Digital print opens new vistas in glass decoration

Smithers Pira examines the rapidly emerging use of printing on novel substrates outside the traditional paper, board and packaging arenas.

According to a new report from Smithers Pira - The Future of Functional and Industrial Print to 2022 - a wide range of applications – including commercial 3D printing, printed electronics, and decorative print on glass – is driving the market forward. Collectively this industry is quantified by Smithers Pira as being worth $76.9 billion in 2017, up from $37.2 billion in 2012. Broadening existing applications and developing new market niches will see this grow to $114.8 billion in 2022. This market growth for functional and industrial print presents sizeable opportunities for the glass industry, as an increasing number of glass components and products integrate printing.

Functional applications

Printing technology is widely used to decorate many items, from architectural and automotive glass to ceramics and electronics, household items, toys, and textiles. It can be used with special inks to create new functions – including biomedical and photovoltaics, which are becoming significant markets. There are established sectors – wallpaper printing, for example, dates back hundreds of years – and there are emerging sectors with lots of hype, such as 3D printing and printed electronics.

FIGURE 0.1 Global functional industrial print market by application 2012-2022 , ($ billion, constant values)

There is manifesting in a trend to incorporate printing technologies as a part of a wider manufacturing process; or in the case of 3D printing to displace an existing manufacturing process. There will be increasing crossover between sectors and applications. Printed sensors, to monitor health, water and air quality are growing in use – and these can include electronic capability. Decoration will increasingly provide functional capabilities as well. In future a carbon monoxide detector may be incorporated into wallpaper that could also light the room, for instance.

Printed glass market

A particularly interesting area of the functional and industrial printing movement is that of glass printing. Glass is used in many applications, domestically and in industry, which affect the demands for any print on it. It may be flat sheet glass for architectural use; a hollow container glass – usually a tube sealed at one end to form a drinking vessel; a lightbulb/tube; laboratory glass; lenses; or an ornamental object, such as a vase.

Printed architectural glass may be interior or for external use, when it has to be weatherproof. A glass cooking hob is a specialty application. Overall demand for flat glass, produced by float techniques, is dependent on construction and rose 7.1% in 2015-2016 to 9.2 billion square metres, some 70–75 million tonnes. Asia is the biggest and fastest growing glass market, accounting for some 60% of all flat glass by area – obviously much of this is unprinted. Fabricated flat glass demand will benefit from rapid growth in sales of energy efficient products, such as solar control, insulation, and low emissivity (low-E) fixtures.

By 2022 the overall value of glass printing is forecast to reach a market value of around $1.3 billion and have a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7.0% from 2017-2022.

Screen printing is widely used to print onto flat and hollow glass. Leading equipment supplier Thieme reports growing demand for printed glass from technical glass applications like glass displays, touch panels and solar applications, with direct printing on glass. The printing requirements for these glass products vary a lot from architectural, automotive or domestic appliance products, which has created a lot of new equipment and process solutions.

The majority of these technical glass products require multi-pass printing. The registration tolerances of the different ink layers are demanding, as well as demand scratch-free transport during the printing process; and very tight tolerances of the printed layer thickness, especially for large areas of functional printing layers. A further challenge of these new glass products is the thin raw glass that is used. For most of these products it is below 2mm, and can be as thin as 100μm.

Opportunities for growth

There is consistent growth across the industrial functional landscape as demand grows for construction, automotive, electronics and manufactured products that increasingly incorporate print. This is in stark contrast to publication and commercial print, where print volumes are declining.

Many established printers serving those markets are looking to follow the example of large Japanese print companies and move into industrial markets, where they can use their core skills. The four main players are Toppan Printing, Dai Nippon Printing, Choyoda Gravure and Nissha Printing, which operate manufacturing plants in Japan, China, Europe and North America. It is also attractive to equipment and consumable suppliers to develop niche applications that may grow significantly, as is the case for inkjet printing of ceramic tiles.

Analogue processes are well represented – specifically gravure, screen and pad-printing – with the fastest growth observed in inkjet. Suppliers have developed equipment to broaden applications, with new inks, coatings and functional fluids providing new properties of flexibility, adhesion and durability, together with novel capability in electronics and biomedical. There are also bespoke proprietary methods, often closely guarded by manufacturers.

Supply models

In functional markets, like glass printing, established suppliers may be part of a wider manufacturing company, or a specialist contract supplier. In Japan traditional print companies have taken shares of the electronics and lifestyle printed sectors, but this is not the case in the rest of the world. There are complex routes to market and supply chains across industrial and functional print segments, but this is opening as the topic is featured in conferences and exhibitions, with the users looking for innovation and process efficiencies. This will provide many opportunities for print companies and for their suppliers. Greater coverage of the topics in the trade press and events is raising awareness in the established players, which might improve their print and decoration using new techniques from new suppliers.

As in most printing processes there are always possibilities to reduce wastage, reduce the time and cost of the process, or to increase the quality of the print and of the item. Expertise of experienced print service providers may be helpful to specialist manufacturing operations. There will be efforts to improve sustainability, and to reduce the environmental impact of the overall manufacturing process.

The Future of Functional and Industrial Print to 2022, is available for immediate purchase. For more information download the brochure here.

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