Single-pass inkjet printing

An interesting summary by Mike Raymond of inkjet printers at the 2015 ITMA textile print show in Milan led to a good discussion , in which I contributed the following:

“I’m more inclined to believe Aki’s point (customers will want a single source for reasons of accountability) rather than Aaron’s (customers will want 3rd party inks). Mike, you eloquently describe the high cost of wastage and downtime with these fast single-pass printers; in my view this makes the risk of reliability problems without clear accountability too high. Textile printing is probably the most demanding environment for single-pass inkjet. Not only for the reasons cited, but also the fact that existing widely-used single-pass printers either use UV-curable inks or ceramic inks, neither of which dry in the nozzle like water-based textile inks. You might argue that the ceramics market is an example of successful penetration by 3rd party ink suppliers (and consequent price erosion!), but the quality demands of printing on tiles are much lower than the printing of fashion textiles.

As for whether these machinery suppliers will ‘backwards integrate’ by buying a printhead manufacturer, I don’t see a compelling reason for them to do so – unless they are forced into it because the supplier is in trouble, or becomes available at a bargain price.”

To expand on the first point (about inks and reliability): piezo printheads, as I once said, do not die of old age – they get murdered. That is, by far the largest causes of failure (both temporary and permanent) are operations-related: head-strikes or ink clogs or debris in the nozzles. These are within the control of the operator, and printhead manufacturers typically will reject warranty claims for these causes. Thermal inkjet printheads have an inherently shorter life (Google “kogation”…) and, as anyone who has a desktop inkjet printer will know, use water-based inks that can dry in the nozzles. Printer manufacturers use a variety of strategies – capping, vacuuming, ‘spitting’, etc – to prevent this, and the more expensive single-pass printers use redundant heads or nozzles, and clever sensing techniques to detect and compensate for ‘jet-outs’.

Most of the printers Mike mentions in his article use piezo heads to jet textile inks, which are mainly water-based and hence prone to evaporation in the nozzles. This is a problem, and the printer manufacturers’ success at solving it will determine the adoption rate of their systems. They will want to control what inks are jetted, if only to manage costs during the warranty period; and I believe that their customers will not want to risk downtime by using 3rd party inks unless those ink suppliers come up with some compelling guarantees.

Posted by Chris in Blog Posts, Inkjet, Marketing

The Innovator’s Dilemma Re-visited

I posted the following in response to this criticism by Vivek Wadhwa of Clayton Christensen’s now-aging work on innovation and disruption:
“This is self-promotion in the guise of an academic critique, as the breathless technophilia of the video makes clear. Much of the criticism of Christensen, and his defence against it, hinges on what is meant by ‘disruption’, but this is trivial. Christensen’s key insight was that it is almost impossible for an incumbent to defend itself against a truly disruptive technology; and the only chance of doing so is to establish a separate entity to exploit the technology and let it compete with the parent. The principle lives on in skunkworks everywhere, and – for example – in GM’s belated realization that it should not have killed the Volt. In my own field of digital printing, the makers of ‘big iron’ printing presses have finally come to the realization that they need to offer digital printing presses or risk being made irrelevant by the likes of HP, Canon – and newcomer Landa Corp. ‘The Innovator’s Dilemma’ continues to provide a guide to this landscape, irrespective of its author’s recent quibbling about whether Uber and Tesla are truly disruptive. Perhaps, in a future article, Vivek Wadhwa could provide a more detailed prescription on how to react to disruptive technologies than merely encouraging ‘bold new thinking’.”

I explored the relevance of ‘The Innovator’s Dilemma’ to the pre-press and printing industry in this 2004 article in the late, lamented Seybold Report.

Posted by Chris in Blog Posts

Speaking on Digital Packaging at the SGIA conference Nov 4, 2015

I’ll be speaking at Atlanta’s Georgia World Congress Center, venue for this year’s SGIA (Specialty Graphics Imaging Association) show. My topic is “Digital Packaging: The Next New Thing or an Insurmountable Opportunity”.  The blurb:

Package printing is about 8 times the size of the display graphics market. It includes printing on labels, folding cartons, corrugated, films, and containers of all types. Today, only a small fraction of this print is digital. This session will examine whether this represents an opportunity for equipment vendors and for print service providers who already understand how to make profits with digital printing.  What are the technological, commercial, and other hurdles that need to be overcome to make digital printing mainstream in the world of packaging? What will it take to win? Join industry veteran Chris Lynn, co-author of ‘Industrial Inkjet for Dummies’ to find out.

Come along on Nov 4th at 9.00am to Room B217.

Posted by Chris in Blog Posts, Inkjet, Marketing, Printing & Packaging

Print samples – seeing is believing?

Jim Hamilton of Infotrends wrote a blog post today in which he highlighted the role of print samples in the sales cycle of digital printing equipment. He specifically cited the initial reluctance of vendors to let potential customers actually get close enough to the samples to make a judgment on their quality.

I’ll go further and suggest there are 5 levels or stages of print sample in the lifecycle of a new printing machine:

1. Alpha machine: the machine is barely out of the laboratory, and the samples have significant defects, so prospects get to see just enough to believe that the demonstration machine is not all smoke and mirrors, and that it actually prints. The printed images and the substrate are carefully chosen to minimize visible defects. An example would be a busy image with plenty of irregular detail that makes aliasing (‘stair-stepping’) and inkjet ‘jet-outs’ hard to see.

