Over the last few years, discussions of printing technology have focused squarely on the 3D rapid prototyping and additive manufacturing spaces. It’s easy to understand why. The continuing development of 3D printing technology promises to create a fundamental change in the way companies develop and manufacture products, deliver custom industrial solutions, and even how we approach surviving in space.
While those are exciting developments, they’ve tended to eclipse the rest of the printing industry, which continues to be integral to companies all over the world. Today, that industry is still dominated by well-known hardware manufacturers like HP and Canon and online print shops like GotPrint, but there are some exciting new printing technologies coming along, which when commercialized could change a number of industries forever. They represent an evolution of traditional inkjet printing that might enable whole new products and make existing processes more precise and efficient. Here’s a look at two of the most notable new technologies in the printing space and what they could ultimately mean to businesses.
The world of digital printing has long relied on inkjet technologies. In fact, for almost 40 years, little has changed about the technology that most commercial printers use to reproduce images on a variety of substrates. Still, inkjet technology has always had inherent limitations. First, its print quality is dependent on the quality and physical characteristics of the print medium, which limits the flexibility with which inkjet printers can be deployed. That could be changing.
Through a new process called nanographic printing, it is now possible to create high-quality image reproductions on almost any substrate – with no variance in quality and without sacrificing speed. The process distributes billions of nanometer-sized ink droplets onto a heated blanket, which results in a 500nm-thick dry polymetric film. That film, once dry, may be transferred onto almost any material, creating near-perfect image reproductions in an abrasion-resistant laminated layer. Currently, the technology is being deployed for large-scale print operations, but could soon be miniaturized to displace inkjet printing as the go-to business printing technology.
Another new printing technology that’s under development may end up having nothing to do with image reproduction but may revolutionize a wide range of industries all the same. It’s all based on the work of Harvard University researchers that have found a way to harness the power of sound waves to manipulate fluid droplet formation. The process, called acoustophoretic printing, makes it possible to print almost any type of liquid onto a substrate. That means that future printing systems could be freed from limitations on the viscosity or electrohydrodynamic properties that come with existing printing systems.
In the abstract, that may sound like an incremental advance, but it could revolutionize industries from pharmaceuticals to food production and many more. The heart of the system applies high-intensity, focused sound waves at the point of a printer nozzle to amplify the force of gravity on the liquid in the system. Amazingly, the force created is more than four times that found on the surface of the sun – enabling hyper-precise sizing and unparalleled fluid delivery control. Critically, it’s also non-destructive, meaning that it’s safe for applications in biosciences, where fragile cellular materials are not suitable for existing printing technologies.
Sharing the spotlight
These new printing technologies make clear that additive manufacturing and 3D printing advancements may soon be sharing the spotlight with a variety of other crucial printing breakthroughs. Their effects may echo up and down industries and supply chains, making possible innovative new products and increasing flexibility in production environments. They illustrate the fact that liquid-based printing technology is continuing to evolve in ways that seemed impossible a few short years ago – and may end up facilitating as many new business breakthroughs as their oft-discussed 3D counterparts. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?
To learn more about how new printing technologies are impacting businesses, read The Impact Of 3D Printing On ERP Systems.