This article examines the latest advances in pad-printing technology and highlights several applications and innovations that will keep pad printing a fixture in the future of industrial printing.
One of the challenges manufacturers face is the changing makeup of plastics, including additives, fillers, colorants, and mold-release compounds that can affect the surface tension of the plastic—and the ability of pad-printed ink to adhere to the substrate. Several surface-modification technologies have evolved in recent years to help decorators cope with these adhesion issues. At the front end, gas flame pre-treating devices and corona pre-treaters can be integrated inline to modify the surface tension immediately prior to printing. Additionally, corona treating devices have even been developed to allow 360° treatment of many medical devices. After printing, conveyor ovens can speed ink-curing time and shorten the path from printing to packaging.
Weighing the costs, estimating the benefits
The most common challenge for printers weighing whether to add new pad-printing equipment or upgrade their old pad-printing machine is creating a cost/benefit analysis that justifies the change. On the surface, the investment could appear to be quite substantial; however, deeper investigation into the underlying costs of inefficiency, waste, transportation, and materials inevitably proves the change to be highly beneficial.
The first step is to analyze the current process used to mark or decorate the product from the loading dock to the shipping room. Questions to consider include: Does the product arrive in bulk at the plant? If so, do parts need to be individually hand loaded in order to be printed? After the parts are printed, does the print-machine operator have to shift boxes of finished products to make room for more? If the item to be decorated is manufactured on site, is the printing station distant from the production station? Do printed items need to be repackaged after they are printed? What is the cost of these added steps: labor, time, and required space (overhead)? Consider the following solutions:
• Bulk unloading into a bowl feeder that automatically orients the parts for printing.
• Automated feeding onto a fixtured conveyor that moves the part into position for printing.
• Automated unloading into the final packing container for conveying to the shipping room.
These solutions, when integrated with an automated pad printer, can free up resources better used in production operations where skilled workers provide a greater contribution to the company’s profit margin.
Pad printing into the future
Today’s industrial advances, plus global economic and environmental concerns, pose challenges to industrial manufacturers. As efficiency and automation become the watchwords of a new generation, the ability of pad-printing technology to be adapted to these changing demands will serve to keep it in the forefront of decorators’ toolboxes. Ever-evolving technological breakthroughs in industrial processes, when applied to pad printing, make this as timeless a decorating technique as the clockmakers of old first envisioned.
Annette Sharon holds a B.A. in Science Journalism from the University of Minnesota and is lead technical writer at Pad Print Machinery of Vermont, which specializes in engineered printing solutions.
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