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Designing a Custom Digital Inkjet Solution – The Beginning

EPS Weekly is a new resource that we’re starting here at Engineered Printing Solutions. Its purpose is multifold, as it is intended to inform, educate and provide an inside look at the many factors that go into industrial printer manufacturing.

This week, I had the opportunity to sit down with Kevin Metcalfe, Applications Engineer in our single pass digital inkjet division. Kevin’s role is a critical one, as it primarily involves determining the process in which EPS can satisfy customer requirements when designing a machine specific to their industrial printing need(s). This involves working with all aspects of product decoration from adhesion testing, print quality, throughput requirements and any other specifications that the customer may have. A large part of Metcalfe’s expertise lies in performing extensive feasibility studies to troubleshoot potential issues related to direct-to-shape printing, such as scratch resistance, color gamut, substrate composition and contour, pretreatment methods and testing, testing and more testing.

How it Starts

The process typically begins with a set of predefined requirements from the customer. Samples are sent to the EPS facility to be sample printed, delivered back to the customer for review, and the journey toward a custom solution begins! It is during this process that a lot of discovery takes place and the relationship between EPS and the client becomes more of a partnership as new ideas are exchanged, possibilities discussed and limits pushed.

Substrate Pretreatment

Meeting our customer’s adhesion requirements is paramount, and various methods are implemented during testing to determine what will produce the best results. Corona treatment, atmospheric plasma, flame and primer are all examples of pretreatment methods utilized in acquiring necessary adhesion to specific substrates.

Meeting adhesion requirements ranges in difficulty, depending on the substrate and the complexity of the desired result. For example, while polystyrene is a simple substrate to achieve adhesion with using UV inks with no pretreatment, other substrates such as polypropylene or high-density polyethylene are more difficult and require more process development. This is what makes Metcalfe’s position a very important one.

Cost and Compromise

Sometimes the ability to produce a difficult solution for the customer comes down to capital expenditure and/or compromise with respect to what their expectations were at the beginning of the project.  While some are willing to invest in additional research & development to achieve their goals, sometimes the answer requires changing how the substrate is manufactured.

“It is a series of stages that is prudent to follow. If you haven’t dotted your I’s and crossed your T’s with regard to the process (the right ink, the right pretreatment, the necessary cure and adhesion), you can find yourself in a position where you have built a machine that does not yet meet customer requirements, so we must be thorough in our feasibility studies well in advance of building a machine.”

The Speed of Inkjet

The industrial inkjet printers built at EPS range from basic, single head monochromatic machines to complex staggered head array solutions capable of printing multiple colors, primers and clear coats.

“One of the great advantages of single pass inkjet is incredible throughput. The faster that you can run the parts beneath the print heads in a single pass formation the faster they come out the other end, while still meeting whatever other requirements that the customer may have” says Metcalfe.

EPS’s single pass applications are UV curable, meaning that the inks are cured using targeted wavelength ultraviolet radiation.

When is Inkjet the Answer?

There are many reasons to embrace digital technology for decoration over analog solutions. The desire for short runs, better print quality, just-in-time manufacturing, and quick job changeovers are just a few of the reasons to switch to digital.

The question of when to switch to digital comes down to the customer’s requirements, and whether or not these can be met via inkjet technology. The industry is still scratching the surface with regard to its capabilities. One of the more interesting aspects of Kevin’s position is overcoming a decorating challenge where there was initial uncertainty as to its feasibility.

“The challenge is both interesting and intriguing, because you’re pushing at the edge of an envelope here and the technology is constantly changing. Despite what others may say, there are always opportunities to do something more.”

What Makes EPS Different?

A history of being willing to custom design and build a machine to meet a customer’s needs clearly sets EPS apart from other companies.  Our foundation is rooted in the analog process of product decoration, and this experience informs our design choices when building a digital solution.

“At the end of the process, once all the hurdles have been cleared, every customer we partner with receives an engineered printing solution that has been purpose-built to suit their specific manufacturing and decoration needs. Once installed in their facility it is extremely rewarding to watch their decorated product racing off the end of the conveyor.”

For more information about Engineered Printing Solutions custom solutions, such as standard pad printers, industrial inkjet, consumables and auxiliary equipment, visit www.epsvt.com, email info@epsvt.com or call 1-800-272-7764.

