May 13, 2015
Interprint one of the world’s most prominent manufacturers of décor paper for the laminate industry has gone digital. In a press release dated May 5th 2015, the company stated their strategy to use digital printing technology to address the growing demand for shorter runs of décor paper used in the manufacturing process of decorative laminates used for furniture, cabinetry, kitchen counters, doors, and other woodworking applications. Interprint is using the marketing slogan “Hello World!” to introduce its clients to this investment in digital innovation, a KBA RotaJET with a print width of 1.68 meters capable of speed up to 150 meters per minute. This CMYK device is capable of producing over 3.7 million square meters per month (based on a speed of 150 meters per minute, a 1.68 meter width, 2 shifts a day, and 22 days a month operating at 70% productivity).
As noted by Holger Dzeia, Marketing & Sales Director at Interprint, “Our customers want more flexibility, especially in the batch size of new décor for first smaller production batches or market tests. This subsequently allows, in the case of increasing quantities, a seamless transition to a production with décor intaglio printing. Our customers now also have the possibility of procuring smaller quantities at low prices at the end of a décor life cycle. Interprint can thus offer problem solutions that have previously not been possible in our industry.”
Interprint is a major supplier of décor paper to the laminate industry. The company has over 1,100 employees worldwide and six décor printing plants with 29 gravure presses around the globe. This provides the company with production capacity of 1,700 million square meters annually. The company’s main products are décor gravure printed papers, décor finishing foils, and melamine films. Interprint’s world headquarters is in Arnsberg Germany, where the company was founded in 1969. Interprint is part of Wrede, a 350 million euro industrial holding company. Wrede has two divisions: decorative surfaces (Interprint) and household products (OKT).
Koenig & Bauer Group, or as known in the printing industry KBA, is a manufacturer of printing presses for a range of applications from publishing to packaging from sheet fed to web fed. As is the case with many traditional press manufacturers it has been KBA’s strategy to offer digital production presses to the graphic arts marketplace as well as to develop new opportunities in adjacent industries. KBA’s high-volume inkjet printing platform is the RotaJET and is comprised of the RotaJET L-Series, the RotaJET 76, and the newly installed unit at Interprint. The RotaJET product line is capable of print speeds of up to 150 meters per minute at 600 dpi (2 bit) and print widths ranging from 280 to 1680 millimeters. InfoTrends recently completed a white paper on KBA’s RotaJET platform. It’s available as a free download. A video describing the Interprint systems is available on YouTube.
This announcement underscores InfoTrends’ belief that decorative applications are a fertile ground for digital conversion. In this case, it is decorative papers used for laminate or direct-to-surface printing. In just the past few years these markets have seen a shift towards shorter run lengths and increased customization. For example new decorative surface products such as Formica’s Formica Envision, Schattdecor’s digital VISIONS, and Wilsonart’s WilsonartXYou are now available. From uploading user’s own designs to manufacturing short runs on demand, the industry’s supply chain dynamics are changing. A minimum order for production volume of gravure-printed décor paper used to be about one ton of printed paper. Now with digital printing, a minimum order can be one that meets customer needs as well as their price sensitivity and timing. Digital printing is the enabler that helps achieve this.
In the quest for the optimal product, décor paper manufacturers and print engine manufacturers are addressing technical aspects and client acceptance issues for digitally produced décor papers. On the technical side, material science is key for ensuring that the new printed product can be converted into laminates through immersion in resin and to high pressure that is typical for this manufacturing process. Additionally the pigmented inks used for décor paper must have a high level of permanency because laminates of all sorts are exposed to extreme environmental conditions (much more so than many typical printed graphic arts products). Client acceptance is another challenge. Typically, décor paper printing is done on gravure presses using as many as eight to twelve special colors rather than the four process colors (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black), which is common for digital printing. This difference in color usage is compounded by the underlying differences between the gravure and inkjet printing processes. This is not a quality issue per se, because both processes can produce high quality output. However it can result in perceived differences when batches of the same design are compared side by side. Even so, digital production printing opens up unique and profitable opportunities including small batch production and just-in-time manufacturing. There are also production benefits such as the elimination of gravure cylinder tooling as well as the freedom from the limitations of the repeat lengths of gravure cylinders.
These new innovations must be accompanied by a new generation of customer-facing tools that can take advantage of just-in-time manufacturing, automated job management, and a range of design tools that will open up the market to a range of laminate specifiers such as architects, interior designers, construction companies, and possibly even consumers (via big box retailers such as Home Depot or Lowes).
The development in the décor space has been dramatic. A range of printing systems from industrial manufacturers have emerged in this space to address decor paper printing as well as direct-to-surface printing. As single-pass inkjet technology became feasible, products emerged that were aimed squarely at this opportunity. With printhead arrays as wide as 2.25 meters, a range of solutions for both roll fed and sheet fed configurations are now available for traditional décor paper producers as well as direct to surface printing for the woodworking industries. These include the Hymmen Jupiter, Barberan BIJ, and Cefla Pixart product lines.
Research conducted by Freedonia shows that the world decorative laminates market is growing at 5.6% annually and will reach 10.7 billion square meters by 2018. This trends aligns with InfoTrends own research, Profiting through Digital Printing in the Décor Marketplace, conducted with U.S. architects and designers, 25% of whom indicate that the use of laminates is growing. InfoTrends believes that laminates represent about 30% of a $500 billion decorative market opportunity.
This latest announcement by Interprint reinforces our assessment that industrial applications represent a growth opportunity for digital printing. In fact, it is a significant turning point when a major manufacturer of décor paper acknowledges the opportunity. There are still naysayers who have issues with quality, or comparability to existing processes, or economic feasibility, but the market is changing in fundamental ways, and this announcement is evidence of that.
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