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Industrial Pad Printing in the 21st Century

(December 2008) posted on Mon Dec 08, 2008

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.

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By Annette Sharon

Pad Printing has come a long way since its birth during the pre-industrial revolution. Gone are the painstakingly hand-etched plates, the mortar- and-pestle-ground ink pigments, and the gelatin pads used by the clockmakers of yesteryear to laboriously print elaborate dial faces.

Today’s pneumatically powered pad printers can handle 3000 or more impressions per hour on precision-conveyed parts that are automatically inspected to exacting tolerances with computerized vision systems and then unloaded by high-speed, robotic pick-and-place arms.

Keeping pace with global economic demands, industrial manufactturers have seen pad-printing technology evolve to integrate efficiency, ergonomics, and environmental improvements. Pneumatic and servo motor-driven electric machines have replaced hand-operated pad presses; high-speed gantry systems now take the place of manual loading and unloading; and hermetically sealed magnetic inkcups are used instead of wasteful open inkwells.

From medical-product manufacturers’ clean rooms to automotive-manufacturing assembly lines, pad-printing machines are adaptable enough to customize for an entire spectrum of industrial product marking and consumer product-decorating needs. This discussion of innovations in pad-printing technology presents case studies that illustrate the efficacy of modern pad presses and examines some challenging jobs for which pad printing was the ultimate solution.


Case study 1: multiple, big challenges

A leading US-based appliance manufacturer needed to keep its costs down to stay competitive against cheap-labor imports. Their problem was this: how to print a wide array of models and designs of large oven-range-dial panels with compound geometries while minimizing machine setup time and maximizing throughput (Figure 1).

The solution involved a programmable pad printer on a gantry system outfitted with automatically changing silicone pads of different sizes, multiple cliches etched with the images needed for printing the variety of instructions and settings, and an adaptable, rotating fixture that could hold the panels while providing safety with light curtains for its employees (Figure 2).


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