By: Ron Gilboa Director, Functional & Industrial Printing Service: InfoTrends
During the biennial International Woodworking Fair (IWF), I am always amazed to see the variety of businesses and brands that impact our living spaces and work environments. Scheduled for August 24 to 27 in Atlanta, Georgia, this year’s event is expected to attract over 20,000 attendees. IWF is a great place for small professional shops, furniture manufacturers, mills, and others to gather together and learn about the latest solutions and technological advancements. In 2014, over 14,000 buyers—10% of them from international countries—made their way through the halls to peruse the products and attend the educational sessions.
As the woodworking industry continues to adapt to new supply chain realities, the demand for unique, environmentally-friendly, and functional solutions is ever increasing among consumers as well as institutional clients. Professionals like architects and interior designers are seeking innovative ways to create unique spaces, and they are relying on a wide range of materials and surfaces to achieve their goals.
The demand for an ever-expanding range of substrates, materials, and surfaces is fueling the growth in digital printing. By their very nature, many decorative surfaces are made from a range of materials, including natural or raw materials like wood, metal, or glass. In cases where these surfaces are uniquely decorated or printed to create the look of a natural material, cost parameters may unfortunately limit their use. Technologies are improving all the time though, and lamination/direct decoration of wall coverings, flooring, and wood products is becoming very common. Decorated surfaces are now available to furniture manufacturers and consumers via wholesale suppliers of raw materials, big box distributors, and/or local home improvement stores.
Figure 1: Formica Envision Retail Display
Today’s flooring products and laminates are available in a dizzying array of designs that can meet almost anyone’s needs, but a large initial order is often required to ensure a low per-unit cost. Due to high setup costs that must amortize over a longer job, some orders of décor papers for high-pressure laminates may require a minimum print run of one ton of décor paper material. However, growing demand for unique designs is driving new product innovations that bring more choices to consumers. Today’s web/Internet-enabled business model enables end-users to design and produce creative woodworking products with ease. This is enabled by a new generation of digital printing devices that make it possible to print very short runs with minimal setup and associated fees.
Figure 2: Digitally Printed Bedroom Décor from Mimaki
A new generation of inkjet printing solutions based on UV curable as well as water-based inks is also making an impact on the industry, In addition to enabling new levels of creativity and operational efficiency, these inkjet solutions are also creating new business opportunities. From high-pressure laminate décor paper printed for a single piece of furniture to a high-volume printer that is capable of customizing thousands of square meters of output, turnkey solutions are available today. Inkjet printing devices are capable of producing up to 500 feet per minute in a timely manner with reduced inventory. Furthermore, they are able to create even the most creative designs based on clients’ demands. Meanwhile, a generation of printing systems that can print directly onto natural or manmade wood products (e.g., MDF) provides another path for decorative surfaces that are durable, eye-catching, and cost-effective.
Figure 3: Building Material Sampler from SFC Graphics
Digitally printed decorative products are part of an industry that generated over $460 billion in value during 2015. Although this market is small in its adoption today, InfoTrends believes that the opportunity for mass customization will generate a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of about 13% through the year 2020.
Figure 4: Cefla PixArt Single-Pass Device
During IWF 2016, leaders in the digital transition will gather in the exhibit halls and educational sessions to expand their knowledge about digital printing and its impact on the industry as a whole. Print equipment suppliers such as Cefla, HP, Hymmen, KBA, and Mimaki will be sharing their experiences in developing solutions of for the woodworking industry. Meanwhile, industry pioneers like Formica Corporation, Kodak, and SFC Graphics will also be in attendance to share their experiences with others.