As demands for new and exciting applications grow, so too must the research and development into ink formulations that are up to the task. This article highlights what's going on in UV.
By Mike Plier
The automotive industry wants the short-run capability of digital printing. Years ago, manufacturers would print 250,000 dash clusters for any given model each quarter. Now, those same purchase orders might be 2,500 or 700—or less. The end users of these clusters would love to have manufacturing and supply on demand. Digital allows them to make 20 of these in a row. The shape and size could be different, and the text could be Russian, Spanish, or French—all with no set-up time or waste. This is a massive market that includes cell phones, electronics, stereos, computers, toys, and house wares like table tops and containers.
Architectural glass Glass is a beast. It’s heavy, robust, and chemically resilient—not exactly an ink’s best friend. However, with continued advancements in technology and surface treatments that will allow the inks to adhere on a microscopic level, this market will continue to grow and flourish.
Metallic digital printing While a true UV metallic digital ink remains evasive, considerable advances are ongoing. There are several solvent-based digital systems that have the luster and sheen, but they lack the depth of a true metallic. Currently, these true metallic inks are printed with screen, litho, flexo, or other ink-to-substrate processes. Typical metallic particles are too large to go through microscopic openings in digital printheads. Most metallic pigments are 20 times too large, and once they are refined to a sub-micron size, suitable for jetting, their weight causes them to settle or drop out of suspension, which necessitates the use of higher viscosity dispersants all while keeping the viscosity below 20 centipoises. This, my friends, is the challenge of the day!
Jettable adhesives Adhesives are all around us, and each of us comes in contact with some sort of an adhesive every day, throughout the day. They literally hold our world together, and we take them for granted. Adhesives can be applied using a variety of methods, including screen printing, painting, spraying, and various roll-coat applications. They can stay tacky. There are heat-activated adhesives, cohesives, solvent-activated and water-activated adhesives, just to name a few. Usually, the adhesive is applied after printing, regardless of its purpose.
Digitally applied, jettable adhesives for the industrial digital market will allow digital printers to selectively jet adhesives to packing cartons, displays, and permanent or temporary graphics. In the P-O-P market, such digital adhesives will allow printers to apply a selective adhesive patch at the same time they are printing a graphic. There will be applications for multilayered, multidimensional displays. Digital adhesives will allow printers unlimited design capabilities that will provide unrestricted creative freedom for both designers and printers.
Membrane switches and electronic circuits Like dash clusters, membrane switches are printed in high volumes. They require very close tolerance and pin-point repeatability. These membranes require multiple layers and can include insulators and conductive layers that, in the end, represent the message center of a given electronic device. It is logical that digital printing will ultimately play an important role in the future of the membrane market and its efficiencies. It goes without saying that digitally printed electronic circuitry will be a massive market in the future.
Refined color gamut Ink developers and manufacturers are always refining the color gamut or the overall spectrum of color and how we perceive it. New software, new color theories, and new head and press configurations all influence the final image and its richness and accuracy of color. As firing patterns, nozzle velocities, and head-assembly travel speeds increase, so must the ink system that is fired through them (Figure 3).
Astounding advancements in all aspects of digital technology have come about in a very short period of time. That which was once considered a tool for short runs, prototyping, or the infamous one-off run, is now a story of the past. Digital presses are becoming faster, more efficient, and more versatile. As screen printing, litho, offset, gravure, and digital printing continue to collide, it is very important that an inexhaustible amount of research and development continues in all aspects of the printing industry. And with the advancements of hardware, software, firmware and chemistry taking place right now, all of us are in for a wild and exciting ride.
Mike Plier is president of Polymeric Imaging, Inc., a manufacturer of UV inks and coatings formulated for high performance. He has more than 30 years of experience in the printing industry, including imaging, production, processing, and substrates.
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