Industrial print – fashion fad or economic necessity?

In my humble opinion, industrial print means “to print an object that becomes part of another object”. This implies the industrially printed element is never a finished product an sich, but always part of something else.

washingPractical example? Let’s take a washing machine, not the sexiest of objects, but a perfect example of how industrial print can provide the answer to a recent disruption in its market field.

The washing machine can be broken up in various parts, yet each part is worthless on its own. And because there are so many various items to be combined to a working whole, it’s imperative to keep track of them so they can easily be identified when assembly is due. The easiest way? Print of course. A mere barcode or a part number would do the trick just fine.

The printing is usually the result of an online single pass printer in one colour, whether it is label, tampon or silkscreen printing. On a nutty Monday you’ll even encounter gravure printing! So it’s not just the one technology that’s being applied. These are all printing technologies that have been around for some time and did not change much over the years. After all, printing a part number is not very complex and the quality does not to be very high – it just needs be readable.

So what can digital print mean for the industrial arena? Is the next big fashion thing – bespoke washing machines?

I don’t think that this is the main reason behind the next generation of digital industrial print. There’s a more pragmatic explanation. Just in the EU, there are 17 languages and there are now rules in place that all information on the machines needs to show in the local language. For washing machine manufacturers this implies that a large quantity of front covers would need to be printed all over again. An expensive exercise, not in terms of printing cost, but storage, logistics and the just in time production systems.

With the digital print capabilities available today one can print the front covers for Slovenia, Estonia and other smaller EU countries in the factory itself, at the assembly location, securing timely delivery and a low production cost. The covers can be printed in the correct language, personalised with the manufacturers’ name and in as large or small an amount as one requires.

Most people don’t know that the majority of washing machines is made in the same factory. Same machine, different front plate. Tailored print then allows you to tailor your production line to the logistics ordering. 5 units for manufacturer X, in language Y, all compliant with local and EU regulations. Changes on the fly ensuring better economics in the production facilities. A small investment in a digital industrial printer can save you quite some headaches in post-assembly.

Coming back to the fashion statement earlier, I actually do believe we’ll be further evolving towards bespoke printing on appliances. The printing of tailored membrane switches, the decoration of the front plates show a clear economic benefit of having an in-house digital industrial printer. But smart suppliers will combine the economic necessity with the fashion sense of high(er) end customers.

Make the washing machine fit your washing room. Granite grey tiling calls for a light grey washing machine cover with your name on it, just so it blends in you know. Personalisation may come at a price, but there’s no stopping the fashionistas there.

The digital disruption in industrial print is upon us – mark my words.

So the next time you look at your washing machine, remember me and Let’s Create Together.

Mike Horsten
Mike Horsten Mimaki Europe