Jun 14, 2016
After digesting a week of meetings at drupa 2016 (May 31st to June 10th, Düsseldorf, Germany) along with plenty of good German food and beer, the InfoTrends analyst team believes the show can be characterized by five major themes:
- Inkjet 3.0 –After important advances in production inkjet printing at drupa 2008 and 2012, this drupa can be considered “inkjet drupa 3.0” because of new and improved print heads, higher quality levels, wide printhead arrays, improved performance on a range of substrates, and expansion across a range of document, packaging, and decorative applications. These developments have brought digital printing into the mainstream. All of the leading offset press manufacturers are now committed to a digital print strategy, and though for some there is an important component that is based on electrophotography, it is the high productivity levels of inkjet that have convinced them that there is a place for digital print in production environments.
- Digital printing of packaging – Though digital printing of packaging is certainly being influenced by inkjet, the major theme in this area is process automation. Digital printing, digital embellishment, and digital die-cutting were seen integrated across many production lines for labels, folding cartons, corrugated packaging, and even some direct-to-shape applications. Despite its commercial print heritage, drupa is morphing into a show with a significant package printing component. Meeting the needs of different segments of the packaging market is a challenge that requires effective software, workflow, and finishing if the true advantages of digital print for the entire supply chain are to be gained. It’s not clear today that digital printing system vendors have fully grasped the magnitude of this.
- B1 digital – Many commercial printers have an almost emotional attachment to the B1-format press platform that has served them so well for offset printing. The new generation of B1-format digital printing devices appeals to them because they can see how they would fit easily into their production lines with minimal disruption (despite the fact that smaller digital devices might be just as efficient and/or cost effective). drupa 2016 saw the arrival of larger format digital cut-sheet color printing systems as well as off-line systems for special effects such as spot gloss, dimensional effects, and metallic foils. The progress in B1 sheet-fed design is facilitated by wider inkjet arrays that benefit from the latest advances in inkjet head technology. The challenge for any of these larger format digital printing devices is to meet the production requirements for quality, consistency, substrate support, and color registration while performing at high speed. Also important is integration of finishing technologies that leverage the benefits of digital print. Therefore laser cutting and creasing, particularly for folding carton applications, is also advancing, and for some of these devices the focus is on a B1 sheet size. For the off-line digital devices used for special effects, the B1 sheet size opens up sizeable opportunities because these systems are capable of supporting conventional presses as well as digital printers.
- Special effects – Offset print processes have typically excelled at special effects beyond process color such as spot gloss, flood coats, foils, and corporate color matching. This kind of embellishment is now accelerating for digital print. Electrophotographic devices are using effects like printed metallic, dimensional, clear gloss, spot colors, fluorescent, security and other embellishments to differentiate the printed products and provide added value. Inkjet, particularly with ultraviolet (UV) curing inks, is extending this with some eye-popping results that leverage dimensional clear and metallic foil. The use of hybrid configurations, including those that leverage electrophotography and inkjet together, will have compelling applications in commercial and packaging markets. Many of the off-line special effect solutions, as noted above, are able to support larger format conventional sheet sizes, which opens their market impact significantly.
- Industry 4.0 – For many years, system providers have talked about how production data can be used to drive operational excellence and even facilitate predictive service calls. Cloud-enabled production data tracking is now making this type of data-driven production a reality, not only for commercial and packaging applications, but for decorative and industrial ones as well. Today these tend to focus on a single vendor platform (rather than a true heterogeneous ecosystem). Despite these limitations there are still many benefits, such as performance benchmarking across peers with similar equipment. This also elevates the importance of automated workflows that make it easy for production managers to assess and react to their production site(s) based on real-time data. Taking this even further, InfoTrends expects to see semi-autonomous print production and robotic automation culminate in what has been described as “Industry 4.0,” in other words the foundation of a fourth industrial revolution that is based upon automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies, similar as what has happened in the car industry.