Inkjet adds value
Inkjet is getting smarter. Increasingly industries are relying on small changes in the properties of materials they use to build their products, leveraging these changes to build an advantage over other products in the market.
Ink can now have conductive and protective qualities. As the world requires products to be smaller, thinner, and more effective, inkjet will be taking more of the manufacturing market.
This is timely, as traditional manufacturing areas are changing rapidly. Products are getting thinner because of current fashions in design. There is a cultural trend to conserve materials and move towards having less ‘stuff’. If people want to buy clothes, they can go to the internet and be incredibly selective about what they choose.
There’s better tracking of what people buy in a season. Zara, the high street fashion chain, has used this to their advantage. They monitor what gets bought in season and order more short runs of items that have been popular. This reduces textile waste from oversupplying the market. It reduces environmental waste from water used to wash the clothes and by adding sublimated inks.
Similarly, in industries like drinks packing, the range of different favours or brands a consumer can chose from is huge. Having short runs allows brands to test drive new products and packaging to compete in those markets. It reduces packaging waste.
As seen from these examples inkjet needs to be quick, and inkjet adds value.
Inkjet and Additive Manufacturing: getting it right
But what happens when material constraints limit the ability to manufacture short runs in inkjet?
Archipelago’s approach to inkjet means we can jet materials for varied run lengths without the need to change their compositions. We use a high energy, non-contact, and low waste process to overcome problems. We can connect inkjet and additive manufacturing in this way.
Textiles use a huge amount of water and pigments for mass manufacture. Higher end textiles may use materials with large metallic particles or use glues in production.
Traditional materials such as concrete and metal can be additively manufactured in layers. Functionalised materials for inkjet could be used as coatings for industrial applications. This would significantly reduce waste in manufacturing and the size of operations needed.
Why can’t we extend that out to paints, coatings, glue and newer functional materials?
Adding functionality to inkjet processes is still a challenge. Inkjet drops needs to be small to allow for accurate material placement. Inkjet nozzles are therefore tiny and fragile, and the materials used in industrial inkjet heads are engineered specifically for these nozzles. For food packaging for example, these inks need to be food safe.
The major problem with a lot of materials that could be printed is that the composition of those materials isn’t compatible with existing inkjet technology.
They can’t be used straight out of a box. They could damage the nozzles or block them. Many coatings or paints would outright destroy an inkjet head as they’re caustic. They require constant agitation to stop them re-sedimenting and blocking nozzles, and the amount of material that can be deposited with inkjet heads must be considered. Changing the composition of these materials can mean losing the functional properties of the materials that were needed in the first place.
Waste and the environment
Materials like paints and coatings are sprayed in industrial settings. This is imprecise and wasteful. These methods require large spaces for spray equipment, filtering, or chemical sinks for material particles in the air. Equipment frequently need to be replaced. A natural counter to all these problems would be using an accurate manufacturing method like inkjet to lay all these paints and coatings down.
Powerdrop uses a combination of high energy processes and microfluidic technology to bypass the problems that inkjet has. It is a noncontact, low waste process and we can deposit existing formulations. Non-contact increases our manufacturing range, letting us deposit layers of different materials without the need for an intermediate curing stage – allowing for faster production and shorter runs.
Powerdrop can lay down material at industrial rates, without the need for a large space to spray material. The system also separates out the filling mechanism from the jetting mechanism in the print engine, making it cleaner and producing less waste.
This means we can jet materials like hotmelt glue, thin coatings for thin films, thick coatings for paints, and other materials such as chocolate. We can add texture to packing, create programmable adhesion, add caustic thin film coatings to developing technologies like solar cells, and test new inks.