By Cassandra Balentine
The latest in inkjet technology enables direct print capabilities to a variety of substrates and three-dimensional (3D) objects. Ideal for manufacturing as well as promotional settings, direct-to-object printers are an attractive investment. Drilling down into this segment are direct-to-object machines dedicated to printing onto cylindrical products.
According to research by Future Market Insights, Direct-to-Shape Inkjet Printers Market: Global Industry Analysis 2013 – 2017 and Opportunity Assessment 2018 – 2027, the expansion of end-use industries across the globe is expected to escalate the growth of direct-to-shape inkjet printers. Globally, the revenue generated by this market was estimated to be around $ 2,942.1 M USD in 2018 and is projected to increase at a compound annual growth rate of 6.4 percent in terms of value during the forecast period.
The research firm suggests that the growth of direct-to-shape inkjet printers is attributed to high-quality printing capabilities. Directly printing onto 3D objects eliminates the need for labels to intensify branding and promotion. “These factors are together expected to drive the growth of the global direct-to-shape inkjet printers market during the forecast period,” states a press release on Future Market Insights’ Direct-to-Shape Inkjet Printers Market: Global Industry Analysis 2013 – 2017 and Opportunity Assessment 2018 – 2027 report.
Above: Koenig & Bauer Kammann digital printing equipment can be configured to print on glass, plastic, or metal.
Manufacturing Meet Marketing
From benchtop to industrial-capacity machines, digital print technologies are available to print onto cylindrical objects for promotional and manufacturing purposes in varied run lengths. Several industries consider direct-to-object cylindrical printers for product decoration, including automotive parts, promotional, retail, and ecommerce.
A variety of organizations benefit from direct-to-object cylindrical printers, including high-volume and short-run promotional product printers; industrial and automotive parts manufacturers—especially where the same products are branded for multiple customers; high-end goods where decoration costs are high and unique decoration and personalization drives sales; and products that need counterfeit protection, suggests Jay Larsen, GM/director of R&D, digital hardware division, INX International Ink Co.
“Direct-to-object cylindrical printing is especially good for markets where personalization is a necessity,” points out Jessica Makrinos, marketing manager, Inkcups.
Contract printers specializing in decorating hollow containers or container manufacturers that would like to print on their own products are ideal candidates to invest in a cylindrical direct-to-object printer, shares Paul Bolduc, president, Koenig & Bauer Kammann (US) Inc.
One popular application is beverage can printing. Digital direct-to-object printing—especially cylindrical configurations—fits a disruptive new breed of packaging companies whose business model doesn’t match what can manufacturers typically provide today. “We are seeing the strongest interest from beverage packaging businesses and beverage brands. Traditional can making processes require a minimum order of around 100,000 cans, with artwork agreed in advance and lead times of many months,” says Rob Day, CEO, Tonejet. The industry hasn’t changed much in decades and is set up for mass production of identical cans for big brands. “Our customers are a new breed—they want to print runs between 500 and 50,000 cans, with a total order turnaround including artwork approval measured in days. This allows them to produce an endless variety of highly targeted products in precisely the right quantity, perfectly synchronized with market demand.”
Several factors are important when considering an investment in direct-to-object cylindrical printing, including a machine’s maximum output capacity, application flexibility, footprint, required operator skill level, and available support and training. It is critical to weigh the total cost of investment versus the expected return. Therefore, it is essential to consider all factors and determine how to calculate the expected return on investment (ROI).
Larsen explains that ROI calculation in industrial situations is complex because it incorporates a variety of factors, including estimations for inventory reductions due to printing on demand or at a point of distribution; makeready reductions compared with current processes; product handling cost reductions with use of inline product decoration; increased sales due to improved graphics options, reduction in counterfeiting, and personalization; changes in consumables and maintenance versus current processes; decreases in scrap labels or items related to current decoration processes; transportation costs to and from the current decoration facility; and upfront cost of testing a new decoration process for adherence to government and industry standards.
