The use of robotic technology in the inkjet printing process could change the dynamic of decorating complex industrial components.
By Debbie Thorp
Robots and digital printing have been aligned for some time. Walk around any large graphics show, like SGIA or FESPA, and you’ll typically find several examples of automated, robotic loading and unloading systems for increasing production on flatbed printers. Companies like HP and Inca Digital have been showing such systems for the past few years, and Mimaki has demonstrated how successfully incorporating inkjet printers into an automated production line can cut down on the time and manpower needed to complete a job. But what about using robotics in the actual inkjet printing process?
The Heidelberg Omnifire line is probably the best-known example of combining inkjet and robotics. Launched in 2015 at InPrint Munich, the OmniFire 250 and now the larger OmniFire 1000 have wowed crowds at tradeshows by printing onto a wide range of objects, such as suitcases, cycle helmets, and custom-decorated car parts. Another demonstration using robots was given by Industrial Inkjet (IIJ) at InPrint 2014 in Hannover, Germany, in which penholders were presented and rotated under the printhead by a 6-axis ABB robot. At InPrint 2016 in Milan, ProFactor, an Austrian automation expert, in collaboration with Ardeje, a French inkjet integrator, demonstrated the printing of a grass design on sport shoes. The process used ink-receptive 3D haptic coatings provided by the Chinese company Fujian Huafeng and inkjet inks from Tiger Coatings. The robot-assisted printing system was part of a nationally funded project called addmanu, which is an Austrian venture for research, development, and the implementation of additive manufacturing with more than 20 industry and university partners.
Not surprisingly, there are many confidential projects involving specialist integrators, such as Cyan-Tec (UK) and FPT-Robotik (Germany), combining their inkjet and robotics expertise to develop customized equipment for major international companies. In the US, Engineered Print Solutions (EPS), which is well-known for its product decoration systems, is also a distributor for Fanuc robots and has a number of inkjet development projects underway.
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