Inkjet is still a relatively new technology and there’s a regular flow of new processes and techniques so it’s useful to have events where people can catch up and learn about the latest ideas.
In Europe, besides the larger exhibitions, there are also a number of technical and academic conferences, usually, complete with product demonstrations and sales opportunities. But Japan is not so well served in this regard despite having a large number of printer and component manufacturers. So the Japan Inkjet Technology Fair aimed to redress the balance for the Japanese industry with a two-day event in Tokyo featuring a conference with a room set aside for some 40 or so tables for vendors to show off what they are working on. The key to the event was the opportunity for networking, helped by a large social gathering on the first evening, since inkjet is a collaborative business that works best when people from different disciplines and companies come together.
The event was set up Akiyoshi Ohno of Ohno Inkjet Consulting and in the interests of full disclosure I should point out that he regularly publishes many of the stories from Printing and Manufacturing Journal in Japanese. Ohno said he was inspired by conferences and events, mainly in Europe, such as those organised by IMI and ESMA, noting, “IMI Europe events offered table tops with small presentations and networking. The networking is the most important value for me.” He added, “I wanted to stimulate the sleeping Japanese people who do not actively go abroad.”
He continued, “I’m very happy with the feedback and in particular the networking party was a huge success. I was convinced that if 270 people from within the inkjet industry came together with enough talking and enough food and drink that there would be a chemical reaction. And that happened and everybody enjoyed it.”
Ohno also invited Messe Düsseldorf to the event in order to further cooperation with the Drupa organizers. He noted, “The small Japanese companies are too small to have individual booths at Drupa so maybe I can invite some of the smaller Japanese companies to have a collective booth together for Japanese inkjet technologies.”
Sabine Geldermann, director of Drupa for Messe Dusseldorf, told me, “Japan is considered to be one of the most important exhibitor nations at Drupa and that has been the case since the first edition in 1951. And with just over 17 months till Drupa opens its doors we are pleased that we have achieved a major milestone already with 100,000 square meters booked by 900 exhibitors from 45 countries already on board, and Japan is one of the top countries.”
She added, “Graphic arts applications have been expanding to packaging production, labels, folding carton, flexible packaging and corrugated, and that’s very much driven by eco-trends. And large format is gaining in importance. In industrial applications we are adding areas like interior decoration, furniture decoration as well as fashion and textile printing.” She concluded, “You can print to any material. So print is still very relevant.”
This point was echoed by many of the other exhibitors. Fujifilm’s Integrated Solutions team brought a number of samples to show off different types of functional inks. This included a non-particle type of silver conductive ink. Most silver conductive inks use nano-sized particles of silver, and rely on a dispersion solution to keep those particles in suspension so that they don’t clump together or slip to the bottom of the ink tank. Even when the particles are successfully kept separate there can be many voids between those particles, which then limits the conductivity of the ink.
Takashi Fukui, operations manager for Fujifilm’s Inkjet business division, explained, “It doesn’t need a dispersant in the ink. It’s almost pure silver metal formed on the substrate after curing.” He said that it’s very easy to jet, adding, “Our non-particle ink has a very thin, very high density. So we only need a very low consumption of silver and the conductivity is very high.”
The ink can be used with a number of substrates with samples shown on solder resins, glass, polyamide and PET. The ink is still in development but Fujifilm can supply a sample, complete with NDA, to customers to test.
Also hidden amongst the samples on the FIS table was an invisible ink solution that can contain a QR-type code within an image and which shows up when a reader is passed over it.
General, which is based in Osaka and mainly develops inkjet for office and industrial use, demonstrated a coding and marking solution for printing to thin films that used water-based ink combined with a microwave unit to cure the ink and ensures it adheres to the film. Digital systems have the obvious advantage that they can cope with constantly changing serial numbers as well as adding the various barcodes that increasingly being used to track products.
Naturally it only prints black ink and with a resolution of 300x600dpi. It’s currently available in two widths, with a one-inch width able to run at up to 15mpm and a half-inch version that can reach 30mpm, which both use a 250W microwave unit. However, the density of the ink determines the speed as more ink takes longer to cure. Nonetheless the main advantage is the drying speed as the ink cures more or less instantly, which is a distinct improvement on using a solvent based ink with alcohol.
