PRINTING, AS a craft and industry, is remarkable for the fundamental changes it has absorbed, particularly in the last 100 years or so. As a consequence, printers have become more segmented by process—sheetfed and web offset, gravure, flexo, etc.—as well as application—general commercial, labels, packaging, plastics and more.
Digital technology is creating further segmentation while also increasing the potential for confusion. It’s become necessary to talk of print-for-pay versus personal and workgroup printing, along with in-plants and CRDs. Added to this are new designations such as industrial printing, transpromo and even direct marketing firm.
Such diversity in the process and industry matters when it comes to assessing the potential impact of electronic paper and new “printing” technologies. This includes the opportunities in e-paper/flexible displays, printable electronics/circuitry and RFID (radio frequency identification), most of which have the potential to involve printing with conductive inks.
Know the Usage
In analyzing the market potential of e-paper it’s also important to distinguish between two usages of the term—end product versus production process.
Included in the former is any device, regardless of how it is manufactured, that “replaces” paper by virtue of being a portable (thin and lightweight), affordable and possibly flexible, display. Such products offer the added benefit of supporting re-imaging, if not live motion.
Similarly, RFID tags already are being produced by means other than printing.
Printed electronics of all types are forecast to represent a $300 billion worldwide market by 2025, according to global research firm IDTechEx, which has U.S. offices in Ann Arbor, MI. Much of what gets printed, though, will just be a component of a larger manufacturing process, such as displays for cell phones, PDAs and possibly TVs.
Even if testing leads to mass production via a process akin to conventional printing, press manufacturers may be the only segment of today’s industry to benefit. Differences in the processes and materials employed could minimize the value of traditional graphic arts printing expertise, and it’s questionable whether a typical pressroom will meet the requirements for environmental controls.