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The Quest for the ‘Next Big Thing’

(May 2011) posted on Tue May 10, 2011

Exploring the wants and needs for the Next Big Thing.

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By Craig Miller

* Ink: We are closing in on the end of the decade of UV ink’s rise to the top. Will it continue to reign supreme with incremental improvements? It would be nice to have elastic inks that stick like glue to everything, and are cured with cool LED lights. That’s not asking too much, is it? Will 2011 begin the decade of super inks for ordinary printheads? People are getting excited again about bio-solvent inks after a false start a few years ago. What about water-based eco-resin inks that allow ordinary print technology to image almost any surface without UV curing? That would be a “game changer” and qualify as the NBT. Of course, latex ink has caught on. Will it soon be jetting through every printhead? White ink took a while to be ready for prime time – now it’s hard to get certain work without it. What about metallic inks – will they become as big as white?

* Speed: As far as general performance characteristics, it’s hard to imagine image quality getting much better than what we can generate today. We can now print directly to almost anything. The big deal now and forever shall be speed. I think it’s a given that printers will continue to get faster, but how fast can they get? It’s likely that printers will get so fast that the challenge will be the logistics to feed media into them. So automated media queuing might be the NBT. I’m surprised that there hasn’t been more development in finishing automation in the past decade.

Joining the early-adopter club
There is a lot riding on your ability to predict the NBT. Will you do your research and be an early adopter of the technology or equipment you decide is indeed the NBT? You have market share and profit to gain – but the potential to lost money and reputation if your choice is wrong. Or will you sit back and watch what other people do and then get on the bandwagon once you know that a technology and the market for it are solid? By doing so, you risk losing market share and buying equipment that is closer to obsolescence.

There is no easy answer. One piece of advice I can give you, however, is to travel – especially, if you’re going to invest a lot of money on a new technology. Get on a plane and go visit your potential machine. A tradeshow is fine for an introduction, but if you spend less than a full day or two with this piece of equipment, you simply aren’t doing your job. The investment of a few hundred or even thousand dollars in travel expenses and a couple of days of your time is warranted.

Bring your image files (customer-print files) with you and make sure the media you plan to use on the machine will be available. Then run the thing like it’s in your shop. My rule of thumb: If it can’t do what you need done right there, right now, it’s probably either too soon and you need to let the technology mature. Or it’s the wrong machine for you. Make sure any company you’re dealing with provides you with this opportunity.

If you’re really brave, you can ask to become a beta test site. This is both the best and worst possible situation. It’s the best if the machine is ready, but it can be a nightmare if it isn’t. Getting an “alpha” machine – one not truly ready for beta – for testing can be exhausting for you and your staff. I don’t think I would sign up for beta testing if I didn’t have a clear way out of the purchase if the machine doesn’t work as represented.

So for those of you who choose to join the early-adopters club in the quest of the NBT, I wish you well. If you combine good research with your daring, you can tip the risk/reward odds in your favor.