“The calculation of the total cost of ownership factors into a machine’s productivity, reliability, durability, and underlying technology along with the manufacturer’s support and training. Each specific customer uses their own ROI calculation, so this is dependent on the end user,” says Bolduc.
Vaughn Pollman, GM, Innovative Digital Systems, adds that ROI is dictated by the market you are selling in, the product you are printing on, and the type of embellishment you seek. “Many people use direct-to-object cylindrical printers on drinkware items, but they are capable of printing to a much broader range of cylindrical and tapered objects such as high-margin electronic goods or cosmetic containers that were previously limited in how they could be decorated.”
For some companies, the benefits of mass customization for packaging are also measured in increased brand loyalty. “Many brands experience sales volume increases of up to 50 percent when producing customized, short-run packs for specific events or market niches,” shares Day.
When printing directly to objects, ink characteristics like durability, flexibility, and safety are important. In addition to standard CMYK, specialty inks—including white and coatings—are considerations.
Inkcups offers UV-curable inks, which are key consumables for both its Helix and the Helix Hi-Fi industrial inkjet printers. Makrinos says the UV-curable ink its customers choose depends on the type of product decorated, as specialty inks work best for specific substrates.
The inks utilized in the Innovative Digital Systems’ Revolution 360° T printer are Prop65 compliant and have withstood dishwasher testing up to 25 wash cycles without the need of an inline primer. “This ink durability and adhesive quality is ideal for most cylindrical and tapered objects made of glass, metal, or plastic. Our clear coat varnish, which can be printed in registration, creates a high gloss overprint that can be manipulated in various ways to improve or highlight an imprint value. All of our inks are sold in bulk liter form, which is the most cost effective for high-volume printing,” adds Pollman.
INX features a variety of digital ink sets that can be utilized in the JetINX printing system. Substrates include glass, plastic, powder coat, aluminum, painted metal, and wood.
Tonejet inks are proprietary fluids designed and manufactured in house, specifically for metal packaging. Day says they contain highly concentrated pigments dispersed in an evaporative carrier and are designed to work in conjunction with low-cost, industry-standard overprint varnishes to deliver the look, feel, and toughness expected by customers. This high pigment concentration means that its printed ink layer is extremely thin—less than a micron—allowing its inks to flex with the aluminum substrate without loss of adhesion. For beverage cans, the inks adhere well enough and are flexible enough to withstand the can being necked during manufacture, or squeezed and crushed by consumers after use.
He explains that traditional UV-curable inkjet inks contain relatively low pigment loadings in a liquid comprised primarily of potentially migrateable acrylate monomers. This results in a relatively thick brittle layer, which may suffer a loss of adhesion when the substrate flexes during necking, handling, or filling.
Koenig & Bauer Kammann supplies the ink for its machines as well as partners with some ink suppliers such as INX, Marabu North America, and Sun Chemical for direct purchasing.
Specialty inks are also available—including white.
Specialty inks refer to inks made for specific substrates, says Makrinos. Inkcups recently launched BB digital ink and T2 digital ink. BB digital ink is a specialty ink for ultra-flexible plastics such as low-density polypropylene, high-density polypropylene, and other flexible plastics. T2 digital ink is a specialty ink for Tritan Plastic, a commonly used BPA-free substrate.
White is available for both Inkcups’ Helix and Helix Hi-Fi. White is the first layer of ink laid onto a substrate. This is what makes the other colors pop. Makrinos explains that without white down first, the colors will look almost opaque on clear substrates or darker or lighter depending on the color of the substrate. When printing on white substrates, white ink is not always necessary.
White is standard in the Innovative Digital Systems’ Revolution 360° T printer and prints in two channels for added ink density, comments Pollman. This creates an opaque white that is both vibrant by itself and creates a good base underlayment for CMYK inks. As for additional specialty inks, varnish and primers are available for inline printing.
The INX JetINX printing system features up to 12 colors or more including white, shares Larsen. “Higher end product decoration systems may go beyond CMYK and include orange, green, violet, fluorescent, or special colors and a clear varnish that can be used to add texture, protection, and gloss or matte features to the product. White ink is generally required in industrial applications as the substrates are often darker colors that require white to allow CMYK-based printing,” he offers.
