1 Week and a Tale of Two Sectors for Industrial Inkjet

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Report from Marcus Timson / FM Future Now in Surrey, United Kingdom

Last week I joined Dave Gray from Ricoh at Heimtextil and Domotex. First up was Frankfurt and Heimtextil. Then Dave Gray and I dashed up the autobahn to Domotex in Hannover.

First Heimtextil

Heimtextil is the biggest international trade fair for home and contract textiles. The headline facts were that this annual show was noticeably down in terms of exhibitor space at least in relation to digital printer vendors. It seems the hype has now maybe left the market and digital print has moved onto another phase. More product exhibitors were beginning to show digital product as part of their portfolio of finished products.

In fact as I write this, Messe Frankfurt issued a press release as Heimtextil closes:

Detlef Braun the CEO of Messe Frankfurt explained, ‘The industry is currently facing huge challenges. And some of those taking part at Heimtextil have really felt this. However: exhibitor satisfaction has remained at the same high levels as last year**. And visitor satisfaction has even increased from 93 to 95 per cent. In addition to the early date, the reasons behind the reduced visitor numbers are mainly down to strong consolidation of specialist shops and developments in the stationary retail trade in the direction of e-commerce. The trend has also experienced an economic slowdown. This is in line with the fact that as many as 34 per cent of our exhibitors rate the current economic situation in the sector as poor, compared with just 18 per cent the year before’. 

Regardless, Heimtextil was still a strong show. And Hall 3.1 had a creative buzz about it. This hall is populated with wallpaper manufacturers and was therefore was noticeably busier than the digital printing hall which was markedly smaller and quieter than I recall in 2018. There were some notable absences such as EFI and Xeikon. 

In Hall 3.1 I spent time with OLBRICH who were exhibiting and hosting numerous meetings related to their Inkjet solution powered by Ricoh. This has the exciting potential to make a huge difference to the wallpaper production market. Marburg are one of the leading wallpaper producers, and on the eve of celebrating their 175th anniversary has had the OLBRICH/Ricoh digital wall coverings printing machine installed. I asked Dave Gray from Ricoh about this innovation and his impression of trends in the market .

Dave, explain about the advantages a company like Marburg would achieve with the OLBRICH/Ricoh Inkjet Machine?

“For Marburg, and any other analogue wallpaper manufacturers, the ability to print designs where the dimensions cannot be printed using analogue printing processes is interesting, but only if this is aligned with the production speed and the output standard being currently offered by the analogue presses. The OLBRICH digital printing module powered by Ricoh achieves the quality, feel and performance of the current analogue product.“

When I went over to the Marburg booth there were no graphics distinguishing digitally printed wallcoverings over analogue. Sure the attentive booth staff were happy to point out the digitally printed output, but what drew attention from visitors was the designs themselves.  

Dave continues, “The OLBRICH/Ricoh/ installation at Marburg has all the usual benefits associated with digital printing such as shorter lead time, no fixed cost of production run, no minimum batch size, no inventory, no waste and no pattern or design repeats. It also has the ability to reduce time between design, proofing and production which in a competitive creative market is often the difference between success and failure.

For example, the Marburg sample book ‘Smart Art’ was produced end to end in weeks when this process would usually take months. This enables design to be as current as possible and as a result people are really loving the designs! The designs are the draw, not the fact it may have been digitally printed. This interest is coming from the market.”

Dave, what are the drivers to transform the production process from analogue to digital?

“There are two main drivers. Firstly, it can achieve what the analogue press can do, but cheaper, faster, and with smaller batch size and lead times.

The product quality is the same. We have a special oil-based ink, and this has enabled new possibilities for printing onto the industry standard PVC. The web speed is the same as analogue but because there is no make ready time, then productivity is effectively higher.

Secondly, it can do what analogue cannot do. Unlike the fixed pattern repeat length of analogue printing caused by cylinder circumference, digital has no limit to the length of pattern repeat. Add to this the unlimited number of colours that can be reached with a CMYK palette compared to the spot colours of analogue printing, you are really able to liberate the designers from the constraints of the analogue printing process.

Industrial inkjet competes head to head with analogue printing in terms of performance, appearance and price per roll, and it improves the analogue performance in terms of design possibilities, lead times, reduced batch size, and reduced stock inventory. There is no delay in engineering the gravure cylinders, and the prospect of being able to re-introduce press-proofing at sensible prices becomes a reality.” 

What does it do analogue doesn’t do?

“There are no cylinder circumference so there is no limit to design repeats.”

What were the trends in your view at Heimtexil? 

“As we can see from the Heimtextil press release generally the textile market is down, and I think specifically for wallpaper/coverings demand here is reduced too. For digital printing this should be seen as an opportunity as it gives the wall-covering manufacturers incentives to increase their market share with an improved product that can be realised with digital technology.  

In a contracting market two things happen. Firstly, price pressure from the market as there is more choice. At the same time, you are facing increased cost as you are no longer enjoying the economies of scale. If you suddenly have reduced volume, your fixed overhead costs per roll will increase at the same time as your income per roll falls, resulting in shrinking margins!!

One way to get out of that spiral is to look at new markets and opportunities and to be able to show what it is that I can do to enhance their existing portfolio - how can I add value? Digital is one way of adding value. It is also possible to reduce costs using digital, thus attacking both the negative impacts of the current market trend.”

What about the flooring market and the Domotex Show? 

“Domotex is the leading trade fair for floor coverings. On the first day of the show it appears that Domotex is busier than Heimtextil, but then the market is different. The trends and the adoption of digital print is much less obvious. Regardless of whether digital print is here in any significant way you do sense from the meetings I’ve already had that there is an increased in interest in inkjet.”

What are the drivers for digital in flooring?

“The manufacturing objective with flooring is to achieve a natural looking product which also has the performance of a synthetic engineered substrate. We know one effective way of achieving the look is through digital printing. The objective is to develop a digital printing process that can compete with the existing analogue printing processes, whilst still meeting the stringent requirements associated with flooring manufacturing processes.

The drive towards a synthetic product is partly driven by the cost and limitations of the genuine product. Wood warps and shrinks, stone is heavy and fragile. Synthetic is quicker and easier to lay, and one might argue more environmentally friendly when compared to emptying forests and quarries”!

Last week’s Heimtexil and Domotex may be a tale of two shows and two different markets but Inkjet has a role to play in both sectors. They are clearly at different points of adoption, and also have different demands technically and commercially.

Contact Dave Gray for any industrial inkjet enquires or comments:

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