Grafica News - Mar 2016

Re-Defining Industrial Screen Printing!

The screen printing industry (appropriately referred to as screenprinting technologies), has changed radically over the past 40 years or so, by craving out a large “industrial” niche well beyond the traditional realms of commercial graphic art printing applications. Because of the ingenuity of the process during that time, this specialised market readily embraced almost everything that is not your run-of-the-mill commercial jobs.

True, printed circuits, metal signage/badges, dials/gauges, containers, and later graphic overlays/membranes have been screened in abundance during the latter part of the last century. Since then, screening has inextricably evolved to become the leading process that offer manufacturers immeasurable benefits, as a viable and resourceful solution, for wide fabrication purposes. These prints would typically provide the heartbeat to a given product for functionality, and more, or as a discrete practical purpose beyond visual aesthetics. In doing so, the screening process has uniquely enhanced and radically transformed the world of miniaturisation by significantly reducing the sheer size of products that were once bulky, heavy, clumsy, costly and questionable reliability.

Defining what is loosely termed industrial or high-performance screenprinting is not always straightforward, as print specialty means different things to different people. While there is no hard and fast rules, I gingerly apply two principles to determine what constitutes “industrial” as opposed to “commercial” printing.

Be mindful that screenprinting may represent a very small fraction of a company's overall business—regardless how large their printing operation maybe while usually the reverse with commercial enterprises.

Whereas commercial printing primary concern is mostly with the 2-dimensional features of a finish print, industrial applications frequently have to contend with the 3-dimentsional aspects for greater trustworthiness and consistency. Finished prints may then have to withstand further a battery of environmental stress tests and others for dependability and durability. Due to this, it is often easier to single out commercial applications than industrial.

Blurring the divide a little, crossovers occur at times and usually referred to as industrial graphics. This could be auto decals or trim and fleet markings for example, since their qualitative state commonly necessitate high performance degree of processing.

For everyday example of these products, look no further than flexible circuitry (what makes digital cameras function), automotive instrumentation, computers, solar wafers, electroluminescence (EL), touchscreens, easier-to-master control panels, self-service kiosks (bank ATMs, etc.), mobile/cell phones, decorative glass buildings, most types of sensors, RFID, handheld electronic devices/ games, wearable electronics, disposable diagnostic healthcare products, medical transdermal patches and automotive glass to name but a few.

Mike Young, Imagetek Consulting International, USA.

At SGIA, we define industrial screen printing as the use of screen printing technology as a step in a manufacturing process. Screen printing technology can be found throughout the manufacturing community, and has a strong future in manufacturing. It's used for coatings, product markings, product fabrication, applied conductivity and a host of other unique applications. Screen printing is versatile and cost effective — its ability to produce a consistent and thick ink deposit for instance —and is therefore highly valued throughout the manufacturing sector.

Michael Robertson, USA. (Commented during his tenure as President & CEO, SGIA, USA)

FESPA will always be the home of screen printing. More recently, it has been a champion of the digital wide-format revolution, a catalyst for growth and innovation in signage and graphics. Now, backed by its global reach and influence, FESPA becomes the natural home of the new industrial print revolution.

Screen printing process remains a strong and viable production process for many industrial applications. However, at the same time, digital technology is enabling industrial printers to devise new methods and business models, achieve manufacturing efficiencies, create new products, and add value through customisation.

Just as graphics printers blend digital and analogue processes to achieve more profitable production models and broaden their customer offering, industrial print will inevitably also move towards a mix of analogue and digital. The industrial printer of the future will operate with multiple processes, with the focus squarely on quality, delivery and outcome for the customer.

Considering the many and varied industrial segments where (screen) print has traditionally played a role – signage, labels, automotive, glass, ceramics, white goods, electronics, surface decoration – digital print has enormous disruptive potential, enabling significantly smaller production volumes and infinite customisation. If we rethink 'print' as a method of depositing one material on another, it achieves new scope as an additive manufacturing process, which offers new direction for the entire industry.

It's clear to see that the major vendors of printing equipment, along with suppliers of software, inks and media, are actively developing solutions focused on this multi-faceted industrial opportunity. Developments in inks and formable media, in particular, will enable us to print 'direct to shape' in a way that could fundamentally revolutionise the printing of three-dimensional automotive components or packaging containers.

'Industrial' thinking could also be the means for some printers to break out of commodity markets and develop niche, speciality printed products that offer customers something unique, commanding improved margin and customer loyalty along the way. It could be a move to print onto alternative substrates to access new business in printed interiors or textiles. It could be the inclusion of conductive inks in a POS graphic to create circuits, increasing interactivity and extending the engagement potential of the graphic in today's multi-sensory, multi-media marketing environment.

The 'industrial opportunity' is not only for printers already involved in industrial applications. Printers in other areas, including graphics producers, can also take ideas from the industrial space and apply them to innovate their products.

Neil Felton, CEO, FESPA

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