UV-curable and Industrial Inkjet systems are new among Chinese vendors and could be important for the future in ways aggressive solvent ink printers were not and could never be. UV systems have been introduced by a number of Chinese vendors with a few hundred possible unit sales already. UV-curable printer hardware prices and quality are not yet up to Western standards, but the inks are neither readily available nor copied. This suggests price defense, which, if realized, could represent a break-through for the Chinese industry. The UV initiative stems from upward industry progression demanding better print production on a wider variety of substrates. Plus of course the Chinese are also becoming acutely aware of environmental impact issues, which could result in legislation banning aggressive solvent printer sales from one day to the next.
So what about the Chinese Print Market?
China is a good market if you make inkjet print heads as it already supports four major suppliers out of Japan, Europe, and the US, with growth left. They could become industrially competent, but it has yet to be proven commercially and technically.
If Chinese vendors want to succeed outside of China they need capital to invest and then learn how to partner with sophisticated users—not an easy or fast process, more likely after five years.
Going to China with products will prove difficult due to cost value-creation infrastructure in place, determined by macro-economic development issues beyond control of the print industry and partnerships have proven difficult even within developed countries. Chinese companies are willing to market 'copies' of eco-solvent and aqueous printers claiming original Japanese and US technology at prices that suggest otherwise. This is not the market, just a part of it.
While China is a mixed bag, the vendor community leaves you with a good feeling; these people are enthusiastic about getting forward finding out what is needed and trying to provide it. They cannot do it all, but they will more forward rapidly and it is our western opportunity to vie for creative leadership.
It's not just about Wide-Format
We focused on the wide-format graphics market because that is where you will find a discrete group of dedicated system vendors unmatched in any other digital printing sector. China has risen in other print areas as well such as textile, ceramics, and packaging thanks to migration from developed markets implying modernity.
It may well be however that the Chinese wide-format printer manufacturers next role is in industrial printing systems to these textile, ceramic, and packaging print applications with inkjet technology. So far there has been a lot of talk, but not a lot of proof, of ceramic inkjet printing systems being developed in China. There is already a well-established market for inkjet ceramic printers in Italy, Spain, and Brazil served by Western printer manufacturers. It could be that in China this application will be the first one to allow domestic Chinese manufacturers to change their business model and allow for capture of inks and more reasonable hardware margins, allowing them for the first time to escape from the commoditization trap that they build so well in years past.