New Presses for Direct to Shape Markets

Posted on by Dave Erlandson | No Comments »

Over the last few months (drupa, Graph Expo, SGIA) there have been a number of new presses that are designed to print on shapes or objects that are not flat and are not paper or films rather are cylindrical, concave, convex and irregular objects. These presses are called Direct to Shape (DTS) or Direct to Object (DTO).  Examples include:

  • Xerox-Direct-to-Object-printer_10c9bcc5-50d5-4b78-aab8-25aaa528b1e7-prvXerox Direct to Object press – prints on cylindrical objects using a version of the same Xerox stainless steel piezo inkjet head that was inherent to the CiPress continuous feed press. Instead of firing the phase-change (solid) ink that the CF press has used, the direct to object printer uses a more conventional UV cured ink. The primary application is for personalizing items such as water bottles. Xerox anticipates that both printers and retail stores will purchase the press.Xerox-Direct-to-Object-printer-example_mid
  • OmnifireHeidelberg OmniFire 250 and 1000 – combines advanced Inkjet technology with high-precision robotics to directly print on objects.The Omnifire 250 has a 4 axis robot system to handle smaller, round products, the Omnifire 1000 has a 6 axis robot handling system to move more irregular items of up to 1 meter length. The most famous OmniFire 250 installation is producing personalized soccer balls.
  • INX CP100 and the InkCups Helix. The CP100 prints on two-piece cans, bottles or other cylindrical objects, and allows designers and brand owners to quickly print and test design concepts in-house. The Helix printer produces superior quality single or multi-color images at exceptional speeds.  The primary application is for packaging concepts, short run packaging, and promotional items.

And introduced in 2015 were a couple of interesting solutions in Europe

  • Krones DecoType – direct digital print system for empty bottles made from PET, PP or PE, using Xaar 1002 GS6 heads and UV inks.
  • Hinterkopf D240.2 – can print plastic tubes, aluminum tubes, aluminum cans, cartridges, bottles, cups and other containers, with 16 mounting mandrels. White ink can be used with clear materials.

And in the market even longer are desktop size wide format printers that have been designed to print on all kinds of promotional items from golf balls to pens to smart phone covers.  These products are affordable priced between $20K and $30K and include

  • Mimaki UJF series: includes features that enable users – including commercial print service providers, promotional and personalization item printers, makers, technologists, educators and manufacturers – to create specialty items, awards, and personalized products; and for customized ‘just-in-time’ production, component pieces and more.
  • Roland DG VersaUV LEF-20: prints directly on a vast array of substrates as well as three-dimensional objects up to 3.94″ thick ranging from pens and smart phone covers to signs, personalized awards, giftware, promotional items and laptop covers.Prints directly on virtually any substrate or dimensional object up to 20″ x 13″ x 3.94.”
  • Mutoh ValueJet 426UF The VJ 426UF prints on a variety of materials, including 3D objects, up to 2.75 inches thick, using 100% solid UV-LED ink. Used for promotional items including: pens, phone cases, golf balls, awards and much more. With up to six color capability, including white and varnish ink,

While the initial market for some of these presses has been promotional or personalized items. The big potential lies in the packaging sector, where we’re seeing the first installs of DTS printing for drinks bottles, sleeves and cans,.  So far the speed and running costs are limiting the use in production to prototypes and ultrashort runs. However, the end game would be to replace printed labels on packaging items, such as more irregularly shaped personal care bottles and tubs

A third market is the creation of custom printers designed to be part of a manufacturing line for specific products.  This is more of a niche market, however inkjet leader Xaar has recently acquired Engineered Printing Solutions, based in Vermont, and its products span the range from pad printing to various types of inkjet. The products, typically a custom design, are used to print on bottles, on saw blades, on membrane panels, on apparel, on toys and sports equipment. EPS generates sales of $14 million a year.

Today Direct to Shape or Direct to Object is a niche opportunity for most printers. It currently has value in the market for promotional items, especially personalized promotional items.  Another interesting market is the custom printer market, where system integrators work with manufacturers to create custom print engines in order to print on specific products that have a wide range of surface geometries and substrates. The big opportunity for the technology resides in replacing labels, but this is far from a sure thing at this point. Many barriers such as ink costs, speed, and reliability and manufacturing processes need to be addressed for full scale adoption.

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