Among the latest developments in decorating and printing at the NPE show in Chicago were digital printers, flexographic printers for bags, and scratch-resistant heat-transfer foils for hot stamping and in-mold decoration (IMD). Also featured was new equipment for laser marking and engraving and an electrostatic charger for in-mold labeling (IML).
News in stamping foils
SolidBrush metallic finishes are the latest heat-transfer foils from Kurz Transfer Products. They come in brushed chrome and aluminum with a topcoat that reportedly imparts much improved scratch and chemical resistance as well as anti-smudge fingerprint resistance. They boast high gloss and a “deep structure” appearance.
Kurz also developed a proprietary, uv-cured hardcoat for its new line of “Flexible UV” foils for IMD. A key target is lenses or window displays of cell phones and other handheld electronic devices. Other potential uses include cosmetics cases and auto interior displays. Kurz sources say the new hardcoat is four to five times more abrasion resistant than its predecessors. However, the new foils require a secondary uv-curing step after molding to fully cure the new hardcoat.
Also new from Kurz are semi-transparent metallized foils in silver, gold, dark gold, and champagne colors, aimed at picture frames and trophy plaques.
An interesting application still in its infancy is hot stamping on plastic wine corks. According to Kurz, it provides an embossed look more similar to real cork and allows faster design changes than does the usual dry-offset printing on synthetic corks. Kurz already has applications in Italy and the U.S. for its initial foil grade for wine corks (Black 34997). Output with hot stamping is around 2500 to 3000 corks/hr, only 25% to 33% as fast as dry-offset, but similar output could be achieved with two or three hot stampers at a comparable cost.
Digital printers debut
Two companies unveiled inkjet-type “digital” or “drop-on-demand” industrial printers, which offer greater flexibility for short runs than pad or screen printing in that changing print jobs is a matter of changing software programs rather than physical pads, clichés, or screens. Pad Print Machinery featured its first non-pad printer, the XD-400-1 digital printer, which is suited to relatively flat items. Priced around $80,000, it is similar in size and cost to higher-end pad printers with plates and pads. It can print on 16 x 16 in. objects at up to 6000 or more parts/hr or 30 in./sec. Initial focus is on decorating toothbrushes with uv inks that cure in seconds so products can be loaded into the package, printed, cured, and immediately shrink-wrapped and shipped in a continuous operation. Print programs can be changed on the fly. The company is working on tooling to decorate plastic bottles.
Aellora Digital displayed new additions to its line of SureFire digital printers. They are said to be suitable for continuous or intermittent printing at “true” resolutions of up to 600 x 600 dpi.
Flexo units for bags
A new series of flexographic machines for single- or two-color bag printing was introduced by Bell-Mark Corp. These custom-built printers can be as narrow as 4 in. to as wide as 94 in. The company showed its compact two-color Series 1230/1830 for up to 10 in. width. It is typically utilized for printing child suffocation warnings, company logos, and product identifications. An enclosed doctor blade assembly is available for high-speed operation.
Laser marking, engraving
Trumpf USA featured its newest compact VectorMark laser-marking systems. The VMc 6 is a new unit that was developed to mark plastics without the need for special additives. The photon energy of this laser reportedly is so high that the molecular bonds of most plastics can be broken, providing a high-contrast photochemical marking without burning, engraving, or damaging the surface.
Also new is Trumpf’s “marking on-the-fly” (MOF) software capability, an option for any VectorMark system. It enables continuous workflow by marking on moving parts such as tubing or wire.
Virtek Vision International also offers “on-the-fly” capability with the G5 laser engraver from Foba of Germany, recently acquired by Virtek. The G5 is an entry-level deep-engraving laser system for molds, tool inserts, stamping and printing dies, and EDM electrodes. Its new patented “IMP” (Intelligent Mark Positioning) is said to provide superior engraving precision and speed. It reportedly eliminates the shortcomings of previous laser systems used to engrave tooling—such as limited 3D contouring capabilities, intensive manual procedures for depth measurements, and the need to fixture molds and dies to ensure accurate engraving. IMP is said to compensate for any machine variation, which reduces set-up time by 40% or more.
Compact charger for IML
A new compact electrostatic charging system from MKS, Ion Industrial, Windsor Locks, Conn., was demonstrated at NPE. This lightweight unit features a single-polarity generator weighing just over 2 lb, combined with new low-profile charging bars (1.5 x 0.75 in. cross-section). Small enough to mount directly on a robot arm, this unit reportedly provides pinning power regardless of changes in ambient conditions or variations in label properties.