The Israeli print technology industry rides again

Benny Landa's nanography and Objet's 3D wonders put Israeli developments at the forefront once more.

In the golden age of the Israeli printing technology industry, companies such as Nur Macroprinters, Creo, Scitex, and Indigo arose, and were sold to foreign companies.

The drupa print media fair last week in Dusseldorf provided evidence that the Israelis have still not said the last word on printing. The local representatives included two especially interesting companies. One is Benny Landa's Landa, which announced a month ago that it would lead a new digital revolution in the printing world. The second is Objet which produces 3D printers, and which two weeks ago announced a merger with US competitor Stratasys, a merger that has produced a $1.4 billion company.

Landa is the great hero of the Israeli printing equipment industry. In 1977, he founded Indigo, which provided digital printing solutions to printing houses. Landa has always described himself as first and foremost a scientist. Accordingly, Indigo was based on years of R&D. In 1993, he presented, also at drupa, Indigo's solution for simple printing of digital files, and changed the world of printing.

Exit Indigo

In 20002, Indigo was sold to HP for $720 million, and Landa embarked on the next challenge. At a press conference yesterday evening at the opening of the exhibition, he explained that his return to the world of printing had not been planned. "After the sale of Indigo, I thought I had done all I could in digital printing, and I left in order to work on an energy venture," he said. "We had to develop particles on a nano scale (a billionth of a meter). Then I asked myself how it might work with pigments. We tried, and it works. I realized that it's possible to make nanometric ink that will change printing."

According to Landa, the change he is introducing will facilitate more efficient and higher quality printing in comparison with digital printing today, and will boost the profitability of printing houses in this area.

But while Landa's aspirations seem like progress within the framework of familiar solutions, what Objet offers in 3D printing seems like something from another world entirely. The printing giants regard 3D printers as toys rather than as serious solutions for the printing industry. But the 3D printers do the real thing, creating products, and not just impressions. Objet's technology is based on a principle reminiscent of inkjet printing, but instead of ink, the mechanism in the printer sprays a polymer that solidifies immediately on contact with the surface.

This is one of several 3D printing technologies. Objet's business model is similar to that of regular printer manufacturers, that is to say, sale of the printers and the consumable materials. In this case, the material is a sort of synthetic resin from which the product is built inside the printer. The market itself is still in its infancy, and the computing giants are not yet active in it. The entire printing market, according to some estimates, is worth some $600 billion, including consumables, the printing industry, and personal printers. The 3D market totaled $1.3 billion in 2011, according to research firm Wohlers Associates, and will swell to $3 billion in 2016 small change in terms of the industry as a whole.

As with Landa, Objet's roots are sunk deep in the Israeli print technology industry. Gershon Miller, one of those who founded the company in 1998, is a leading figure in the industry in Israel. He was a founder of Idanit Technologies, which produced digital printers for advertising posters (wide format). Idanit was sold to Scitex in 1998, later becoming Scitex Vision, before being sold to HP in 2005. David Reis, who was president of Idanit, is now CEO of Objet.

Objet has aspirations to sell printers to the home market as well, which at current prices looks unrealistic, but that could soon change. "Would anyone have believed once that we would be able to buy an inkjet printer for $50 at Office Depot?" is the response at the company when the idea that private users will one day keep a 3D printer on their desks is questioned. At present, a reasonably good 3D printer starts at ten thousand dollars, and that's before the consumables.

Printing the product

But in this instance, truth could turn out to be stranger than fiction. Imagine that you could print out in your office the wonderful doll that your children crave, without turning up at a Walt Disney store in the US. Stratasys, the US company with which Objet is merging, provides working models of products that come out of the printer, thus complementing Objet's solutions, which are intended more for testing models as part of product design.

This means that we could have products produced at home, according to our personal design, or based on designs in digital format from external sources. Such products could be key holders, toys, kitchen utensils, automobile parts, clothes, or even prostheses, all home made on the printer. Looking further ahead, it is possible to envisage technological developments in the materials out of which these products are made, so that we might obtain food products from the printer instead of out of the oven. It's not for nothing that these developments are called "desktop factories".

Another model, already feasible, is the leasing or sale of such printers to businesses. The private user who wants a "printed" product will be able to buy printer services. The availability of the possibility of printing some of the products we use daily, will change the familiar world of consumer products, and from this point of view, the change that Objet could bring to the world is no less significant than what is promised by advanced two-dimensional printing technology.

Deloitte recently estimated that 2012 would be the year in which 3D printing would become a viable segment in some markets, and that the price of the printers would approach the region of $1,000. However, Deloitte also warns that the excitement over the potential for the private user could end in disappointment:. "…the current technology is subject to several significant limitations. While some of these will be overcome in the medium term, others are the result of fundamental constraints that are unlikely to be resolved," its report states.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on May 6, 2012

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2012

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