JL 2015

By Joseph Lyman
Great Lakes Graphics Association

If I had a nickel for every time I heard someone say, “Print is Dead” over the past several years, I would be a millionaire. There is no questioning that the industry has faced some tough times for nearly a decade, causing every owner to restructure their business. Print buyers are extremely discerning about how they budget their money to communicate their message, and it has come at the expense of print sales. The short of it is that the Internet and electronic marketing have put downward pressure on the revenue for some of the work that used to go to commercial print.

However, there is an emerging market that could be a boon for the industry. Organic light emitting diode (OLED) and electronic component printing using electrically conductive ink is showing extreme promise as a new technology that could supplant how many different electronic products are currently manufactured. This is reinforced by the Wall Street Journal’s recent article featuring R.R. Donnelley and its increased efforts to use the printing process to manufacture electronic components. Although not perfected, early results prove that everything from RFID chips to solar and lighting panels to OLED touch screens and televisions can be printed using existing yet improved printing processes.

Much more research and development will need to be performed, and it will take a host of different players (chemists, electrical engineers, equipment and ink vendors and many others) working together to perfect the process. However, it has been proven that by using the printing process to manufacture a product, it could provide an opportunity to not only achieve mass production but also drive the price of electronic component manufacturing down.

What does this mean for traditional printers? Well, just like the printers that decided to expand their businesses to include wide format inkjet and digital toner printing, the industry will see more printers expand their businesses yet again to offer OLED and electronic component printing. However, this time the industry will not experience printers using a different form of technology to manufacture the same type of commercial print product. Instead, printers will be fighting with electronic component manufacturers to replace a manufacturing process that has been used for decades.

Many times over the years, printers have evolved to expand the types of print they offer to customers. There is no doubt that if processes are improved, printers will again evolve to manufacture even more and diverse lines of products.

Joseph is President and CEO of the Great Lakes Graphics Association. The Great Lakes Graphics Association is the trade association dedicated to representing the graphic arts industry throughout Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin through education, promotion, and public affairs. GLGA is headquartered in Pewaukee, WI, with state directors based in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin, and is an affiliate of the Printing Industries of America.