2. Beta machine: this is pre-production equipment and most of the bugs have been ironed out. The images and the substrate are again carefully chosen to optimize the appearance, but defects might still be visible to prospects, who are now able to look closely at the samples. The machine might still be unable to meet its design specification in other ways: perhaps the quality cannot be sustained over a long run, or perhaps it cannot print the displayed quality at full production speed.

3. Production machine – sales qualification: the new machine is in production, and now performs to spec. The samples freely shown and given away at trade shows or sent to prospective buyers accurately represent what the machine can do – at its best. (Why would a vendor want to show anything less than their product’s best output?) So the samples are again on an ideal substrate, but perhaps with a selection of more-representative production images than earlier. These samples are used to qualify the prospect: because they are the best that the system can produce, if the prospect still doesn’t think they meet their business needs, there is no point in wasting further sales time.

4. Production machine – sales process: The vendor is confident that the print quality meets the needs of the target market, and potential customers have to be convinced that it will meet their own specific needs. So, having accepted the potential print quality as shown by the samples in the previous stage, the prospect now needs to see representative production work done on the substrates he actually uses. The vendor runs the customer’s jobs with the customer’s substrate, or perhaps provides samples from an existing user with similar work. These samples might be provided in a live demonstration.

5. Production machine – acceptance testing: with the order closed and the machine either ready for delivery (factory acceptance test, or F.A.T.) or on site (site acceptance test, or S.A.T.), a standard set of test images are run, using a reference substrate. These are designed to show that the machine meets its specification, so they may include test patterns that – in contrast to the images guardedly shown at stages 1 & 2 – are specifically designed to show print defects. If the acceptance tests are passed, any future problems of print quality can be confidently ascribed to service problems, changes in substrate or operating conditions, or operator error.

It would be unfair to single out vendor examples of these early stage samples (we’ve all seen them at print shows), but I am continually surprised to find, on the one hand, printers who become dazzled by the quality of inkjet samples on stocks that are too expensive to actually use in practice; and on the other, printers who expect to match a label job that uses multiple spot colors with a digital printer that uses only CMYK inks. Part of the job of digital printer salespeople is to educate printers who are nervous about making the jump into digital that all print processes have drawbacks, and the decision process is a matter of picking the solution for which the benefits outweigh the drawbacks, while avoiding unnecessary risk. (This is of course also true of the printer’s salespeoples’ need to educate their end-customers!)

Back in the days when desktop publishing was roiling the pre-press industry, I had a colleague who maintained: “Believe nothing of what you see on a computer screen, and half of what you see in a print. Only believe the film separations.” In the world of digital printers, film has gone away, but the injunction to be cautious about print samples still holds true.

Posted by Chris in Blog Posts, Printing & Packaging

New Label Plant Simulation video

Here’s an update to the label plant simulator. This one models the effect on profitability and process time of having different distributions of run-lengths among incoming jobs, and routing them either to a single flexo press workflow; or to a 2nd flexo press; or to a stand-alone digital printer with separate die-cutting; or to a hybrid system (an inkjet engine mounted onto a flexo press) into which all manufacturing operations take place in-line. If you have been following my work with the DICE(TM) printer, you will not be surprised to learn that hybrid is best!

Posted by Chris in Blog Posts, Simulation

Some thoughts on ROI

A recent article on ROI by Mike Wittenstein prompted me to add this comment:

“My experience, selling disruptive technologies B2B, has led me to this conclusion: if the prospect’s primary focus is ROI, (s)he’s not a real prospect.

This is consistent with the ‘Crossing the Chasm’ TALC model – the early adopters buy into the vision; the late majority want to know feeds & speeds, ROI and reference accounts. ROI fails in these situations because the biggest benefits of a new technology investment are often the hardest to quantify.”

To expand on this: conventional capital investment analysis (ROI, IRR, payback, etc) is like using PowerPoint – it forces you into a mindset that restricts your thinking. To take one example from the printing industry, many printers look at digital printing investments in terms of the potential savings they can bring in labor, materials and time. They fail to consider the potential of new market opportunities brought by the ability to deliver short-run jobs that would have previously been uneconomical; and to deliver work just-in-time in smaller batches. These could mean incremental customers, higher pricing or a higher barrier to entry for competitors. Validating these benefits needs research, and possibly a leap of faith (‘build it and they will come!’), but their impact will far outweigh the easily-determined cost savings that go into a conventional ROI analysis.

Posted by Chris in Blog Posts, Marketing


I’ll be presenting a talk with the title ‘Test Before You Invest – A Manufacturing Simulation Tool to Judge Digital Printing Investments’ at the 24th IMI Inkjet Printing Conference in Orlando, FL on Feb 5. Details of the conference are here.

Posted by Chris in Blog Posts, Simulation

Label plant simulation

This simulation compares the productivity and profitability of conventional flexo printing with a stand-alone digital printer (which requires a separate die-cutting operation), and a ‘hybrid’ flexo+digital solution in which the digital printer is mounted in-line with the flexo press. In the hybrid case, the flexo print units can be used for priming and varnish-coating, and the finishing is done inline, with no loss of productivity.

Posted by Chris Lynn in Blog Posts, Simulation