Q&A: UV-curable inkjet printing vs. Traditional Analog Methods of Decorating

When comparing the differences between traditional printing methods – such as pad and screen printing – and digital inkjet printing, we like to use the analogy of comparing a 1969 Camaro to a 2014 Tesla. They’re both cars, and they can both get you where you are going, but the methods of how they work and the cost of operation are quite different. Traditional printing always has been done with direct contact of the inks via a vehicle such as a pad, screen or blanket to the product being printed. Inkjet deposition is done through a non-contact form of printing with specified offsets of the heads to the substrate being printed, thus eliminating pads, screens, plates, type set and stamps.

Traditional forms of printing always have been a mechanical process, and inkjet is a computerized process. The biggest single advantage of the digital process is the ability to change from one graphic to the next with the click of a mouse. No longer is there the need to change screens, pads, plates and registers between the colors for each individual print process. For companies printing short runs or dynamic data, the times savings are dramatic. However, there also are advantages to traditional forms of printing.

Question: How does ink adhesion differ?
Answer: Traditional forms of printing have been around for years, so there is a vast historical knowledge base. Inks have been tested on different substrates, so we know what pre-treatments, type of inks, additives and post-curing processes need to be applied for different print scenarios. By contrast, UV-curable inkjet printing is rapidly developing, but with little historical knowledge.

The main concerns when using pad or screen printing inks have always been adhesion and drying time. Certain materials, such as olefins, generally require a pre-treatment to obtain the proper surface tension for adhesion. Occasionally, static and surface contamination can warrant some adjustments to the inks.

Unlike traditional pad/screen print inks, adhesion is not the only concern with the UV-cure digital inks; wettability (dyne level) plays a big role in obtaining a quality print. The wet out of the print is what provides a clear, smooth, quality image. If the printed dots encounter surface tension, static or contamination, the dots will bead up and create a grainy image. Temperature is used to control inkjet ink viscosity versus analog inks where additives (thinners) are used. Environmental effects on all ink systems are a factor to consider, and humidity control and temperature play a vital role in print quality in both inkjet and other older technologies.

Question: Are there color limitations with digital inkjet?
Answer: When using digital CMYK Lc Lm inks, it is important to realize that there are limitations to color matching. Large brands have specifically formulated colors that represent their products. These are easily matched in traditional forms of printing by mixing inks to create a desired color. However, the use of custom colorants on digital devices is very rare because of their cost, the development time and the difficulty (if not impossibility) of changing colors and cleaning ink feed systems after use without contaminating the next color. It’s been estimated that only 30 to 40 percent of Pantone colors can be achieved using a standard digital CMYK. That leaves a significant portion of brand colors outside of the achievable gamut, whether they’re specified using Pantone or not. Most brand owners are aware of these limitations and understand that a perfect match for certain high chroma colors is unachievable and accept that close is close enough.

A so-called “HiFi” space using a larger number of colorants – such as CMYKOGV (i.e. CMYK + orange + green + violet) – greatly increases the color gamut; even this, it’s still estimated that only around 80 percent of Pantone colors can be printed accurately in this way. However, these inks are very specialized and are not universally compatible with all printheads and print processes. Commonly available UV-curable CMYK ink sets that include light magenta and light cyan can achieve 55 to 65 percent of the Pantone Matching System (PMS) spectrum, but again, a six-color printer is significantly more expensive than a four-color printer (more heads, ink management modules, electronics, etc.). There are on-board color controls as part of the RIP package on some digital printing equipment that mimic the abilities of Photoshop, allowing for quick color adjustments on the fly. Once made, these tweaks are saved and retained for all future print jobs using that image data set.

Question: What are the differences in ink curing?
Answer: Although there are UV-cured inks in other print processes such as pad and screen printing, the majority of ink curing usually is done by running the items through an oven to complete the flashing off of solvents. Pad printing inks are printed wet on wet. The solvent, depending on the ink and print substrate, usually flashes off within seconds and can be handled almost immediately after printing. Originally, the UV digital inks were designed to be cured by high-pressure arc lamps. It was a complete process with cure time measured by the time exposed under the lamp. Cooling the bulbs always was a concern.

There were many positives realized with the development of the UV-LED inks. The cost of operation went way down, extravagant lamp cooling systems were eliminated and there no longer was ozone created by the high-pressure arc lamps, thus eliminating the need for ozone deconstruct systems built into the print exhaust. With the new curing lamps, there also were challenges that had to be overcome. The UV-LED lamps remain constant, so there is no longer a concern if it is properly curing the ink. The newer lamps bring new concerns, including dialing in the correct speed with specific substrates and setting the optimum power levels of the lamps. The offset of the lamps to the product all have to be tested and formulated to ensure proper wet-out, adhesion and curing.

