The Long View: The (Tech) Adventure Continues

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Okay, I admit it. I like learning about cool new technologies. I’m not really a techy-geeky sort of guy, but I am fascinated to learn how things work, and how a new technology develops. You could call me a closet-engineer, I guess, though truthfully I don’t think I could engineer my way out of a wet paper bag.

Still, ever since I started reporting on the sign and commercial graphics industry-oh these many years ago-I’ve been captivated by the many interesting technological developments that come into play. Especially the ones that seem to affect a profound change. It’s like a never ending technological adventure where improvements are always improved upon, and newer, better solutions are constantly introduced.

I often attend trade shows, and when an exhibitor shows me something particularly interesting-say, a super-fast LED UV-cure printer with nitrogen blanket to suppress oxygen exposure, or a laser-cutting technology designed for textile finishing-I often find myself in conversations with the company’s engineer to find out how the technology works, and why it is a better solution than what was previously available.

It’s not so much that I actually understand the technical aspects, or that I am capable of cognitively grasping the mechanical and/or chemical minutiae behind the solution. I just really love to get the gist of it-to try and appreciate the genius/creativity and engineering excellence that was applied to the problem.

Sometimes a single development can change the course of a whole segment of an industry. One printing technology proves better than another for certain applications, and before you know it, that new technology has taken over, pushing the old aside. I recall being totally blown away back in 2001 when Leggett & Platt first showed a prototype of its large-format UV-curing printer at the DPI Show in Atlanta.

Nobody in that hall had seen anything like it before. We were-to put it mildly-agog. The uniqueness of it seemed to catch attendees by surprise and there was quite a bit of skepticism. But we knew that something important was being shown. It turns out that the L&P unit wasn’t exactly the first. In 2000 Inca Digital had introduced Europe to the first UV-curing inkjet printer-the Eagle-but it had not yet landed on U.S. shores. 

The point is that this one technology offered a better solution for direct printing. Over the years the UV-cure digital printing process was improved upon, made less expensive and more readily available. Today UV-cure printers abound. Currently there are more than 20 UV-cure printer manufacturers serving U.S. signage and commercial graphics markets.

The inkjet technology adventure continues-LED UV-cure, water-based UV-cure, latex technology and soon UVgel inkjet technology. And that’s just in the printing segment. Makes me wonder what the next new technology will be that changes everything. Trust me, it’s coming. Okay, back to work.

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Ken Mergentime

Ken Mergentime is the former executive editor of Sign & Digital Graphics and WRAPS magazines.

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