Ricoh expects its inkjet business to expand significantly into new industrial applications and is looking at the feasibility of developing a dedicated ink operation from its site in Scotland.
Corporate vice president Peter Williams said the manufacturer was “still very much in investment mode” on inkjet technology and had developed new ways of working with smaller specialist and start-up firms in emerging areas of industrial inkjet printing, such as textiles and décor.
“If we are just supporting them [printhead partners] centrally then we have to select a small number of large winners, but that fails to pick up new applications that could be high-risk,” he said.
Williams said the firm had leveraged existing skills and expanded the expertise within its Customer Experience Centre in Telford to provide “intimate” technical support to smaller developers.
This has involved assessing around 300 projects, with some 200 going on to receive test kits.
“Our aim is to reduce the risk barriers they see to digital migration, be that commercial, technical, or both, making sure Ricoh is their chosen partner,” he explained.
Williams said the firm was working on “some very exciting projects”.
“We are finding out so much about textiles, laminates and embroidery and becoming very knowledgeable, and this is allowing us to modify our portfolio.”
An example is the embroidery product developed by Swedish innovator Coloreel. This uses Ricoh inkjet technology to produce multi-coloured designs using only white thread, by colouring the thread while it is travelling towards the fabric. (Sample output pictured below.)
Williams also said Ricoh was looking at the potential to expand its inks business.
“Currently we don’t develop ink to sell generically but there’s an opportunity there. One of the things we’re looking at is should we or could we sell ink for ink’s sake?” he said.
“Our ink scale is relatively small but we are already installing equipment at our site in Stirling to make ink for a specific application. Water-based will increase for sure, we’re looking at what the likely rate will be and what the implications are on printheads.”
Ricoh chief executive Yoshinori Yamashita has outlined ambitious growth expectations for the $2bn (£1.5bn) turnover Commercial & Industrial Printing part of Ricoh’s business, and Williams said that the industrial printing side of the division had the potential to grow to become a $2bn-scale business itself by 2020.
On the commercial printing side, Williams said Ricoh would bring a B2 inkjet press to market “when we have a genuine commercially viable offering” with the right unit cost and media flexibility.
“It has to be duplex, we think. We will enter when we can do that successfully, and not dimming the lights when drying!”