Question: How does substrate shapes affect print quality?
Answer: Pad printing has been the ideal solution for printing on odd-shaped items with compound curves. The transfer of the ink image with the silicone pad has been a proven method for decades. Accuracy and repeatability of the print is excellent. Even difficult images on extreme shapes can be adjusted with artwork distortions so that when the print is transferred, it adjusts the distortion created by the stretch of the pad. Opacity is usually excellent, even on dark substrates. Plates can be etched to different depths to allow for transfer of additional ink, and different durometer pads can be selected to achieve an improved image transfer.

Digital inkjet differs because there are limitations to the amount of offset the heads can be from the print surface. The further the drop of ink has to travel, the lower the print resolution will appear. The ideal offset for printing with most digital heads is a maximum 1.4 millimeters from head to print surface. The size of the dot, resolution, time of flight of the ink and travel speed are all taken into consideration when printing on a slightly curved surface. Inkjet systems originally were designed to print on a smooth flat surface. With adjustment to the speed of print, UVLED curing speeds and electronic settings and by isolating air turbulence, the ability to print on curved surfaces with greater offset distances continues to evolve.

Question: How do the consumable costs compare?
Answer: When potential customers ask us how much it costs per part for the decoration, calculations are done based on consumable costs. In pad printing, take the cost of ink used for a specific length run; factor in waste, and determine the per-piece cost for ink. The pad usage also is easily calculated by dividing cost against the realized usage life. We also can calculate the operation costs based on parts produced per hour and include setup time, average time of change over from job to job and clean up.

When calculating costs for the digital inkjet system, look mainly at ink consumption. The PC running the system automatically will calculate the ink consumption and provide a per-piece ink cost. There is virtually no changeover time involved going from print job to print job. The completed artwork can be sent to the system using a USB drive or directly via LAN. Remember, this all makes servicing via the Internet an excellent alternative to flying in a technician.

Question: What questions can be asked to help make a decision between analog and digital inkjet systems?
Answer: When faced with a decision, evaluate the pros and cons of traditional analog systems and new digital inkjet systems.

How often does graphic change?
What is the required production rate?
What are the color requirements?
What is the cost of the equipment?
What is the potential value added with the personalization and/or traceability that can be realized with new digital inkjet equipment?
What type of personnel do you have at your disposal?
How much are you spending on expensive supplies?

Tim Scully is vice president of sales at Engineered Printing Solutions. He received his BA in History & Secondary Education at SUNY Cortland. Since 2003 he has provided design build services for Pad Print Machinery of Vermont, now Engineered Printing Solutions. He enjoys assessing existing methods of decorating and providing new concepts and designs to make the process more efficient and cost effective for customers. Inkjet printing methods have created a new avenue to achieve greater production rates at lower costs. For more information, visit www.epsvt.com.

The Barcode Scanner

The days of looking up the parameters on a job set up sheet and entering them by hand are no more!

In the world of engineering anything is feasible when you really think about it. Engineered Printing Solutions has taken the standard hand held barcode scanner and integrated it into our machines, creating new generation of custom pad printers.

When the barcode scanner option is installed in the printing system, the risk of improper parameters being loaded when changing from one print job to the next is virtually eliminated. All the operator and setup individual has to do in order to load the correct printing parameters is to plug in the hand held barcode scanner and scan the barcode for the product. The system then automatically loads the print parameters for that product.

While this option has been popular with our customers in the medical industry due to stringent process validation requirements; we feel many other industries would benefit from this feature as it requires much less operator and setup involvement in the configuration of the system for the new print job. There by reducing the time required and virtually eliminating parameter errors, thus reducing misprinted parts. If however the operator chooses to manually enter the code they are still able to hook up a keyboard and enter the program information.

Our engineers at Pad Print Machinery of Vermont can install this option into almost any of our machines that are custom built in our Facility. The bar code scanner option can be configured to be compatible with almost all barcodes. At the moment Pad Print of Machinery is using 1st and 2nd barcodes. But our engineers are able to adhere to whatever barcode needs to be read by the product at hand.

For information about Engineered Printing Solutions custom solutions, standard pad printers, industrial digital ink jet, consumables and other auxiliary equipment, visit www.epsvt.com, email sales@epsvt.com or call 1-800-272-7764.

