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Digital Rising: Customization, speed, efficiency among key attributes of emerging print technology

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Among the themes at the Material, Technology & Design Symposium in October was the need for a compressed supply chain that can address market demand in the decorative surfaces and composite panel industries in a timely manner with a wide range of offerings.

That bodes well for digital printing technology, which can produce quality surfaces on demand while reducing waste and manufacturing materials, says Ron Gilboa, director of Keypoint Intelligence—InfoTrends ’ Functional Printing and Packaging. Gilboa was a featured speaker at the symposium, which was co-sponsored by Surface & Panel magazine and the Composite Panel Association.

“With many of the leading décor manufacturers embracing digital printing technologies, we expect digital printing will over time have a big impact on new and innovative designs for end users, helping the industry as it migrates from mass production to mass customization, as well as contribute to supply chain efficiencies,” says Gilboa, who is responsible for production technology advisory, market research and market forecasting at InfoTrends.

To better understand the impact of digital printing, InfoTrends teamed with Surface & Panel to reach out to architects, designers and producers of goods to gauge sentiment about the use and growth of decorative surfaces. The survey was conducted in fall 2017 and was supplemented with information from earlier research.

InfoTrends and Gilboa issued an analysis titled “Digital Printing Opportunities in the Woodworking Industry: New Horizons and Innovation.”

“The woodworking industry is a massive and dynamic segment that is evolving in response to the construction industry as it is using technology innovation in projects small and large,” Gilboa says in the analysis.

“With over 11 billion square meters of decorative laminates manufactured by 2018, even the tiny share that is now digitally printed is significant and has huge room for growth,” he says, adding that digital printing “has the potential to democratize surface designs and related products in a range of applications.”

To provide context, the analysis first looks at the various industry segments, including flooring, laminates and furniture.

The market for flooring is estimated to reach more than $331 billion worldwide by 2020, reflecting a compound annual growth rate of 4.8 percent. The Asia Pacific region represents about 40 percent of market share, and that is expected to grow, given that the region has 54 percent of the world’s urban population.

The next segment in terms of influence is furniture. “Due to its impact on the consumption of decorative surfaces, the furniture market represents about $450 billion in value with a staggering consumption of about $12,000 in products consumed every second around the globe,” the analysis notes. “This demand, in turn, drives the growing use of decorative laminates for furniture, which is estimated to grow to about 11 billion square meters worldwide by 2018.”

According to Ahlstrom-Munksjö, a global supplier of fiber-based materials, worldwide production of surface coating materials in 2016 was about 8.8 billion square meters, of which about 58 percent was attributed to thermally fused laminate.

The constant pressure to meet consumer demand for mass customization is among the key trends driving growth and innovation, according to InfoTrends’ analysis.

“The need is met by the industry as it adopts technology and new materials to create a range of new décor surface technologies. These are aimed at meeting client demand for improved efficiencies and reduction in environmental impact and waste, as well as offering new manufacturing processes,” the analysis says. “The new technology will add better predictability to the supply chain.”

Traditional printing technologies have been the mainstay of the surface industry because they afford quality and cost effectiveness for long runs associated with mass production and ultimately lower cost. In the past few years, however, digitally printed décor papers and surfaces became available to those looking to produce customized decorative surfaces.


 “These allow for just-in-time manufacturing with little waste and the flexibility to incorporate any design with significantly reduced preparation and relative expenses,” according to the analysis. “As a result, digital printing has opened the way for mass customization of design in the woodworking industry.”

Some 200 A&D firms responded to the survey, and the majority of respondents were people who make purchasing decisions regarding décor surfaces, while the remainder were influencers. The typical project budget among the firms was $35 million, with about 4 percent allocated to custom decorative components.

Most A&D respondents said that the demand for custom decorative materials is growing, and they indicated an awareness of the benefits of digital printing, such as improved options for customization, timeliness and design flexibility. They did, however, stress that a lack of education was evident among many in the A&D community and said tools and knowledge are needed to promote effective use of digital decorative surfaces.

The producers who responded represented some of the larger companies in North American woodworking and manufactured a range of products from furniture for residential and commercial uses to cabinetry. Though some indicated they print their own décor materials, the majority sourced materials from suppliers such as Interprint and Schattdecor.

“Respondents indicated that most product categories are requiring increased levels of decoration, which bodes well for future growth in digital printing for décor,” the analysis says.

Leading the growth in terms of expected use of decorative materials or surfaces were trim and millwork elements used to put finishing touches on construction projects, with 100 percent growth anticipated. Following closely were synthetic materials used to create unique looks to bridge the gap between wood and other materials in the same environment. Strong growth also was expected for furniture, decorative film and wood.

Digital printing includes two different approaches for decorative surfaces: direct-to-surface printing and printing on décor paper or laminates that are then pressed to a final product. Inkjet is the core of all technologies used for digital decoration in the woodworking industry. Among the top direct-to-panel printers are Barberan Jetmaster, Hymmen Jupiter, Cefla J-Print, Huser—HCK DP and EFI Cubik. Top décor paper printers include Hymmen Jupiter, KBA RotaJet, Wemhöner MasterDigital and Palis.

The analysis concludes that, with the continued burden on the supply chain to react more quickly to the industry’s changing needs, manufacturers are under pressure to implement solutions that will allow them to meet the A&D community’s needs while ensuring quality and offering clients a way to differentiate.

“Many of the vendors have turned to digital printing to respond to market demands faster and produce new color palettes and designs, one that allow them to differentiate themselves in the marketplace,” the analysis says.


To learn more

To learn more about digital printing, plan to attend the Digital Printing Symposium at IWF Atlanta.


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