Digital Print, Expanding Horizons in Woodworking
The biannual International Woodworking Fair, which took place August 21-25 in Atlanta, GA, held its inaugural Digital Printing Symposium, which was created in partnership between IWF, the organizers of the show, Surface & Panel Magazine, and Keypoint intelligence. While this symposium is new, digital printing has actually been part of the woodworking industry for some time. That said, the need to short-run cost-effective decorative surfaces, as well as ongoing development in digital inkjet printing sector, is creating a perfect storm for the technology to meet woodworking’s market needs.
Participating in this inaugural event were industry-leading companies such as Barberan, Baumer, Cefla Finishing, North American Plywood, and Schattdecor, as well as household names from the graphics arts industry like Canon and Vanguard digital. While these companies may appear to work in different sectors, they all share a common strategy to address the growing needs of suppliers, as well as a desire to address the mass customization in an 11 billion M2 per year décor laminate market and an over $140 billion annual woodworking industry in the U.S. alone.
About 60 attendees from various woodworking segments such as cabinetry, panels, and flooring learned about the benefits of digital printing and heard firsthand experience from companies that already use digital printing in production.
The opening presentation by Keypoint Intelligence provided context for key dynamics in the market, namely the continued demand by consumers for richly decorated surfaces that are customized to their needs, as well as the desires of commercial architects and contractors looking to add unique elements to their projects. Furthermore, digital printing technology can aid in improving operational efficiencies such as just-in-time manufacturing, reduction of inventories, and reduced waste and obsolescence of designs. These are addressed with a range of digital technologies capable of creating décor surfaces for high-pressure laminates, flooring laminates, and direct decoration onto boards.
In his presentation, Chief Technology Officer at Schattdecor Inc. Roland Heeger noted that digital printing can offer opportunities to create new products that were previously impossible with rotogravure, such as designs that may exceed 15’ in length, or larger than the typical circumference of a gravure cylinder, as well as a ‘rainbow roll’ of décor paper. These rolls contain several lengths of print jobs with different designs based on client requirements. Remember to keep in mind that a typical minimum order for décor paper is one ton of paper. This old limitation necessitated that clients order individual rolls of décor, and manage inventory until they were consumed or became obsolete. Rainbow rolls only include the décor designs the line needs in the exact quantity required.
Another producer in the event was Don Kuser, General Manager of North Americal Plywood. His company has a full production line for manufacturing decorated board, from sanding and priming to digital printing and coating, NAPL meets clients’ needs for “digital staining” of natural wood and veneers, as well as printing on panels that require full coating. NAPL has taken advantage of a unique feature of its UV printer, namely printing without immediately curing the ink. This process allows ink that is printed on natural wood or wood veneers to soak into the wood prior to final UV cure and coat. The result is a wood face that looks naturally stained, or resembles a premium wood species, simulated on a less expensive baseboard.
These two examples were followed by discussions from equipment suppliers including Barberan, Baumer, Canon, Cefla, and Vanguard. Each highlighted various opportunities that digital printing offers to small and large producers alike. From scanning head to single pass inkjet printing, they all noted that the key to successfully implementating digital printing in woodworking required investment, not only in the technology but, more importantly, in a clear business strategy, production workflow, and quality assurance. Each also stressed the investment in trained staff.
Grand Burkholder from Sauder Woodworking Company noted, “The capabilities of it (digital printing), creating depth of pattern, reproducing wood species, using pigmented inks, is amazing.”
The symposium concluded with attendees noting that digital printing has unique capabilities, some of which they had not been aware of beforehand. Many attendees felt these features would be useful when incorporated into their existing product workflows, allowing their companies to differentiate themselves and create new opportunities for business growth.
Keypoint Intelligence believes that the benefits inherent to digital printing will provide new opportunities for woodworking producers and brands to offer creative high-value products that meet industry standards, as well as offer consumers customized products that meet their lifestyle at a cost effective price.