The company is currently testing wider versions from 6-10mm though this will need more powerful microwave units up to 2000W. It is quite expensive at around ¥1 million, though the wider widths should make it more attractive.
Mastermind showed off a desktop printer that printed designs onto cookies. The company’s main contribution was to develop the main board and wave form generator to drive the printer. The printer was then built around this, mainly with components bought in from Epson. That includes an Epson F1440 printhead though there is also a plan to move to Epson’s I1600 head in the future.
Keisuke Ozawa, president of Mastermind, explains, “I’m showing the printer as a food printer today but the main reason we are bringing this printer is that we created a new main board. So it can be a food printer or a solvent printer or another kind of small flatbed inkjet printer. The basic components won’t change so much but we can choose what inks to use and can add little gadgets like a suction table or heating system to use other kinds of ink. A lot of customers buy this printer for development reasons to research their own inks and make sure that ink works.” He adds, “We also have a lot of food printer customers.”
MakeJet has developed a number of printers with an interesting proposition. In general, printing machinery stays in one location and we bring the substrates to the printer. But MakeJet’s concept is for a portable printer that can be taken to where it’s needed so that it can be used to repair surface damage to flooring and wall coverings. The basic machine is a square frame with the print heads mounted on a scanning carriage that travels from side to side and up and down within this frame. The company showed two versions, one with just the printheads and a second with a scanner as well as the printing unit. The idea is that you can scan a pattern from an undamaged area, for example, wooden flooring, and then print a copy over the damaged area.
The print unit uses Lexmark thermal inkjet printheads. Tetsuya Taguchi, CEO of MakeJet, points out, “If you can change the cartridge then you can change the application. So we can use food ink to print cookies or a different ink to repair flooring.” For the flooring, MakeJet is using a water-based pigment ink. Taguchi says that, “We developed the undercoating and top coating. We are specialists in the coating.”
MakeJet’s samples were quite interesting. They showed a number of textured surfaces that appeared to have very realistic depth – but this was a graphic sitting flat on the surface. The simulation was extremely realistic and looked like a 3D object.
The printer has handles either side and was light enough that anyone could hold it against a wall to print over a damaged wall covering. The entire printer was battery powered. The cost is around ¥300,000.
MakeJet also showed a third model designed to cover a wider area. This involves a compact printing unit complete with a rail so that the printing unit could move along the rail to cover the entire area required.
The German company Kronos also had a table at the event to showcase its 9900 white dispersion, which is designed for producing white water-based inks for inkjet. The company believes that demand for inkjet printing is growing, partly fuelled by a demand for more sustainable solutions, and is hoping to break into the Japanese market.
Essentially Kronos manufactures the TiO2 pigment particles but has developed an additional treatment to the surface of those particles that leads to a more stable dispersion. This in turn should provide ink manufacturers with a more stable base for producing their white inks. It’s said to be suitable for a number of markets including textiles, packaging and decor.
Adobe also had a table, mainly to discuss the latest version of the APPE, which I’ve covered in some detail earlier this year. Adobe is one of the great pioneers of the professional print industry, having developed both PostScript and PDF. But the company has also grown a vast consumer software business, and perhaps as a result of this, seems to go through periods of being either more or less engaged with the professional print industry. Several other vendors mentioned that they were glad to see Adobe at this event, and that the industry benefited more from Adobe’s presence. Shigeru Masuda, senior OEM project manager for Adobe, told me that Adobe for its part wanted to learn more about the industrial print market, which has different needs to the commercial graphics world, particularly in areas such as colour management.
Both Miyakoshi and Toyo ink showed off samples from the Miyakoshi MJP30AXF flexible film inkjet press, which uses ink from Toyo. I’ve already covered this press in a previous story and will come back with a longer update next year. However, it’s worth saying that the samples shown were excellent and hard to distinguish from their analogue counterparts.
Several printhead vendors also had booths at the show. I’ve already covered Ricoh’s new Gelart valve jet printheads. The company also showed a number of samples including several metal sidings. Konica Minolta showed off the KM800 printhead, which I’ve covered last week, as well as the analogue versions of the KM1024, which I’ve previously looked at along with the drive electronics from GIS. Epson also had a number of printheads, all of which I’ve written about before.
