Kodak’s Brad Kruchten has described printed electronics as the "the next frontier for print" and believes commercial printers should be able to move into this evolving market.
Kruchten is president of Kodak’s Print Systems division, its largest operation encompassing printing plates, CTP systems, NexPress and Digimaster electrophotographic digital printing, and equipment service.
He said that while printing businesses have traditionally been engaged in printing for "visual purposes" – such as publications and packaging – the future will involve what Kodak has coined "the printernet of things".
"The next frontier for print is how you make things that can communicate, using printed electronic circuits," Kruchten told PrintWeek.
"We'll probably spend the next three-to-four years fully understanding the process. Our intention is to be able to say to printers 'here's a cookbook, a how to'. I think commercial and packaging printers are going to be able to do this."
He predicted a “major explosion” in printed electronics in the future, at a fraction of today’s cost.
“I’m excited and I think this will be a great opportunity for the printing industry,” he added. “It’s absolutely the next high-margin printing opportunity for companies that can see the horizon and are looking at their next investments.
“They have 70% of the infrastructure they need already.”
He said production, which requires extremely high resolution, could be via a number of printing methods.
“I don’t see any reason why they can’t expand into this area. By the next Drupa we will see this, and our intention is to start working with top tier customers over the next year.”
Research from emerging technologies specialist IDTechEx has predicted that the market for printed and flexible electronics will be worth more than $73bn (£65bn) by 2025.
Kodak's innovation wing is developing conducting, semi-conducting and dielectric materials, inks and micro-fluids for functional printed electronics such as smart packaging and sensors.
Kruchten also spoke about Kodak’s recent plate price increase announcement due to increases in the price of aluminium, and said printers would actually benefit, despite the price rise. He said the price increase in Europe was likely to be around 4%.
“They will get more from recycling than [the impact of] our price increase,” he said. “We are driving our own costs down and sharing that with printers. Our critical mission is to help printers be profitable. They are being squeezed, and if we make them profitable then we’ll be profitable.”
Kodak will introduce the next generation of its Sonora processless plate, which is one of the manufacturer’s key growth engines, next year. It will be aimed at longer-run applications such as books, although Kruchten would not be drawn on the specifics of the new version just yet.
The new NexPress Max platform that was previewed at Drupa last year has been renamed Nexfinity. Installation at the first beta site in the US is underway now, ahead of the official commercial launch in January.
It has a higher 1,200dpi resolution and the print stations are on rails, so the colour order can be switched around – particularly important for users printing white onto clear or dark substrates.
Kruchten said he expected the platform’s long sheet capability combined with the new features to drive “much higher sales” going into next year.