By Peter BeaumontThe world is full of printers, but few of them can produce the kind of high-quality prints needed to make the products people want to buy.
This is partly because printers are expensive, but also because they are vulnerable to sabotage.
In this month’s issue of the journal Nature, a group of scientists from the Universities of Glasgow, Sheffield and Oxford, and several others, describe how printers are being replaced by cheap machines that can print out anything from cardboard to a map.
They say that the end of printing is not just the end for the printing industry but for the world as a whole.
The research is based on a model in which each piece of paper is produced by a single machine, a process called “printing on demand”, in which an individual worker has to be trained to do the job.
When a paper is printed, it is sent out into the world.
But the researchers have calculated that a few minutes of this process can produce nearly a tonne of paper.
And the paper is sent to the printer in a way that makes it hard for someone else to tamper with it, and harder still for the printers to find where it was printed.
The paper is then packaged in an envelope that is then sent back to the printing firm for further processing.
The paper that has been sent to a printer is then stored in a warehouse, until it is ready to go out into print.
The problem is that the machines used to make paper are increasingly small, and therefore the space needed to process it is increasing, making the process much more expensive.
But it is the printers that have been hit the hardest.
“When you look at the size of a printer, the average size of the paper in an inkjet is about a thousandth of an inch,” says Professor Alan Kosslyn, of the University of Glasgow’s School of Engineering and Physical Sciences, who led the research.
“We think there is a real threat that the printers will have to be scaled up and we need to make it as easy as possible for people to make their own paper.”
So how does this happen?
The researchers say the biggest factor is that there is no easy way to make a printer that can process large amounts of paper at a time.
“The main challenge in the industry is that you need to be able to do things like fold and stretch a paper,” says Kosslyn.
“You need to fold it in a flat, rectangular shape, then you need a way of making sure that it does not bend.”
This can be difficult, because there are a lot of different materials that can be used in the production of paper, he says.
And it also requires a lot more work to make sure the machines that make these machines are safe, which is why there are so many of them.
“There is a lot to be done to make them safer, but they are expensive,” Kossyn says.
“I think the biggest reason why people are printing on demand is the cost of printing.”
The researchers also say that if people are not able to print a product, there is an increasing risk that the printer will be stolen.
It’s not just paper.
There are other materials that are being used in printing, including carbon nanotubes and plastics, and that can also be used to print things that are far more fragile than paper.
So printing ondemand could also make it easier for those who make a living to be in touch with others who need to print their work.
But if printing on a mass scale is going to become obsolete, the paper industry will have a lot on its hands.
“This paper industry is so dependent on printing that there are people who are trying to find ways to save it,” says Kossys.
“They are trying not to die out because they do print, they are trying very hard to find new ways to print that they can get to print on demand.”
But it’s not going to be easy.
“But it could be stopped, and it could even be reversed in the future.” “
It will be quite difficult to stop printing,” says Hervé Bouchard, of Oxford’s Department of Mathematics and the Science of Materials.
“But it could be stopped, and it could even be reversed in the future.”
But in the longer term, the scientists say that printing on an industrial scale could be a boon for the paper world.
“There is no question that if we could have a much smaller paper print industry, then we could produce a lot better products,” Koslyn says.
“The paper industry could then be able do much more things that it was unable to do before.”