Besides the main hall with the exhibitor table top booths, there was a conference split into three separate tracks covering a range of topics including inks, curing and integration but since most of these were in Japanese I have only covered a small number that were given in English.
Jason Wu, managing director of ink manufacturer Sitech, started off his presentation by saying, “I’m impressed by the magnitude and scale of this conference.” Sitech was founded in 2013 and is based in Taiwan though it does have a factory in Shanghai. Wu discussed the typical ingredients of a UV curable ink, noting: “The most important ingredient is a stable pigment slurry. One type of pigment slurry might be stable with some types of photo initiators but with others. You need to look at the particle size and distribution over a period of time.”
He also discussed aqueous latex inks, and the ingredients required for these and the difficulty in preventing the ink from drying out in the nozzles because of the high rate of evaporation of water. Interestingly he added: “We have been working on single pass latex inkjet inkjet for a partner for some time in labels and packaging.” Sitech also makes resins for additive manufacturing using the DLP and SLA processes.
Debbie Thorp, business development director for GIS, gave an update on the company after its acquisition by the Israeli 3D printer firm Nano Dimension, followed by an overview of some trends in the industrial printing market. Nano Dimension had been a customer of GIS for many years for its Dragonfly printer, which can additively manufacture printed circuit boards in any shape.
She said that GIS will continue to serve its existing customer base in graphics and industrial printing and will expand by 30 percent next year following investment from Nano Dimensions. GIS will also benefit from access to other technologies in the Nano Dimensions group, particularly around Deep Learning artificial intelligence. Thorp says, “The idea is that the Deep Learning AI will be embedded in the equipment from all the other companies in the group.”
Thorp also talked about some of the trends in a couple of market segments in terms of inkjet adoption. This includes labels and packaging where she said that inkjet was growing faster than toner, and although inkjet is still only a small percentage of the wider market, more companies are looking at inkjet for label printers. She added, “My prediction is that we will see more inkjet flexible packaging machines at Drupa and that will drive more take up in this market.”
She noted that consumers wanted to engage more with their packaging and to enjoy the experience of unboxing products, saying, “Companies are now realising that packaging can be a revenue generator and not just a cost and a lot of that is driven by digital printing.”
Thorp concluded that software could be used to improve print quality and that most large presses already use inline systems for correcting issues, adding, “The future is closed loop automation systems.”
Ramon Borrell, CTO for Quantica gave an updated on Quantica’s progress. I’ve already covered the basic principles behind the company’s technology. Essentially, Quantica has developed a printhead, the NovaJet, that is able to jet very high viscosity fluids, typically around 300mPas. The company is using this to develop a 3D printer, the NovaJet C7, that can print multiple materials together and is working with a major supplier to the dental industry to create a version of this suitable for dental applications.
Quantica is still open to other partnerships to work on new applications and has recently started working with the Fraunhofer institute in Germany to develop prosthetic eyeballs that look realistic and will last the lifetime of the patient. Quantica and its core technology is still in its development phase but Borrell says that commercial operations should start by the end of 2023. The NovaJet 2.0 printheads should be completed by the summer of 2023 and will be shown running at Formnext 2023. Interestingly he noted that Quantica had revenues of €4 million in 2021 but is expecting this to rise to €75 million by 2026.
Inevitably, I’ve not managed to cover everyone at the event, partly due to my not speaking Japanese. And some of these companies, like Global Graphics, I have already planned to cover later this year while I’ll get around to some others next year. It was certainly a busy two days for me, and that was the impression that I had from the other visitors and vendors. And, of course, much of the skill in putting together an event like this is to choose the right mix of vendors, to find companies that are similar enough to complement each other yet also different enough to showcase the depth of this market area.
And more than the products shown, and the chance for companies to demonstrate their individual capabilities, Ohno understood that this event really needed to provide space for networking. The industrial print market is still primarily about partnerships, about people from different disciplines coming together to work on multi-faceted projects and the real value of an event like the JITF is that it brought together a diverse group of people and gave them the space and the time to figure out for themselves what was of interest to them. That was overwhelmingly the feedback that I heard, and the reason why so many people still lingered long after the show had officially closed.
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