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.
Injection molders bringing decorating in-house The versatility and adaptability of pad printing is attracting more injection molders and contract manufacturers to install decorating components inline. As the glamour of outsourcing begins to fade, with rising global transportation costs, the weak US dollar, and concerns with off-shore quality, these producers are seeing the value-add of providing onsite decorating for their customers. Automating printing directly at the molding machines has added efficiency and cost savings to many manufacturers’ bottom line. One company has virtually eliminated a printing cell—operating three shifts a day with five employees on each shift—by automating the printing process directly off of the molding machines.
Industrial manufacturing eco-consciousness As green becomes the new gold standard, companies are looking for ways to shrink their carbon footprint. Operational efficiency and in-house product marking make great strides in that direction by not only saving the cost of transporting parts off-site for decorating, but also eliminating waste packaging by a factor of two, plus the expense that multiple touch points add in the handling process.
Add-ons add value
Decorators who use pad printing have long been able to make their own polymer cliches using portable or cabinet-style clichemaking setups. This process involves creating a film positive, exposing the plate with UV lamps, then washing in alcohol or water.
Advances in C02 and YAG laser technology are now being applied to clichemaking, speeding up the process and allowing more precision. These setups often come with their own computer and graphics software that allow decorators to import images, manipulate them, and etch the plate in a fraction of the time required with the computer-to-film process. Benefits in the industrial environment include a shorter timeline from artwork to pad printer, allowing more economical changeovers of images and a faster payback on smaller print runs, leading to higher margins on print jobs.
Another technological growth area is in UV-curable inks for pad printing. Like their screen and inkjet counterparts, these inks become inert when cured under a UV light source, and they keep harmful solvents and inks out of the waste stream and the air. UV-curable inks are being used by medical-product manufacturers in addition to applications that require an FDA-approved ink. Plus, for shops that use UV systems, new eco-friendly ozone-destruct systems keep the workplace and environment cleaner.
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