Rise in Demand for Printing Consumables
A new study by Frost and Sullivan (www.frost.com), an international market consultancy, highlights the accelerating evolution of ink jet technology from its roots in desktop printing to an expanding range of printing applications. The broadening range of inks unleashes a new wave of applications in graphic art and other non-desktop printing sectors.
To maximize the vast untapped potential and to leverage early mover advantage, ink manufacturers are urged to keep their finger on the pulse of technology developments and emerging market opportunities.
Substantial R&D investment is vital to meet end-user demands for improved reliability, productivity and speed of ink jet printing processes. As consumers grow more discerning about ink formulations, manufacturers must respond to the changing requirements for more sophisticated inks to carve out a formidable reputation or find themselves left in the cold.
Frost and Sullivan’s study points to the growing versatility in substrate choice as one of the key factors heightening the popularity of ink jet technology. The adoption of ink jet technology into non-desktop applications is assisted by its ability to print high quality images and data onto a myriad of substrates.
“The distinct advantages of digital printing over conventional processes, such as the low fixed costs, are widening its appeal,” reported Dr. Andrew Barton, research analyst at Frost and Sullivan. “The low set-up costs are a crucial component of ink jet technology’s value proposition and make it particularly attractive for short-run applications and on-demand samples. Production run lengths across the printing industries are becoming shorter and product variations are increasing. Short-run processes often represent the point of entry for ink jet into new market environments.”
Posting earnings of approximately $16 billion in 2002, equating to a volume of slightly less than 45 million liters, revenues in the overall global ink jet ink market will climb to approximately $25 billion by 2009.
Worth $15 billion in 2002, the desktop printing sector holds the leadership spot as the largest end-user market for ink jet inks. Consumer uptake of digital printing in the home and the huge popularity of digital photography are mainly responsible for the continued growth of this overwhelmingly dominant revenue spinner.
However, there are very significant barriers to entry to this sector of the ink jet market, effectively closing it to new market players. Meanwhile, wide format and other industrial printing sectors are providing ink companies with opportunities to enter the digital arena.
The most significant development will be the dramatic increase of the share of ink consumption for industrial wide format graphics, growing from less than 5 percent in 2002 to almost 12 percent by 2009. However, the revenue increase is anticipated to be less significant as solvent-borne ink undergoes significant price erosion.
Dr. Barton identified the ability to deliver a high quality product and ink formulation expertise as key determinants for successful competitive positioning in the printing market.
“Essentially, all ink formulators have access to the same raw materials but the level of technical know-how and experience is variable,” said Dr. Barton. “Formulating an ink jet ink will satisfy all of the end-user requirements. Physical parameters such as boiling point, surface tension and pH are not a trivial undertaking. The ink also needs to be benign to the print head and not clog the nozzles.”
Avecia and DuPont are the two key suppliers of ink jet inks and colorants to desktop printer manufacturers. The printer technology, printhead design and ink formulation are controlled and protected by the OEMs. The partnership between the ink manufacturers and the OEMs is well established and opportunities for new market players to challenge the status quo are unlikely to materialize. Therefore, ink jet ink companies are concentrating their efforts and resources on developing ink jet for non-desktop markets instead. The market for third-party ink jet inks is growing and leading suppliers include Pelikan, American Ink Jet and Lyson.
Dr. Barton noted that, in general, the successful progress into industrial printing has been achieved by close collaborations between ink formulators, printhead designers and printer manufacturers. “The balance of the partnership is currently tipped away from the ink supplier, with printhead providers enjoying the greatest influence and control over which ink vendor the OEM chooses,” he said.
Frost and Sullivan’s study concluded that a significant improvement in printing speed is needed before ink jet will be successfully adopted as a commercial production tool. Processing speeds are continually being improved and this problem is gradually being eroded.