Tonejet customers buy cans either clear-varnished—showing the polished aluminum finish—or pre-coated white by the can manufacturer. “These two bases create high-quality images with either a standard or metallic finish,” notes Day.
Koenig & Bauer Kammann offers digital white ink, and has also quoted machines with hexachrome applications, machines with primers to smooth out the surface of the products being printed, and overcoats to protect the products’ coatings from damage, shares Bolduc.
In some cases, pretreatment is necessary for ink to properly and effectively adhere to certain substrates.
For instance, glass should be pretreated prior to printing to rid the object of debris and any coatings sprayed onto the glass during the annealing process, offers Makrinos.
Inkcups offers its MagiCoat Pre-Treatment System, which ensures glassware is properly pretreated prior printing. “This system flame treats and then sprays a water-based primer onto the glass. This particular machine is a separate system,” explains Makrinos.
Pretreatment options depend upon the ink set and substrate and include flame treatment, sprays, jet-able coatings, and other techniques. “These can be either inline or offline depending upon the application, current process, and cost constraints,” shares Larsen.
Pollman believes that to achieve a high-durability print capable of withstanding dishwasher testing, an offline pretreatment is required. “Although inline primers are available for the Revolution 360° T, we have found an offline pretreatment to be better for print efficiency. Our offline pretreatment involves a flame treatment and hand applied primer,” he shares.
Koenig & Bauer Kammann digital printing equipment can be configured to print on glass, plastic, or metal. Bolduc says depending on the substrate, pretreatment can either be built into the machine or conducted offline.
Day explains that Tonejet customers can buy blank beverage cans from any source, and these arrive pre-coated with a protective varnish. “There are frequent traces of PTFE and machine oil on the can surface too, as a side effect of their manufacturing process. All in all, this is not a printer-friendly substrate. Our solution is to clean and prime the cans inline—using a proprietary coating. The coating neutralizes substrate surface energy variations and is developed to perfectly match our inks, giving a high degree of control over ink drop gain and hence image quality,” he points out.
Particularly in manufacturing environments, users may find custom machinery is best for their specific needs. While turnkey configurations are available for direct-to-object printers, bespoke is another option that several direct-to-object press manufacturers support.
Inkcups offers both turnkey and bespoke solutions. As part of the InkcupCare program, it works directly with customers prior to purchase to optimize their print processes and ink sets, as well as offer ongoing training and operator support.
The Innovative Digital Systems’ Revolution 360° T machine is adaptable to support a range of cylindrical and tapered goods. The machine itself is turnkey, but the company engineers custom tooling for customers. For example, if a customer is printing a variety of drinkware items, a quick tooling changeover is required to change from printing on a wine glass to printing on a pint glass. Depending on the desired product to be printed, machine modifications are sometimes necessary to achieve a print on a given good.
The INX JetINX system is available as either turnkey from INX and its partners or in a bespoke fashion where an existing design can be customized for the customer’s unique application. From 55 gallon drums to drumsticks, thousands of products are decorated and each situation can require a unique solution for success. “From fluids to frequencies, substrates to slip agents, and printheads to process controls, each customer must find the right recipe for success. More often than not, the customer requirements go beyond what an off-the-shelf system can provide,” admits Larsen.
For Koenig & Bauer Kammann, most applications are a version of a standard machine. One unique configuration is a hybrid version, which includes both inkjet and screenprinting stations for hyper-personalization, special spot colors, metallic inks, or other necessary effects.
The Tonejet Cyclone system itself is standard, with infinitely configurable infeed and outfeed possibilities to suit each customer facility. “We also provide print engines for customers with existing can handling or manufacturing lines to build onto,” shares Day.
There is great opportunity in the direct-to-object printing arena, specifically for cylindrical products. From promotional decoration to decorating in manufacturing, dedicated solutions offer high-quality output and industrial-grade productivity.
Nov2019, Industrial Print Magazine