The digital revolution has its sights on a new challenge, and decorating three-dimensional objects offers no shortage of puzzles or possibilities.
By Debbie Thorp
The Helix from Inkcups Now uses patented technology to print onto straight-walled and tapered cylinders at up to 1200 x 1200 dpi and up to four pieces per minute depending on image/product size and print quality settings. The DigiCup from Polytype can print not only onto cones, but also onto more complex shapes such as tubs. Systems from Machines Dubuit and KBA-Kammann have also demonstrated the capability to print conical shapes as well as tubes and cylinders.
Regulatory issues present a further challenge for the adoption of inkjet in some applications, but significant strides forward have been made in the development of low-migration, low-odor UV curable inks by companies such as Agfa, Sun Chemical, and Kao Collins. These inks enable direct-to-shape printing on products such as medical syringes and PET beverage bottles. Further ink innovation is expected, which will open up more applications for inkjet in product decoration. In the field of PET beverage bottles, KHS – another giant in the beverage filling and packaging industry alongside Krones – also introduced an inkjet system at Drinktec in 2014. NMP Systems, a wholly-owned subsidiary of KHS, is now responsible for the inkjet technology, which is marketed as Direct Print Powered by KHS. The company collaborated extensively with Agfa during the development of the system (originally called the Innoprint) and achieved regulatory approval for direct printing of PET beverage containers with their low-migration UV inks while achieving full recyclability of the printed product – an important factor in sustainability. An early success for the Direct Print technology, widely covered by the media, was the printing of PET beer bottles by the Belgium brewery Martens Brouwerij in 2015 for a special film promotion. The campaign incorporated augmented reality via a smartphone app so that the characters printed on each bottle could interact with each other, making them “talk.”
The question that users often ask when considering a digital technology centers on throughput: Can it match the existing analog printing system and be incorporated without slowing the whole production process? The answer, of course, depends on what is being compared, and whether inkjet should even be considered in this way. Is inkjet a replacement technology or a complementary one? When evaluating the systems available today, the answer, perhaps surprisingly, is both.
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