By Melissa Donovan
Printing directly to industrial materials like ceramic requires robust devices. Ultimately the printheads and ink—driven by the printer—must be durable enough to handle the task at hand. Companies in markets such as tile manufacturing look to digital printing as a means of expanding their product portfolios in creative, unique ways.
In business since 1989, Cicogres manufactures ceramic products derived from the finest raw materials. These include tiles ultimately used for floors and walls inside and outside like kitchen backsplashes, mud room floor tile, and bathroom counter tops. Cicogres’ main customer base consists of national and regional tile distributors to home centers.
With a 485,000 square foot production plant in Vilafames, Castellón, Spain and a 650,000 square foot logistics plant situated an hour away from Valencia port—one of the most important seaports in Spain—the tile manufacturer maintains a presence in 110 countries worldwide. Its staff consists of 195 employees.
Above: Cicogres works with EFI Cretaprint printers powered by Xaar printheads to create decorated tiles used in bathrooms.
Building a Foundation
Cicogres integrated digital printing technologies into its operation in 2009. Prior to that, it used rotary serigraphic screens to print its tiles. With traditional tile decoration devices, the manufacturer was limited to developing five or six designs at a time. With digital it develops close to 100 designs and produces thousands of tiles each day.
With digital the goal is to address the tile manufacturer’s focus on being a vanguard in terms of innovation and standout from the competition—creating new and different tile designs. “We want to focus our efforts on quality production and design in order to differentiate ourselves in an extremely competitive market. In short, we want to satisfy the most demanding customer needs,” shares Ricardo Baldayo, technical director, Cicogres.
It chose EFI Cretaprint to achieve this. Since Cicogres lacked experience with digital technologies it looked to EFI for assistance and the company delivered. “We can state that the adaption to this technology was fast, efficient, and very satisfactory from the beginning,” attests Baldayo.
Since the first EFI Cretaprint install, Cicogres now runs multiple devices in its facility using ink from Esmalglass-Itaca, a long-term supplier of the company. The two collaborate on solutions specifically for Cicogres’ needs, which help in achieving high quality in all of the company’s tile offerings.
Improvements Under the Hood
A printer is only as good as the printheads it employs. Cicogres has relied on printheads from Xaar for the last eight years for its digital tile decoration process. The range includes Xaar 1002 printheads in its EFI Cretaprint devices like the GS6, GS12, and GS40.
The tile manufacturer upgraded its EFI Cretaprint devices in 2014 with Xaar 1002 GS40 printheads. This occurred in relation to the introduction of new inks from Esmalglass-Itaca, one of the first special effect inks of its kind with intense color and gloss.
According to Israel Sanchez, owner, Cicogres, updating the printheads was an important step in enabling access to more intense colors and a glossy overglaze. “We need to fire some tiles at very high temperatures and this sometimes affects the color density of the existing inks. The inks enhanced a number of tile designs with richer, deeper colors.”
With this printhead change and ink introduction, Cicogres launched several new tile designs. One of which is the Hampton. A porcelain, it features relief effects and a glossy overglaze.
In 2017 it upgraded an EFI Cretaprint CX3 device with Xaar 1003 printheads. This particular printer model is available with up to eight inks. It can handle a maximum tile thickness of 30 millimeters, maximum length of 3,000 millimeters, and maximum width of 696 millimeters.
The Xaar 1003 features improvements in print quality over the Xaar 1002. Specifically, the newer printhead includes XaarGuard. This provides mechanical protection to the nozzle, which reduces the frequency of maintenance to once per shift or less.
Another improvement in the printheads is the use of Tuned Actuator Manufacturing, which ensures actuator performance in each printhead is optimized. This achieves uniform print quality across all printheads in a print bar, and at different grayscale levels.
In addition to the enhancements, the Xaar 1003 printheads also utilize Xaar’s TF Technology with Xaar Hybrid Side Shooter architecture. This allows the ink to be recirculated directly past the back of the nozzle during drop ejection at high flow rates. Ideal for industrial environments, the printhead is ensured to operate reliability—ink is in constant circulation, preventing sedimentation and nozzle blockage when jetting.
The upgrade from the Xaar 1002 to the Xaar 1003 was without challenges. According Baldayo, the machinery updating process is quick and simple, consisting of replacing the printheads and their electronic components. Xaar designed the 1003 printhead to be backwards compatible so that users of the 1001 or 1002 printheads could easily upgrade their systems.
“In terms of performance, we see that this printhead is faster than previous printheads. And because we don’t need to adjust the printheads or clean them, production uptime has increased as well as print quality. We already notice an improvement at a production level, increasing the line productivity thanks to the modifications we incorporated,” says Baldayo.
The new printheads allow Cicogres’ production team to rarely stop the tile decoration process due to the printer, if anything an error that causes a stoppage relates to another point in the production line. With this success, the plan is to continue upgrading throughout its fleet of EFI Cretaprint printers.
Ceramic Forges Ahead
Digital technology is an important part of Cicogres’ business. “It allows us maximum product customization in regards to market trends, allowing us to respond to customer demand,” shares Baldayo.
Printhead upgrades by Xaar that are compatible with EFI Cretaprint technology and ink from Esmalglass-Itaca enable Cicogres to be not only a manufacturer but an innovator when it comes to tile designs. It placed itself at the forefront of the digital industrial revolution with an early adoption of digital and consequently keeps consistent pace with upgrades. Through all of this it maintains its commitment to providing high-quality tiles to its customers.
Nov2017, Industrial Print Magazine