The Future of Pad Printing

For the past three years Engineered Printing Solutions has been utilizing robotics to increase production, lower operator costs and improve the overall decorating process of various parts. The use of robotics has evolved from (a) pick and place systems to (b) SCARA robots loading tooling to (c) 6 axis robots with vision orienting and loading tooling. SCARA robots were then utilized as the actual printing arm with the capability of changing pad styles during the print process. A robot being used as a printing arm has been proven to be the most effective way to print on various three dimensional products that require multiple prints in different locations.  In prior designs an elaborate fixture would be designed to rotate the part to different print positions so the 4 axis SCARA robot could print down on the specific location.  The development of the smaller 6 axis articulating robots with increased power has led to advancement in our current robotic pad printer designs replacing the SCARA robot with a 6 axis Robot.  The part fixture now remains stationary because the 6 axis robot allows you to print at any angle. This eliminates the need for an elaborate multi axis servo driven fixture. The pad printing cycle is also shortened because the robot is no longer waiting for part rotations.

Features of the six axis robot printer:

  • End of arm tool to hold print pad
  • Automatic tape cleaner
  • 2 sets of independent clichés to allow set up of next part to run without stopping the current print process
  • Clichés can hold multiple artworks
  • Touch screen HMI controller display on strong arm
  • Camera vision system to detect orientation of part
  • Up to six color printing
  • Automatic pad changer with use of up to six different pads
  • In feed & out feed conveyers

Currently the Engineered Printing Solutions team includes many highly motivated individuals with full engineering, software development and tech support. Our #1 goal is Customer Satisfaction. Our company is constantly pushing the envelope, discovering more and more ways to seamlessly incorporate pad and ink jet printing into customers’ manufacturing environments.

For information about Engineered Printing Solutions custom solutions, standard pad printers, industrial digital ink jet, consumables and other auxiliary equipment, visit www.epsvt.com, e-mail sales@epsvt.com or call 1-800-272-7764

Pick This and Place First in Pad Print Success!

The pad printing industry has revolutionized marking in so many manufacturing industries, and continues to grow and cause further change. Pad Print Machinery of Vermont wants our customers to stay current on what has — and still is — happening in your industry and in the fields your customers service.

Starting today we will occasionally feature new equipment, or additional devices available for that equipment, that have made a difference in your competitors’ businesses. You might want to consider investing in some of these in the near future.

Consider a pick and place device

The single most cost-effective automation feature for customers servicing any industry is a pick and place device, used to rake off or auto-unload parts after printing. Adding this one feature can come close to doubling your production rate overnight. The best news? It increases production at a low cost and saves operator time. The operator no longer has to load the parts onto the machine and then unload them onto a table or elliptical conveyor. The operator simply loads them.

Here’s the technical stuff

Pick & Place Systems are pneumatic or servo-motorized devices which can be installed on the pad print machine’s conveyor or other automation devices. Click here to see a video on different Pick & Place applications.

A pick-and-place device can be designed for 2, 3, 4 or more axes/stations, depending on the conveyor installed and the configuration of the pad print machine. It is ready to install on conveyors for automatic loading and/or unloading of parts.

PPMOVT has conveyors available ranging from the Linear Shuttle for single-part fixtures (offering four stations for four-color and six stations for five-color printing), up to top-of-the-line conveyors offering fully-automated, servo motor-driven, multicolor system up to 48+ stations.

Our reps should know!

The experienced PPMOVT customer service reps know about great deals like this. Increased production, moderate startup costs, a big boost on your ROI — these are benefits your business can’t ignore.

Remember: we want your business to grow with your equipment. PPMOVT has reps assigned to your area waiting to hear from you. Call us at 1-800-272-7764, or use Live Chat on our Home page http://www.padprintmachinery.com

A year from now, call us to report a 100% increase in production year-to-date. We’ll celebrate with you!

Welcome to Engineered Printing Solutions Blog!

Since 1985, Engineered Printing Solutions has grown into the leader in the decorating and marking fields. From the beginning, our job is to take your idea from design to full realization. Engineered Printing Solutions offers a full line of pad and ink jet printing equipment – from tabletop models to sophisticated, fully automated printers. Engineered Printing Solutions hopes to keep you updated with our new products and services. Also, our team would like to hear from you regarding your challenges and successes with your printing applications.

Currently, our team includes highly skilled and motivated individuals. We are driven to become partners with our customers to create machines that satisfy their requirements 100%. Our goal is and always will be pursuing #1 in Customer Satisfaction. This company is constantly pushing the envelope, discovering more and more ways to seamlessly incorporate pad and ink jet printing into customer’s manufacturing environments.

We hope you join the conversation with your questions and the feedback you would like to share. There will be regular posts from our sales, technical and consumable departments featuring “Tips & Tricks” and “How To” entries. Please don’t forget to visit our website regularly for updated product offerings and services.

Thank you for joining us!