself in large scale industrial applications.

Challenges continue to be addressed and we see breakthroughs in many different areas. The ability of digital print to produce short runs as economical as long runs and even 100% variable data, means the volume of images increases exponentially. This issue is being addressed by software using hardware acceleration, by specialist screening technologies that enhance image quality. Meanwhile low migration inks and new colorants address some of the specific application requirements.

As technology enables a new print process, we see a different challenge facing the printer. What is the impact on his business, how will he re-engineer his business to take advantage? To address this we first need to understand his business today and what conventional wisdom is challenged by inkjet printing.

With analogue printing, a lot of time is spent on the image and pre-press – once correct images can be used many times – re-using or re-making plates and screens and letting the press run. With digital print, several new images can be printed every second, maybe just a different bar code, maybe a selection of images from a database, increasing versatility considerably.  Either way the pre-press becomes an integral part of print and the volume of pre-press work increases.

The printing itself may start with mixing spot colours, think again for digital. How will the translation of spot colours to process colours be managed? But perhaps the greatest challenge is on press. The analogue press requires a high skilled and experienced pressman to run it, successive generations of digital inkjet presses will become more push-button. The business of tomorrow will not look like the business of today. For those willing to face the challenges and take advantage of the opportunities offered by inkjet there is a very bright future.

At The Inkjet Conference every aspect of the core technology is addressed.  The focus is on printheads, inks, software, curing and drying, and the chemistry. We invite speakers from both industry and research to present on todays’ technology and what is just around the corner.  Open to development engineers, CEO’s and innovation managers, it proves to be the largest technical event in inkjet.

About the author:

Steve Knight has a background in electronic engineering and has been involved in the development support, sales and marketing of disruptive technology to industries using imaging technology since 1986. Steve has worked for leading companies in a variety of roles in global positions as well as consulting for numerous companies on the development and launch of digital print equipment.

Meet the author of this article and other industry leaders at The Inkjet Conference in Düsseldorf, 7-8th October 2015,