Form or function? Opportunities in industrial and functional printing

Form or function? Opportunities in industrial and functional printing

From laminates, glass and wood for interior décor applications through to membrane switch overlays and printed electronics for applications in manufacturing, industrial printing applications are increasingly being printed digitally. 3D printing is also growing in popularity for use in supporting design and prototyping, as well as creating concept models.

Regardless of the printing method used, where print is used either to decorate a product, add functionality to it or support product development, the resulting applications are often high value ones. As a result, for print service providers (PSPs) competing in more commoditised or low margin areas of the industry, these new application areas can represent a great opportunity to grow their revenue streams if they approach them in the right way.

Thinking creatively about applications

New opportunities for PSPs start with thinking creatively about the equipment, techniques and substrates they already use and then finding ways in which those can meet different needs.

For some that may mean adapting an application that they already produce to suit a different market. Consider, as an example, a PSP who digitally prints branded wall graphics. Using the same technology, they might begin offering customised wallpaper to the interior design market or even directly to consumers.

Indeed, the interior décor market presents numerous exciting opportunities for creative PSPs willing to experiment to create something new. By combining creativity – either that of in-house talent or through partnerships with designers – with an in-depth knowledge of what print can achieve, it is possible to develop an application that creates a particular ambience within a space, but which can also be refreshed and changed with ease.

Investing to open up opportunities

Creative thinking may also lead PSPs to identify opportunities to introduce new services to meet existing customers’ needs that aren’t currently addressed by their offering. For some this may be as simple as adapting some existing processes, while others might decide to make an investment to offer a new kind of application.

Take the example of a PSP who prints a large volume of plans and drawings for the architecture, engineering and construction markets or the in-house print department of a design college or university. Both may decide to invest in 3D printing technology to enable them to offer concept modelling as a new service to their existing customer bases. Similarly, a PSP that currently produces switch panels using screen printing may decide to use their digital wide format flatbed printing device to produce prototypes and test panels, as well as to offer customers the options to make changes and place smaller orders more frequently.

High value, high volume, high profit

Where print is used to decorate products functionally – as in the case of a switch panel for a machine, or to decorate as a secondary function to the product’s main purpose – as with printing onto sports equipment such as surfboards or skis, one of the most exciting opportunities for PSPs is the potential of these high value applications to be high volume ones too.

For example, where a PSP is printing coding onto an injection moulded plastic part for use in the automotive industry; that is a high value application that will also need to be produced in high volumes. Applications such as these hold the potential for PSPs to carve out highly profitable new niches and build long-term partnerships with customers.

The high value and thus potential for wider profit margins that are offered by many industrial, functional and 3D printing applications are two of the reasons these areas generate so much interest. Indeed, with the industrial and functional printing markets set to increase from a market value of just less than €59 billion in 2015 to almost €94 billion in 2020, the opportunities are there for the taking.

For PSPs with the right business models or customer bases, the numbers certainly can add up, but it is important to make sure that a move in this direction is a logical step forward for your business. As with any new venture, it is crucial to not only understand the needs of your customers, but also to identify the areas of your business that may need development or investment in order to succeed.

This is why Canon works closely with customers, providing guidance and support by drawing on both industry insight and experience of helping other customers to open up new opportunities. Find out more about how Canon could help you to explore new opportunities in either industrial or 3D printing.

Get your copy!

Sign up here for your printed or email copy of Think Digital.